In January 2002, through its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) gave a grant of CDN 2.5 million to our research team in support of a wide-ranging study of the dialectical relationships and interplay between globalization and autonomy. The research group is a large one involving forty co-investigators in twelve universities across Canada, and another twenty academic contributors from outside Canada, including scholars from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We have an affiliated interdisciplinary research team of sixteen scholars based in Tunisia, which includes some members from Jordan, Lebanon, Spain, and France as well. Scholars from the following disciplines are involved: Anthropology, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Economics, English Literature, Ethnomusicology, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology.
The Rationale for the Project
Over the past several decades, processes now termed globalization have been restructuring the way many people live and how they relate to others. They are reducing many limits on social interaction once imposed by physical location. These processes are also destabilizing existing centers of authority and security such as nation-states, with new centers emerging at various scales of social life, from global down to local levels. Globalization has reconfigured the organization and scope of markets and the production and diffusion of cultural forms and practices.
Many individuals and communities have begun to resent the changes involved and have moved to oppose and resist the dynamics of globalization. Others are seeking to exploit the new opportunities that come with globalization in the hope of changing the cultural and social situations in which they live. In both cases, human beings are seeking to control and harness these new forces in order to secure their autonomy, that is, the opportunities for individuals to shape the conditions under which they live and the capacities of communities to shape the laws and norms which order their ways of living. Individuals and communities have long identified autonomy in these senses as means to creating the ways of life they imagine as best for them.
The dialectical relationships between globalization and autonomy have become increasingly central to the world in which we live. Individuals and communities are experiencing the changes resulting from globalization when they go to work, meet their friends, observe and challenge their political leaders, relate to their environment, and imagine their cultures — their ways of living. When individuals and communities take action in response to these changes, these acts now more easily reverberate to other parts of the globe. They are more likely to affect other communities far away, forcing change on supranational institutions. These experiences, these responses, and these actions often trigger processes designed to secure and build autonomy. The search for autonomy may sometimes involve attempts to resist global integration and more profound interdependence by building walls or securing borders in attempts to minimize the impact of globalization. Or such strivings may be directed at utilizing these same globalizing processes and globality to construct new global networks to counter those of transnational crime, capitalism, imperialism, and other forms of domination and global heteronomy.
The Core Objectives and Research Questions of the Project
In pursuit of an in-depth understanding of these dialectical tensions between globalization and autonomy, and to permit us to draw on the broad range of our disciplinary expertise in a collaborative, interdisciplinary way, we formally agreed as a team in October 2002 to focus on the following core research objectives:
Overall Research Objective
To investigate the relationship between globalization and the processes of securing and building autonomy.
To this end, we will seek to refine understanding of these concepts and of the historical evolution of the processes inherent in both of them, given the contested character of their content, meaning, and symbolic status.
Given that globalization is the term currently employed to describe the contemporary moment, we will:
determine the opportunities globalization might create and the constraints globalization might place on individuals and communities seeking to secure and build autonomy
evaluate the extent to which individuals and communities might be able to exploit these opportunities and to overcome these constraints
assess the opportunities for empowerment that globalization might create for individuals and communities seeking to secure and to build autonomy
determine how the autonomy available to individuals and communities might permit them to contest, reshape, or engage globalization
We chose to attack these objectives by focusing our attention on a series of research questions that fall into three groups.
First, we accept that globalization and autonomy have deep historical roots. What is happening today in the world is in many ways continuous with what has taken place in the past. From its inception, capitalism has incorporated a globalizing dynamic. Political, economic, and cultural structures of varying form, often grouped under the headings of empires and imperialism, have reflected global ambitions. Struggles for autonomy have occurred at the frontiers of these empires, at their dissolution and in many other sites both within and outside imperial structures. Central to many of these struggles are those over the introduction of Western notions of property rights. The burden then of any contemporary examination of globalization and autonomy is to assess in some way what is new and what has changed in significant ways. We need to investigate how a host of political, economic, technological, ideological, and cultural events and forces contributed to new circumstances that drastically increased the depth, breadth, speed, and range of penetrations of global operations, including property rights.
Second, the dynamics of the relationship between globalization and autonomy are related to a series of important changes in the locations of power and authority. Moreover, the tensions between integration on the one side and fragmentation on the other that occur in the contemporary period pose particular problems for governance, autonomy, democracy, and accountability. This period has also created openings for new realms of activity subject primarily to private rule-making and private authority. This activity may complement public authority, compete with it, displace it, or hurry in to fill governance gaps no longer capable of being addressed by nation-states.
Third, the globalization-autonomy dynamic plays itself out in the construction and reconstruction of identities, the nature and value of community, and the articulation of autonomy in and through culture. The ways in which a variety of communities exercise, enhance, find, or lose their autonomy are changing in response to different globalizing pressures. Autonomy can take the form of an ideology, a response to governance or governmentality, a form of everyday affective association and identification, and a discursive form across variegated contexts of national and transnational life. The constitution of autonomy, in turn, generates cultural, aesthetic, and political responses. In this respect, autonomy becomes an innovative, unchartered borderland in which the global, cultural, political, and artistic meet, creating and recreating both our understandings of globality and of the worlds in which we live.
The Results of Our Research
We are publishing the results of our research in three ways. First, we are making them available and accessible to a wide public audience through the Globalization and Autonomy Online Compendium. Second, we are publishing them in academic form in the Globalization and Autonomy Series published by the University of British Columbia Press. Finally, individual team members are publishing their work in their usual disciplinary journals and books. These publications are included in the Compendium's bibliographic database.