Monday, September 17, 2007

places and environment(s)

One of the moments that I found most interesting in Bruce Robbins’ “Introduction Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism” was his declaration that “Yes, we are connected to the earth – but not to ‘a’ place on it, simple and self-evident as the surroundings we see when we open our eyes. We are connected to all sorts of places, causally if not always consciously, including many that we have never been to” (3). His argument strikes me as almost obvious, especially in the context of this class, yet it also seems provocative. I think the “romantic localism of a certain portion of the left” (3) is often very present at Brown, but I wonder if it is always in the naïve and reductionist way Robbins suggests. Yes, we have “complex and multiple belonging” (3), but are we not also shaped by our environments, and if parts of those environments come from or point to other places, does that make the place we are in any less concrete? In other words, are we connected to all sorts of places, necessarily, or are the places themselves collections, created in part by many other places? I think we are connected to many places, but does it not matter which ones?

The very fact that Robbins notes that the television may be made elsewhere from where it is used suggests that it does. And it seems to me that part of the work Robbins is advocating, of “turning invisibly determined and often exploitative connections into conscious and self-critical ones” (3) involves a renewed consciousness of place coexisting with certain cosmopolitan and interconnected leanings. This may very well be in line with his argument. But while his focus seems to be mainly on how people can make connections across places and transcend their local interests while not forgetting their positions, I think he may ignore the fact that places are not blank spaces composed of whatever objects and images make their way in. While Robbins references “the current distribution of the world’s resources” (14), my question is how environment plays into notions of cosmopolitanism. I am specifically thinking of the phrase “global warming,” which seems to reference the need for trans-national solutions to the problem of climate change, but which glosses over specifically located effects. In an era in which our environment is increasingly coming to light as impacting our lives, and our lives as impacting our environment, how does cosmopolitanism respond to global problems that are enacted in very local ways? Is this the same as the question of laborers in different nations having sometimes oppositional and sometimes overlapping interests?

I am not sure this is so much addressing Robbin’s argument, but this was just something that came to mind as I read his discussion of place and places.


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