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The assumption that “deterritorialization” is crucial to transnationalism

August 16, 2012

It has become fashionable in recent years to declare the end of the nation as a political or cultural entity, which is informed more often than not by economic transnationalization and its social consequences, which seem to be most readily apparent in motions of peoples across national boundaries. These motions have confounded not only national boundaries, the argument goes, but have also facilitated flows between intranational ethnicities and “global ethnoscapes.”” (227)

“What is problematic about all such arguments is not the phenomenon of transnationalism, but the assumption that crucial to transnationalism is “deterritorialization,” which renders transnationalism into an off-ground concept, undermining any concrete explanatory power it may have to offer. The term “transnationalism” itself derives its meaning from the continued existence of nations, which is built into its semic structure. The notion of “deterritorialization” ignores that even transnationals live in places (though they may move from one place to another); and that what they understand by transnationality (if they, in contrast to scholars, indeed understand their situation as such) or their cultural self-identification may be impossible to grasp without reference to the particular places they inhabit and the particular trajectories of “transnationality.” What is in question here is the reification of “transnationalism” (or kindred concepts such as “diaspora”) which glosses over the many place-based cultural formations that accompany transnationalization. Transnations, nations, places may all have their histories of which we need to be aware, but these are not histories that exist separately from one another; they are intertwined and intersect in concrete locations. The point is to understand what is at work in these locations and their implications not just culturally, but more significant, politically.

One common way to overcome political challenges presented by conjunctures of the transnational, the national, and the placebased is to displace the challenge to the realm of culture.” (228)

Arif Dirlik (2002) ‘Literature/Identity: Transnationalism, Narrative and Representation’. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 24: 209-234

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