Conceptualising glocal organisation

Conceptualising glocal organisation: from rhizomes to E=mc2 in becoming post-human

pp. 149-166 in Kornprobst, M., Pouliot, V., Shah, N. and Zaiotti, R. (eds.) 2008 Metaphors of Globalisation: Mirrors, Magicians and Mutinies, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. (First presented at the workshop conference on Metaphors of Globalization: Mirrors, Magicians and Mutinies, at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, March 2006 ).

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Introducing glocal earth
Have you ever tried to locate your home using the online program Google Earth? I tried this recently. The program opened with a satellite image of the earth against the black background of space, North America the default continent that loomed large in front of me. I typed in the simple 6 character postcode for my home in Norwich, UK. Within seconds the globe had spun around and was speeding towards me – initially a blur of blue ocean, green vegetation, and brown built-up areas, rapidly disaggregating as the outline of clusters of trees and the edges of buildings. The process made my stomach lurch, producing a sensation of roller-coaster vertigo. The dive from space to the hill that I live on, and the house that I live in, lasted around five seconds: a bewildering movement from global to local; a near simultaneous representation of inhabiting – of dwelling – in both a planet and a place.

For me, this is what is conjured up by the contemporary notion and phenomenon of glocalisation. Not only does this describe a collapsing of temporal and spatial scales to produce simultaneous experiences and productions of macro and micro. It also combines with a non-dualist imagining that is suggestive of a dynamic situatedness in both the local and the global; potentiating a corresponding embodied knowledge of comprising and constituting – of being and becoming – both a reflective and generative part of the whole.

Arguably, a key idea and practice distilling something of the zeitgeist of contemporary globalisation phenomena is indeed an intensification of what has become known as ‘glocal’ organisation. This clever term, originating from Japanese business practices in the 1980s (Wikipedia, 2006a) and popularized in the English-speaking academic world by sociologist Roland Robertson in the 1990s (e.g. Robertson, 1997), attempts to capture the interrelationships between global and local social and spatial scales that have been facilitated by new and rapidly globalising communications technologies, particularly the internet. It has been taken up by business in considering the provision of local services globally, the customisation of global corporate outputs for local circumstances (as in McDonald’s attempts to woo to local appetites via culturally-relevant menus), and the amelioration of homogenising tendencies through local agential and hybridising uptakes of products and services (e.g. see http://www.glocalforum.org). It also is actively present and celebrated in the multiplicitous social movements and contemporary resistances contesting the frequently exploitative and unjust forms of globalisation processes: as indicated by popular slogans such as The personal is political!, Think global, act local!, and Unity in diversity! It is these latter mutinous and inspirational contexts that I look towards and draw on here.

In this contribution I introduce and explore some overlapping organisational metaphors which both describe and inspire ‘glocal’ organisation. As famously theorised by feminist scholars such as Donna Haraway (1991, 1997 (1985), Rosi Braidotti (1996) and Sadie Plant (1998), I affirm that the advent of exponential uptake of the internet requires new concepts and metaphors for thinking and producing organisation – in terms of both form and dynamics. In particular, and as highlighted in the anecdote which opens this chapter, the internet nurtures the strange sensation of being both locally and globally emplaced – of ‘glocality’. The internet, and the organisational practices and imaginaries it can foster, thus demands an intensification of new metaphors for thinking organisation, requiring concepts that move beyond rather linear images of networks. As a mutinous technology – continually escaping boundaries and contributing to new communities, clusters and identities – the internet becomes a tool to think organisational metaphors which themselves might enhance mutiny.

Here I move through a range of metaphors – starting with the fabulous organic metaphor of the rhizome as articulated by philosophers Deleuze and Guattari’s (1988 (1980)), and closing with physicist David Bohm’s articulation of the holoflux as the field of dynamic, enfolded, energetic indeterminacy where every point is connected and thereby mutually constituted. I suggest that these are differently empowering metaphors that, by indelibly entwining individual and social in conceptual domains (and in contrast to the ethical nihilism frequently associated with extreme postmodern and relativist positions), might affirm the possibility for agency and awareness in the dynamic constitution of glocal lifeworlds. As such they can both describe and guide a range of practices generating a contemporary (and amodern) mutinous politics of the post-capitalist and post-humanist person: from a groping towards a global autonomous DiY culture in its myriad local manifestations (e.g. Bey, *; Notes From Nowhere, 2003); to multiplicitous attempts to resist and negotiate identification by states and other bureaucracies in favour of fluid and hybrid ‘identities’; and to the upwelling appropriation of the internet in facilitating the emergence of non-geographically defined communities and ‘cultures’. I thus offer some reflections on what the term and concept of ‘glocal’ implies in terms of understanding what it means to be human under conditions of glocalisation, where the simultaneous consciousness of being both locally and globally emplaced is constantly produced, signalling both anxiety and possibility regarding desires for participation in socio-political change.

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