The term “global imaginary” is associated with Global Studies scholar Manfred B. Steger, who describes the phenomenon in his 2009 book “The Rise of the Global Imaginary and the Persistence of Ideology”:
Let me suggest that there is, indeed, something genuinely new about today’s isms. These shared mental maps that help us navigate our political universe no longer correspond neatly to our familiar mental and geographical spaces built over two centuries on the foundation of sovereign and self-contained nation-state. Instead, ideologies have begun to translate into political programs and agendas of what I call the ‘global imaginary’. What I mean is a shared sense of a thickening world community, bound together by processes of globalization that are daily shrinking our planet. The rising global imaginary finds its articulation not only in the ideological claims of political leaders and business elites who reside in privileged spaces around the world. It also fuels the hopes, disappointments, and demands of migrants who traverse national boundaries in search of their piece of the global promise. In fact, the global imaginary is nobody’s exclusive property. It inhabits class, race, and gender, but belongs to neither. It is an impressive testimony to the messy superimposition of the global village on the conventional nation-state.
Of course, Steger’s idea finds some roots in the work of Benedict Anderson and his notion of Imagined Communities. Anderson relies, in part, on the idea that nations are communities that rely on mediated communication, on mass media, for their coherence rather than geographic proximity. The scale of a nation is too large to rely on face-to-face socialization, and so imagination comes into play. Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism “the global village,” seen in bold above, describes the intensification of relations brought about by electronic communication, where the perception of time and space are transformed, producing a new social arrangement…a new imagination. This is all fairly standard fare in media and globalization circles for the most part. My work involves all of these concepts and then some, but the truth is, I feel as though I’m looking in a rear view mirror, to borrow from another McLuhan wordplay. Electronic technology has been with us for generations now. The evolution of the form has smacked us all in the face, and we’re now seeing an incredibly intense manifestation of electric speed and range today. It’s a very conscious turn of events for the time being, although it’s been with us for a century.
The next “big thing” on the horizon, despite what you may hear about Google cars, robots, and uploaded consciousness, is the turn in quantum communication that’s likely to transform everything we currently know about the transmission of data. In communication scholarship circles, we frequently note the limitation of the transmission view of communication as essentially an engineering perspective, but it’s noteworthy that most communication breakthroughs occur in the solving of problems related to transmission, and later manifest culturally in the ritual forms that shape who we become as a result of our new capabilities. We’re just screwing our heads on about what digital communication means, culturally, but “the future seems to be now” with respect to quantum forms of transmission. If Sputnik ushered in the era of the global theater, as McLuhan argued, what does this quantum turn bring about? I’m going to jump out ahead of this and argue that some form of quantum imaginary will become important to our worldview. Zooming out produced a sense of unity during the global era. It’s argued, for instance, that the environmental movement owes much to the Earthscape photo that showed us, once and for all, that we’re part of a single matrix of air and water and earth. Is the quantum level too obscure to expect the same shift in perception? The fact that we can’t recognize the building blocks may limit the imagination, or perhaps it will make the imagination run wild. After all, it is our human tendency to create impressions of the things we can’t perceive or articulate with our standard senses and language. Will the quantum turn be marked by an inventiveness of language that captures the microscopic level, for better or for worse?
I’m going to keep my eyes on this because it’s what I do and the whole thing is super intriguing. I have more floating around in my noggin’ with respect to the quantum imaginary, but I’ll let it marinate and release it from time to time. Feel free to chime in….