Globalization is profoundly transforming the social spaces in which our particular places and institutions are constructed. Globalization is not, however, a process that simply creates new and larger places. It is a transformation that fundamentally changes the nature of social space in a way that affects all of our places. These changes in the nature of space challenge many of the assumptions implicit in our understanding and practice of higher education.
Globalization provides both profound challenges and opportunities. Much of what follows will focus on how previous spatial orders are being eroded and thus will have a pessimistic tone. For that reason, I begin by invoking the enormous positive possibilities that many of the dynamisms of globalization present to us.
Pope John Paul II was able to see beyond the neo-liberal assumptions that have dominated discussions of globalization since the 1980s and offer a positive vision of globalization. He famously spoke of the possibility of a “globalization of solidarity” (John Paul II 1998, §3; 1999, §55). Transportation and communication technologies provide unprecedented possibilities for communication, coordination, and cooperation both within and between groups. John Paul’s ability to see the hopeful potential amidst the chaos and exploitation of actually existing globalization was grounded in a Christian imagination. Christianity is a missionizing religion and has its own deep dogmatic reasons for imagining the ultimate communion of all peoples and for discerning the particular character of that communion. These doctrines provide Christianity with potential resources for a spatial imagination.
Edward Soja has argued that modernity and modern critical thought are marked by a “hegemonic… historicism of theoretical consciousness” which so preferences the historical over the spatial that it is blinded to the undeniably spatial aspects of human sociality and solidarity and to our dependence and impact upon our environment (1989, 10–11). Much the same can be said about Christianity. Despite its fundamental spatial concerns, the modern understanding of the Pascal Mystery and discipleship—of God’s work in the world and our graced response to it—has been conceived overwhelmingly in terms of time and history. This has its most compact expression in the call found in Gaudium et Spes, one of four constitutions resulting from Vatican II, for the faithful to read “the signs of the times,” to listen to and learn from events in recent history.
There is much that is good in this conception, and as Gaudium et Spes clearly shows, historical concerns need not obscure those conceived in spatial terms. Nonetheless, this temporal focus inclines to a deficient form of cosmopolitanism concerned primarily with the “big issues” being debated in metropoles and capitals. Thus, the message is often conveyed that smaller locals are backwaters; history is taking place elsewhere. This was precisely the experience I had growing up in the rapidly rusting city of Pittsburgh in the late 1970s and 1980s. In large ways and small, we learned that the tide of history had once been there but had since gone elsewhere. Such a perspective runs afoul of the catholicity of the Church, which requires us to attend to the fullness of salvation for all places (Miller 2008, 412–432). J. M. R. Tillard described the catholic imperative to engage the depths of the local as the divine gift of fullness “‘plung[ing] its roots’ into the soil of diverse human cultures” (Tillard 1995, 126; Ruddy 2006, 66).
Soja quotes John Berger, “Prophecy now involves a geographical rather than historical projection; it is space not time that hides consequences from us” (Berger 1971, 40). Christianity envisions salvation embracing all persons, creatures, and places, even the backwaters of history. What would it take to put the ideal of the globalization of solidarity into actual practice?
Higher Education and Space
Such concerns are relevant to higher education in general and to Christian affiliated higher education in particular. The liberal arts have always had an explicit or implicit relationship to particular spaces: e.g., the Greek polis, various ancient imperial bureaucracies, the Latinate cosmopolitanism of medieval Christendom, Renaissance city states, modern European state bureaucracies, the modern nation state and its imperial variants, and most recently what Aiwa Ong describes as “neoliberal citizenship” in the current global context.
The university and its precursors have had complex relationships with these contexts. Scholars and schools relied upon them for their existence. They provided education for citizens and functionaries, even as they aspired to transform or even subvert them. Ong observes that American higher education has long addressed students as both citizens and as rationally calculative professionals (2006, 149). These two dimensions of the student were held together by more than personal character. The broader context of national space balanced individual careers and professional actions with the accountability of citizenship within local and national community.
