Globalization Studies

Globalization describes an economically driven imaginary associated with modernity, capitalism, and Eurocentric forms of imperialism and colonialism. It conceptualizes the world as a single, interconnected unit open to an ever‐expanding drive of capitalist progress and the various processes, economic, cultural, and social, that enable and are enabled by it. These processes are defined as tightly interlinked transworld practices and experiences, which operate at multi‐scaled levels. How it looks depends on the location of the observer within the system: it has analysts, champions, and detractors across the disciplines.

Globalization has a history, but there is disagreement about whether or not contemporary globalization represents the emergence of something truly unprecedented. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, people began to argue that this confluence of interactions more tightly linking economic, technical, and environmental changes represented something genuinely new, which they called globalization, itself a newly coined word to describe a new imaginary. At the same time, while defining it as “modernity at large” (Appadurai 1996), “the second modernity” (Beck 2000), or “the modern/colonial world system” (Mignolo 2000: 33), these theorists acknowledged its roots in earlier formations. For many theorists, globalization, as a growing sense of the oneness of the world, that is, as a perceived condition, has been concurrently enabled by the threat of global nuclear annihilation, the information technology revolution, the first views of earth as a planet when seen by astronauts from outer space, and the transworld penetration of capitalism as a global system after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent end of the Cold War.

These events were accompanied by the end of capital controls and a subsequent movement toward global financial markets enabled by the emergent ideology of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is “characterized by a move to open markets, low state intervention, free movement of capital and goods and privatization of previously nationalized industries.” It provides “the macroeconomic template employed by major global financial institutions” such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (Mooney and Evans 2007: 176–7). These changes were institutionalized as “the Washington consensus,” which Ulrich Beck describes as “the trinity of deregulation, liberalization and privatization” (2005: 261). While not identical with globalization, neoliberalism is seen as one of its ideologies. By the late twentieth century, then, when the word “globalization” first entered popular discourse, globalization had emerged as a new master discourse for pulling together the various contradictory pressures of the times. Adopted first by the business press, and then by social and cultural studies, it entered literary studies in the early 2000s.

To live in a globalized world, globalization theorists argue, is simultaneously to find oneself both more vulnerable (to pandemics, climate change, terrorist attacks, and the many other impacts of decisions made elsewhere) as well as more informed, with more opportunities to learn about life beyond one’s immediate locality. For those considered the global elite, globalization offers more choices and greater mobility; for those less fortunate, globalization offers more precarity. But for both groups, it enables the possibility of imagining a world beyond one’s inherited locality. Originally considered a homogenizing process, globalization is now recognized as profoundly uneven and heterogeneous in its effects. Earlier theorists feared that globalization threatened the autonomy and sovereignty of nation‐states. Those fears continue, especially in relation to proposed new trade deals and their investor state dispute settlement agreements (ISDS) that privilege the interests of corporations. It is also recognized that globalization may entrench as well as challenge insular nationalisms. Therefore, Brexit, the 2016 vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, may be seen as part of the larger globalization dynamic as well as a retreat from some of its implications.

The academic study of globalization has been in uneasy dialogue with media and popular accounts since the idea of globalization first began to replace previously hegemonic explanatory terms for contemporary conditions such as modernity, development, and postmodernism in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Norman Fairclough identifies five main agents and agencies who voice views on globalization: academic analysts, governmental agencies, non‐governmental agencies, the media, and people in everyday life (Fairclough 2006: 5). While each is important, I simplify here for the purpose of distinguishing the theoretical and analytic focus of academic accounts from the others. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that, unlike some other branches of theory, globalization is an imaginary with a life outside academia. Characterizations of globalization among these different sectors cross‐influence each other.

Defining globalization is also tricky, because as Jan Aart Scholte explains, “Globalization is simultaneously an effect and a cause,” something that both requires explanation and presents itself as one (Scholte 2005: 4). For many of the early advocates of using this term to describe contemporary societal and economic changes, globalization was irreversible, a confluence of forces that led people such as Anthony Giddens to describe it as “a runaway world.” In this view, globalization is used both to describe a contemporary condition defined by changes in how the world is experienced and to describe the processes that have created these supposedly new conditions. Globalization functions as a descriptive and an explanatory discourse, but it is also often used to make ideological arguments, either celebrating or contesting the rise of a new global trade regime and its supposedly borderless world or seeing in it an opportunity for creating a more just global system.

