The Global, the Local and the Woman-labourer-immigrant: Reconfiguring the ‘Local’, Re-thinking the ‘Global’ in Women’s ‘Counter-topographies’.

Assimina Karavanta, Department of Literature and Culture, Faculty of English Studies, School of Philosophy, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Keywords: Migration, Global/local, Resistance

How are we to articulate the global? Political scientists and economists have defined the global as ‘a system of social relations of production and reproduction nourished by uneven development across a range of spatial scales, from local or regional to the national or supranational’ (Katz, 2001: 1); as the ‘declining significance of the state’ (Sassen, 1995: 97) favouring the ‘expansion of an international civil society’ (99); as the space of a global civil society where ‘humankind in some respects becomes a “we” facing problems and opportunities where there are no “others”‘ (Giddens in Bergeron, 2001: 2); as the ‘masculinized’ space opposed to the local represented as feminised (Freeman, 2001: 1); as a way beyond Eurocentrism and its project of modernity (Dussel, 1998: 18-19); but also as ‘a narrative of eviction’ (Sassen, 1995: 82) that ‘excludes the stories, forms, and practices that tend to disrupt its presumed order’ (Bergeron, 2001: 1).

The previous articulations of the global symptomatically reveal the exigency to conceptualize the complex and complicating relationship between the global and the local, that is, between corporate culture facilitated by the uninterrupted flow of global capital and those sites either found outside this flow or even proliferated by this flow, such as redundancies, system errors, or global waste. The local and the global are thus forced into another metaphysical binary that renders the global abstract and unlimited in production, thus picturing the global as a fluid hegemony that replaces the border-bounded rule of the nation-state. The local is represented as a site defined and constituted by the global either as a space open for production and exploitation—a space, whose ‘engagements with various global imperatives are the material forms and practices of situated knowledge’ (Katz, 2001: 1) - or as a space to be forgotten, omitted and - why not? - annihilated. In both cases, the local is represented as a marginalized space or to use Spivak’s term a ‘subproletariat or subaltern space’ (1993: 78), often feminized for exploitation or protection. Even when the local is contemplated as a possible site for resistance or agency against the logic of the expansion of global capital, it tends to remain theoretical, the space of an unconstituted post-national or post-colonial topos that is expected to ‘develop and nurture distinct identities’ under the pressure of globalization on local cultures and the streamlining of the world into a ‘single place’ (Bergeron, 2001: 2). The paradox of the proliferating structure of global hegemony results from the convergence of forces of unlimited expansion with forces streamlining to produce a global community.

Thus, we may need to rephrase the initial question: how are we to understand the local at the time of the emergence of the global? How do the forces of the global debilitate or ‘feminize’ the local? Is it possible that this ‘feminization’ of the local is not simply a defect but also a possible source of resistance? In the context of a global community that generates a constant mobility of capital and labor, this ‘feminization’ of the local is not just a metaphor but also an event characterized by huge waves of women immigrants entering the developed countries of the West in search of work often offered as cheap and illegal manual labor. As a woman, an intellectual and a citizen of Greece, whose public arena has been undergoing a profound transformation in the wake of this growing flow of immigration from the north and the south, I think it is imperative that this question should be addressed and contemplated especially within the shifting and fluid structure of a group like Travelling Concepts. Such a structure allows not simply for an exchange of ideas and projects but mainly for a reconstellation of concepts whose complexity (and here I am invoking Liana Borghi’s articulation of the term) can be problematized at a critical moment when the oppression of women with an immigrant background and, as Sara Goodman points out in her position paper, the consequent ‘market discrimination of migrant women’ haunt the public spaces and market economies of both the developed and underdeveloped countries.

As a member of Travelling Concepts, I am interested in articulating and teaching these two concepts, the global and the local, in the context of possible ‘counter-topographies’, that is, in the light of possible topoi (1) (historical, political and aesthetic/fictional) and practices of resistance. I intend to follow these three essential terms, global, local and counter-topography to farther explore the concepts of community in a post-colonial or de-colonized world and delve into the relationship between women and nation-states, especially in light of the role of immigrant women. I plan to wrench these three terms and their overlapping concepts out of the social, economic and political discourses that have founded them, in order to reconstellate them in the context of feminist critique by creating temporary yet thought-provoking liaisons between the hitherto established readings of these terms and women’s attempts (immigrant women, women artists, intellectual women, everyday women, activists, women in a post-colonial or de-colonized world) to create and envision counter-topographies.