The local nature of economic production and consumption reinforced this balance. The so-called “Fordist” economy of the twentieth century is a case in point. The intensification of industrial capitalism required a concord between state, capital, and labor that kept stakeholders in close proximity. Both Henry Ford’s notorious experiment with the “social department” that monitored the home life of employees and what Saskia Sassen has termed the “Fordist family wage” made the point that factory owners were dependent on the social stability of labor for successful production (Sassen 2001, 332; 1998, Chs. 1, 5). This was evident as well in the broad array of investments in and support for local education and civic life that industrialists contributed to town and urban places in the twentieth century.
In this economy, markets overlapped with the scale of government. As a result, negative market externalities (pollution, dangerous working conditions, etc.) were susceptible to political correction. In this era, the political world of the citizen overlapped with the economic life of the worker, professional, or owner.
This was also an era in which many of our assumptions about culture were formed. Benedict Anderson (1983) has shown the important role that “print capitalism” played in the emergence of nationalism. The printing press precipitated the emergence of “print vernaculars” that forged diverse spoken vernacular languages into national-scale linguistic zones. The further technological developments that gave rise to the twentieth century mass media reinforced this effect by creating national-scale entertainment and public spheres. Both culture and what we might call the “public epistemology” of the news mapped to national space.
Here we can return to the historical focus of modern Christianity. While often concerned primarily with universal salvation history, that history was frequently imagined and experienced within the national spatial scale. The notion of “the signs of the time” spoke profoundly to generations involved in national independence movements, the struggle for women’s equality, and other civil rights movements. All of these, despite their cultural dimensions, were still deployed to transform or appeal to national legal regimes and political communities.
This national spatial context provided the unity presumed by the deepening specialization in universities over the last half-century. Universities could produce and train students in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and technology without an overarching intellectual synthesis to hold them together. Advanced research and training in potentially revolutionary fields such as psychopharmacology, embryonic biology, and weapons systems could be undertaken without requiring similarly advanced training in ethics, because moral evaluation presumably would take place in national civil society and politics where experts in both ethics and technology would contribute their complementary expertise.
The Unwinding of the National Scale
The economic and political changes of the past forty years, brought about by the multiple dynamisms of globalization have fundamentally changed the spatial context within which we work, rendering these assumptions problematic.
We can begin with the most basic economic changes. The Fordist economic equilibrium underwent sustained crisis in the 1970s as national markets for durable goods began to reach saturation and thus were unable to continue to fuel the rapid growth necessary to sustain large-scale, vertically integrated firms and labor’s expectations for an ever rising standard of living. In response, businesses sought flexibility in sourcing, production, and labor relations.
At the same time, advances in information technology and transportation, along with ideological/political support for free trade, enabled an explosive growth in outsourcing and gave rise to the global commodity chains that characterize most industrial production today. These brought about what Thomas Princen has termed the “distancing” of production from consumption, which systematically deprives end consumers of feedback concerning the full costs and conditions of production of the goods they consume. Our goods seem to arrive from an “infinite frontier”: a place where resources are never depleted, waste can be disposed of without consequence, and labor costs can be infinitely reduced (Princen 2002, 116–117). Although there could never be any such place, our consumption trains us to imagine that we live in one.
Of course, any form of commodity exchange can encourage negative externalities; in a global context, however, these externalities often take place beyond the boundaries of the national political community. The impoverished children of underpaid workers, the victims of industrial pollution, and the despoiled landscapes that are part of the story of our standard of living are so scattered and distant that they are never brought into what remains of our civil and political discourse. They are also outside the regulatory scope of our national government. This is not to say these things receive no attention. Naomi Klein is a worthy successor to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Upton Sinclair, and Rachel Carson. But, to overwork a metaphor: the consequences of our actions render others’ springs silent, not our own.
The nation-state ceases to be the primary “container” of social processes. Saskia Sassen describes the emergent global social order as the “partial unbundling” of the economic, political, and cultural processes that the modern nation-state comprised (Sassen 2006, 423). The nation-state is not about to disappear, but it no longer serves either to organize a settled hierarchical spatial scale that binds together local places, towns, cities, regions, and states or to relate these to other nationally scaled spaces on the international level.