As a new paradigm for conceptualizing world affairs, globalization prompts many questions. Does it really exist? If it does exist, does it describe something new or is it a new name for something old? How is it different from internationalization, cosmopolitanism, or neoliberalism? Whose interests does it serve? Who are its agents? When did it begin? Is it something to be welcomed or resisted? Can it be resisted? Is it possible to imagine a postglobalization future? Implied by these questions is a debate about its key features and the value of transforming traditional disciplinary habits to address the challenges to status quo thinking that globalization studies can, but does not always, pose. Depending on how those questions are answered, a further set of questions emerge about the impact of globalization on every dimension of human life and the disciplines designed to understand them.

Timothy Brennan notes that “debates over globalization are discursive. That is, they are debates over theory: over which explanatory mechanism makes the most sense given a body of (mostly implicit) ethical and political objectives” (Brennan 2008: 40). Brennan maps five key positions structuring the field. First, globalization finds its key significance as a political promise moving us beyond the disputes of the past into a global arena of engagement. Second, it is primarily a development of trade and finance. Third, it is structurally American, with “the United States as a mini‐model of the future world” (2008: 41). Fourth, it “is the form imperialism takes in the late twentieth century” (2008: 42; citing Samir Amin). Finally, globalization does not exist but is rather “a projection that passes itself off as a description” (Brennan 2008: 42).

Each position is controversial and each has its advocates. Brennan’s taxonomy addresses some of the earlier binaries of globalization studies in an indirect fashion. His final point summarizes the position of the globalization skeptics. For these critics, humanity has always sought to globalize in a series of uneven waves characterized by expansion and retraction, movements outward and inward, in motions much like the tides of the sea. His fourth point indicates one position taken by anti‐globalization theorists, those who believe that globalization exists and that it is a bad development. Both opponents and advocates of globalization may agree that it is fundamentally driven by American interests and they often share a belief that it is essentially a matter of trade and finance operating within the global sphere. Where they differ is in how they view the consequences of such processes. For some, globalization ensures prosperity for all, as a rising tide lifts all boats. For others, the human costs are unacceptable. Too many are left permanently stranded. And for yet another group, despite the many associated problems, globalization offers openings for creating a better world.

In an attempt to capture globalization’s cross‐cutting complexity, Giddens defines globalization as “a complex set of processes … [that] operate in a contradictory or oppositional fashion” (Giddens 2000: 30–1). Beck writes that globalization “denotes the processes through which sovereign national states are criss‐crossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks” (Beck 2000: 11; italics in original). Scholte claims that “globalization is best understood as a reconfiguration of social geography marked by the growth of transplanetary and supraterritorial connections between people” (Scholte 2005: 8). John Tomlinson summarizes globalization as “complex connectivity,” by which he refers to “the rapidly developing and ever‐densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life” (Tomlinson 1999: 2). Each definition stresses the complexity of the concept and the challenge it poses to the conventional disciplinary divisions of responsibility. Globalization, it is claimed, makes it difficult to separate study of the economy from study of culture, society, or politics. This situation carries implications for scholarship and policy, suggesting the necessity of more interdisciplinary research.

When globalization debates intensified at the turn of the last century, they were often posed in terms of crude binaries opposing globalization to anti‐globalization, with the socalled 1999 “Battle of Seattle” World Trade Organization demonstrations as their key symbol. After the attacks on the New York Trade Centre twin towers on September 11, 2001, the economic collapse of 2008, and the rise of new economic players on the global scene, the equation of globalization with the ideology of neoliberalism gained ground. Gayatri Spivak endorses this view when she writes: “Globalization is achieved by the imposition of the same system of exchange everywhere (Spivak 2012: 484). For others, who put less stress on what Spivak calls “the financialization of the globe” (Spivak 2003: 85) and more on the idea of increasing transworld mobility, globalization has a longer, more complex history, which may offer openings for countering the more negative effects of its impacts.

While for some, globalization reaffirms business as usual, for others, it offers an opportunity for intervention to achieve progressive social change and justice for all. These hopes are expressed in the motto of the World Social Forum, which affirms that “another world is possible” and in the variety of theoretical innovations afforded by eco‐critical, new materialist, and post‐human theories, whose perspectives are reflected within the various new words, such as “anthropocene” and “chthulucene” (Haraway 2015), now on offer for describing a globalized reality beyond that encompassed by globalization, which for all its expansiveness remains focused on human society.1 The anthropocentrism of modernity and globalization discourse is now being directly challenged by thinkers who fear for the survival of “life on earth” (Haraway 2015: 159).

