05 November 2015

The Future Is Nodal

A while ago I made a post at the end of which I suggested:
London is already a key member of a network of global cities which are the organisational centres of the global economy. These metropolitan areas include New York, the Bay Area in California, Tokyo and Toronto. What would be interesting would be to establish whether, like London, these all are developing a politics that to a greater or lesser degree diverge from those of the country in which they are situated. More importantly, are they resembling one another's politics more than they do those of the rest of their country's.
This fell in line with an opinion I have expressed on other occasions that we should recognise that borders are going to be irrelevant in the globalised world. In keeping with the scheme of Immanuel Wallerstein's World-Systems Theory, the core is no longer going to be demarcated by national boundaries, but rather a network of Global Cities, better represented by a point-to-point map in which the lines can be seen as communication links or airline routes.

In keeping with this, we are increasingly confronted in historical scholarship with works that bypass old national boundaries. Kevin P. McDonald's recent book on the position of New York within an Indo-Atlantic network is a good example of this. As the reviewer puts it,

By studying the trade connections that ran via Madagascar between New York and the Indian Ocean, McDonald opens a world that defies modern categorization. It is a world that is not “Atlantic,” but can best be described as Indo-Atlantic. And although he does not make it explicit, the ventures he describes are not just British, but might well be described as Anglo-Dutch....an informal trading empire was created that directly connected colonies across imperial boundaries without passing through the metropolitan “core.” Goods and people, as McDonald shows, moved directly from the production centers in the Indian Ocean to the Anglo-American colonies.
I would reject the idea that this world defies modern characterisation at all. We have New York as a "node" in a network of commerce. We have a hybridised political identity that struggles to conform with nineteenth-century notions of Romantic naitonalism, but works perfectly well under a quaintly named "transnational" monarchy. We have a core that is located not within a nation, but in the tie between two trading and financial nodes on the Thames and the Hudson. I don't think the twenty-first-century graduate student would find those kinds of categorisations at all challenging.

I am going to wager that more and more we shall see historical and literary studies that supplant our traditional 'national' histories with these newfangled 'networked' histories until eventually they dominate future scholarship. Looking at the history of a now-peripheral node like Detroit or Sheffield in a national context will seem hopelessly backward, and not where the grant money is to be found.

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