Emergent Global Space
This account is offered not as a definitive description of the new form of space coming into existence, but as a description of the changes that are already underway. What is emerging is not simply a replacement—a new spatial scale or a different container of social processes—but a fundamentally different form of social space that constitutes a different social physics. Previous social spaces from the local to the national are now being reconstituted from space that has different constants. The metaphors of “spheres” and the bounded, contiguous plains of national maps lose their illuminative power. In contrast to the bounded, territorial model of the nation state, global space is disjunctive (constituted in intersections of disparate elements) and deterritorialized (not easily mapable by shared understandings).
Arjun Appadurai chooses the world disjuncture—the opposite of conjunction—to describe the interactions that take place in global space. Myriad actors and dynamisms interact, often from great distance. Globalization has not brought us a “global village” or “space-time compression,” but something better described as “complex connectivity” (McLuhan 1964; Harvey 1989; Tomlinson 1999). Space is understood better in terms of oblique intersections and nexuses. Appadurai describes the chaotic interplay of different dynamisms: abstract ethnicity serving new ends in diaspora communities; technologies with unpredictable effects in their cultures of origins and abroad; fragments of political ideology at work in contexts far different from their origins; revolutionizing and debilitating flows of hot capital; and the near capillary reach of commercial popular culture, the products of which are received and practiced according to the needs and imaginations of consumers, bringing quite unpredictable results, such as the rather unexpected popularity of Kenny Rogers in the Philippines or anti-Western militants finding inspiration in Rambo movies (Appadurai 1996, 7, 29).
This is a world where farming practices in one corner of the globe can breed new forms of influenza that quickly become endemic everywhere; where a small group of militants spurred by the unremarked religious dimensions of geopolitical strategy, frustration in their own domestic contexts, and outrage at the moral decadence evident in Western media can organize to act across national borders with historic effect; where Jamaican chicken farmers are priced out of business not by focused competition but by the fact that US producers have to do something with the cuts of chicken unwanted by three hundred million Americans fixated on boneless, skinless chicken breasts one moment and chicken wings the next.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing offers the provocative metaphor of “friction” to describe the sorts of social interaction that take place in this global context. The metaphor is provocative not for the familiarity of its meaning, but for its oddness. Friction here does not mean the sorts of political pushback experienced by politicians adopting unpopular policies or reformers trying to transform society. Tsing uses the term friction precisely to denote the lack of a shared understanding of what is being undertaken in the “awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (Tsing 2005, 3).
Friction describes the often minimal cooperations necessary for global capital flows to impact the real world. The central example of Tsing’s study is a rare environmental victory on southern Borneo, in which indigenous forest dwellers, provincial nature lovers, and national environmental organizations joined forces to end a logging concession that threatened an indigenous village. What at first glance seems an exemplary example of coalition building, upon closer examination becomes quite confusing. Each group had profoundly different understandings of what was at stake: the personal authority of village leaders, preservation of wilderness, and indigenous forest dwellers’ rights to communal management of the forest. Furthermore the various participants offered incommensurable accounts of both the events that took place and the actions that brought them about. Global space brings about encounters of enormous consequence, in situations where the parties have little opportunity to understand either the stakes or the other parties involved.
Global space is unpredictable. The vastly expanded range of potential interactions renders them unforeseeable and difficult to comprehend. Anonymous forces act from a great distance, cross-cultural encounters occur with greater frequency and across greater difference. In contrast to the relatively homogeneous fields of national space, global space becomes increasingly “lumpy” as interactions are focused in particular nexus points—ranging from global cities and concentrations of natural resources to small towns located near interstate highways (Sassen 2006, 299).
The second characteristic of global space is its deterritorialization. Jose Casanova offers a helpful analogy: territory is to space as history is to time (2001, 428). Territory is ordered space that we can make sense of and act within. Two aspects of deterritorialization are particularly relevant here: its non-public nature and its concomitant tendency to encourage something that resembles sectarianism.
