Thoughts On Your Global Thoughts

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Not just for cartographers

Global traveller Renée Kraiem brings back worldly wisdom from Monday’s undergraduate forum “Your Global Thoughts?” where a seriously star-studded panel of faculty members from The Committee on Global Thought sat around with a handful of students, ate pizza, and talked about global crises. 

If you need some reassurance that life exists outside your Morningside bubble as it shrinks to Butler during midterms, know that there are quite a few very smart individuals thinking way outside of it: last night in the ironically secluded Broadway Room of Lerner Hall, the most globally minded of peers and some of Columbia’s most renowned professors gathered to reflect on their global-mindedness.

Professor Saskia Sassen, co-chair of the Committee and a distinguished sociologist famous for coining the term “global city,” highlighted the difference between finance and traditional banking; she targeted finance as the more concerning of the two, given that its purpose is to sell money that it doesn’t have. This field requires immense creativity, she insisted, and the discussion led her to her second issue of concern. “Do the powerless,” she posited, “make history under certain conditions, and do they do so without becoming empowered?” What is visible power, then, and what is not visible?

Visibility is key to Committee member Sudhir Venkatesh, a professor of sociology with a keen interest in film. Venkatesh used his few minutes to tell of his work with the FBI, and the difference that he found between the perspectives of older, experienced policemen in the Bureau, and the “twenty-something Ivy League graduates” who studied economics. Their different approaches, he argued, are why he loves teaching. “There are those two ways of thinking about data and information—how do different systems create different ways of seeing the world?” he asked. “That’s why I love teaching,” he concluded, “because I like finding out the way that people come to questions.”

Katharina Pistor, a “professor of everything,” according to moderator Carol Gluck, brought up the question of how we govern global interdependency. We are interdependent, she explained, but in a way that we have locked ourselves into relationships that were not intentionally designed. And since we lack a common global community and authority that, in our history, has been so characteristic of the nation state, we are locked into those—we can’t choose to de-link, because we don’t have government mechanisms for that. So, who are the beneficiaries, who can regulate this network relationship, and who is being regulated? “What is law,” asked Pistor, “and what are the global mechanisms being employed today that are shifting and transforming themselves in the age of globalization?”

SIPA professor Michael Doyle argued on defining what should be global and what should be local. There were clear rules in the 19th century about the rules of interference, Doyle explained, but in the 20th  we moved toward sovereign equality and developed global norms of human rights. This is most relevant now, he insisted, in the context of a proposed “responsibility to protect.” “What we need to do,” he said, “to make this norm more capable of serving as good governance is to more carefully define when it should be revoked…and then [create] a method for how those who hold power when the dust settles can govern better than their predecessors.”

Chair of Columbia’s Institute of African Studies, Mamadou Diouf, reflecting on the African condition in a global world, argued that because of its location, the continent has been the site of many of these experiments. What are the multiple spaces, then, that have opened within the state, and how do they emerge to reconstitute citizenship? How can they be compared with the global norms that are being set out?

In concluding, Gluck addressed the historical differences in the uneven development of modernity. These, she said, complementing Pistor’s presentation, you can’t opt out of—but it works in different places partially because of what’s on the ground and the relationship between the global and the local. How is it usefully different, then? “This is the challenge of the world today,” she concluded, as it has dramatic impact on daily life.

We must, then, like Gluck, strive to see “the rest of the world and how it is modern in its ways.” All in good time, though—maybe after spring break.

Global-mindedness via Wikimedia

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  1. jackson  

    sorry miss jackson i am for real

  2. You should  

    make a tag for 'the Committee on Global Thought', which you never mention by name in this article, but which organized this event. Also, you completely failed to mention the dialogue between professors and students, which happened after the professors' presentations, and which was the main point of this event.

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