Localism, Internationalism, and Nationalism: A 21st Century Debate
written by Aleksis Oreschnikoff
Connectivity is all around us. We strive for network accessibility, and in many ways, location has shifted from geographical to virtual: when I’m online, where else would I be? Networks and data communications are developing at a speed that demands structural changes to our economic, political, and social systems. The emerging new structures will be largely defined by the way we adapt to change. Borderless networks undermine territorial borders, which means that our understandings of security, sovereignty, and identity have come under fire. Who has rights in networked space? Who am I in networked space?
Networked globalization is available and thriving in international urban hubs, while rural areas suffer the consequences from residents moving towards better opportunities. A great challenge remains how states can provide for those outside urban centers where most political, social, and economic activity exists. A population dispersed across the country is an expensive population for the state to manage, if, of course, it is for the state to manage.
Urban internationalists, mostly young and educated, prefer shared economies, inclusive societies, and equally available opportunities. The experiences from studying or working abroad, having friends from different cultures, and communicating through networks often help create opposition towards closed borders and exclusive societies. However, even though cities conform to the idea of open, multicultural space, reactions to a globalizing world have sparked the rise of right-wing radicals and nationalists. Street patrol groups, far-right political parties, and protests against immigration and multiculturalism are present in many European cities. Urban space has become contested space between nationalists and internationalists, like the latest protests in Warsaw suggest.
Economically, global industrial exploitation by multinational conglomerates has spawn local resistance: buy local, stay local. Despite various advantages in growing internationalism, localism is emerging as a powerful alternative even in forms of local currencies, such as in Bristol or Totnes, UK. The grip between localism and nationalism can be surprisingly tight, but even if local economies function within a defined geographical location (a city, for example), seclusion from international networks is out of question. Information travels in borderless, global space, and building walls can only backfire.
Cities will no longer belong to countries because cities have to be available for all
Urbanization is the prevailing trend of our generation. Cities have everything from culture to labor, opportunities, and security. People, however, are not only moving into cities, but they are using cities (note: plural form) for the services they provide. Even if the two are closely inter-related, there’s an important distinction to be made. Residents permanently (or semi-permanently, allowing a few holidays or business trips) living in a given city demand slightly different features and services than those who prefer moving continuously between various locations. Not only is data and information traveling faster, but humans move and travel faster and easier as well. An international (often millenial) dissatisfied with her current location swiftly changes it for another. Cities begin to compete. Should I live in Malmö or Copenhagen? Paris or London? Which one serves me better? The international generation not bound by any boundaries, physical nor virtual, seeks and shifts whenever a better cost-benefit ratio is available. While competition between closely situated cities has always been evident, 21st century urbanization adds a dimension that will rid cities from national pride. Cities will no longer belong to countries, because cities have to be available for all: there will be no room for nationalism in a successful, connected, multicultural metropolis. Unless of course, nationalism adapts to the prevailing change.
Nationalism has often provided a solid foundation for identity to develop from. Foucault argued identity as being a continuous discourse, never fixed, but always changing relative to its surrounding environment. A continuous confusion of the self. Nationalism, however, has traditionally eased this confusion by stating that you are something, because you are from somewhere. But must nationalism, in our urban international era, predefine the foundations of our identities, or could it serve as something to grow into? Could nationalism represent an open, cultural and historical affiliation, rather than a fixed set of language and heritage forcefully molding exclusion by rigid inclusion? Questions that collect sentiment rather than rationale are difficult to answer to, but their importance in discussion is undeniable. Who are we in this global borderless network of international hubs, and does it matter where we are born?
While localism reacted to the injustices of economic globalization by promoting simpler alternatives, internationalism has been the key for open, inclusionary societies across the globe to fight prejudice and exclusion. Connectivity will change the way we reside and travel, perhaps changing the very foundations of how we live. Has nationalism, as the powerful ideology of the late 19th century, ran its course, or can it adapt to the nomadic patterns of open, networked societies? No matter the debate, what defines the 21st century is the connectivity of urban spaces, which eventually depends on the availability of data, resources, and citizens contributing to the structure of the new emerging global network.