First, since disjunctive space works according to intersections rather than shared domains, it does not easily add up to a shared public mapping. This does not, however, mean that it is private. Sassen’s terminology of “illegibility” is helpful here. It directs us away from the liberal political assumptions within the concept of “public”—that things are open for debate. The problem is more fundamental. Prior to the questions of debatability and participation lies the fact that space is simply not known in a shared framework of knowledge.
The revolution being wrought by teen texting is illuminative of this illegibility. Cell phones provide adolescents with a communication network that reaches into, but does not appear within, the shared spaces of the home, in contrast to the telephone land-line with its audible ring, a knock at the front door, or good old-fashioned yelling from the street. Intricate plans are arranged which are then presented to parents (or at least to my spouse and I) as faits accompli. While this could be accurately construed as a challenge to parental authority, it is more noteworthy for its construction of space. Planning takes place in a way that simply isn’t visible or sharable. Parents don’t have the opportunity to speak to other parents during the process or to contribute salient facts about the plans of other family members outside of the texting network. Plans emerge fully hatched in the midst of the rest of family life.
While this is not a trivial example, a profoundly less trivial one can be found in the digital trunk lines that encircle the globe. It is a striking fact that global financial transactions are carried out in proprietary networks separate from the data trunks of the public Internet (Sassen 2007, 90ff). That which is private here is not simply that which is not public, but that which is proprietary and invisible. The global is not simply an expansion of previously publically shared spaces; it is the proliferation of multiple orders, many invisible, that can operate at vast distances with profound effects on people who have no access to, or even awareness, of their inner workings.
The second aspect of deterritorialization is consequent upon the first. Deterritorialized space does not lend itself to comprehensive imagining. As minority communities know all too well, the settled scales of national space elide much of the complexity of life and censor opposing spatial narratives. Nevertheless, even in its inadequacies, national space provides a shared imagination of the world upon which action can be planned and against which resistance can be articulated. The domestic economy provided some way of balancing the books: economic production required investment in infrastructure, management of resources, and a population with sufficient means to provide a market for the goods produced. “In an earlier generation, social policy was based on the belief that nations, and within nations, cities, could control their fortunes; now, a divide is opening between polity and economy…. Since nation-states remain the sole frame for book balancing and the sole sources of effective political initiative, the ‘transnationality’ of eroding forces puts them outside the realm of deliberate, purposeful and potentially rational action” (Bauman 1998, 55, 56; citing Sennett, 1995, 13).
The national scale is, in this sense, the development and heir of previous, territorial socio-political scales. It is within this sort of well-territorialized space that religious traditions have developed. In such contexts, ideals are forced to contend with and engage the status quo. The ontologies and anthropologies implicit in religious doctrines, their moral principles, and specific precepts had to be brought to bear on life as it was lived in its full material complexity. Thus the traditions developed sophisticated systems of casuistry, jurisprudence, and practical wisdom for making these connections.
In the current spatial context, with its vastly reduced feedback concerning the origins of the goods that we require for survival and that undergird our form of life, and with the chaotic, disjunctive character of the interaction that globalization creates, our traditional ideals—religious and otherwise—are in danger of floating into more abstract forms of ideology and becoming ideal values that take no responsibility for their consequences in the world. This is more than a simple application of Weber’s distinction between an ethics of conviction and an ethics of responsibility. When the world ceases to be imaginable as a coherent whole whose structures and logic we can engage with our ideals, our beliefs and commitments get refigured in fideistic and voluntaristic terms as matters of commitment and identity that are not open to evaluation from their concrete effects. Traditions are transformed as beliefs and practices are no longer held together in space and time to allow long-term, life-scale reflection on their wisdom.
Global cities are the space in which our students will live out their careers and vocations. Those who aspire to be global “mobiles” will work in global cities. Global cities are paradoxical: sites of both isolation and encounter.
