Geography Of Globalization Research Paper

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1. Introduction

Space, place, distance, proximity, maps, boundaries, territoriality, and spatiality. These are some of the keywords of geography; keywords that distinguish the interest of geographers in the phenomenon of globalization, from that of others in the social sciences. The distinction is not clear cut by any means, not least because ‘globalization’ so centrally evokes geography: the rise of world-scale processes and phenomena, the intensification of linkage between distant places and cultures, and the associated unmaking and remaking of territorial boundaries and identities. Perhaps where the key difference lies, however, is that the other social sciences are not interested primarily in the intrinsic spatiality of globalization.

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In economics and business studies, for example, studies of globalization focus on the implications of the borderless economy (driven by international market integration, global flows of money and information, and transnational production and regulation) on national and subnational economic sovereignty, competitiveness, and growth. The optimists celebrate the offer of new market opportunities, the pessimists warn of the real and discursive dangers of neoliberalism and international dependency, the historically minded reassure us that there is nothing much new (Drache 1999, Hirst and Thompson 1996), while the measured observers of qualitative change reveal the new aspects of combined and uneven development (Dicken 1998, Held et. al. 1999).

In politics and international relations, the debate has centered on the erosion reformulation of the nation-state as a unit of authority, following the rise of nonstate institutions of regulation and governance, and on the challenge to citizenship and democracy posed by the rise of transnational political organisations (e.g., global NGOs) as well as plural, nonnational sources of political rights and identification (e.g., EU citizenship). Here too there is no consensus. Some herald a new era of reduced nation state influence, eroded national welfare commitment and crisis of parliamentary democracy (Garrett 1998), some assert the continuity of national social models (Hay and Marsh 1999, Weiss 1998), others signal the rise of new forms of unsettled jostling between the nation-state and other organizations organized at local, national, and international scales (Jessop 1994, Keil 1998), while others still find new prospects for cosmopolitan government, democracy, and civic mobilization (Held et al. 1999, Scholte 2000).

In social anthropology and media and cultural studies, the attention has fallen on the implications of global consumerism, media communication, and international mobility and cultural mixture for individual and social identities and lifestyles in different local settings. Early warnings of the erosion of local difference under the weight of the same world products and consumption norms and the same global corporations (i.e., the so-called MacDonaldization of society), have given way to sensitivity to the persistence of local difference, but also the nuances of local change resulting from heightened global exposure and virtual and real linkage with different parts of the world (Robertson 1992, Albrow 1996, Hannerz 1996, Morley and Robins 1995).

Geography, to repeat, is everywhere in these studies of globalization, but the spatiality of social relations, or put differently, how place, space, and spatial difference are being reconstituted is not the prime interest. Geographical theory, in contrast, has been concerned with the spatiality of the contemporary world, and is interested in understanding whether places—cities, regions, and nations—are perforating as geographically contained spaces, how the insertion of places into geographically stretched relations matters, and how new geographical scales of organization and influence associated with globalization are challenging old scales of identification and action.

This geographical imagination, to be clear, is not confined to the discipline of geography. In fact, some of the most influential accounts of the spatiality of globalization have come from social theory outside the discipline. For example, the sociologists Giddens and Held have long argued that a key aspect of globalization is spatial connectivity and reach, such that the conceptualization of place locale as ‘in here’ happenings and space as ‘out there’ happenings is no longer tenable. Held (1995, p. 20), building on Giddens’s idea of contemporary time–space distanciation (Giddens 1990), proposes:

… globalisation can be taken to denote the stretching and deepening of social relations and institutions across space and time such that, on the one hand, day-to-day activities are increasingly influenced by events happening on the other side of the globe and, on the other hand, the practices and decisions of local groups can have significant global reverberations.

The sociologist Therborn (1998, p. 7) too asserts that globalization should force us to think ‘seriously about space, about the spatiality of the social, about territories and their delimitations.’ Two examples of spatiality that he identifies are: first, in a world seen as system, the ‘flattening of social processes,’ associated with the gradual global spread of dominant social practices (e.g., the triumph of capitalism on a global scale, the hegemony of neoliberalism, the Americanization of culture); and second, echoing Giddens and Held, the ‘world as an arena where nationally determined actors meet, interact, and influence each other.’

