Constructing transnational studies

Sanjeev Khagram, Peggy Levitt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Social life crosses, transcends and even transforms borders and boundaries in myriad ways. Social movements mobilize constituencies around the globe on issues such as human rights, gender justice, and family values campaigns. Many adherents of pan-Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and other faith-based movements value their religious membership more than their national or racial allegiances. Economies are organized around trans-continental investment, manufacturing, and consumption chains. Associations set common standards for professionals working around the world. Hip-hop 'heads' in Gugulettu and Rio draw inspiration from their Los Angeles counterparts. Tandoori chicken is one of the best-selling snacks in London. And migrants and non-migrants form thick, broad social networks that link those in sending communities to people in communities of reception. The destruction of the World Trade Center, one of the most potent sym- bols of global capitalism, by members of the cross-border Al Qaeda terrorist network is a striking example of the "transnational" nature of the world.2 While the U.S. government's response was to re-assert the primacy of the nation-state, even a superficial analysis reveals that various transnational phenomena and dynamics-money laundering and criminal networks, transgovernmental police coalitions, dispersed but linked diasporic communities, humanitarian civil society nongovernmental organizations, and multinational business initiatives-were at work pre-and post-September 11th. These ostensibly novel transnational phenomena have clear historical analogues. One need only think of colonialism and imperialism, missionary campaigns, anti-slavery and workers movements, pirating networks, and jazz. Indeed, human social formations and processes have always been transborder and trans-boundary to a signi?cant degree. Even contemporary nation-states and the nation-state system have been transnationally constituted and shaped over time and space in powerful ways. It is no longer enough, if it ever was, to only compare experiences within or across presumably bounded or closed societies or social units, whether they be localities, regions, nation-states, empires, or world systems. The forms and processes of transnationality are the focus of a burgeoning yet fragmented body of scholarship undertaken across the social sciences.3 But the researchers working in these areas do not generally see themselves as part of the same conversation. There is thus tremendous value and potential in defining a field of Transnational Studies (TS). Not all of the scholars we include in this?eld identify with or agree with our intellectual agenda and, if they do, they are likely to disagree over its intellectual foundations. These di?erences, however, are as important to the vitality and prospects for transnational scholarship as are the areas of overlap and agreement. Based on an ongoing in-depth survey of scholarship to date, Transnational Studies includes at least five intellectual foundations:.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRethinking Transnationalism
Subtitle of host publicationthe Meso-link of organisations
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781134033997
ISBN (Print)9780415467896
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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