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Transnationalism from Below – Smith & Guarnizo eds.

Comparative Urban and Community Research V6 – 1998

“The Locations of Transnationalism” – Guranizo & Smith

The nation state is under siege from above by transnational capital, global media, and supra-national institutions; further, the nation state also faces challenges from below from decentered informal economies, ethnic nationalisms and grassroots activism.  G/S recognize a couple of different factors that have contributed to the “contemporary transnational flows” that facilitate transnationalism:

  1. Globalization of capitalism with attendant destabilizing effects on less industrialized economies
  2. Communication and transportation revolutions
  3. Global political transformations like decolonization and universalization of human rights
  4. The production and expansion of social networks that increase/facilitate transnational migration, economic agreements, and politics (4).

G/S recognize that some authors have celebrated transnational practices as somehow liberatory in the face of a reshaping lobal capitalism; however, this is likely a bit optimistic.  Though these practices are usually counter-hegemonic, they are not often resistant.  In teasing out the political aspects of transnationalism and global governance, G/S note that the most global level is dominated by multilateral collectivities such as the UN, IMF, WTO, etc.  At the most local level “trans-locality” is the space produced by transnational migration.

G/S argue against understanding transnationalism from below and above as steps toward the dissolution of the nation-state because of the identitarian politics that are wrapped up in nationalist social formations.  Further, the proliferation of transmigrant entrepreneurs has helped reinforce already existent nationalisms through remittance programs and transnational entrepreneurial pursuits.

Transnational practices from above and below have resulted in outbursts of nationalisms in both sending (remember your identity and send back remittances) and receiving (we are a pure state, remember our “myth” of national identity) states.

Arguing against the idea of transnational migrants as deterritorialized, free-floating agents, G/S note that the idea of “locality” in transnational practice should be scrutinized to reveal the specific social relations between agents, the unequivocality of localities, and the history to develop a more nuanced understanding of these individuals; in other words, these indivudals are also bound by local constraints and social moorings (12).  Further, recognizing that transnational practices extend beyond two or more national territories isn’t enough; rather, researches must also understand that these localities are built within the confines of specific social, economic, and political relations that are bound together by shared interests and meanings (13).  G/S also recognize that another dimension of this translocality is that the creation of translocal relations (immigrants from a specific locale reconstituting that network of connections in a new national space) significantly controls the patterns of global investment and migration (14-5); in other words, justifications for global investment and migration must be justified in all translocalities.

Considering the question of whether transnational networks are first-generation migrant centered or enduring across multiple generations, G/S side on the cross-generational durability of transnational network connections.    Citing receiving country policies toward immigrants (ethnic pluralism vs. full assimilation for example), G/S note that three things must be considered:

  1. Microdyanamics of capitalism (social, not familial migration, etc.)
  2. Globalization of capitalism and economic reorganization of the economy (labor)
  3. Technological revolution – (communications, transportation, etc.

Considering identity, G/S note that there is a lot of tension between the postmodern articulation of identity as constructed, free-floating and to some degree voluntaristic vs. empirical studies that argue identity formation as embedded in socially structured and politically mediated processes of group formation and collective action.  Relying on Foucault via Shapiro, the authors argue that the subject isn’t a free floating entity; rather, the subject is produced through the discursive fields through which they travel.  These discursive fields are the socially structured spaces mentioned before; however, these sites are always intensely local and allow for the development – becoming – of the individual.  In other words, identity is a state of becoming always embedding and disembedding over time constituting and reconstituting the self.

In the future, G/S see transnational studies taking up the following issues:

  1. The globalization of capitalism and the attendant repositioning of identities in that restructuring
  2. The transnational dimensions of global political transformations (decolonization, universalization of human rights, etc.)
  3. The transnational social relations made possible by technologies of communication and transportation
  4. The spatial expansion of social networks from below that facilitate the reproduction of migration, business practices, cultural beliefs, and political agency.

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