From the Editors
Trans is a prefix that denotes moving across, beyond, or through.
In the introduction to Circulation and the City (2010), Alexandra Boutros and Will Straw assert that circulation – as an analytic concept – inevitably evokes both space and time. IN CIRCULATION attempts to capture the essence of this concept through an exploration of the ways in which ideas, commodities, people, images etc., circulate. Each issue responds to a different set of questions revolving around one issue from multiple disciplinary perspectives.
Globalism is often defined as an attitude that places the interest of the world above those of individual nations. A defining characteristic of this trend has been the unprecedented circulation of information, bodies, commodities, and currency. Multi-national corporations dominate financial systems, policies are often made by international bodies, and even civil society has organized as a global actor. As a result, many have proclaimed the death of the Nation-State, born of imperialism, nationalism, and war. But are these proclamations premature? Are ideas and practices still informed by the physical place they are rooted in? Do the local philosophical traditions of the world still influence artistic and scholarly output? Or has a migratory class of workers and creators severed any claims to rootedness? Has the Nation-State truly become a meaningless signifier?
Our first issue asks whether the Nation-State is still a productive means of conceptualizing the circulation of bodies, commodities, ideas, and policies. Can democratic nation-states respond to the challenges of global climate change? Do the clear signs of sovereignty displayed by various nations this year prove that the rhetoric of international policy making is overblown? Ideas, commodities, people, etc., do not just move through (or around) nation-states or geopolitical regions but, as Boutros and Straw write, they “are accumulated and sedimented over time” (p. 11). IN CIRCULATION seeks not only to explore such movement but also to delineate the parameters of movement(s), and how they shape lived realities.
In 2010, a year of the Winter Olympics and the World Cup, of continued wars and border conflicts, of numerous fights over resources and natural disasters of all sorts, of federal governments vs. drug cartels, of fierce (and sometimes facetious) debates over immigration and Multiculturalism, and of populist revolutions, it seemed appropriate to take a closer look at the notion of the Nation. A decade ago the attacks of 9/11 were misused as rhetoric to support the botched unilateral invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the neo-liberal stripping of their natural resources that followed. The international cooperation in the recent conflict in Libya seems to demonstrate the successful involvement of global, transnational institutions absent in those earlier conflicts. Yet the murder of Colonel Qaddafi in lieu of being brought to trial in the International Criminal Court emphasizes the failure of these institutions to overcome the desires of sovereign Nation-State. The events of 2011, from the so-called Arab Spring to the Indignados of Madrid and the growing Occupy movement, have brought the persistence, and short-comings, of the Nation-State to much public scrutiny and a questioning of late-capitalist regimes. And so, IN CIRCULATION is a journal which aims to explore the tensions between the local and global, the modern and post-modern, agency and structure, and even the exhaustion of these categories altogether.
Many theorists have mapped the shifting space of (post)modernity. Manuel Castells locates the transition within capitalism from a goods and services economy to one of an increasingly sophisticated network of nodes. Marxist theorists have often oriented themselves as opposed to the State, and yet the history of Marxism shows that often the ideology takes hold most firmly within the confines of the State, and as such takes on distinct, national identities. It should also be pointed out that modern liberal democracies in highly technologized capitalist nations have developed a dynamic so as to actually encourage, and benefit from, multiculturalism, plurinationalism(s), migration, and other aspects deemed to be constitutive of globalization.
The Western liberal democratic state was founded on the social contract, assuming powers once designated to religious institutions and monarchs while promising increased freedom and representation for its individual citizens. The most recent period of globalization has seen the role of the state change, leaving many to question its continued relevance. And yet the state persists.
German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk critiques the Europeans suggesting that the best course is to move away from nationalism and towards increased political integration, away from what he calls “club nationalism.” (Interview, “Damned to expertocracy,” http://www.signandsight.com/features/238.html) He elsewhere states that the nation-state was in many ways a literary and postal product, the “fiction of a fateful friendship with distant peoples and sympathetically united readers of bewitching common (or individual) authors.” (Rules for the Human Zoo, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2009, volume 27, pp 12-28, p. 14) As Sloterdijk, among others, points out, the nation-state was in many ways a fictional creation, a result of literacy, of creating national publics through reading and sharing letters with distant friends. Modern mass media, and more so current digital communication technologies, including the now near ubiquity of mobile telephony and the Internet, have altered the dynamic on which the nation-state first emerged. We must therefore rethink the foundations on which we co-exist in society. The state hasn’t necessarily come to an end, but if it persists, than we certainly must rethink its role.
The underlying current of Franke James’ visual essay calls attention to the failure of individual states to respond to problems that are global in nature, such as global climate change. Rather than lose hope, she thinks through the role that each individual can play. Samuel R. Galloway presents us with a nuanced argument regarding the nature of citizenship and the state from a queer perspective, focusing on the dichotomy between the failures and successes of many states to protect their citizen’s rights while also examining the tension created when appealing to some abstract sense of the universal. Marcienne Martin contributes a piece on the nature of art in a world in which borders have become increasingly porous and meaning seems more ephemeral than ever. Bachar Bachara, a native of Syriawho lived in Parisbefore settling in Montreal, offers a poem on the nature of statelessness and transient populations. Invited contributors Toby Miller and James Der Derian approach the issue of the state from different perspectives. Miller reflects on various transnationalism that have predicted the end of the state, the reasons for the persistence of (various sorts of) states, and the crucial role that communications plays in the state. Der Derian’s brief piece is a look at the role of academics in America’s “the long war,” through the lens of his own involvement in filming a documentary about the role of embedded academics in Afghanistan, an excerpt of which is embedded along with the article.
As the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East continue to unfold and the Occupy movement takes root, we would do well to remember Miller’s remark that revolutionaries trying to tear down the state are always trying to replace it with another. We see not one unified world, but many globailzations at work, with the state in motion between them.
-Joseph Sannicandro and Cheryl L. Thompson