While such places as Manhattan, São Paulo, Dubai, Shanghai, or Kuala Lumpur are located within diverse cultures, the business centers of such cities are often more integrated into the space of global corporate and financial networks than into their geographical region or even the cities whose name they bear. Professionals working there will interact with other traders and consult with firms headquartered in other global cities. Think of an executive or trader for a Singapore bank working in Manhattan. She could live there for many years without having significant cultural contact with the other boroughs of New York, let alone New Jersey. She will likely visit other American global cities and resort areas, flying over the vast strange cipher of America that lies between them. Living in the space of the global mobile, there is not much time or need to attend to the politics of the places they are near: issues of school funding, public health, unemployment. One can be there and not really be bound by the historic space, culture, or politics of the city or country at all.
This is a profound problem for our desire to instill in students a thick conception of vocation. Their work lives will be doubly isolated: from the consequences of their professional decisions through global financial and commodity chains, and from the communities in which they work. They are isolated from the feedback and obliging relations that demand accountability and responsibility, virtue, and character. The losses of broader spatial and social contexts combine to operationalize and even algorithmize their exercise of professional life. They undertake actions that have effects through space, but they do not act in space and face the consequences of their actions.
Global cities are, however, paradoxical. They are also dense sites of interaction that host new forms of cross-cultural encounters. Previously marginalized urban groups are brought into close proximity with global elites. Migrants in other global circuits intersect in global cities. The office and apartment buildings that serve the global class are built by migrant laborers from Latin America or Pakistan and cleaned by other migrants from Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines—a reality Stephan Frears compellingly portrayed in the film Dirty, Pretty Things. Sassen describes a shift from civic to an urban space politicized along multiple differences (Sassen 2007, 127).
This has multiple outcomes. On the negative side, the high tension of these juxtapositions of the hyperwealthy and the global underclass encourages a politics of barriers and exclusion. On the positive side, it can provide positive encounters across vast class and cultural differences. These encounters can indeed be face-to-face. While this is very much a gain, unfortunately it takes place on the personal scale and does not easily expand to a broader political sphere that could render such encounters visible, sharable, and public.
Here we see one final aspect of the places our students are preparing to work. Their experience of the globe will be highly personal, as will the global network they develop. At Georgetown University, where I once taught, many of the students were from the class of global mobiles. While they lived around the world, some even in third-world manufacturing centers that their parents managed or owned, their experience was nonetheless mostly of the separate spaces of the global class. They almost universally described the global in terms of their personal networks of relatives, friends, and experiences. Students who offered some thick account of life in the third world or their home culture stood out as exceptions. In a classroom discussion, I once observed that this personal mapping was their default and that this bode ill for hopes for an engaged cosmopolitan politics. To my surprise, they accepted both my portrayal of their default understanding and of its political and ethical deficits.
Here, global space resembles a Facebook newsfeed page. The home page for Facebook users presents itself as a hybrid of a news site and blog, with various posts and a highly participatory set of comments. But this isn’t public space; it is the nexus of one’s personal friends list and their friends’ lists. It can stretch around the world and across political and cultural divides, but it remains a personal network. The shared space that appears on the screen is unique to the viewer.
Smaller Cities and Towns are
Globalized as Well
But of course, not all of our students aspire to be global mobiles or to work in global cities. Some plan to work in major national cities; others hope to work in smaller cities and towns. Globalization, as many have learned at the expense of their livelihoods, is not a matter of the world out there. Globalization is changing the physics of social space in a way that reforms all of our places. While smaller cities and towns are not the dense nexuses of global cities, they nonetheless experience the disjunctures and deterritorialization of global space.
Work in a smaller city or town is generally marked by the same economic abstraction as we described in the global city. Firms are transnational or held by larger holding companies. Even local, privately-held manufacturers are inextricably tied into global commodity sourcing and marketing. We are far from the time when the decisions of local firms were manifest in consequences evident solely on the local level. Thus professionals face the same pressures toward a thinly operational mode of decision-making. Local politics becomes increasingly disempowered as the forces affecting the community become increasingly distant. Community organizing models thus also undergo crises as stakeholders and relevant decision makers and responsible parties cannot easily be brought together.
