On Spaces of Collective Imagination, Modernity and Movement

On Collective Spaces of Imagination

Inhabiting a space of acute collective imagination gives pause for thought. Whether in the lobby of a gilded hotel, or under the vault of a cathedral, spaces of collective imagination make present the unresolved relationship between material culture and individual experience. The logic of the social announces itself acutely and undeniably as different people, from different places, are united by an ineluctable force. Crises, holidays and certain arrangements of material elements cut through monadic cynicism.

Shanghai is a sprawling city. My experience of 10 million + cities  is that they shirk resolution in to unities. While small / medium cities afford a concrete sense of the soul and center, the most I can assemble from Shanghai is a collection of inadequate glimpses. The parts here are unquestionably less than the whole, and will likely never amount to it, no matter the scope of one’s collection.

Consequently, establishing a center is a problematic exercise. Nonetheless, the Bund (a sort of old-world grand boulevard) and Pudong (a sort of hyper-modern Shanghai Canary-Wharf) function as the de facto centers. Both centers face one another, from opposite sides of the Huangpu river. The Bund is the east-most part of old-Shanghai, and Pudong is the West-most part of new-Shanghai.

Along the river, Bund-side, is an elevated observation deck that teems with people.

On the Bund-observation deck, I was overtaken with the realization that between Old-Shanghai (Pushi) and New-Shanghai (Pudong) a space of collective imagination emerges that concentrates the global spirit of emergent Chinese power and modernity. Tellingly, in the above picture, the arrangement of seating is such that people sit with their backs to Old-Shanghai, and look out on the new:

Bifurcated by the river, I imagined ourselves Pushi-side as part of a great ship, rolling in to Pudong like immigrants to New York in the 1900s. A strange thought, to invest static spaces with the dynamism of trans-Atlantic sea travel.

A strange thought, but somehow justified. Certain spaces of collective imagination participate in the static, or the dwindling. The last breath of summer, a statue garden. What distinguishes the collective-imagination space of the modern, of the new, is its ability to suffuse its beholders with dynamism and motion. Looking out over Pudong, every moment the skyline grows incrementally closer.

Information Economies, Developing Cities and Emergent Patterns of Human Migration

The Equation That Justified a Move to Buenos Aires*

My decision to move to Buenos Aires last year was born out of two facts:

1) ­The work I was doing was location-independent

2) Buenos Aires had a reputation (à la Berlin) of being poor-but-sexy

A, B & C

A) I could live comfortably in a world-class city, without incurring the risk of securing under-the-table employment

B) I could­ earn a living wage working fewer hours per week than in Canada (freeing up time to travel and to pursue creative projects)

C) I could develop professional skills that would be transferable to Canada when I returned.

Information-Labour and Unconventional Globalization

To my surprise, many of the expatriate friends and acquaintances I made in Argentina had moved south with comparable work-arrangements. Whether they were working as editors, web developers, designers or writers, they shared in common the fact that they worked in information industries and conducted themselves with North American businesses.

The costs associated with reproducing and sustaining labour are markedly lower in Buenos Aires than in major North American cities. Given that many varieties of post-industrial & information based work entail no ostensible difference—from a client’s perspective—between an American working in Argentina and an American working in America, the decision to relocate can be very easy. Many businesses will not discriminate between an expatriate North American and a domestic North American, and in fact, under some circumstances, they are more inclined to favour the former business relationship. As a result, with the right connections and pre-established relationships, work can be abundant from wherever.

Likewise, the financial and logistical impediments to the global migration of this class of information-worker are less restrictive than ever before. Airfare is consistently cheap, and internet services such as airbnb make the transition to foreign rental markets practically seamless**. Translation services enable clear communication between monoglottic Spanish landlords and monoglottic Anglo tenants. Spaces—countries, cities, apartments—can be territorialized well in advance of any departure.

Ultimately, my sense is that the advent of location independent work, coupled with reduced financial and logistical barriers to global migration, are giving birth to a new form of post-industrial globalization.

The conventional globalization of labour conforms to the following description:
geographic global imbalances in wealth, power and legislation generate spaces in which some labour markets are cheaper than others. Technologies of shipping are sufficiently affordable that items can be produced in China but designed and consumed in North America. Ultimately, work moves to where it’s cheap, but workers remain fixed in place.

In contrast, the curious eddy in the wider proliferation of globalization that this essay describes can be characterized as a force within which work moves to where it’s cheap, but so do workers.

This is not to suggest in any way that the pattern I am describing will become a dominant economic and migratory force in years to come. More likely, the cachet that North American expatriates maintain abroad will gradually erode as capitalism continues to globalize work.


*See http://www.expatistan.com/ for a full web 2.0 styled list of potential destinations

**On several occasions over the last year I booked month long accommodation in modern apartments, from a bus station the night before. By way of contrast, conventional contractual relationships between tenants and landlords, or subleters and tenants, can take weeks to orchestrate. They also rely on an elaborate system of checks and verifications. While this process might its place in tradition, it substantially complicates the process of finding accommodation in an other culture and language.

Expanding the Bounds of Critique: Immanuel Kant, Walter Benjamin and the Coming Philosophy

I’ve been meaning to make my M.A. thesis available through the internet. Here it is, formatted with a cover-page:

Considering the extent to which my current research (and the better part of young people’s academic research) is indebted to some chimera of conventional academic authority and virtual networks of resources & inspirations such a contribution felt appropriate.