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


I’ll have four of everything

So many four-fold conceptual schemes, so little time… The following three appear arbitary, contrived, as though arranging a subject matter in groups of four was in itself clever (and just to complete my own set of four, here’s one I wrote about earlier).

Manuel Castells’ (2001) four cultures of the internet:

* Academics
* Open source advocates
* Social communities
* Entrepreneurs

Also Dennis Mumby’s four kinds of discourse, producing narratives of:

* Representation (positivist modernism)
* Understanding (interpretive modernism)
* Suspicion (critical modernism)
* Vulnerability (postmodernism)

And the ‘four cultures of the West’ described by church historian John O’Malley (2004):

* prophetic
* academic
* humanistic
* artistic

Perhaps it’s just that five would be too many and three too few.

Manuel Castells (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Dennis K Mumby (1997). Modernism, postmodernism, and communication studies: A rereading of an ongoing
debate. Communication Theory, 7, 1–28.

John W. O’Malley 2004 The Four Cultures of the West. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Now read: Mapping Four-fold conceptual schemes