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Transcending Nationalities: The “Global Imaginary” Seen Through Visual Culture

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Images are active players in the game of establishing and changing values. They are capable of introducing new values into the world and thus of threatening old ones.  J.T. Mitchell, 2005.

The concept of “global imaginary,” as coined by Manfred Steger, refers to the consciousness of belonging to a global community – a consciousness that has emerged in recent decades with the rapid rise of communication technologies and the decline of nation-based political ideologies. The concept builds on Benedict Anderson’s theories of “imagined communities,” but while Anderson used the term to refer to shared ideologies within nations, Steger posits that globalization is breaking down the imagined walls of nationhood and bringing about “a shared sense of a thickening world community.”  Steger insists that in order to understand and solve the great global problems of our time, we must first understand the “global imaginary” and all that it represents.

One artist and scholar has focused on visual culture as a way to understand the concept of “global imaginary.”  Tommaso Durante’s project, the Visual Archive Project of the Global Imaginary, explores the visual evidence, through photographs, of the cultural changes happening worldwide as a result of globalization.  Images are powerful conveyors of information. They carry a wealth of embedded knowledge about culture, values, and ideology. And Durante explains how, “due to the global spread of new media technologies, the massive uses of personal electronic devices and the development of intelligent architectural interfaces, visuality is increasingly eclipsing textuality and images, with their ‘surplus of value’, dominate the world.”  Indeed, if we look at how social media, with its image-heavy and text-sparse format, has become a unifying and polarizing force in the world, we can see how important visual culture is to the social forces that shape global society.

The photographs in Durante’s archive cover the cultural, political, and ideological dimensions of the “global imaginary.”  The photographs encompassing the cultural dimension are full of people, advertisements, storefronts, public spaces, and symbols that represent merging nationalities and ideologies.  The Apple logo is seen prominently displayed in a modern glass shopping center in East Shanghai, and then on a sign in from of an “iShop” housed in a beautiful historic building in Rome.  Through the images, we see how symbols and cultural icons stretch across the boundaries of nations and create a shared global visual landscape.  The images also venture into the political dimension, showing protest movements in the U.S. and Chile.  The ideological dimension shows advertisements and promotional imagery that deliberately make use of the the globe or words like “global” and “international” to produce a sense of shared meaning and influence cultural identities.

The archive may just be one artist’s perspective of the visual culture of globalization, but it is nonetheless a compelling portrait of the ways in which globalization is inciting a shared sense of meaning and belonging among global citizens.  The collection is a powerful illustration of the concept of the “global imaginary,” adding a visual dimension to Steger’s theory and, if Durante’s intentions come to fruition, serving as a historical archive of the process of globalization.

Learn more about globalization and the “global imaginary” with the resources below!

Scholarly Articles (Available through UIUC Online Journals & Databases)

Benedikter, Roland;  Ziveri, Davide.  (2014). The global imaginary, new media and sociopolitical innovation in the periphery: the practical case of an Internet-based empowerment project in Palestine and Israel. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 28:4.

Crang M. (2010). The death of great ships: photography, politics, and waste in the global imaginary. Environment and Planning A, 42:5, 1084 – 1102.

Durante, Tommasso. (2014). Visual Culture and Globalization: The Visual Archive Project of the Global Imaginary. Global-E Journal, 8.

Ojala, M. (2011). MEDIATING GLOBAL IMAGINARY. Journalism Studies, 12:5.

Steger, Manfred B.  (2009). The Rise of the Global Imaginary and the Persistence of Ideology. Global-E Journal, 3. 

Books

Anderson, Benedict O’G. (1991). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London : Verso.

Baldacchino, John,Vella, Raphael. (Eds.) (2013). Mediterranean art and education: navigating local, regional and global imaginaries through the lens of the arts and learning.  Rotterdam, The Netherlands : Sense Publishers.

Djelic, Marie-Laure.Quack, Sigrid. (Eds.) (2010). Transnational communities: shaping global economic governance. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Krätke, Stefan, Wildner, Kathrin,  Lanz, Stephan. (Eds.) (2012). Transnationalism and urbanism. New York, NY : Routledge.

Shavit, Uriya. (2009). The new imagined community: global media and the construction of national and Muslim identities of migrants. Brighton [England] : Sussex Academic Press.

Steger, Manfred B.. (2008). The rise of the global imaginary: political ideologies from the French Revolution to the global war on terror. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Vertovec, Steven. (2009). Transnationalism. London : Routledge.

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World Social Science Report 2013: Focusing on Changing Global Environments

The latest Social Science Report from UNESCO, released on November 15th, highlights the changing global environment and the impact that environmental changes have on social, economic, and political issues. The report highlights the need for in-depth research on environmental changes from a social science perspective, pointing to three “defining attributes” of modern global issues that particularly require the attentions of social science researchers. These three attributes are “The inseparability of social and environmental systems and problems,” “A human condition without precedent,” and “Urgent and fundamental social transformation.” With the goal of creating a basis for social science research in the field of environmental change, and spurring increased interest in the area among the social science community, the report includes perspectives from 150 authors from a variety of disciplines.

Although social scientists have been studying global environmental change since the 1950s, the field is still mostly dominated by natural science research. Asserting that the complex issue of environmental change requires a cross-discipline approach, the authors of the World Social Science Report call for the integration of global change research from around the world into an international multi-disciplinary research campaign.* The argument is that “global change changes everything.” Humans rely on the natural resources that the Earth provides, and changes in the natural world present very real and pressing challenges for humanity, challenges which require a broad perspective that draws on wisdom from many different disciplines. The most effective way to understand and navigate major global issues like environmental change is through a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to research and development. Hopefully this report will be an effective motivator for members of the social science community to tackle the issues surrounding global environmental change and to reach out to other disciplines to form collaborative partnerships and launch new paths of research on the subject.

* One organization, Future Earth, is attempting this integration through an alliance of international organizations that will endeavor to find solutions to global change issues.

Want to learn more about global environmental change from a social science perspective? Here are some great sources on the topic!

World Social Science Report 2013 – Changing Global Environments – Executive Summary

Future Earth

News Sources on the Report

UN News Center

Reuters

Scholarly Articles

Bradatan, Cristina. (2013). Where do we go from here? Climate change as a human affair. International Sociology. 28, 496.

Ehrlich, Paul R.. (2011). Seeking environmental solutions in the social sciences. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 67(5), 1-8.

Lahsen, Myanna. (2013). Climategate: the role of the social sciences. Climatic Change, 119(3-4), 547-558.
Moss, R. H., Edmonds, J. A., Hibbard, K. A., Manning, M. R., Rose, S. K., van Vuuren, D. P., & Wilbanks, T. J. (2010). The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature, 463(7282), 747-756.

Books from UIUC Libraries

Almlund, Pernille., Jespersen, Per Homann, Riis, Søren. (Eds.) (2012). Rethinking climate change research: clean-technology, culture and communication. Farnham, Surrey, England ; Ashgate Pub. Co.

Driessen, P, P. J., Leroy, Pieter, Vierssen, Wilhelmus van. (Eds.) (2010). From climate change to social change :perspectives on science-policy interactions. Utrecht : International Books.

Harper, Charles L. (2012). Environment and society: human perspectives on environmental issues. Boston : Prentice Hall.

Hastrup, Kirsten.Olwig, Karen Fog. (Eds.) (2012). Climate change and human mobility: global challenges to the social sciences. Cambridge. England : Cambridge University Press.

O’Brien, Karen L., St. Clair, Asuncion Lera, Kristoffersen, Berit. (Eds.) (2010). Climate change, ethics and human security. New York : Cambridge University Press.

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