Books Discussed in this Section
Bruno Latour (1993) We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma.
Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global, Routledge, NY
~ Evalyn Tennant: Locating the Transnational Activists
While global institutions have superseded the local and the national at macro scales, both the national and the global at the same time, paradoxically, have become more porous to local actors in ways never before imagined, and for the most part made possible by the same technologies and processes that drive globalization at the macro level. Likewise, just as we have accounted for institutional globalization by importing an architecture of global scale based on inclusive nested hierarchies (of the local, the regional, the national, the international, the transnational) we have furthermore conceptualized the individual local actor– the very subject-actor who emerges in the early Greek polis — as embedded deep beneath the many layers of this global anachronism like a single pea smothered under the princess’ mountain of mattresses. Curiously though, just like the fabled pea, it seems that individual local actors do succeed in disturbing the princess’ sleep, through emergent multiscalar dynamics that are sufficiently porous to allow, accommodate, and even facilitate the opening of the space of appearance in a global context.
Saskia Sassen identifies three major assumptions, of space, scale and organization, that need to be revised in order to understand “Today’s social movements through [a] more complex analytic grid:” 1) the assumption that conflates the local and the national and considers local actors and movement dynamics as mere micro-instantiations of the national; 2) the assumption that represents people as embedded within local territorial contexts, and assumes that people’s access to the national or the global is mediated through nested scalar hierarhcies running through nation-states; 3) the assumption in which people are presented not only as embedded in particular, located social contexts, but also stuck there — immobilized– as well.
Local actors can entre the global arena collectively through NGO’s and other locally based organizations, but also, local actors can focus at the local level to address global conditions affecting their local conditions. Individual actors, as well, can act at the global level to press for change in their local affairs. In any case, the way we map local and global social movements either in the context of “the local in a global setting,” or “the global in a local setting.” requires new set of analytic distinctions about the roles of local collectives as well as individual subject-actors.
Likewise Evalyn Tennant contests what is today the prevalent analytic distinction in the study of social movement and activism… in questioning “whether national or transnational– is it analytically more productive to distinguish social movements in terms of face-to-face translocal mediated forms of interaction?” Her thesis is that contemporary movements of local actors can be more productively understood as the “translocal collection of distributed forms of locally organized collective action.”
Latour takes this contestation down to its very roots to what we have hypothesizing as the quantum unit of human action, namely the subject-to-subject engagement, by accusing the “modern interpretation of hierarchy and scale” of mistaking length of connection (within actor-networks) for difference in level:
… if we wander around IBM, if we follow the chains of command of the Red Army, if we inquire in the corridors of the Ministry of Education, if we study the process of seeling and buying a bar of soap, we never leave the local level. We are always in interaction with four or five people; the building superintendent always has his territory well staked out; the directors’ conversations sound just like those of the employees; as for the salespeople, they go on and on giving change and filing out their invoices. Could the macro-actors be made up of micro-actors? Could IBM be made up of a series of local interactions? The Red Army of an aggregate of conversations in the mess hall? The Ministry of Education of a mountain of pieces of paper? The world market of a host of local exchanges and arrangements?