Saturday, July 17, 2010

Imagining Collectivities: Fragmenting Analysis

We live in a world which defies models and reductionism. Borders only have meaning within certain contexts. But what about that which transcends these limited vantages? The tired example is that of the transnational corporation operating globally, but what about the flexibility of media models like MTV? On July 12, 2006 - Professor of English and American Language and Literature at Harvard University - Homi Bhabha remarked that MTV acts as an instrument of cultural war moving from one dominating culture and destroying others. Yes, here in Korea, where I am currently living, MTV is marginally different from its American counterpart. And it has been fashioned from Korean cultural materials but the style and manifestation of music as culturally related and practiced is still in the mold of the original. More than the concern over cultural integration and globalization my concern here rests on application of theory. We can no longer divide our histories, our politics, our cultural and anthropological investigations on Gramscian borders which increasingly matter less. Rather Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization by Arjun Appadurai, published by the University of Minnesota in 1996, argues for seeing each study, each investigation according to its particular geography and context.

For Appadurai, an anthropologist teaching at New York University, collective imagination has become an impetus for the formation of identity. mass media molds this collective imagination in turn. For Appadurai, localities are no longer able to be studied in isolation but must be studied in a postnational and transcultural set of frameworks. Although even this set should be regarded suspiciously and disregarded in favor of specificity.

Appadurai’s theoretical framework conceives of the collective identities of different cultural groups as comprised of imagined selves. This no doubt leans heavily on Benedict Anderson's works but brings it still further. His premise contains within it the notion that the imagination plays a new role in group identity formation. He asserts that within the imaginations of people located throughout space a platform for the construction of a plurality of imagined worlds has been formed. Each of these imagined worlds must be taken unto itself as opposed to an simple political model, as Anderson has done. One cannot look at capitalism solely through a political or economic lens. Rather, we should consider the especial spacial relationship of a study relative to it its actual location within a network of human imaginations. Increasingly, departments are moving towards transnational studies and complex compartmentalizations of their faculty for good reason.

Appadurai therefore argues for the study of mediascapes, technoscapes, ideoscapes, and other frames of reference as starting points for reinventing our perception of the global distributions of ideas and imagined realities. Citizens imagine themselves as part of a territorially defined community. Other identities are constructed in much the same way; that is through a collective imagining based on the collective consumption of shared media, technology, ethnicity, and other forms of collectivity or self reference.

Though the theory is built for anthropology, its applications are myriad. Appadurai is an anthropologist so he is concerned primarily with helping to form a theoretical framework from which to proceed in developing his field. History, Philosophy, and literature too can benefit from mobilizing these concepts.

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