Local life on any scale is also marked by a cultural abstraction similar to the global city. Local cultures and memories have long been eroded by suburbanization and mass popular culture. I spoke last year with a young woman working at a community services non-profit organization in Dayton. She observed that although she had grown up in Dayton’s suburbs only a few miles away, her family seldom ventured into the city, and she had learned little of its history. One can be both there and not there at all in small cities and towns as much as in global cities.
Our cities and small towns are marked by global cross-cultural intersections as well. Migrants, displaced by poverty or violence half a world away, arrive in towns that have never heard of them and take positions in the economy that undercut long fought gains and run transverse to historic fault lines. The same strategies of spatial division are also present as downtown shopping districts are abandoned for faux neighborhood shopping malls in the outer ring suburbs, often safely beyond the reach of public transportation. Where city shopping and entertainment centers are preserved and renewed, various means of exclusion are employed to protect suburban and tourist visitors’ nostalgic urban experiences from actual city dwellers (Flusty 1997, 49–50). The civic space of the city is “segregated” into low-income housing, gentrified and gated districts, and consumer districts of nostalgia and spectacle (Bickford 2000, 361; Christopherson 1994, 409–427).
We also find the same individualizing of the experience of space. Suburban neighborhoods often offer low levels of geographical involvement, rendering relationship networks much more self-selecting. Our neighborhoods and localities themselves are increasingly separated into demographically homogenous clusters (Gimpel and Schuknecht 2003; Bishop 2008). This move toward homogenization of association and its concomitant cultural heterogenization has been reinforced profoundly by recent developments in communications technology. The Big Three television networks constructed a shared sphere of discourse with common genres, subjects, and standards of access within which a limited range of voices and opinions could be heard. Now, the five-hundred-channel offerings of digital television (let alone the uncountable options on the Internet) free individuals from the friction and inertia of geography and constrained media systems and offer an opportunity to communicate with those who possess similar knowledge, commitments, and preferences (Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson 2005, 851–868).
To close the circle, this is the space from which the majority of our students come. They are already formed in the habits of global space and have little experience of the more settled forms of space it is replacing. As a result they have little awareness of how these dynamisms are transforming place.
This account can seem very pessimistic, but there is enormous potential in this moment. This is not a story of the destruction of places, but rather of an epochal transformation in the nature of space that is transforming our places. This way of looking at the problem also saves us from a nostalgic response that attempts to return to the local in reaction against the global. While there are parts of the world where this is still possible, ours is not one of them.
We should be aware that many of our students come to higher education looking precisely for mobility. As Zygmunt Bauman notes, in a global world, it is those who are able to move through space who are the winners; those stuck in the local are most often the losers (Bauman 1998). In the United States, education has long been tied to mobility, and a college education has been a ticket out of the working class and out of working-class places. My experience of education since grade school has been one of being prepared for escape velocity. I attended Gouverneur Hance Elementary School in what were then exurbs north of Pittsburgh. In the photograph that hung in the vestibule of the school, Hance seemed to be wearing a cowl. I was told at the time that he was a Dutch Calvinist and some sort of monk. I have never been able to find out who he was or why our school was named after him. This stands as an apt metaphor for the lack of attention to local place in my education. From grade school through high school, I learned very little about Pittsburgh, a place about which there is much to learn. As the steel industry was collapsing around us, it might have served us well to know something about the Homestead Strike or the conditions that had sustained the postwar concord between labor and industry that were then falling apart.
Education’s helpful role in social mobility, and its tendency to focus on the national scale leaves it somewhat ill prepared to respond to the challenges the global poses as it reforms our localities.
How can we respond to these changes as educators? We should consider four groups of questions: 1. What are the spatial assumptions in our pedagogies and curricula? 2. How do our institutions relate to the places where they are located? 3. How do our schools constitute places in themselves? 4. What intellectual skills do students require to live responsibly amidst this spatial transformation?
