Shift in Spatial and Temporal Understanding in the Global World

David Greig’s play Europe opens with Sava and Katia’s arrival in a “small decaying provincial town in Europe” (4). They have travelled so long to find a place where they “can get lost” (28). Adele, a young woman who yearns to travel, aspires their liberty. The subjects of the play are still relevant to the case of globalisation, even two decades after its première in 1994. Greig meticulously weaves a story to draw attention to different aspects of the results of globalisation process through his characters. According to Harvey, the shift in the understanding of space and time enables us to be “less bound by ties to specific places and events, both space and time have become freely available for us to manipulate or control” (qtd. in Cohen and Kennedy, 25). Time-space compression creates a dual effect: while the first one gives rise to global citizenship through independence from spatial-temporal limitations, the other leaves us to an endless quest for meaning and identity. This shift and its effects on our attitudes can be best understood first by analysing the cause of the shift, and second; by focusing on the effects of it on our attitudes and behaviours.

Globalisation, according to Cohen and Kennedy, compromises “a series of objective, external elements that are profoundly changing our world” (38). One of these external changes is our perception of space and time. As Harvey argues, this shift takes its roots from the earliest cosmological discoveries in Renaissance and the Age of Discoveries. Yet, greatest achievement was succeeded through developments in information technologies and transport. Events that are happening in the remotest parts of the world are brought to our living rooms and our computers simultaneously. Apart from receiving news, information technologies enable us to interact with people around the world more rapidly. Also, as geographical boundaries lose their importance through mass travel options, more and more mobile people are able to interact with people from different cultures.

When these reasons behind time-space compression are considered, the first positive outcome of it is the rise of global citizenship. Through mass media, today it is too hard –if not impossible- to ignore common social, political and environmental problems concerning all the world’s inhabitants; topics such as political unrest in Syria, violation of human rights, global warming, global financial crisis and so on. Even though most of these particular events occur in a limited area, their consequences affect the whole world, and with the bombardment of the news, we are experiencing “collective shocks” (Cohen and Kennedy, 28) and we can no longer conceive space as a limited, “concrete locality” (qtd. in Cohen and Kennedy, 24) as our pre-modern predecessors did. However, it is not to suggest that people are helplessly sucked into a whirlpool of problems through globalisation and mass media. On the contrary, the process of globalisation raises public awareness concerning those topics. With this increased awareness, people from all over the world can participate internet-based activist movements, such as signing petitions on or making internet broadcast from national events such as Gezi Park protests. Global problems, regardless of space, have never been so easy to express and hear. Our current mindset, shaped by digital technologies and globalisation, enables us to interact global problems while acting locally, in other words, we perceive problems in distant places as our own problems.

The other positive outcome of this change is acting independently from all geographical limitations. As we are able to travel more distances in shorter time and interact more people, educational opportunities also grow. Studying abroad is becoming more available through student exchange programmes. Along with global mobility, there has been a great advance in educational technologies, which provide us the means of manipulating physical boundaries. Students and scholars all around the world may interact through online education websites such as Coursera, FutureLearn or OpenLearning. Those websites offer their users a wide range of study programmes, which are accessible for free. No matter where the students are accessing those courses, they are able to take courses from the world’s most respected universities and incorporate their achievements into their academic career, as well as communicating other course participants from other cultures. Along with educational, today’s people also have global business opportunities. It is possible for us to pursue education in France, work in Canada and spend holidays in New Zealand, for instance. Either through social and global mobility or mobility through educational technology, we are more open to interact people from other cultures.

Up to this point, we have discussed the reasons and positive outcomes of the change in our spatial-temporal orientation. With the intensification of global communication, global citizens enjoy a wide range of educational and business opportunities, as well as be able to participate in the solutions to global problems. However, time-space compression is not always positive in its outcomes. In his study of non-places, French anthropologist Marc Augé focuses on “supermodern” which is what Harvey calls “time-space compression”. Augé argues that this compression, on the one hand, intensifies our search to give meaning to the world and on the other hand, makes this search more difficult. To elaborate on supermodernity, the first point he makes is the “acceleration of history”. Augé states that: “Nowadays the recent past – ‘the sixties’, ‘the seventies’, now ‘the eighties'[1] – becomes history as soon as it has been lived” (26). This acceleration makes us “more avid for meaning” (29), but at the same time, unable to give meaning to the past events. The second point that Augé makes is related to space. According to Augé, spaces that he calls “non-places” are results of compression of space, along with acceleration of history. Non-places such as “air, rail and motorway routes … the airports and railway stations, hotel chains, leisure parks, large retail outlets” (79) amplify the effect of the search for an identity and meaning of today’s global citizens because these places “cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity” (77-78). Since space and time are devoid of meaning, Augé remarks, as time-space compression –or rather in his term, supermodernity- grow stronger, those “who want to find a mother country” (35) rises. While people enjoy social and global mobility as it was mentioned, according to Augé, there is an increasing number of people who try to find a meaning in the world without history or identity. At this point, Augé is drawing attention to what is called “identity loss”, particularly “national identity”. The characters in Greig’s Europe, for instance. All the characters are stuck in non-places; a railway station or a bar. These places, as well as the town itself, are not destinations. They are places where “you pass / on your way to an older / more beautiful / or more important place” (6). Most of the characters feels a sense of belonging to their country. While young porter Adele is trying to give a meaning to her life and is eager to run away from the town, ironically this is also where refugees Sava and Katia try to give meaning to their lives.

As Harvey suggests in his study, the global world’s people are no longer bound to a specific space or time. They are able to manipulate these means to their own ends. Changing perception of space and time has Janus-like outcomes regarding our attitudes and worldview. In the first understanding, time-space compression enables more and more people to gather together for global causes. Also, we are able to pursue further education through the educational technologies, along with pursuing a career in the global market. There are also negative views towards time-space compression as Augé shows. He argues that with the rise of non-places, which are without history and identity, our own search for meaning and identity is intensified. However, I might say, I tend to perceive time-space compression as an advantage for 21st century’s needs. Thanks to these technological developments in transport and information, today we are more connected to each other and more mobile as any of our predecessors had never before. Maybe through these changes, we may finally achieve “cultural liberty” as Kumaravadivelu suggested. It is high time “to learn from other cultures, not just about them” (qtd. in Alsagoff, 20).



Alsagoff, Lubna. Principles and Practices for Teaching English as an International Language. New York:

Routledge, 2012. Print.

Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995. Print.

Cohen, Robin, and Paul M. Kennedy. Global Sociology. Bristol: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. Print.

Greig, David. Greig Plays: 1. London: Methuen Drama, 2002. Print.

[1] It is important to note that “the eighties” refers to a very recent past at the time of writing. Augé’s study Non-Lieux: Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité was first published in 1992.

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