Globalisation is rapidly transforming our world in profound and lasting ways. From new patterns of migration and diaspora, new trends in city and nation building and new techno-informational networks of communication and knowledge, the world is in rapid flux. While the socio-economic dimensions of globalisation have been widely studied, far less attention has been paid to its cultural dimensions. And yet, the need to identify and understand how globalisation is effecting cultural change – spanning from Asia to Europe and from Africa to the Americas – is central to any effort to form a comprehensive picture of our contemporary world. The Globalization Research Priority Area responds directly to this need and, in the process, provides a strong humanities perspective, which is frequently lacking in existing academic and public debates.
The Faculty of Humanities at the University of Amsterdam is ideally placed to take up this challenge. It is home to a large and highly active community of leading international experts working across the full range of humanities fields related to globalisation studies, including film and media studies, literature, history, philosophy, visual culture, musicology, religion and performance studies. These researchers have a longstanding tradition of analysing discourses and representations of the nation state, European citizenship, migrants, minorities, new media and other related issues that are undergoing rapid and dramatic change as a result of globalisation.
The Globalization Research Priority Area brings these experts together into interdisciplinary teams of researchers and builds on their shared research momentum and knowledge to generate new ways of understanding and explaining the relationship between globalisation and cultural transformation. Specific projects will be developed and completed within four interlocking research clusters addressing issues of mobility, sustainability, aesthetics and connectivity. These clusters have been selected to enable groundbreaking approaches to a range of pressing social concerns associated with globalisation, including issues of multiculturalism and multilingualism, ethics, politics and nationalism, and the rise of new media and digital culture.
The Globalization Research Priority Area is organised into four interlocking research clusters: mobility, sustainability, aesthetics and connectivity. Although each research cluster pursues a specific set of thematic, theoretical and topical concerns related to globalisation, the overall research programme is specifically designed to stimulate exchange and collaboration between the research clusters in the form of joint projects, conferences, publications and grant applications.
Globalisation today is responsible for specific forms of mobility: migrating people die or integrate, ideas and art forms circulate instantaneously and transform our thinking about our most basic categories such as our linguistic, religious, professional or national identities. Mobility is also intricately linked to the construction, defense or questioning of boundaries, be they cultural, national or individual. Our focus on the global flow of individuals, ideas and images seeks to explain how globalised nation states deal with the constant encounter between citizens and migrants, how migrants transform geographic and cultural boundaries, or how we understand security, belonging and home. These new mobile myths have, we argue, a crucial impact on what we now perceive as true or false, right or wrong, desirable or unacceptable in our most basic everyday experiences or the most sophisticated scientific endeavors.
‘To sustain’ elicits competing definitions. To maintain and to keep in existence, to support and to affirm, these all suggest a maintenance of the status quo. The concept of sustainability is usually associated with ecological issues. This research cluster investigates sustainability in the social, political and cultural domains currently reshaped by processes of globalisation. In recent discourse ‘sustainability’ has come to suggest a utopian or dystopian vision for radical change in both culture and politics. It might provide a counter-balance to ‘precarity’ (i.e. the insecurity of labour, livelihood and culture in contemporary capitalist societies). This cluster therefore focuses on the inherent instability of culture and politics in a globalised world, as well as the resulting precarity, and asks to what extent and at what costs can sustainability provide an alternative perspective. ‘Cultural sustainability’ focuses on the conditions for survival for cultures and peoples, as well as the conditions in which survival is relinquished, impossible, denied, actively refused or repressed. ‘Political sustainability’ reflects on the delicate balance between the conservative and technocratic implications of the discourse on sustainability and its critical and emancipatory intentions. It is from these dilemmas, conflicts and struggles that critical theoretical reflection on sustainability should start. ‘Sustainability’ will provide a focus for research that investigates competing discourses and practices of sustainability worldwide.
The aesthetics of globalisation are by and large ignored in current globalisation studies. Aesthetics traditionally involves the study of art and perceptions we call “beautiful”. But under conditions of a post-bourgeois and affluent society aesthetics also involves the study of culture as a form of life. The research cluster uses aesthetics in this broad sense as a framework for investigating the general question how images, sounds, performances, experiences of the city, and language as such, change and retroact to politics. More specifically, one has to ask: how is democracy as the central notion of Western politics linked to the aesthetic perception and worldview of an individual? How does globalisation unfold when seen from the perspective of a performance? How are the different creativities of cities promoted by policy makers, intellectuals, artists, designers and activists? It is the general aim of this cluster to demonstrate that under conditions of globalisation two statements in fact come together: that every human being is an artist, and that every human being is a politician.
New media such as the Internet, computer technologies and mobile communication technologies, have impacted profoundly on processes of globalisation. They have turned our world into a truly and tightly networked world, in which virtual realities intermingle with, and even influence the offline world. Technologies such as email, the smart phone and the iPad create an “always on” culture feeding into the obligation to be always connected. This cluster allows for a convergence of the aforementioned clusters: how does the technologisation of everyday life affect the mobility of people, ideas and images? Technologies threaten the security of labour and culture, they feed into our anxieties of globalisation, yet they can also be mobilised to reconnect and engage with globalisation and cultural sustainability. How do new communication technologies impact on the aesthetics of sound, image and our living environments? These are urgent questions that require not only new concepts, but also new (digital).
Dr Jeroen de Kloet is coordinator of the Research Priority Area Cultural Transformations and Globalisation.