local/global

The "local" is a politically contested concept. Is it a site of resistance to globalization and the hegemonic ideological systems that go under the names of the West, McWorld, and EMPIRE? Is the local the only viable link to tradition, or is it a source of fascisms, of ethnic atavisms, of all the raging cultural fundamentalisms and defensively defined communities that Benjamin Barber calls jihad ?

A large portion of critical thought since the 1960's has sought to recompose sites of resistance and to ground political analysis on the localization of struggles. Such arguments are sometimes constructed in terms of "placed-based" movements or politics, in which the boundaries of place are posited against the undifferentiated and homogeneous space of global networks.

But should one assume that the global entails homogenization and and undifferentiated unity whereas the the local preserves heterogeneity and difference? Is the global an insidious homogenizing tendency, the territory of unscrupulous and ungoverned multinational corporations, and the repressive law of the father? For Samuel Huntington, "Local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of Civilizations." (The Clash of Civilizations, p. 28) Or is the "global" a space of flows, a goddess ( Gaia), a superorganism?

For Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the name of the regime of globalization is EMPIRE, a concept distinct from both the modern state and from imperialism. (Presumably, this is the world that Rem Koolhaas calls the realm of ¥¤$ )For Hardt and Negri "Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers." (Empire, p xii)
"Empire manages hybrid entities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command." "Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of imperial sovereignty is that its space is always open. " (p. 167) While Hardt and Negri see the proliferation of postmodern recombinations as fully compatible with Empire, Donna Haraway still suggests the possibility of resistance when she claims that " Cyborg gender is a local possibility taking a global vengeance." (p. 181)

Are global theories inaccurate per se? Are they constructions which serve the vested interests of particular classes or power structures? (see strategy / tactics) Is the current reaction against "totalizing" and global theories merely a a symptom of a disenchantment with Marxism, Structuralism, and other isms?(see postmodernism )

It is important to keep in mind that the global is not the universal. The global is still a measure of territorial extension (which could be more or less), while the universal is saturated with conceptual ubiquity, described by Plato as "synopsis in idea." What is grasped in such synopsis is not the peculiar, fortuitous, or unstable; it possesses universal necessary and eternal truth. see discussion in philosophical space. Modern architecture was criticized for its claim to being unversal.

In Chaos Bound, Katherine Hayles desribes "the politics of chaos" as "local knowledge versus global theory." (Chapt. 8) For Hayles, the local, in both a geopolitical and theoretical sense, is a site that resists assimilation into a universal theory. Totalizing theories are associated with oppressive political structures, and local knowledge with liberation. (cf. Kenneth Frampton's espousal of "Critical Regionalism".) (see also Arjun Appadurai's description of the work of the imagination)Hayles considers the question of the local and the global the most politically charged of the issues energized by the new science.

Is the local an "instance" of the global? Not according to Michel Serres, who claims that "We have to change laws. Henceforth the global does not necessarily produce a local equivalent, and the local itself contains a law that does not always and everywhere reproduce the global." (Serres, Hermès V, p. 75) For Serres, "Violence is one of the two or three tools that permit us to insert the local into the global, to force it to express the universal law, to make reality ultimately rational. In fact, as in geometry, what passes for a universal globality is only an inordinately distended (local) variety. Representation is nothing but this distension, swelling, or inflation." (Serres, Jouvences, p. 75) In another discussion, Michel Serres describes the "weaving" of the global out of the local in the examples of a fly's path of flight (including its use of a car or plane) or of the folding and stretching example of making dough. This latter example is well known in the literature of chaos. Two grains of flour will move chaotically in relation to each other, ending up arbitrarily far apart or close together. For Serres, these practices, more than rational law, create homogeneity and the global out of the local. (see also smooth/striated)

According to Deleuze, "Foucault's functionalism throws up a new topology which no longer locates the origin of power in a priveleged place, and can no longer accept a limited localization (this conception of social space ...is as new as that of contemporary physics and mathematics). Here we can see that the 'local' has two very different meanings: power is local because it is never global, but it is not local or localized because it is diffuse" (Foucault, p. 26)

Is chaos homogenous? It would seem to be just the opposite, having identities at every scale.When chaotic systems such as turbulence are seen as self-organizing, their ability to instantly amplify a disturbance from local to global levels, shows them to have become local-global (a "supple individual" between molecular and molar?) (see Massumi pp. 58 ff) Katherine Hayles, echoes this analysis when she points out that chaos theory does not renounce globalization. Rather, it achieves globalization by correlating movements from one level to another.(multiscale analysis) It is only when complex systems exhibit self-similarity that scales can be correlated. Thus the major difference between clasical and new scientific paradigms is not that one globalizes and the other does not, but that one is scale-invariant and the other is not.

The (nation) state is, of course, the classic instrument of suppression of the local, and globalization is primarily a particular, contemporary configuration of the relations between capital and the nation-state. On the other hand, the idea of nation-state articulates a civil society of political sovereignty based on the common will, and at least part of the problems of globalization are due to the lack of a form of political citizenship. (see public/private)

Arjun Appadurai describes the production of locality as the object of ethnography. He describes the ethnographic project in a peculiar way: as "isomorphic with the very knowledge it seeks to discover and document." ( Modernity at Large, p. 182) For him, "locality is an inherently fragile social achievement," that must be maintained carefully against various kinds of odds, especially through ritual. Not only boundary maintenance, or foundational ritual, (cf ground) but also rites of passage produce locality as both a spatial construction and as a way of embodiment -- through the production of local subjects. (eg. "natives") Techniques for the spatial production of locality are moments an a general technology (and teleology) of localization. Space and Time are themselves socialized and localized through complex and deliberate practices of performance, representation, and action. (cf. duration) see also place.