A New Role for the Imagination in Social Life

More detailed attention to some of the key debates structuring globalization should help clarify what is at stake in understanding the field. Key cultural theorists, such as Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing agree that globalization challenges the imagination. Innovation is required to meet that challenge. In a 1990 article, Appadurai argued: “The world we live in today is characterized by a new role for the imagination in social life.” Elaborating, he continues: “The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice” (Rpt. in Brydon 2000: 1804–5; italics in original). His book, Modernity at Large (1996), develops his theory of how globalizing flows enable new imaginaries to develop within a variety of interconnected spheres he describes through the suffix -scape, as ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes, each of which better captures the mobility of these evolving imaginaries than do such bounded nouns as diaspora or the economy (Appadurai 1996: 33).

From these big picture overviews, he has turned to collaborative community engagements advancing “grassroots globalization” (Appadurai 2000) as an alternative to globalization from above, recognizing the potential for theorizing among ordinary people in specific localities, and therefore arguing that we need understandings of research to change to recognize “the right to research” (Appadurai 2006). That right extends not just to the non‐academic community but also to include communities in all parts of the world, whose knowledge production has been insufficiently recognized by the Western‐dominated establishment. His work has inspired the book of interviews with leading globalization theorists, Globalizing the Research Imagination (Kenway and Fahey 2009). Working collaboratively with communities in Mumbai, he is demonstrating how such cooperative arrangements may change the ways globalizing impacts can be addressed and redirected. Uniting theory and practice, he shows how research needs to be decolonized, re‐theorized, and extended to incorporate a broader range of the world’s population. While “knowledge of globalization” within the universities of the global North has advanced, he asserts that “the globalization of knowledge” requires further attention.

Ulrich Beck, a sociologist writing from a European‐based perspective, agrees that globalization, through the very problems it creates, provides openings for more equitable global relations. Searching for solutions, he argues for a remodeled cosmopolitan vision. Since the late 1990s, Beck has written extensively on cosmopolitanism and still sees promise, even in globalization’s darkest impacts, for developing a cosmopolitan ethic. Yet early on, he detected globalization’s challenge to the imagination in how perceptions of risk were evolving within what he progressively conceptualized in Risk Society (1992), World Risk Society (1999), and World at Risk (2009). Beck recognizes that life has always been risky but during the “first modernity,” which he locates within the rise of industrial society and its faith in progress, he sees a belief that risks could be anticipated, insured against, and managed. That belief began to be questioned as the world transitioned into a phase he calls “the second modernity,” the period of globalization. What has changed with the second modernity, he argues, is not so much risk itself but the perception of risk. The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl alerted many to the ways in which events can have impacts that cross national borders and cannot be managed within nation‐states alone. Such circumstances caused Beck to argue that the “methodological nationalism” of current disciplinary structures must be revised to develop a “methodological cosmopolitanism” more appropriate to understanding and negotiating globalization (Beck 2005: 43–50). He distinguishes his preferred method of “methodological cosmopolitanism” from what he calls the “methodological pluralism” of postmodern theorists such as Manuel Castells, who focuses on networks, Zygmunt Bauman, who writes of global flows, and Arjun Appadurai, who writes of global ’scapes (Beck 2005: 47–8). He believes these theorists over‐stress the dissolution of boundaries under globalization whereas his approach addresses the situated politics in which they are redrawn and renegotiated in relation to the complexities of specific issues.

Beck’s early work on risk presciently preceded the rise of global terrorism after 9/11. Contemporary fears of terrorism and the actions taken in efforts to allay them, are in his view attributable to the new role of the imagination in social life that arises with globalizing processes. A heightened sense of fear of the unknown and imagined risks need not be realistic to trigger decisions causing major changes in governance and daily life. Imagined scenarios can have material effects. Such unanticipated results of globalizing processes require a cosmopolitan vision to address them.

