The Argument Against Modernity’s Dominant Formulation

Sometimes you read articles that make your heart sing with their intelligence and insight and overall wonderfulness, and as you read, you find yourself whispering intentions and prayers to yourself to go at your work with a bit more determination and focus. Today that happened as I read a lovely article by Massey, and wanted to share bits of it here as inspiration when my enthusiasm stores run a bit low. =) The article as a whole is about different ways of disrupting and problematizing popular academic and general conceptions of globalization,why such disruptions need to occur, and why we need to construct ‘space-time’ understandings of the  process of globalization.  The chapter was assigned as one of this week’s readings in a class I’m taking this term titled Global Urbanism and Cities of the Global South. In the 2 years of my program, I think this is the first course offered about ‘other’ parts of the world, so I’m excited to soak up as much as I can. (Because as interesting as Canada is, my heart and brain is craving to learn about urbanism in other contexts).

The quote below talks about how we need to recognise the particularities of the modernity story. It predicates an extensive discussion about why popular conceptions of globalization (one for example being that globalization is about free unbounded movement) need to be deconstructed, and outlines four reasons that the author is uncomfortable with unquestioned usages of the term. One particularly interesting part of the piece is the way she demonstrates how different powerful geographic imaginations are utilized to construct a particular understanding of economic globalization and the implications of this knowledge production. The international movement of capital is valorized and celebrated, whereas the international movement of labour is discussed in the context of protecting local people and controlling immigration.  It is a fascinating piece that warrants a read in its entirety.

“The standard version of the story of modernity – as a narrative of progress emanating from Europe – represents a discursive victory of time over space.  That is to say that differences which are truly spatial are interpreted in being differences in temporal development – differences in the stage of progress reached. Thus Western Europe is understood as being ‘advanced’, other parts of the world as ‘some way behind’ and yet others as ‘backward’. Euphemistically to re-label ‘backward’ as ‘developing’ does nothing to alter this process of thinking of spatial variation in terms of a temporal series. (..) It is this act which deprives these spatial differences of their ‘real import’, deprives them of  ‘the full measure of the real differences which are at issue.’
(..)
Ironically then, not only is this temporal structuring of the geography of modernity a repression of the spatial, it is also the repression of the possibility of the temporalities (other, that is than the stately progress towards modernity/modernization/development on the Euro-Western model. Indeed it is in these terms – that is, about the existence of other temporalities and stories – that the argument against modernity’s dominant formulation is usually posed. In other words, for different temporalities to co-exist there must be space.

Massey D (1999). Imagining globalization: Power geometries of time-space. In A. Brah and M. Hickman, M. Mac An Ghaill (eds). Global Futures – Migration, Environment and Globalization (pp.27-44). New York: St Martin’s Press.

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