In her essay ‘On the Grounds of Globalization: A Topography for Feminist Political Engagement’, published in a special issue of Signs on Globalization And Gender, Cindi Katz defines the local as a critical topography that ‘makes it possible to excavate the layers of process that produce particular places and to see their intersections with material social practices at other scales of analysis’ (2001: 10). The ‘local’ then is proposed, not as a well-bordered space defined either by exclusion from or inclusion in global practices and corporations, in other words, as a space ‘constitutively global’ (2), but as a ‘cross-roads’ where the post-national, the post-colonial and the emergence of a need for a new kind of community often meet under or even against the pressure of global flows and imperatives. Trouillot names this encounter ‘fragmented globality’ and he suggests that ‘world histories (and geographies) and local histories (and geographies) are simultaneously becoming more intertwined and more contradictory’ (cited in Katz: 2). This ‘fragmented globality’ is characterized by the paradox of a growing discontinuous world created by the ‘rhizomatic’ flow of capital that opens routes and creates flows that disrupt and yet produce new associations and liaisons. This global and discontinuous reality is becoming increasingly homogeneous, the paradox of global capitalism working on a ‘contradictory terrain’, what Stuart Hall calls ‘the global post-modern’ (Hall, 1995: 32) ‘which is trying to live with, and at the same moment, overcome, sublimate, get hold of, and incorporate difference’ striving against an ‘older, embattled, more corporate, more unitary, more homogeneous conception of its own identity’ (32).

The political, social and cultural critique of globalization seems to debilitate the topos of the local by feminizing it, as suggested above, and, therefore, representing it as an object of conquest and exploitation. I recommend teaching and re-thinking these three terms, global, local and counter-topography, by looking at a series of ‘marginal’ texts, whose work thematizes the predicament of the woman immigrant (3), the woman-laborer, and the woman-activist. In particular, I want to reflect on specific instances of ‘counter-topography’ as expressed by the work of women artists (4). Hence, I will delve into the ways these ‘marginal’ texts represent the local as the site of un-constituted and un-representable constituencies, presuming their agency not only to critique the global forces of exploitation but also to articulate their presence in the matrix of a rapidly growing globality. In other words, I intend to explore these ‘marginal’ texts and their voices as articulations of the local represented not as an effeminate, subsumed and threatened territory but as the topos of unassimilated and un-accommodated difference. I do not wish to ‘use’ these texts as examples of a theoretical debate concerning the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ but as instantiations of topoi (sites) that contest the boundaries between the two and project the possibilities and claims for a different kind of community through the figures and figurations of the unconstituted, un-representable subjects, the subjects without a community, the subjects of the female immigrant and laborer. They symptomatically reveal what the current debates on the global and the local often forget to remember, namely, the question of representation and identity not only for the post-national and post-colonial subjects but also for those unconstituted, un-representable others whose presence is forsaken in the margins of the local. These others are the bodies of a different local within the local, a presence and an articulation of a body that challenges the simple binary between the local and the global by revealing a third, incalculable dimension. This is the dimension of a classed and gendered ‘other’ unconstituted by the nation-state and the global apparatuses, a presence and a topos that does not simply address the global but also the local, the national, the postcolonial as it is being interrupted and replaced by global forces. Where the constituted subjects, post-national and global cosmopolitans emerge as the members of an international and happy community yet to come but on the way, boat people and immigrants often forced into global labor are washed out on the shores of this illusion to break its paradigm and question the ‘coming community’ of discontinuous singularities freed from the bonds of the nation-state and resistant to the homogenizing and streamlining forces of global capital.

In this light, I propose to examine the possibilities of articulating and energising a discourse and praxis of resistance against the often-supported binary between the global and the local. The local and the global should not be rethought for the sake of better defining them but for the sake of those oppressed and obliterated in the wake of their forces. The undocumented immigrants that remain un-representable and unconstituted at the heart of the metropolises and the industrial centres of the developed countries and the throng of asylum-seekers are two illuminating examples that reveal the perversity and complexity of borders. By exploring artistic texts that create and articulate ‘counter-topographies’ that will reconfigure the dynamic relationship between the local and the global from the perspective of the woman-labourer-immigrant, I intend to contemplate the creation of a community of ‘un-constituted others’ (5) that will bring into being the thought of a ‘polity of spectres’ (Spanos, 2000: 206) and will exist as ‘a free city’ (une ville franche) (Derrida, 2001: 9), that is, a community of alterities, a community of resistance that is open to and caring of difference.

1. The Greek word topos derives from the ancient Greek verb topazo, which means to ‘contemplate’, to ‘think’. Topos is a site reconsidered and reborn with borders fluid enough to be potentially contested and re-configured. In other words, topos is a site of ongoing flows.
2. An example of such an important cartography is articulated in Josefina Bueno’s position paper in which she draws on the relationship between metropolitan hegemony and post-colonial narratives.
3. Sara Goodman’s discussion of the oppression of women with immigrant backgrounds and Giovanna Covi’s analysis of the relationship of race and gender to language have been particularly useful in my efforts here.
4. I find Liana Borghi’s interest in imagining a ‘topography of otherness’ very close to my own project here.
5. Melita Richter’s investigation of the concepts of ‘lived citizenship’, ‘restrictive citizenship’, and ‘(re) appropriate citizenship’ also inform my effort to articulate the possibility of such a community.

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