Are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic?

Golden Genie by Phototacular/Flickr

Commenting on the post about the Google Dilemma, The Other Gardener said:

“There is very little that can be said to be “essential about national boundaries” now that the genie is out of the lamp. I think the guardians of these boundaries, including the academics, will always lag behind. They are already beginning to look pathetic. The nation, as they used to say, ain’t got a chance.”

Well, that’s my suspicion too, but I’m not sure what Genie has escaped. Do we really look less divided-by-nation than we did, say in the colonial period, when there were far fewer nation states? Interesting that in the last 60 years nation states have proliferated, while some other markers of nationality, particularly languages, have collapsed and died. The concept of the nation is certainly shifting, but seemingly not going away. In many respects the concept of national boundaries has become firmer, more worried over,  than at any time since WWII.

In defence of those lagging academics, they’ve been talking about ‘globalization’ for decades. Also: world risk society (Beck), world-society (Luhmann), world systems theory (Wallerstein), world polity (Meyer), the Cosmopolitan Condition (Beck again, who mentions all these) and on and on.  Academics keep announcing the transformation of the nation concept, and the nation just keeps reinventing itself.

One way of conceptualising the rift between Google and the Chinese Government might be to look at it in relation to terms used by John Urry (and Manuel Castells’):  regions, networks, scapes and flows. Here a regional configuration (China) is renegotiating its influence when engaged with a network configuration (Google/ the Internet). Or perhaps, it is rather that one region/network (the US/Google) is being disrupted by another region/network (China/security attacks) in terms of disrupting flows (censorship, spying, denial of service attacks etc). To use Urry’s terms, internal Chinese dissent might be seen as a kind of fluid that the scape of the Internet, with Google as a significant node attempting to be a hub, makes global. Either way, it seems the traditional nation-based regional version of power politics (in this case between the US and China) is being disrupted and re-configured by the emergence of new networks, with new nodes and new kinds of fluids with new kinds of flows.

Like that genie escaping from the lamp, these flows are unexpected and exceedingly hard to contain.

Thanks for the comment. Look out for the next installment, in which we’ll consider which kinds of cultural bias might favour nations and nationhood –  and which might not.

Image: Golden Genie by Phototacular/Flickr

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3 Responses to “Are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic?”

  1. theothergardener Says:

    Really the fact that “nations have proliferated” is more proof that the nation-state, such as it is, continues to break down. Many of the “new” nations, such as in the Baltic region, are actually pieces of former nations, and are based on ethnicity and some other far older categories, which does not so much suggest a regression to me as it does a fragmentation of the nation-state under pressure from economic forces. This is the emergence of “zones” which I’ve written about elsewhere. I am not convinced that the nation-state will break down entirely, so much as that these new definitions will become more important in people’s lives. If you live in one of the “economic development zones” that cross boundaries and dot Southeast Asia and Latin America, then does it really matter to you whether you live in one country or another, or does the fact that you live in an EDZ not define you more?
    TOG

    • fourcultures Says:

      I agree. I remember visiting Hong Kong and then the special economic zone of Shenzen in the late 1980s. People had interesting and very different ideas of what constituted China and being Chinese.

  2. The Google Dilemma Part 3 « Fourcultures Says:

    [...] excursus: are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic? [...]

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