February 18, 2010
satellite cubanresort
Satellite Dish Skyline, Fes (source)


Demarcations between nations have traditionally been drawn in the sand, at times, irrespective of the populations that lie within their boundaries. The partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by Western powers led to the modern day borders of much of the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. These artificial demarcations cut across ethnic boundaries: Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iraq and Iran despite a mostly homogeneous population. While the Middle East remains fractured to this day, advancements in communications technologies are effectively joining these disparate communities back together again. A pronounced example is the popularity of the TV station Al Jazeera, which is broadcast across the Middle East by satellite. Since its launch in 1996, the percentage of homes with satellite and cable access in the Middle East has skyrocketed: from 38% to 80% in Algeria and from 8% to 43% in Lebanon. The advancements of satellite communications over traditional means of dissemination renders the blockage of signals economically burdensome—in 1999, the Algerian government cut off power to entire cities in an effort to stop its citizens from viewing a piece on the atrocities of the Algerian army—and creates a broadcasting footprint which is many times greater. With a viewing audience that is 96% Muslim, the station is creating a new form of nationhood that puts an emphasis on shared beliefs rather than on shared currency.


E. Sean Bailey


Cuban Resort (source)


In Towards the Archipelago, Pier Vittorio Aureli asserts that urbanization is unlimited economic empire, arguably implying that national borders are unable to resist the form of empire. This rise of private economic interests is related to current processes of globalization. Globalization is often described as an external phenomenon that is making the nation state obsolete as it is believed to collapse nations into a homogenized singular entity.


However, some critics, such as Keller Easterling in Enduring Innocence, argue that this is not strictly the case, as globalization can also act to reinforce national boundaries, and in some instances proliferate them through offshoring. For example, although boundaries surround nations, excluding and limiting passage of contradictory elements, even the smallest disintegration of a boundary can occur in the form of extraterritoriality. This condition is often a result of diplomatic negotiations and accordingly regularly manifests itself in the form of embassies, consulates, foreign military bases, offices of the United Nations, etc. Such spaces are sovereign territories, which are accountable not to the country in which they are sited, but rather to their country of origin. There is a similar brand of spaces that are appearing which seek legal immunity as exceptional conditions. These come in the form of free trade zones, IT hubs, holiday resorts, religious and retail franchises etc. In Easterling’s context, globalization should not be thought of as outside of the nation state, as it is not an external process. Globalization describes what is happening to the nation state; it is a transformation of the nation state.


Because of its multi-dimensional character, globalization has differing impacts on various aspects of the state, and thereby its boundaries. Although it can be seen as challenging the state’s sovereignty in terms of economics, due to the new global financial trends that are diminishing the nationalization of economies, it seems to be reinforcing the state’s sovereign power in social and political matters precisely because of these simultaneous dividing and integrating aspects.


Erandi de Silva






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