In contrast, the international studies scholar Scholte (2000) interprets the spatiality of contemporary globalization (compared to preceding periods of intense internationalisation) as ‘deterritorialization.’ He notes that the rise of a ‘social space that transcends territorial geography’ is new (composed of such phenomena as transnational production, instantaneous worldwide communication, consumption of the same commodities and images, etc.), such that:

‘global’ relations are social connections in which territorial location, territorial distance and territorial borders do not have a determining influence. In global space ‘place’ is not territorially fixed, territorial distance is covered in effectively no time, and territorial frontiers present no particular impediment.

He concludes that ‘while territoriality may continue to be important, globalization has brought an end to territorialism (that is a condition where social space is reducible to territorial coordinates alone).’

In all three accounts, it is the spatiality of globalization that is stressed, albeit in very different ways, from the emphasis on new territorial scales and connections, to warnings of interterritorial clash or territorial annihilation.

The interpretation shared, and explored further, in this contribution is the one offered by Giddens and Held. It sees the growth of world-level influences (e.g., transnational corporations and banks, common consumption patterns, world ideologies, international authority structures) and the intensification of global spatial connectivity (e.g., flows of people, goods, ideas, and information, facilitated by rapid transport and communications technologies) less of a threat to, or reinforcement of, territoriality, than a loosening and stretching of social geographies of linkage and identification. This is because a key aspect of globalization is:

A process which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions—assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity, and impact— generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction, and the exercise of power (Held et al. 1999, p. 16).

The first part of this research paper discusses recent claims in geography on the changing relationship between place and space associated with globalization. It argues that the legacy of seeing places in scalar terms, either as geographical sites of proximate links or as territorial units, remains strong within the discipline. The second part—using the example of contemporary urbanity—dissents with the latter interpretation, to advance a very different sense of place. It argues for the need to see places under contemporary globalisation in nonscalar terms, and as perforated entities: as sites immersed in varied geographies of proximate and distant links, within which things no longer cohere as a bounded whole.

2. Geographies Of Scale

Marston (2000) has reviewed the work of political geographers such as Neil Smith, Eric Swyngedouw, John Agnew, Kevin Cox, Peter Taylor, and Neil Brenner, to conclude that for them spatial scales— from home and locality to city, region, nation and continent—have no pregiven or fixed ontological status, but are produced and reproduced and continually transformed socially by the imperatives of capitalism. Importantly, they associate contemporary globalization with the rise of new territorial scales of organization, and new territorial boundaries, rather than the replacement of old, national scales and boundaries by a unitary global field of meaning and action. They do not see the replacement of an old world ‘space of places’ with a new ‘space of flows’ (Castells 1996).

Brenner (1999, p. 435), for example, asserts that ‘the post-1970s wave of globalisation has significantly decentred the role of the national scale as a selfenclosed container of socio-economic relations,’ and we are witnessing a ‘re-scaling of territoriality’ which includes the increased ‘importance of both suband supranational forms of territorial organisation.’ Similarly, Swyngedouw (1997) mobilizes the term ‘globalisation’ to indicate that globalisation represents the break down and reconstitution of spatial scales; producing a new ‘politics of scale’ involving clashes of scale and contested boundaries. Globalization, thus, represents the ‘relativisation of scale’ (Jessop 1998, p. 90), with governance and political conflicts articulated at urban, regional, national, and supranational level, with no one scale privileged. The result is a rescaling of territories, such that, for example, national states gear towards enhancing international competitiveness and capturing global investments cities, and cities or regions decouple from national economic circuits, to become locked into global ones (e.g., as investment sites).

The emphasis of these geographers on the produced and contingent nature of territories and scales marks, in Agnew’s (1999, p. 504) terms, the ‘historicity of spatiality.’ He demonstrates, for example, that the present period contains a number of historical models of power organized spatially: the model of dynastic preservation in a world of distant communities; the model of state–military conflict in a world of rigidly defined territorial units; the model of hierarchical conflict between centers and peripheries in an international economic system; and the model of nodal conflict within the networks of in an integrated world society. The ‘geographical embeddedness of power relationships today, therefore, signifies something quite different from what was the case in the past’ (p. 512), for example, contemporary globalization elevates the tensions between state territorial relationships (e.g., equating nation with citizenship or property rights) and transterritorial developments (e.g., the rise of globally mobile identities and property rights).

