Monday, September 21, 2009

Deterritorialization: A Big Word and an even Bigger Impact

In continuing with themes discussed last week regarding the maintenance of culture within diasporic communities, Sinclair attempts to clarify the division of culture and national identity through the idea of "deterritorialization."  This notion describes the importance of culture over the nation-state and gives way to a necessary shift in the identity of a nation.  I agree with Sinclair's notion that the recent trends of globalization indicate that the "nation as a cultural force is in retreat" and I would argue that a national identity must now take pride in its diversity of culture rather than its homogeneity.

The article helps me to reflect on the idea of the transnational bonds of a cultural identity and brought to mind an example of how a town in northern Malaysia is a testament to the whole idea of deterritorialization.  Penang is a town on the northern borer with Thailand and, like much of Malaysia, is comprised of three major ethnic groups:  the Chinese, Indian, and Malay.  In walking around this town, it became evident that these three ethnic neighborhoods were exact replicas of what each town would look like in the home countries.  Language, food, music, religion, and cultural dress changed drastically simply by crossing a street.  It was very clear that, for example, the Indian community did not consider themselves Malaysian although they had been a community in the town for generations.  They were distinctly Indian, and their identity reflected this in every facet.

This all leads to the question of media and its role within the changing global community.  Given the different cultural levels of today's nation state, I think it only makes sense that the media reflect this multi-tier approach.  While capitalism will give way to large corporations having an expansive reach, I agree with Marjorie Ferguson's assertion that pop culture is only a "surface" phenomenon.  It is important that smaller media outlets be given the support needed to reach those that identify at a cultural level or a level "below" that of the national identity.  As Sinclair points out, this responsibility falls on each democratic nation to "divert and filter" the flow of international culture and perhaps makes for a more even, and culture-centric, media playing field.  

1 comment:

  1. If the nation as a cultural force is in retreat, somebody ought to tell Lou Dobbs. I'm willing to concede that the stark black outline of "nationalism" is getting a little fuzzier, but I think the symbolic power of "the nation" is still alive and well -- and will remain so as long as people are willing to fight and die for it. Of course, symbolism is relative, and if CNN is any indication, there are a lot of people out there convinced that their assessment of nationalism is that one and only.

    Do you think it's easier for us, as Americans, to conceive of a symbolic nation made up of multiple cultures? After all, we've only got a few hundred years to build on, and our nation's history is the story of immigration. When I lived in the Czech Republic, I had several friends who were amused by the way most Americans could measure out their heritage in fractions, whereas some of them could trace their families back more than a hundred years without ever leaving the towns they'd been born in.

    And since I'm on the topic of the Czech Republic (and I lived there for two years, so my reflections seem to drift that way fairly often) I'll simply close by pointing out that the Czech national anthem perfectly illustrates both sides of the argument.

    The anthem's first line poses the question, "Where is my homeland?" And the answer, in the song's final verse, is "The Czech country, my homeland." The original version of the song, however, had a second stanza, which concluded, "Among the Czechs, my home." Even in the 1830s, evidently, some people recognized that national boundaries aren't always the ones that fit on a map.