Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Transnational, Translocal, Transcultural: Some Remarks on the Relations between Hindu-Balinese and Ethnic Chinese in Bali

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Transnational, Translocal, Transcultural: Some Remarks on the Relations between Hindu-Balinese and Ethnic Chinese in Bali

Article excerpt

New paradigms will follow with new terms and categories. In the course of what is currently called "the spatial turn", the terms "heterotopias" (Foucault 1984) and "ethnoscapes" (Appadurai 1991) have become among the most prominent neologisms. (2) Other new categories have been created using the suffix "trans", such as transnational, translocal, transcultural. But what is meant by these compound words (compasita)? Even eager promoters of the spatial turn seem to worry about this question. This lack of semantic clarity cornes as a surprise, since most scholars who are engaged in this turn show a distinct favour for one of the new categories: Hannerz (1996) for transnational, Freitag (2005) for translocal, and Welsch (1999) for transcultural. But how can they demonstrate such a strong commitment to particular terms when the distinctions between them are quite unclear?

It is obvious that the new terms were introduced to stress interactions and social ties beyond real and imagined borders. Likewise they were coined to study social and cultural processes of global transfer, circulation, and cross-border movement (Lerp 2009). Finally, the terms are intended to describe the interplay between the global and the local. But beyond these thematic fields in which the new terms are applied, there are more open questions than answers. It is, for example, quite unclear whether the new terms refer to different scales (global, national, local) or to different levels of analysis (institutional, discursive, intentional). And finally, are the concepts to which the new terms refer as new as is often suggested (Lerp 2009)?

The aim of this paper is to show that using categories which divide nations, cultures, and religions into strictly separate units is more characteristic of Western thinking than, for example, of Hindu-Balinese concepts. Against this background, the spatial turn and the neologisms introduced by it seem less innovative, though necessary to grasp what are principles of the Hindu-Balinese world view, namely that everything is related to everything else and that it is crucial in lire to overcome differences. (3)

Transnational or Translocal?

The commitment of particular authors to particular terms has to be seen against the background of the particular definitions they were given. For Ulf Hannerz, for example, there is a strong distinction between international and transnational. According to him, the term international refers to contexts in which states appear as corporate actors vis-a-vis one another and transnational, on the other hand, draws attention to other kinds of actors--individuals, kinship groups, ethnic groups, social movements, and so forth--whose activities and relationships transcend national boundaries (Hannerz 1998, pp. 236-37). With this focus on national boundaries, however, the term transnational refers to states (political units) rather than to nations (communities defined on the basis of a common culture and history). This invites one to conflate state and nation and to assume that every state (and every nation) is a nation state (ibid., p. 237). Against this background, Hannerz speaks of a certain irony that is connected with the term "transnational", one that comes from the tendency of this term to draw attention to what it negates, that is, to the continued significance of the national (Hannerz 1996, p. 6).

When a historical perspective is added to transnational studies, further shortcomings of the concept of transnationaliry come to the fore, which all derive from its implicit focus on the national. In terms of the history of mankind, the nation state is quite a late invention emerging in Central Europe no earlier thon the eighteenth century, and not firmly established in some parts of Africa and Asia until the early twentieth century. Thus the term seems to be rather inappropriate to describe historical relationships between non-European regions and countries. …

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