Gayatri Spivak, as a feminist literary theorist and a comparatist who seeks to put deconstruction to work, has also written extensively about the need to decolonize the imagination, unlearn “our privilege as our loss” (Spivak 1990: 9) and “learn to learn from below” (Spivak 2012: 439). She claims that “we live in a time and place that has privatized the imagination and pitted it against the political” (Spivak 2003: 35–6). She reclaims the imagination for “re‐constellating the responsibility‐thinking of precapitalist societies into the abstractions of the democratic structures of civil society” (Spivak 2012: 348). A planetary perspective, she argues, could be used “to control globalization interruptively, to locate the imperative in the indefinite radical alterity of the other space of a planet to deflect the rational imperative of capitalist globalization: to displace dialogics into this set of contradictions” (2012: 348). Global exchange needs to be reconceptualized away from locating agency, power, and knowledge within the global North alone. Instead, she suggests: “Imagine yourself—and them—as both receivers and givers—not in a Master/Slave dialectic, but in a dialogic of accountability … It is in this framework, thinking the world, not just the nation‐state, that I say to all of us: let us imagine anew imperatives that structure all of us, as giver and taker, female and male, planetary human beings” (2012: 350). Asserting that this reciprocity built into planetarity is “perhaps best imagined from the precapitalist cultures of the planet” (Spivak 2003: 101), she argues the need to “try persistently to reverse and displace globalization into planetarity” (2003: 97). As part of that task, she suggests that literary studies and area studies need to work together, interrupting and supplementing each other, to create forms of “transnational literacy” (2003: 81) that can resist a liberal multiculturalism that merely recruits “native informants” into the promotion of globalizing interests.

While Appadurai’s globalization is characterized by ’scapes, Beck’s by risks, and Spivak’s by the need to practice vigilance against complicity, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing stresses the friction through which cultures are “continually co‐produced” (Tsing 2005: 4). Countering earlier descriptions of global mobility as flow, Tsing argues that friction both enables and disrupts the operations of global power. Through friction, she argues, “Abstract claims about the globe can be studied as they operate in the world. We might thus ask about universals not as truths or lies but as sticky engagements” (2005: 6). Asking “where would one locate the global in order to study it? (2005: 3), she focuses on local encounters and “develops a portfolio of methods to study the productive friction of global connections” within them (2005: 3). She counters earlier views that globalization is inevitable and global knowledge is monolithic, to focus instead on “how universals are used” (2005: 9), especially within zones of “awkward connection” (2005: 11), such as those of translation and collaboration. Her “ethnography of global connection” addresses the movements and frictions of three universals—prosperity, knowledge, and freedom—as they are co‐produced within the rainforests of Indonesia during the 1980s and 1990s.

In puzzling over how to “do an ethnography of global connection,” Tsing focuses on “zones of awkward engagement, where words mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak. These zones of cultural friction are transient; they arise out of encounter and interactions. They reappear in new places with changing events” (2005: xi). This strategy represents her way of countering the concept of globalization, which she see as encouraging “dreams of a world in which everything has become part of one single imperial system” (2005: xiii). Rejecting “a distancing imperial gaze,” which would see Indonesia as “only a scrap of data,” she creates a theory of global encounter in which Indonesian global encounters may inform “that shared space in which Indonesian and non‐Indonesians jointly experience fears, tensions, and uncertainties” (2005: 3). This is a reciprocally produced space in which contingency matters and the imagination flourishes. Her work is characterized by a proliferation of challenging questions and her attentiveness to the complexities of scale. Friction (2005) demonstrates how globalization theory can renew both understanding of globalization and the aesthetic potential of scholarship for conveying complex understandings in accessible form.

Tsing’s later, collaborative book edited with Carol Gluck, Words in Motion (2009), focuses on how “words and worlds are made at different scales” and how they move across space and time, again with the aim of exploring “how scholars might study global connections without prematurely homogenizing the globe” (Tsing 2009: 11). Conceived as an experiment in bringing “regional, national, and cultural specificity into stories of global connection,” the essays use key words to show “struggles over which scales will matter” (2009: 12).

Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, and Tsing each stress the challenges globalization poses to the scholarly imagination and each poses the question: “how does one study the global?” (Tsing 2005: 1). In a globalizing world, each recognizes the need “to build heterogeneous audiences” (2005: 211) yet in their work, each charts an individual path. This section has described the ways in which some major theorists within different disciplines have responded to globalization’s challenge in relation to theorization of the imagination, locality and situatedness, borders, risk, mobility, scale, and the space‐time imaginaries afforded by theorizations of world, globe, and planet.