1. Spatial Assumptions in our
Pedagogies and Curricula
Here I return to Aiwa Ong’s argument that higher education views students as both professionals and citizens. At one point, unity was provided by both space and individual character. In national space and relatively local economies, a person’s professional actions were contextualized by their membership in community and political citizenship. The global transformation of space has dissolved this spatial connection. As a result, our desire to form complex moral subjects, for all its roots in communitarian conceptions of virtue and character, is rendered individualistic by default. Our graduates are left to enact broad moral responsibility without a professional and social context to support it. This decline of a shared context is a reality that we must take very seriously in our efforts to form students as leaders and to encourage students to think in terms of vocation.
Ong warns that as colleges and universities adjust to this new global space, and indeed expand globally themselves, the “fundamental mission of western universities” is at stake as the “deterritorialized values and norms about what it is to be a human today… a calculative actor or a globe-trotting professional” collide with “the situated values of political liberalism.” The “traditional goals of higher education—to inculcate fundamental Western humanist beliefs and nationalist values—are being challenged by a stress on skills, talent, and borderless neo-liberal ethos” (Ong 2006, 140, 148).
One of the most ready-to-hand responses to this challenge is to speak of forming students as “global citizens.” This is a laudable aim. Uses of this notion, however, often assume that individual responsibility can simply be scaled up to the global level. The necessary addition of cultural diversity to our curricula can likewise assume a rather simple scalability when it expects that national political struggles for recognition and inclusion by marginalized groups are transferable to the very different function of ethnicity on the global scale. The spatial analysis we have just undertaken, however, makes clear that citizenship requires a rather complex space that we currently lack on the global scale. In John Tomlinson’s words, we are at best “Cosmopolitans without a cosmopolis” (1999, 198). The vast improvements in communications, transportation, and logistics undergirding existing globalization certainly provide many of the tools necessary to build such a cosmopolitan context. But their default functions are tied to commerce and entertainment, not politics. A global political sphere remains one of the great unfinished tasks of our epoch.
Cosmopolitan citizenship stumbles on the local scale as well. Since its Stoic formulations, cosmopolitanism has presumed the gravitational pull of the local: kith and kin, polis, ethnos, nation. Broader concern for all humankind, being a “citizen of the cosmos,” required intentional cultivation (Delanty 2006, 228–229). But as we have seen, the local is losing its coherence, its ability to ground identity and action. Cosmopolitan citizenship and solidarity today are forced to attend to both the fading local and a global scale, territorialized more for commerce than for responsibility and politics.
2. How are our institutions present
in their places?
How do we relate to our surrounding communities? There are many dimensions to such a question. Colleges and universities contribute to their local communities by providing jobs, economic stimulus, community extension, and student volunteering. These are all tremendously important.
There are, however, deeper questions of place more fundamental to higher education. How do our institutions locate their academic work within their place? Appadurai has spoken of the “right to research” as a necessary human right in an era when economic and social change has become so rapid as to render traditional cultural resources inadequate for guiding the lives of communities (2006, 167–177). How do we bring our intellectual resources to bear on the questions faced by the communities in which we are located? How do we as scholars within our institutions and communities allow our research agendas to be set by our location? How do we convey understanding, appreciation, and concern for the predicaments of our local places to our students? Do we share the full and often ambivalent histories of our institutions with them?
These questions are relevant in the classroom, in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and in the campus form of life. The latter is an often-overlooked dimension of pedagogy. How is staff from the community integrated into the life of the institution? How do our institutions adapt to or ignore their environmental locations?
3. How are our schools places themselves?
During the discussions and debates that accompanied the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, one often heard the university described as a place of free inquiry and lively academic debate. While I fully support this ideal, at some point during the extended discussions of the document and its potential threat to this practice of the university, I was struck rather hard by the fact that I have rarely experienced this ideal enacted. Most of our work in the academy, at least in the humanities, is done alone, or between a professor and students. We seldom practice the lively and conflictual interchange of ideas that we so commonly espouse. As far as I can tell, the closest we come to such an exchange is through our students. The model somewhat resembles a dysfunctional family dynamic where the parents argue with one another through the children. To be a bit flip, students shuttle between classrooms on one side of campus, where economics faculty inculcate the calculative ethos of homo economicus, to classrooms on the other side, where a humanities faculty arrayed from the far Left to the far Right presents what would be—if they ever spoke with one another—a shockingly diverse coalition trying to persuade students otherwise.