Through these readings, globalization can be seen as the multiplication of geographical scales of social organization, linked to the changing spatial requirements of the latest phase of capitalist development. These are not seen as parallel or mutually exclusive scalar geographies, but intersecting and overlapping ones, with places territories implicated in the full variety of scalar reorientations. Thus, not an end to geography in a globalizing totality, but a rescaling of boundaries (upwards, outwards, and downwards) and a reconfiguration of territories as they engage in multiscalar processes and politics.

The strength of this interpretation of the spatiality of globalization lies in the scope it leaves for recognizing the persistence of geographical diversity, and the varied ways in which different places, with their unique legacies, are implicated in the balance between territorial and transterritorial influences. Its weakness, however—although Agnew is an exception—is that it fails to address whether the ontological status of place territoriality itself is significantly altered as a result of the rise of world-scale processes and transnational networks and flows. The language continues to remain that of scalar geographies and territorial units. Reterritorialization follows deterritorialization and spatial scales are relativized under globalization. Places such as cities and nations continue to exist as territorial units, but now with different external orientations (e.g., as sites in global production networks or places dependent upon international investment or competitiveness) and different scalar involvement (e.g., national welfare policies, continental trade agreements, global environmental regulations, local tax regimes). The boundary between place and space is not seen to be bending or disappearing—a line in shifting sand—but as a remaining line of distinction between ‘in-here’ relations and institutions, and those ‘out-there.’ Global connectivity is seen as leading to the nesting of territories into multiple scales, not territorial disorientation away from a geography of scalar nesting.

Cox’s (1998) work on localities as particular sorts of spaces (of association and politics) in a multiscalar world provides a good example of this lingering territorial logic. He distinguishes within a locality the spaces of dependence or localized connections that he claims define ‘our sense of significance,’ from the spaces of engagement within global relationships, which he sees as threatening the place-specific ‘essential interests’:

Spaces of dependence are defined by those more-or-less localized relations upon which we depend for the realization of essential interests and for which there is no substitute elsewhere; they define place-specific conditions for our material well being and our sense of significance. These spaces are inserted in broader sets of relationships of a more global character and these constantly threaten to undermine or dissolve them … In so doing they construct a different form of space which I call here a space of engagement: the space in which the politics of securing a space of dependence unfolds (Cox 1998, p. 2, cited in Marston 2000, p. 226).

In this account, localized relations are posed as distinguishable from global relations, and somehow more authentic and politically progressive: the local can be mobilized to resist the global. While Cox is clearly right to note that local societies continue to retain political potential in an age of allegedly globalized power, his dualist distinction between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ as separate scalar fields remains methodologically problematic. To highlight the weakness of this dualist logic, should we, for example, judge the often charged diaspora connections of ethnic minorities or cosmopolitans in a locality to be less significant or progressive than the daily contact among local residents? Surely a key aspect of the transnationalisation of local relations is that we can no longer make an easy distinction between local and global geographies? How localized or global, for example, are the associational politics of worker, immigrant, and NGO groups campaigning for local recognition, but relying on international financial and other support networks?

Or, what makes everyday practices and customs grounded in local encounters and traditions any more ‘essential’ than nonlocal practices and customs? This desire to see places as territorial units in which local relations are counterposed to global relations leads to a peculiar politics of place in which relations within localities are cast as good and meaningful, and contrasted to bad and totalizing external relations. Its peculiarity follows from the ontological separation of place (read as in here, and intimate) and space (read as out there, and intrusive) as distinctive scalar realms.

Taylor’s (1999) recent attempt to conceptualize place and space in nonscalar terms helps us gets around this particular ontological straightjacket, but replaces it with another rather stark binary distinction. Following the pioneering work of the humanist geographer Tuan (1977), Taylor claims that both terms should be used to identify human activity at all geographical scales—local, national, and global—but that they are distinct and always in dialectical tension with each other. Taylor defines space in modernity as the realm of abstract principles, rules, rationality, science, administration, bureaucracy, and institutions. He judges it to be politically disenabling. In contrast he sees place as the substantive, politically enabling, lived realm involving intimacy, experience, belonging, feelings. The two are said to always exist in tension with each other, for example, the abstract realm of the state, combined with the felt realm of the nation, has yielded the nation-state, in which ‘sovereign territory has been merged with sacred homeland to convert a space into the place.’ Similarly, Taylor sees the modern home converting the space of the household into a place, and the techno-social space of the one-world (capitalist) system becoming a place through developments such as the rise of a global consciousness (e.g., global ecological fallibility).