Globalization and Literary Studies

Postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies engaged with globalization earlier than literary studies. A flurry of special journal issues addressing globalization and literary studies appeared at the beginning of the twenty‐first century.2 The critical anthology Globalization and the Humanities (Li 2004), reframes the humanities as viewed through the lens of globalization, organizing the volume around the question: “If the humanities comes into being at a point when Europe dominates the world system, how does it reconstitute the world of knowledge after the political decolonization of Asia and Africa and the apparent neocolonization of the globe by late capital?” (2004: 3). Another anthology of collected essays, The Post‐colonial and the Global (Krishnaswamy and Hawley 2008) continues this theme, including sections on “Disciplinarity and its Discontents,” “Planetarity and the Postcolonial,” and “Imperiality and the Global.” A third anthology, Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization (Saussy 2006), addresses “‘world literature’ and “the politics of empire.”

In the first book specifically addressing Globalization and Literary Studies (2009), Suman Gupta presents a balanced argument addressing complex components of his topic. He begins by considering the narrative performance and cross‐disciplinary travels of globalization as a term. His explanation addresses the civil society movements and protests against globalization and its enablement of global cities and ideas of cosmopolis before turning in his fourth chapter to the literary entanglements with thematizations of globalization, culture, and identity. Identifying postcolonial and postmodern theories of identity and culture as the theoretical spaces of convergence with globalization, he takes care to distinguish them. Finally, he registers globalization’s impact within the academic institutional spaces of English studies, comparative literature, and translation studies, and the shifting pressures on authors and literary industries associated with the globalization of literature. This thoughtful study stresses the changing material conditions of production, circulation, and reception of literature within contemporary globalization contexts.

It may be contrasted with the more uneven and actively polemical approach taken by Paul L. Jay in Global Matters: The Transnational Turn in Literary Studies (2010). Jay writes that “transnational literary and cultural studies, whether they present themselves as postcolonial or global, have to begin with a recognition that cultures have always travelled and changed, that the effects of globalization, dramatic as they are, only represent in an accelerated form something that has always taken place: the inexorable change that occurs through intercultural contact, as uneven as the forms it takes may be” (2010: 50). At the largest scale of analysis, such a generalization holds true. It seems to support Tsing’s belief that humanities scholars express faith in the mobilizing power of universals whereas social scientists “look for unevenness and specificity” within them (Tsing 2005: 4). Jay’s universal is global mobility. Yet the globalization argument is not simply about an accelerated mobility but about a confluence of interactions. Jay selects one driver of the globalizing processes that together create an entangled global condition and mistakes it for the whole thing.

When Jay turns to address the specifics of critical border studies, he recognizes the important insights of theorists such as Walter D. Mignolo in The Darker Side of Western Modernity and the question of subaltern knowledges within local/global relations. He finds such work provides “useful models for efforts to simultaneously locate and globalize literary and cultural studies while at the same time paying careful attention to local histories marked by the interaction of particular populations and cultural forms” (Jay 2010: 59). Jay’s wording in this passage downplays Mignolo’s stress on the violence of global power relations as perceived from within the subalternized history of the Americas. In Tsing’s terms, by scaling up a specific history to the level of a universal, Jay erases the force of Mignolo’s critique of the ways in which Western universals operate through discourse to erase perspectives derived from non‐Western histories and other places.

Many of the challenges Jay issues to globalization theory address popular misconceptions rather than the theory itself. He argues: “We cannot neatly separate economic from cultural commodities” and concludes that “the centre‐periphery model for the study of globalization (one that sees power, commodities, and influence flowing from urban centers in the West to a peripheral developing world) needs to be complicated. In fact, globalization is characterized by complex back and forth flows of people and cultural forms” (Jay 2010: 3). By presenting the imperialist model of one‐way cultural transfer as the only model, and ignoring alternatives that demonstrate how the centers produce the underdevelopment of their peripheries, through conquest, theft, and disadvantageous trade relations, Jay mischaracterizes this model to inflate his views.

