Tag Archives: Brexit

Globalisation as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’

It is common to speak of globalization as a question of increased homo- or heterogeneity. Or as a mix of the two – so-called glocalization. This is the lens we adopted in Strategizing Communication as we believe it offers a good starting point for talking about strategic communication as a process of designing messages that can be read, interpreted and repurposed by different audiences. However, globalization is not just a mix of two disparate trends; rather, that view is an analytical simplification that may serve practical purposes, but does not tell the full story of how technological and economic developments as well as political, social and cultural forces shape and are shaped by globalization. The Indian-American professor of Media, Culture and Communication Arjun Appadurai offers a lens that may serve to understand the complexity of these dynamics better: that of seeing globalization as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’.

Appadurai (1990) begins his conceptualization from the same idea of globalization as driven by tensions between homogenization and heterogenization, but goes on to suggest that the landscape of globalization cannot be fully mapped on this one spectrum, but instead consists of five distinct dimensions: ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes. Note the plural. Each scape is actually a multitude of perspectives and the five can be combined in many different ways to form ‘imagined worlds’ – discrete perspectives of various actors: “nation-states, multinationals, diasporic communities, as well as sub-national groupings and movements (whether religious, political or economic). Indeed, the individual is the last locus of this perspectival set of landscapes…” (Appadurai, 1990, p. 296). Before continuing this line of reasoning, however, let us define the five scapes.

Ethnoscapes refer to the flows of people across the planet; the ways in which people move around – whether as refugees, migrants or tourists, to name but a few of the groups that today travel the planet. The ethnoscape is constantly shifting, rearranging bonds of kindship, feelings of belonging. “The warp of stability”, as Appadurai calls it, “is everywhere shot through with the woof of human motion, as more persons and groups deal with the realities of having to move, or the fantasies of wanting to move” (p. 297). The technoscape is “the global configuration of technology” (p. 298), the way in which various technologies are (unequally) distributed across the globe, but also provide the infrastructure for global connections and, further, may shift quickly across geographical, economic and other boundaries. Finanscapes denote the flows and figurations of global capital; the highly volatile and increasingly complicated mesh of financial transactions that seemingly exists apart from the realm of the so-called productive economy (the one in which some people produce, say, coffee so that other people can consume it) yet feeds off it (financialization begins with speculation in developments of the price of a good – say, coffee) and influences it profoundly (during the recent financial crisis some traders surely had to cut down on their consumption of luxury coffee, but it was people like the café owners and coffee farmers who had to close their businesses and leave their homes).

The two last scapes are built upon the first three. However, as ethnoscapes, technoscapes and finanscapes are both co-constitutive (they change in relation to each other) and disjunctive (they do not necessarily develop in similar direction and at similar speeds), they do not form a stable basis for the construction of mediascapes and ideoscapes. Rather, we are dealing with an ever shifting and shaking framework for the construction of images. In mediascapes images are distributed through the available information technologies in ever more complex ways to ever more diverse audiences. “What this means is that many audiences throughout the world experience the media themselves as a complicated and interconnected repertoire of print, celluloid, electronic screens, and billboards. The lines between the ‘realistic’ and the fictional landscapes they see are blurred…” (p. 299). Whereas mediascapes typically deal in ‘small stories’, ideoscapes build ‘grand narratives’; “…they are often directly political and frequently have to do with the ideologies of states and the counter ideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it” (p. 299).

It follows from the definitions of the five scapes and their interrelations that there can be no general theory of how the scapes are related. Instead, Appadurai offers us a terminology for exploring the relations between the five scapes in particular contexts. As an example, let us briefly apply the lens of scapes to the referendum on EU membership that was held in the UK on the 23rd of June, 2016. First, we can note how the ethno-, techno- and finanscapes of the UK in relation to the EU both worked with and against each other in the pre-referendum debate. The UK has, since its entry into the European Community in 1973, become increasingly technologically and financially integrated with the rest of Europe, yet the City of London has kept its distinct role as a global financial hub. Thus, it was possible to question whether and how exit from the EU would affect the UK economically. As for the ethnoscape, the free movement of labour within the EU has both changed the terms of immigration to the UK from European and other countries, setting the scene for a new and much more hostile tone in the UK’s immigration debate. No longer obligated to newly arrived people by the ties of a colonial past, the question of how to stop the constant inflow of people became a legitimate and popular one. Obviously there are many more factors and facets involved, but we can nevertheless see the contours of how this particular – and particularly strained – configuration created the basis for an ideoscape of national sovereignty, which was re-imagined in the popularized versions of protectionism and isolationalism in the UK’s mediascape. A mediascape that – even if not completely independent from European media – continues to be dominated by national resources and nationalistic narratives. The result: 52% voted leave and 48% remain. How Brexit will reconfigure the UK’s, the EU’s and the global scapes in relation to each other remains to be seen.