Arjun Appadurai argues that anthropologists should not study people groups as blocs defined by a certain ethnicity or geographical location. Instead, Appadurai examines people groups in terms of five disjunctive flows. The flows do not necessarily depend directly on each other and they can cross racial, political, and international boundaries. These are the five: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes. Here are examples of each at work in my own life.
- Ethnoscape: My mom met my dad when she moved from California to Switzerland to learn French (he was her French teacher). After my parents split-up, my Mom moved back with me to California. So, in order to understand me and my family, one would have to take these transatlantic migrations into account, migrations that cross ethnic and geographic lines.
- Mediascape: One of my favorite shows is BBC’s The Office (the US version’s daddy-mamma). Some of my friends and I have spent hours watching David Brent and co. We even talk to each other using lines from The Office. If you wanted to understand a major part of my cultural currency, you would have to take a look at this show and how it flows from British culture, humor, and production, into my living room.
- Technoscape: My Dad works for the Swiss government. Right now he is serving a post in Shanghai, China. In order to stay in touch, we talk to each other on Skype (it’s free!). We video chat every Monday at 4pm in LA (Tuesday 8am, in Shanghai). So to get a handle on the technology that connects me to my peeps, you would have to follow the Skype flow from west coast US to east coast China.
- Financescape: Currently the economy in Iceland is under severe strain after experiencing 5 years of the highest economic growth among the countries in the OECD. According to Georg Brynjarsson, this meltdown can be externally traced to the subprime crises in the US. My wife has family living in Iceland. Because they are struggling right now, this may affect her family’s ability to hang on to their historic house in Denmark. So, to understand some of her current anxiety, you would have to follow a flow that went from the US to Iceland to Denmark and back to the US.
- Ideoscape: I do yoga multiple times a week. I love the way that it teaches me to be in touch with my body-mind. The yoga DVD that I use was made in Hawaii by Rodney Yee, a Chinese American. But ultimately, Yoga originated in India. Now there’s a long flow.
Appadurai’s way of studying people groups makes a lot of sense to me in an increasingly interconnected world. What are some of the flows that make you and yours who you are?