Taylor’s is an odd usage of the terms space and place, counterposing as it does, the abstract (disenabling) from the lived (enabling). Are not the spaces of science and technology, for example, R&D laboratories or domesticated science, just as lived and ‘enabling’ as more obviously emotional sites? Isn’t the realm of experiences one that blurs the distinction between formal and informal practices? Why, for that matter, choose the labels of space and place to distinguish between the abstract and the lived? What remains helpful in Taylor’s schema, however, is his rebuttal of space and place as separate geographical sites or realms, thus allowing the ontological presence of both the proximate and the remote at the same geographical level (e.g., the recognition of systemic rationality or state-sponsored science in the home, or the proximate warmth odium of nationalist sentiment or universal causes).

The next section pursues this reasoning, but retains the geographical connotations of the terms space and place, rather too quickly abandoned by Taylor. It retains a geographical imaginary because it considers the reconfiguration of the spatiality of social relations a central aspect of contemporary globalization, and importantly, because it sees this reconfiguration shaping the meaning of what goes on in places (localities, cities, regions), how places coalesce or not as entities, how social relations in places are constructed, and how the politics of place matter. In short, it illustrates that place still matters, but no longer as a scalar unit.

3. ‘A Global Sense Of Place’

The section heading borrows a deliberately oxymoronic phrase of Massey (1994) to conceptualize localities in nonscalar terms, or, in her words, ‘relationally,’ as sites of juxtaposed social realities, shaped by the layered historical connections and geographical links that are to be found within and beyond them. Their character as sites of agglomerated activity, thus, has far less to do with the properties of a territorial system (e.g., localized linkage, self-regeneration, local governance, etc.) than with the effects of spatial and temporal exposure and connectivity (e.g., continual and openended change, juxtaposition of difference, overlap of networks of different global connections). Two of Massey’s now famous examples of places as ‘open, porous, hybrid’ (Massey 1999, p. 21) are Mexico City, with its varied architectures revealing layers of global Spanish and American-Indian historical connections, and Kilburn High Road in London, with its juxtaposition of English, Irish, and Indian diaspora lifestyles and connections.

It is important to note that since Massey defines the spatial in general ‘as the sphere of the juxtaposition, or co-existence, of distinct narratives, as the product of power-filled social relations’ (Massey 1999, p. 21), a global sense of place is needed not only for cosmopolitan places, but all places. For, each and every one:

… may be imagined as particular articulations of these social relations, including local relations ‘within’ the place and those many connections which stretch beyond it. And all of these embedded in complex, layered, histories. This is place as open, porous, hybrid—this is place as meeting place … This is a notion of place where specificity (local uniqueness or sense of place) derives not from some mythical internal roots nor from a history of relative isolation—now to be disrupted by globalisation—but precisely from the absolute particularity of the mixtures of influences found together there (Massey 1999, p. 22, emphasis in original).

Through this lens we might re-imagine Bamako as richly as Bombay, Boston as richly as Bermuda, and mobilize them against persisting views of globalization as place homogenisation. Massey defines places as socially constructed ‘envelopes of space-time’: relational settings and meeting places, not closed local systems. How does contemporary globalization fit into this picture? Massey’s response is:

… globalisation, imagined through the lens of this conceptualisation of space-time, the globalisation we are facing now, is a thoroughgoing, world-wide, restructuring of those spacetimes, along particular lines. It is a re-making of those, inherited but always temporary and provisional, spaces, places, cultures which are themselves the hybrid products of previous restructurings.

We can take this to mean that a relational or global sense of place will interpret the spatiality of globalization—however defined—rather differently from a territorial perspective. Let us stay with the example of cities, and focus in turn on the spatiality of two aspects—economic transactions and urban politics— to illustrate this point.

