Monday, November 30, 2009

the physics of disjuncture

Anna Tsing’s notion of “friction” across cultures in the process of global expansion immediately brought to mind Arjun Appadurai’s understanding of “global cultural flow” (Appadurai 6). Both Tsing and Appadurai discuss the site of disjuncture, a concept that becomes increasingly more visible and more applicable as globalization spreads and localities clash with global forces. However, friction and flow are somewhat opposite actions.

My question is, what leads to their different understandings of contact at the sites of disjunction? Appadurai’s analysis of the ‘scapes that constitute the global economy is structured, organized, and mostly devoid of affect, an effect that Jameson tells us is characteristic of the postmodern era. He constructs abstract forms of geography that correspond to the changing modes of contact from physical to virtual in the global economy. Tsing, on the other hand, bases her entire argument on the reinsertion of affect. As she describes in the preface, her research was incited by narratives she encountered at the local level. Affect underlies the relation between global and local for her as she constantly witnessed people getting “caught up in their emotions”. She “locates the global” at the local sites of disjunction, of “awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (4). The disjunctures make visible the “frictions of encounter”, and thus occur in a very material way.

I can’t help wondering, Does the fact that Tsing writes fifteen years later than Appadurai play a major role in the differences in their understanding of movement? Tsing’s topic is very specifically embedded in geography and the social sphere. Is she able to do this because of the course which globalization has taken is more developed and more apparently applicative to local cultures than it was in 1990? Or is it irrelevant to compare the two analyses historically and in the context of temporality? Perhaps something occurs at the disjunction between the two sources, and it is the play between flow and friction that makes up the dynamics of globalization and its effect on the local?

It might also be interesting to think about the essay we read on Google Earth’s Darfur project as another oppositional approach to Tsing in terms of the localization of globalization. I always bring it up, but what fascinates me is the failure of this project compared to other potential successes of humanitarian projects. Is it possible to incite the emergence of affect, to get the reaction Tsign gets on the material, local level on a global scale? Google Earth certainly did not help in the way it meant to with the Crisis in Darfur, is that because it wasn’t touching the local in the right way? Is it because the stories came from a westernized, primarily visual and technical lens and not directly from the land and from the culture that the project failed to produce the needed affect?

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