Synthesizing Global Research

(Rosemary’s note: This fall we’re featuring posts from Framing Fellow Sean Metzger‘s ‘Debating Globalization’ class in Shanghai. This week Metzger discusses how he and his students have approached thinking about and discussing global research.) 

Some of my students have been having difficulty in these first four weeks synthesizing what we have been doing in class.

From my perspective, the aim is to help the students develop their own approaches or entry points into global research. The work for class 1 was to give us some starting key terms. These are “starting” because some of the definitions provided will be revised throughout the term.

For example, the definitions of globalization from Lowe’s and, to a lesser extent, Kahn’s writings privilege the period after WWII as the era of globalization. However, some of the more historical material we have read (particularly week 4’s work on the Modern Girl and New Woman) might challenge that kind of claim about globalization and its history.

If week 1 provided some starting key terms, including some definitions of nationalism and capitalism, week 2 we moved to thinking about different ways of framing global research. We looked at Teaiwa’s essay on framing (her example is the Pacific) and Harvey’s essay on the global and the particular as well as writing by Appadurai.

I included my own efforts to frame the global here because I wanted to discuss the difficulties of writing this sort of work. We examined David Li’s impressions of the Shanghai Expo to think about how these larger frameworks might be useful in thinking about a specific cultural production: the recent Shanghai World Expo.


Shanghai, view from Astor House Hotel over Suzhou (Soochow) Creek and Garden (Waibadu) Bridge, Bund in background, 1933. Image via real00. (Flickr Creative Commons.)

Li’s piece in part brought up historical considerations. What is happening that Shanghai’s 1930s past is suddenly being reactivated in contemporary discussions of globalization? Are there alternatives to a definition of globalization that is based in processes of industrialization and the acceleration and expansion of capitalism?

To pursue this line of thinking we attempted during week 3 to further historicize globalization. Kumar’s essay concentrates on non-urban spaces (something that both Harvey’s, Teiwa’s, and my essay all touch upon). Cohen and Frazier together with Mao give us other ways to think about the global through protest and different forms of communal ideoscapes (to borrow from Appadurai) that think alongside, in opposition, or in resistance to the logics of capitalism.

In week 4, we returned to capitalism and consumerism but at a relatively early moment (for discussions of globalization). Here we pick up on Cohen and Frazier’s suggestion to consider the import of gender and sexuality on globalization.

The collective authorship is another facet that connects Cohen and Frazier’s work to the Modern Girl Research group. How do you write together? This is one of the challenges each student research group will face.

Another point here is that when we think about globalization in China, that discourse should be inflected by China’s earlier engagement with capitalism and its engagement with socialism.

All of the work thus far is meant to provide students with tools, so they can begin to formulate their own questions about globalization. Each was asked to consider individually what her or his entry point into global research is and why. From this array of ideas, students have been asked to choose a collective project.

— Sean Metzger in Shanghai

(Rosemary’s note: Next week we’ll publish the second set of student responses to the question “What would you like your global entry point to be?”)

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.