3.1 Urban Economic Space

In economic discussions, the language of scales or territorial boundaries, as discussed above, has tended to interpret the rise of transnational phenomena such as global informatics, international production and finance, and powerful international organizations, in terms of the boundary between a territorial inside and a territorial outside. Consequently, accounts which continue to see an economic place for cities contrast the global as the realm of distanciated links, fast flows, and world-scale processes, with cities as the sites of face-to-face-contact, or centers of agglomeration among global networks (e.g., clusters of HQs, creativity and knowledge, communication hubs). Against the economics of space and distance are posed the economics of agglomeration and clustering, the powers of spatial proximity and interiority. The argument posed is that in the global age, the locally embedded still counts as a source of economic dynamism and competitiveness because spatial proximity encourages trust and reflexivity, reduces transaction and communication costs, facilitates technological and knowledge spill-over, and offers specialized services and institutions to the business and professional communities (Maskell et al. 1998, Krugman 1991, Audretsch 1998, Glaeser 1998).

A sense of place that sees cities as a meeting place for diverse geographies of linkage, in contrast, offers a different reading of the urban economy. The geography of cyberspace is a good example for questioning the distinction between an alleged real world of direct contact and a virtual, telemediated world. As Kitchin (1998, p. 387) argues, ‘whilst information on-line might seem geographically dislocated, information is only as useful as the locale within which the body resides’, and in any case, ‘cyberspace depends on realworld spatial fixity—the points of access, the physicality and materiality of wires.’ Consequently, there is a continuity of communication in geographical space and place, such that, as Graham summarizes, ‘power to function economically and link socially increasingly relies on constructed, place-based, material spaces intimately woven into complex telematics infrastructures linking them to other places and spaces’ (Graham 1998, p. 175). Similarly, in daily contact, there is an unbroken line of communication linking physical and human technologies, and it is of varying geographical reach, mobilized to source information, strike a deal, exchange knowledge, and so on.

The different realms of communication do not offer different social worlds, for example, ‘there is not one single, unified cyberspace; rather there are multiple, heterogeneous networks, within which telecommunications and information technologies become closely enrolled with human actors, and with other technologies, into systems of sociotechnical relations across space’ (Graham 1998, p. 178). And this is precisely why the speeding up of time within communications networks should not be read as the speeding up of people and their lifestyles (Thrift 1996).

Seen in the context of linked communications architectures, there can be no privileged economic role for spatial proximity. First, co-presence or agglomeration need not imply association and interaction, for firms can mobilize a variety of contact networks to establish economic links with firms, markets, and institutions located elsewhere nationally and internationally. The near immediacy of distanciated communications networks enables economies of association to be established without the need for spatial propinquity. The city is no longer a bounded, but spatially stretched, economic sphere. Second, spatially proximate interactions, where they appear, need not privilege particular types of economic transactions such as those based on trust, reciprocity, and reflexivity through physical interaction.

Intimacy may be achieved through the frequent and regular contacts enabled by the distanciated networks of communication and travel (how else do transnational firms, institutions, and social movements work?), as well as the unbroken interplay between face-to-face and telemediated contact. The city is, therefore, not a place of unique or systemic transactional assets. Third, the agglomeration in some parts of some cities of large volumes of specialised inputs—from knowledgeable and creative people and clusters of inter-related industries, to sites of R&D, corporate power, public bureaucracy, and business services—no longer implies increasing local returns (as theorized by agglomeration economists). These sources of economic dynamism (which may well draw on local resources, for example, schools and college, leisure amenities, transport hubs) are nested into economic networks that stretch beyond the city (from transnational production networks and national or international supply chains, to global market relations).

A global sense of urban economic space recognizes places as clusters of overlapping network sites, without seeing in them only local economies of association feeding a localised economic system. It views with scepticism the territorial metaphors such as ‘local fixity vs. global flow,’ ‘embedding the global,’ or ‘the local in the global’ which have grown in recent years to ‘defend’ the space of local economy against global ‘encroachment.’ Instead, it highlights that local economic activity is part of, and inseparable from, proximate and distanciated transactions, and that whatever counts as the local has to be seen as a network site, not a territorial system.

