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Imaginaries

Bird’s-eye view maps and clock time were not only crucial to European navigation of the oceans that enabled colonialism and capitalism, they were also essential to the management of colonies and workforces. And as these ways of imagining space and time became dominant they erased other traditions for imagining space and time as well. Yet what do these dominant forms of imagining space and time hide? Part VIII focuses on the way activists, scholars and artists today are challenging the way we have learned to imagine space and time thanks to the forces of financialization and neoliberalism. In all three chapters we are introduced to experimental techniques for seeing the relation between things in space and time. Against the celebratory culture of corporate-led globalization that promises that it will bring peace and prosperity to Latin America, Samaniego and Mantz show us how the Beehive Design Collective of artists, educators and activists has drawn on interviews and research with activists to create a different image. Styve interprets Otobong Nkanga’s mixed media piece The Weight of Scars (2015) (featured on this book’s cover), which features printed photographs of Namibian landscapes fractured by extractive mining within a broader tapestry of traditional fibres. Bhattacharrya’s diagram begins from an attempt to create an image, and so help us to imagine how the world system might appear if we ‘mapped’ it from the perspective of how dominant systems are related.

It's common to hear that ‘globalization’ is marked by a profound change in the nature of space and time, compared to the past. Today, information races around the world nearly instantly, connecting us as never before. Global markets pulsate day and night, with money rushing around the globe, for better and for worse. For many living in London, global cities like Berlin, Shanghai or New York feel ‘closer’ than towns and villages geographically nearby. Many of us have friends and family spread around the world but only a click away, whereas we hardly know the person living across the hall or the street. Meanwhile, as many people learned the hard way in the 2020–21 COVID-19 pandemic, time feels and is experienced very differently, depending on what one is (or is not) doing and how one is living one's life. There are, of course, objective measurements of space and time that exist outside human perceptions, relative, for instance, to the circumference, orbit and rotation of the Earth. But there are many different experiences of space and time, shaped by culture, experience, society and economy. And, importantly, there are many ways of imagining space and time and what connects us across them or keeps us separate.

One of the consistent elements of European colonialism and the birth of capitalism was the sometimes intentional, sometimes incidental effort to transform the way people imagine space, time and connection. Consider the bird's-eye view map, drawn from a perspective no human would achieve until the advent of flight but extremely useful for Europe's oceanic navigators, who used it to advance imperialism, for whom maps were jealously guarded secrets. By contrast, Polynesian navigators, whose lives also revolved around transit across vast fathoms of dangerous oceans, communicated and came to imagine space with extreme accuracy and reliability not with bird's-eye maps but a combination of songs, stories and techniques for interpreting the ‘feel’ of waves on the hull of their boats.

Capitalism developed in part through the imposition of a rigid ‘clock time’ on workers who, until that time, had been – like most humans – accustomed to calibrating their time to the rise and fall of the sun and the cycle of seasons as they affected agricultural production. In this view, time is an arrow travelling from past through present to future, onward, upward.

This capitalist ‘chronotope’ (a way of imagining time) also helped to establish a narrative of historical ‘progress’ where ‘advanced civilizations’ were on a path to ever greater achievements. In contrast, most Indigenous cosmologies on Turtle Island (North America) or the lands now known as Australia framed time as an array of complex, intertwined cycles where past, present and future were all entangled.

Bird's-eye maps and clock time were not only crucial to European navigation of the oceans that enabled colonialism and capitalism; they were also essential to the management of colonies and workforces. And as these ways of imagining space and time became dominant, they erased other traditions for imagining space and time as well. The dominant European model became the dominant global model. Nineteenth-century with efforts to regularize space through latitudes and longitudes were mirrored in the standardization, of time. Today these frames for space and time are ‘baked in’ to the computer systems that are the infrastructure of our digitally connected ‘globalized’ world.

Yet what do these dominant forms of imagining space and time hide? Part VIII focuses on the way activists, scholars and artists today are challenging the way we have learned to imagine space and time, thanks to the forces of financialization and neoliberalism. In all three chapters we are introduced experimental techniques for seeing the relation between things in space and time.

Gargi Bhattacharyya (Chapter 22) introduces her attempt to ‘map’ s by noting the influence of imperial world maps on her imagination of the elemental relationships of the form of global racial capitalism. The chapter elaborates further on how this imaginary map shapes our world in the wake of colonialism. Those maps, of course, located Western Europe at the centre and were often skewed to make us imagine that these nations were proportionately larger, befitting their status as global hegemons. This model of centre and periphery was accompanied by a notion of time that placed Europeans at the vanguard of cultural and civilizational progress, with all other ‘races of man’ stranded in some backwards state. Bhattacharyya's diagram begins from an attempt to create an image, and so help us to imagine, how the world system might appear if we ‘mapped’ it from the perspective of how dominant systems are related. If the imperial maps of old told a story of space and time that glorified and normalized the power of empires, Bhattacharyya's map helps us to tell the story of the world those empires created, with an eye to changing it.

Samaniego and Mantz (Chapter 20) show us how the Beehive Design Collective of artists, educators and activists has drawn on interviews and research with activists to create a different image of time. Specifically, against the celebratory culture of corporate-led globalization that promises that it will bring peace and prosperity to Latin America. Like an ‘ant's eye’ map, the poster they analyse visualizes how the forces of neoliberal financialization are entangled together in a process that immiserates the majority, continues colonial legacies and deepens ecological injustice. Meanwhile, this poster also shows the underground spirit and practices of resistance. Indeed, as the authors point out, the poster also ‘maps’ out the connections between resistance in the present and in the past, connecting today's struggles against extraction and state violence to those of Indigenous people and campesinos over the past 500 years of colonial history.

Likewise, Styve (Chapter 21) interprets Otobong Nkanga's mixed media piece The Weight of Scars (2015) (featured on this book's cover), which features printed photographs of Namibian landscapes fractured by extractive mining within a broader tapestry of traditional fibres. Here, Styve argues, Nkanga is seeking to encourage us to tell a different story about the relationship of finance, colonialism and ecological destruction. In this sense, the artwork is almost like an alternative map of the interconnected earth: whereas some maps teach us to focus on the largely arbitrary lines between nation-states (most of them drawn by imperialism, especially in Africa, which was carved up by European powers in Berlin in 1885), this map asks us to seek new connections that otherwise are made invisible.

At stake in all three of these pieces is the question: how does the global system of financialization and neoliberalism shape our sense of space and time? How have we come to be accustomed to certain ways of seeing our interconnected planet? What other ways might there be for imagining what connects us and what drives us apart?

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The entangled legacies of empire

Race, finance and inequality

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