Culture Sits in Places: Reflections on Globalism and Subaltern Strategies of Localization

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Political Geography 20 (2001) 139–174 www.elsevier.com/locate/polgeo

Culture sits in places: reflections on globalism and subaltern strategies of localization Arturo Escobar
Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NC, USA

Abstract The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the concept of place in anthropology, geography, and political ecology. “Place” — or, more accurately, the defense of constructions of place — has also become an important object of struggle in the strategies of social movements. This paper is situated at the intersection of conversations in the disciplines about globalization and place, on the one hand, and conversation in social movements about place and political strategy, on the other. By arguing against a certain globalocentrism in the disciplines that tends to effect an erasure of place, the paper suggests ways in which the defense of place by social movements might be constituted as a rallying point for both theory construction and political action. The paper proposes that place-based struggles might be seen as multi-scale, network-oriented subaltern strategies of localization. The argument is illustrated with the case of the social movement of black communities of the Pacific rainforest region of Colombia.  2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Place; Networks; Social movements; Colombia

I am not worried about the opening of borders; I am not a nationalist. On the other hand, I do worry about the elimination of borders and of the very notion of geographical limits. This amounts to a denial of localization that goes hand in hand with the immeasurable nature of the real time technologies. When a border is eliminated, it reappears somewhere else.

E-mail address: aescobar@imap.unc.edu (A. Escobar).
0962-6298/01/$ - see front matter  2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 9 6 2 - 6 2 9 8 ( 0 0 ) 0 0 0 6 4 - 0

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A. Escobar / Political Geography 20 (2001) 139–174

If there is a solution possible today, it lies in reorganizing the place of communal life…the main question is to regain contact (Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst, 1999). Introduction: culture and the marginalization of place1 The question of “place” has been newly raised in recent years from a variety of perspectives — from its relation to the basic understanding of being and knowing to its fate under globalization and the extent to which it continues to be an aid or a hindrance for thinking about culture and the economy. This questioning, of course, is not coincidental; for some, placelessness has become the essential feature of the modern condition, and a very acute and painful one in many cases, such as those of exiles and refugees. Whether celebrated or decried, the sense of atopia seems to have settled in. This seems to be as true of discussions in philosophy, where place has been ignored by most thinkers (Casey 1993, 1997); theories of globalization, that have effected a significant discursive erasure of place (Dirlik, 2000); or debates in anthropology, which have seen a radical questioning of place and place making. Yet the fact remains that place continues to be important in the lives of many people, perhaps most, if we understand by place the experience of a particular location with some measure of groundedness (however, unstable), sense of boundaries (however, permeable), and connection to everyday life, even if its identity is constructed, traversed by power, and never fixed. There is an “implacement” that counts for more than we want to acknowledge, which makes one ponder if the idea of “getting back into place” — to use Casey’s expression — or a defense of place as project — in Dirlik’s case — are not so irrelevant after all2.

1 This paper is, in many ways, more personal than it is commonly the case; it has gone through many turns and twists. The argument owes much to the work of, and dialogue with, historians Arif...
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