Our primary intellectual interlocutors tend to be other scholars in our own disciplines and subfields. This is particularly unfortunate given the increasing heterogenization of culture around us. If we wish to instill the habits of attending to differing opinions and engaging others across cultural difference, we must take care to make sure to model these practices ourselves and in our institutions. This is all the more pressing at a time when our students come from backgrounds in homogenous suburban lifestyle enclaves and have grown up with the ability to tune out of uncomfortable situations at will by surfing the web or texting a friend. We all now carry these exits in our pockets. We need to redouble our efforts to make our institutions places that practice engagement.
Religiously affiliated colleges and universities have much to offer in this regard. They provide places that are both rooted in a particular communal history and that aspire to proceed according to particular dogmatic commitments, values, and practices. They can model the richness that is found in shared traditions and the tradeoffs necessary to remain faithful to convictions and values.
Colleges and universities can model political engagement in another important manner. They are one of the few places remaining where the majority of the stakeholders and decision makers are held together in one place. Students, faculty, staff, housekeeping, food service, maintenance, and administration share everyday life on campus. This is, I think, an often-overlooked facilitator of student activism.
The Living Wage Campaign for contract employees at Georgetown University exemplified this spatial intimacy. Activist students befriended the housekeeping staff through English lessons they offered before and after work hours. They learned that housekeeping staff worked not for the university, but for an outside contractor who paid very low wages and did not provide health benefits. One student took an independent study in living wage issues from an economics professor. They prepared a proposal and presented it to the administration. When the response was muted, they began a campaign to convince students, faculty, and staff of the importance of the issue. They were able to bring pressure on the administration through presentations and protests to the campus community and the trustees, and eventually through a hunger strike. After three years of the campaign, the administration agreed to their demands for a policy that specified living wage and benefits for all outside contracted employees. Our campuses’ rare spatial concentration of stakeholders can provide a place for the practice of a politics of responsibility, where the consequences of decisions appear and can be owned. It can also provide contrastive insight into the distancing of stakeholders and consequences that obtains elsewhere.
4. What intellectual skills do our students require to live responsibly in global space?
Short of creating a core requirement in critical geography, we need to think about how to incorporate spatial questions into our disciplines, just as we have incorporated historical, cultural, and gender questions in the past. Those sets of critical questions have broad purchase across the disciplines, and so do critical spatial questions.
In addition to the various questions about education and formation on our campuses, we should also consider how our programs for study abroad function. What criteria do we use for selecting partner institutions? Do our offerings map to the same network of global cities that dominate the economic globalization we have experienced, or do they trace other geographies? Are students exposed to the breadth of local culture in their study? Do they learn of the contemporary transformations of these societies in addition to the histories of the learned culture and fine arts?
Religiously affiliated institutions have particular strengths on this front as well. They are part of global networks of sister institutions in their denomination or sponsoring religious community. These trace out different and older channels of globalization, inflected with the convictions, values, and practices of the religious tradition. Student and faculty exchanges with sister religious institutions do more than expose us to different cultures; they implicate us in a different form of globalization. Often enough, these institutions have complex histories of intercultural encounter, evangelization, and colonization. Even such ambivalent histories are valuable. They make clear the stakes of such encounters, and the true complexity of cultures.
Facing the Challenges
We are in the midst of a shift in the nature of human space that is every bit as epochal as the emergence of the modern nation-state. It has already produced disorientation and crisis for many. The comparison with the emergence of the nation state suggests that it will continue to unfold over centuries and that much more substantial crises are likely to come. As in previous epochal changes, higher education will likely undergo profound transformations as well. The spatial changes cut to the heart of our assumptions about how education and society hold together. Together with our students we face the challenge of figuring out how to reconfigure them for the new form of space that is emerging around us.
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