Jay presents the transnational as a counter to nation‐based analysis, yet it is a model that still privileges the nation. Jay concludes that his individual readings of contemporary texts that embody the transnational turn “do not provide simple answers to complex questions about identity, culture, and belonging but rather they productively trouble the way we think about those questions. In so doing, they present a model for the critical work we do, for the very act of reading and understanding them” (Jay 2010: 200). By rejecting globalization to embrace instead a model that enables literary criticism to continue its focus on these nation‐based questions of belonging, as reinvigorated by attention to a “transnational turn,” Jay enables the discipline to continue its conventional nation‐based close reading practices without engaging the theoretical and methodological questions raised by globalization theorists such as Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, Tsing, or Ngũgĩ. One of the many innovations of globalization theory is its attention to interactions at many scales, from urban, rural, local, sub‐ and supra‐regional, national, international, and global, as they play out around the world. The transworld orientations of the globalization perspective intersect with the transnational along a single zone of encounter. Taking that single zone for analysis is a valuable endeavor but it does not challenge the insights of privileging globalized theory.

The first collection addressing Literature and Globalization (Connell and Marsh 2011) takes a more balanced approach. Designed for teaching purposes, it includes three sections comprising, first, key essays from globalization studies; second, such distinctively literary concerns as “world literature” (Franco Moretti), “the future of English” (Paul Jay), “the claims of postcoloniality” (Simon Gikandi), “cosmopolitanism” (Jacques Derrida), “literature, diversity, and totality” (Masao Miyoshi), and “the politics of linguicide” (Emily Apter); and, finally, “literary readings” of a number of key issues associated with globalization: environmentalism, money and markets, technology and cyber‐cultures, migration and labor, worldliness and cosmopolitanisms. This arrangement reflects the dominant ways in which globalization has entered literary studies. Each prompts renewed theoretical engagement, a reconsideration of both the methodologies and the stakes involved.

Globalization studies has also given renewed visibility to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory and critiques of capitalism, colonialism, and neoliberalism, especially those developed within postcolonial and cultural studies, while complicating the analyses they afford. Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture (Palumbo‐Liu et al. 2011) is a model for the innovative ways in which literary scholars can engage with the thinking of a major political economist whose work seldom addresses cultural matters directly but carries important implications for students of literature, history, and culture who wish to understand the implications for scholarship brought about by globalization and to think about the world as an integrated, uneven system for which the keywords of system, scale, and culture take on new significance. In many ways, this book set an agenda for interdisciplinary humanities scholarship that is still being worked out.

Kenyan intellectual Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, well‐known in postcolonial circles for his 1972 memo “On the Abolition of the English Department,” combines global and dialectical to coin “globalectics,” an argument for building a mutually affecting dialogue across global differences (Ngũgĩ 2013). For Ngũgĩ, globalectics displaces dialogics, reorganizing literary space and grounding it in the lives and creativity of poor people. This displacement enables a shift toward more equitable, non‐hierarchical, and horizontal exchange within the politics of knowing. As Spivak and Appadurai had previously suggested, he engages Western theory and literature on newly negotiated grounds of reciprocal equality. In essence, his model functions as a form of globalization from below, rethinking the utopian potential of claiming epistemic space for forms of knowledge previously ignored or denigrated by mainstream theory.

Many literary theorists addressing globalization share Jay’s insistence that the process has a long history going back to the first aspiring world empires (as theorized, for example, by Abu‐Lughod 1989) or at least as old as the first circumnavigation of the globe (Gunn 2001). Yet, despite a continuing skepticism about the usefulness of the globalization framework for describing contemporary changes, literary studies has embraced the idea of the global as justifying research into earlier centuries (Nussbaum 2003), expanded time‐frames of “deep time” (Dimock 2006), reorienting nation‐based American studies (Dimock and Buell 2007), and expanding the reach of modernist studies backwards in time and outwards across the globe (Friedman 2015; Wollaeger and Eatough 2012).

These trends show that through globalization, the Anglocentrism of English literary studies is both reinforced (by the rise of global English) and challenged (by a renewed appreciation for the world’s many languages and literatures). Postcolonial theory first alerted English teachers to their complicit role within the British Empire and the contradictory functions, regulative and emancipatory, that an education in English literary studies could perform (Viswanathan 1989), but the global rise of English is rendering its role in linguicide (the killing of other languages) and epistemicide (the killing of other ways of knowing) more visible, a visibility made more prominent by the resurgence of global indigenous movements and the passing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Eurocentrism of comparative literature is being rethought, and the field reconceptualized through arguments for and against a revival of world literature and through renewed attention to the contact zones of translation studies (Cassin et al. 2014; Apter 2006; Liu 1999).

