Thursday, February 02, 2006

A question of space 

I have been thinking for some time about the existence in our mode of though of a grand narrative which, through a convergence of various fields of knowledge, defines the function of space in the Middle Ages. The narrative in general goes like this: the medieval period lacked the technology of large-scale movement of people and information; medieval society was thus characteristically local, and its cultures defined by local conditions. In modern times, more advanced technology allowed for greater movement and interaction. This allowed for the growth of bureaucracy and the overlay of larger ‘imagined communities’ such as the nation on top of older, disparate affiliations (so argues Benedict Anderson). Today, that technology had propelled us into the post-modern world in which whole populations are displaced from their geographical origins and juxtaposed, and in which complex communications between geographically distant locations can take place in cyberspace. Communities no longer function within the contiguous boundaries of nations, and geography is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In short, communities functioned first within regional space, then national space, and now in cyberspace.

There are lots of holes in this narrative. Local communities are just as likely to be ‘imagined’ as national ones. The nation is pre-dated by plenty of examples of bureaucracy and ideology that were shared across diverse geographical spaces. And it has yet to be shown that the entry of the participation of the human intellect in virtual communities involves a breaking free of the cultural constructs of the region where its body is housed. Indeed, there are thousands of web sites devoted to local communities. Even the web sites of multinational corporations often divide themselves into subwebs based on region. Finally, many web sites contain proprietary sections not accessible to the global community. (For example, most universities have web-based enrolment and administration sites, as well as on-line teaching sites, which are accessible only to members of those universities.) One possible lesson to take from this is that, as communities expand, they also shrink. There will always be microcosms within the macrocosm. The question is, how do they relate?

Well, I don’t intend to supply an answer in this blog entry, as I don’t have time to write more than a couple of not-very-polished paragraphs at a time (they don’t pay us to write at universities with 4-4 teaching loads). But in the coming weeks I hope to address different aspects of this question in further entries.

Comments: Post a Comment
This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?