Maurice Halbwachs describes the localization of memory as the way in which individual memories are part of a totality of memories of a group. For Halbachs individual memory is a part or aspect of group memory. The structure and mileu of the family, for example, regulates the expression of shared feelings, and family memories are inextricably bound to the qualities of family life.

Appadurai describes the Salman Rusdie affair, as a conflict between the transnational worlds of liberal aesthetics and radical Islam to create implosive events that fold global pressures into small, already politicized arenas, producing locality in new, globalized ways. (pp8-9)For Appadurai, it is too simplistic to say that "the global is to space what the modern is to time." He is also skeptical of the idea that globalization is the story of cultural homogenization. For Appadurai, globalization is not just about a world of things in motion. The various flows we see -- of objects, persons, images, and discourses are characterized by disjunctures, and these disjunctures precipitate various kinds of problems and frictions in different local situations.

Does the artisan rely on "local knowledge?" Clifford Geertz describes law as local knowledge, not placeless principle -- local not just as to place, time, class and variety of issue but also local as to a set of notions about the relations between fact and norm. According to Geertz, these frames of signification do not just regulate behavior, they construe it. (In this respect, Geertz is engaged in a critique of representation, similar to Nelson Goodman's (Ways of Worldmaking) , Ludwig Wittgenstein's (forms of life), and Richard Rorty's. (distinction between performative and prescriptive....) "We are faced with defining ourselves neither by distancing others as counterpoles nor by drawing them close as facsimiles, but by locating ourselves among them." Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge, p. 186 In Geertz' hermeneutic anthropological enterprise, which seeks to understand social institutions and the cultural formulations that surround them and give them meaning, he proposes "orienting notions," not foundational ones. (see ground / foundation )

(is it useful to introduce the regional between the local and the global? The "region" is described as the space created by an interaction, Miller and Johnson-Laird, Language and Perception, quoted by Michel de Certeau, p.127) (or the "neighborhood" in Appadurai's terminology)

While the question of the relations between local and global seems very similar in both science and critical theory (and Maurice Mandlebrot's observations about the links between the coastline question and the size of the country concerned seems to support this), Katherine Hayles argues that the approaches are still different. "In the new scientific paradigms, the global subsumes the local, but at the price of reconceptualizing the global as constituted by locality. Within critical theory, the claims of the local are expanded until the local itself becomes a new kind of globalizing imperative." (pp 213-214)

The " bottom up" approach to artifical life and complexity examines systems based on local interaction rules rather than on global rules. (for example, see the rules for cellular automata. A-life studies sees the relation between local and global in life as feedback loops. "the local dynamics of a set of interacting entities (e.g., molecules, cells, etc.) supports an emergent set of global dynamic structures which stabilize themselves by setting the boundary conditions within which the local dynamics operates. That is, these global structures can "reach down" to their own, physical bases of support and fine tune them in the furtherance of their own, global ends. Such LOCAL to GLOBAL and back to LOCAL, inter-level feedback loops are essential to life, and are the key to understanding its origin, evolution, and diversity." (C.E.Taylor, "Fleshing Out Artificial Life", in Artificial Life 2)

In discussions of fitness landscapes, local maxima can trap systems from reaching global maxima. Adaptation typically progresses through small changes involving a local in the space of possibilities. Eg. an "adaptive walk" is a connected walk through points all of which exhibit improved function. A sandpile can be globally stable and locally unstable. (see self-organized criticality )

Localization is a contested issue in research on memory and the brain. What is at stake in the issue of localization of memory is the rule of the psychophysiological hypothesis (at least in a narrow version of it, which seeks point-to-point mappings of brain and memory. In Kurt Goldstein's concept of the organism, any change in one locality is accompanied by changes in other locations. The organism always establishes some kind of whole, even when impaired. One of the most contested issues in neurology concerns the localization of behaviour, or memory. Oliver Sachs caricatures the two opposing schools of thought as "splitters" and "lumpers." While the majority of neurologists favor "parcellation" of the brain, others felt that there must be higher order functions (such as memory, attention, emotion, thought, consciousness, identity) which required large-scale or global processes in the brain. The "Binding Problem' is an expression of the the issue raised by the non-local interactions of neurons. How can a set of diverse and functionally segregated maps cohere without a higher-order controller?

In The Interpersonal World of the Infant, Daniel Stern describes infant experience as more unified and global than that of adults. According to Stern, infants "take sensations, perceptions, actions, cognitions, internal states of motivation, and states of consciousness, and experience them directly in terms of intensities, shapes, temporal patterns, vitality affects, categorical affects, and hedonic tones. (p.67)

What is relation between locality and place? According to Vincent Scully, the Greek temple enacts a reciprocal relationship between the form of the sanctuary and the sacred site. It is a localization, an image in the landscape of the the qualities of the god whose image it housed. (Scully) The place itself is holy and, before the temple was built upon it, embodied the whole of the deity as a recognized natural force ... not as a picture, but as a true force.

"Physics is local." Classical physics is based on local, realistic theory. It rejects action at a distance and assigns definite properties to bodies when we are able to predict their effects with certainty, and without in any way disturbing them. Yet from the work of Kepler and Newton, particles had a dual nature: on the one hand, a highly localized object, and on the other an influence extending through the whole of space. In What is Matter?, Hermann Weyl gives a detailed outline of the displacement of the old "substance theory" by the modern " field theory."Quantum physics undermines the realism of classical physics in that the observed object cannot be properly described except in connection with a description of the experimental conditions.