Such globalizing pressures are requiring the mounting of a more robust and carefully theorized defense of the autonomy, practices (such as reading, writing, curricular organization, and language‐learning), and value of literature and literary studies and of the humanities more generally in a world that seems to be reorganizing its priorities away from elite cultural practices such as literature toward forms of cultural expression that appear more readily accessible to wider groups of people. The politics associated with globalization, for or against, may partly explain why many literary critics prefer alternative terms for describing the contemporary turn to the global, such as cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, or planetarity.

Spivak’s invocation of planetarity is one intervention among many within what is being theorized as “the planetary turn” (Elias and Moraru 2015). Emily Apter (2013) coins “planetary dysphoria” to describe “the geo‐psychoanalytic state of the world at its most depressed and unruhig, awaiting the triumphant revenge of acid, oil and dust. These elements demonstrate a certain agency; they are sentient materials even if they are not fully licensed subjectivized subjects” (2013: 341). Other invocations of the planet come from eco‐critical thinking (Heise 2008); ethics (Palumbo‐Liu 2012; Hutchings 2007); re‐engagements with Heideggerian models of world (Cheah 2016); expanding and proliferating global modernisms (Friedman 2015); and revised models for reading planetarity, extending its reach through time and space (Dimock 2003). Many of these theorists turn to Heidegger, Levinas, Jean‐Luc Nancy, and Derrida to nuance their models, noting that Nancy and Derrida offer mondialisation as an alternative to globalization. Thus while globe, world, and planet are often conflated, there are important distinctions between how these are employed and the meanings they convey.

Radhakrishan (2003) argues that “it matters from whose perspective the world is being realized as One. It also matters in what or whose currency the world is being ‘worlded’ and within the symbolics of whose language the pros and cons of globalization are being discussed” (2003: 103). This is an important insight that both troubles and informs much current thinking about these processes. For Rob Wilson worlding “implies a more fully culture‐drenched and being‐haunted process of ‘de‐distancing’ the ever‐globalizing world of techno‐domination and its badly managed nuclearized standing reserve” (Wilson 2007: 211–12). Similarly, Pheng Cheah (2016) echoes Jay in insisting that a globalized economy does not generate a globalized culture and global literature in any simple determinist fashion. In contrast to the use of market exchange as a model for conceptualizing global literary relations, he turns instead to theories that stress the transformative power of literature’s interactions with its readers. He observes: “The two common threads that run through phenomenological and deconstructive accounts of the world are first, the understanding of modernity and its contemporary manifestation, globalization, as world impoverishing and world‐alienating because of their instrumental and calculative reduction of existence, and second, the special connection between world‐making and world‐opening and structures that we can call ‘literary’” (Cheah 2016: 96). Such a view conforms to Spivak’s defences of the literary imagination and Tsing’s skepticism about privileging globalized scales.

Like Cheah, Tanoukhi (2008) and Tsing (2005, 2012) suggest that scale does not function in the same way across different domains of endeavor. For Tsing, not everything can be upscaled according to business models of efficiency. Partly as a result of the shift in consciousness enabled by the turn to globalization, theorists have been encouraged to think big, across time/space configurations and their archives, into the employment of “big data” and the new modes of reading it enables, or through engagements with “deep time” perspectives (Dimock 2006). At the same time, literary theorists retain the faith, expressed by Spivak, in the power of literature to “be our teacher as well as our object of investigation” (Spivak 2003: 23). Globalizing processes and the theories that compete to make sense of them continue to require attention to the situated positioning of individual theorists within these debates.


1 Haraway argues that the planetary effects of anthropogenic processes require new names. In arguing for her preferred term, chthulucene, she claims: “We need a name for the dynamic ongoing sym‐cthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake” (Haraway 2015: 160). The issues she names are clearly derived in part from globalization discourse: “scale, rate/speed, synchronicity, and complexity” (2015: 159).

2 See Comparative Literature 53 (4) (2001); Modern Fiction Studies 48 (1) (2002); PMLA 116 (1) (2001); Public Culture 13 (1) (2001); symploke 9 (1–2) (2001); South Atlantic Quarterly 100 (3) (2001). Others have followed as the century has progressed.

Source: A Companion to Literary Theory Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture Edited by David H. Richter 2018
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