3.2 Urban Political Space

Similarly, a global sense of place implies an interpretation of the implications of globalization on urban politics that is different from one based on a territorial sense of place. The territorial perspective anticipates either the loss of the urban as a political space under the barrage of national and global institutions and movements, or, as exemplified by the work of Cox above, as a particular zone of engagement. It sees politics as undergoing scalar differentiation, as exemplified by waning interest in universalist causes and nation–state institutions, and the rise of ethnonationalist sentiment at regional level or global political institutions and movements.

In this schema, localities, when viewed positively, are expected to perform a certain kind of place-based politics: tribal, as implied by Cox, through his claims for local authenticity and feelings; formative, through involvement in ‘militant particularisms’ (Harvey 2000); lived, through conflicts over lifestyle, consumption, and social reproduction issues; experimental, via either the politics of difference forged around the diverse social and cultural voices gathered in the city (Sandercock 1998), or the politics of citizenship based on participation in the city’s public spaces and public sphere (Sennett 1977). In short, a new politics of place serving unique purposes in a world of multiscalar politics (note, however, the different position of those political geographers who mobilize the concept of relativization of scales, in order to capture the new combined politics of local, national, and global action).

There is, however, another way of viewing place politics in age of global connectivity. Instead of seeing local political activity as somehow unique, places might be seen as sites that juxtapose or combine the varied politics—local, national, and global—that we find today. What matters is this juxtaposition combination.

This forces, for one, recognition of actor participation in nonlocal political activity. To return to the urban example, as Sassen (1998) puts it, if globalization involves the urbanization of a world capitalist class (at least in some global cities) as well as people and cultures from different parts of the world, it also generates the possibility of claims in the city which are at once local, national, and transnational in orientation. This might include, for example, business leaders campaigning against the local homeless, national government tax policies, or international trade agreements; ethnic minorities campaigning against local racism, but also through the support of national antiracist groups, and international diaspora organizations; office workers gathered together with other groups outside the municipal offices protesting against local closures, but also linked up with workers and unions elsewhere through Internet discussions of world trade barrier removals. In this perspective the city is no longer a site of place politics, but a place of engagement in plural politics, and through multiple spatialities of involvement.

Why does this shift in emphasis from the politics of place to politics in place matter? Because, it marks the necessity to see political activity in places as plural, open, and contested (Amin et al. 2000). First, the juxtaposition of difference in close spatial proximity generates political challenges associated with this juxtaposition, for example, the contest between the business community and the homeless over the spaces of the city, or the competing demands of different classes, social and ethnic groups over the city’s cultural resources. There is no automatic intimacy or consensus here against any perceived global intrusion.

Second, the idea of politics in place marks a significant change in the nature of contemporary politics, from one based on participation in singular, all-encompassing, political institutions and movements, to another based on participation in multiple causes and multiple networks of affiliation, and resulting in people, more than ever before, bearing multiple political identities as well as forging new ones. It recognizes a cosmopolitan politics that features at all spatial scales of organisation and activity (Soja 2000). Third, however, such a politics remains open-ended, and highly dependent upon cultural context and the balance of power, for its outcomes. Thus, no formative place politics of militant particularisms, but a cosmopolitan politics that is xenophobic and reactionary here, progressive and hybrid there, tolerant or particularly militant elsewhere.

4. Conclusion

This research paper has staked out a case for a nonscalar interpretation of the geographies of place and space associated with contemporary globalization. Its principal claim has been that the rise of a world of global flows and processes, and intensified transnational connections, signals the perforation of boundaries and the sharp combination of variety and difference at different geographical sites, rather than a shift in the balance of power between different spatial scales, or the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of activity. Thus, it has stressed the fluidity of cultural political practices in space and place, against the emphasis elsewhere in geography on new scales of fixity. Of course, in matters of regulation and governance associated with globalization, there is a very real and felt contest of jurisdiction between local, national, and global state and nonstate organizations. It has not been the intention here to deny the state, but simply its legal and institutional inscription on other on-goings within places. Instead, the aim has been to look into how the very terminology of geographical boundaries, caught up in concepts of place and space, proximity and distance, has been challenged by globalization.

Beyond these largely silent differences of opinion within geography, the distinctive contribution of this discipline within the congested study of globalization, has lain in the study of the spatiality—social, economic, cultural, and political—of what is increasingly being seen as a single and interdependent world. The work of geographers has shown that this new world remains as varied, uneven, and contested as ever before, with little evidence of spatial homogenization or the end of geography.


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