The Confluence of Globalisation in Manipur

Published on January 3, 2010

By Thanggoulien Khongsai


For someone from Northeast India, especially Manipur, the easiest way to understand and to explain the confluence of globalisation, nation-state, culture and non-space, in the light of neoliberalism, is to understand it in the major framework of nationalisation, and in the minor framework of the international processes. Two main reasons for this can be:

a) The ever-felt presence of the Indian state, in all spheres of life – political, economical, social, culture and what not – and the people’s perception on it as a burden state/authority, and less of an assisting state.
b) The internalisation of the globalisation process, as it had started long before the national market became meaningful or of much help to the people of Manipur. The globalisation process and the international marketing system was very localised, and was always carried out with more of the local’s initiative and less of the market forces.

Globalisation and the State

Globalisation as the dissolution of the old structures and boundaries of national states and communities and which also involves the transnationalisation of economic and cultural life, has been an ongoing process in Manipur. The never ending supply of goods from China, Thailand, Indonesia, and mainly Myanmar through Moreh, a border town situated between Manipur and Myanmar, nearly 150 kilometres from Imphal, has made the people of Manipur to come closer to the people of Myanmar, than to the Indians. A paradox arose here: if nationalisation is seen as the opposite of globalisation then for the people of Manipur, it is difficult to separate between the two, and globalisation may be regarded by them as more important than nationalisation.

If globalisation is imagined in terms of the creation of a global space and community in which we shall all be global citizens and neighbours, then I do not think the concept fits in well for the diverse ethnic groups, of more than 30, of Manipur, who are constantly in a struggle for identity and land, which overlapped each other, more than often.

I believe that the reason, why globalisation is so internalised and localised in Manipur, may be because of its ability to bring the new (read international) cultural elements together with old (national, but ‘local’ may be the more appropriate word here) elements, without allowing the new ‘synthesis’ to have an overtone of either one of the two component culture.

However, the effect of the market or globalisation in this context is multifarious and even in contradictory directions, and is experienced differentially by particular social and cultural groups (gender, ethnicity, class, age, location etc.). The goods are found more in Imphal, Chandel (Moreh comes under this district) and in Churachandpur (the largest district of Manipur) intensively, while the other areas, not though intensive, still strongly impacted.

These goods include mostly everything, from rice to instant noodles, cosmetics to shampoos, T-shirts to blankets, music instruments to electronic items, toys to bicycles, and even at some stage petrol – when the Indian price was really high, due to economic blockade in Nagaland – and all these came at a much lower price than India’s. The market system in Manipur defies all the logic of the market systems that I knew of. It is not a free-competitive-market, nor is it a state-controlled-market. It is run by individuals, who usually did it for a year and stopped, to be continued by amateurs, again.

The most the Indian state can do is to check goods at the transaction border and to collect taxes, which is very problematic because of the non-existence of Income or Service Tax in Manipur. Even in this sense, the state is seen as a disturber. Now a days, local traders have shifted their venue of their ‘starting and collection’ source from Moreh to the Army’s CSDs (Canteen Stores Department). The army has been there in Manipur, since independence, with increasing frequency. But, there was never any conscious effort to open so much CSDs and even to reach out to the people. This can be the state’s way of trying to establish its hegemony in a subtle way, to make the people dependent on the state in the long run, and to counter the globalisation or the across-border market forces. To me, this is the contradictory resistance offered to across border transactions that happened in Manipur.
Globalisation Questioned

Whether the process seen in Manipur, that usually starts from Myanmar, is globalisation or not is really a contentious issue. While it does break down barriers, it does not have the necessary market and economic elements that are usually associated with globalisation:

a) The people involved are more or less of the same ethnic group, just separated by fictitious borders.
b) Their movements were never restricted, even across borders, with their relatives living on both sides of the border.
c) It is not result of the state’s or even a MNC’s conscious decision to sell their products across the border. It is usually the result of local traders trying to maximise profits by selling it across borders.
d) This trade is a one-way. The locals from Manipur cannot sell their goods to their Myanmarese counterparts because, at the border, the Indian currency rupee is so much high than the Myanmarese currency kyat that they run into losses (1 rupee = 25 kyats). This is ironic, because in international standards kyat’s value is higher than rupees (7 rupee = 1 kyat, as of September 19, 2009). This shows the lack of international and market forces, but rather a localised one.

The globalization of economic activities and transnational corporations (TNCs) has led us to think that we are entering a ‘borderless’ world. Some prophets of globalization argue that it has led to the end of geography. To them, the state has ceased to be an institution capable of exerting influences on the activities of transnational capital, which has also become increasingly ‘placeless’. However, while observing all these cultural similarities, and the possibility of Luhan’s global village, at least for Manipuris and Myanmarese, the spirit of nation-state sets in, in the form of armies and former army generals in the form of governors. While the global economy has gone from “Fordism” to “Sonyism,” Manipur has gone from “afspaism” (from Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to “absolute-asfpaism.”

Marshall McLuhan’s idea of global village, in particular, I think is very applicable to Manipur. He opines that in this new social organisation of the global village, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, with a "tribal base." There is a new found bonding with the Kukis of India and Myanmar, but not necessarily between the Nagas and Kukis of Manipur, or either of them with the Meiteis of Manipur. This “tribal base” is a product of new found nationalism propelled by the “Sonyism” of the new information technologies, and the repressive actions of the present existing nation-states.

Nederveen Pieterse describes this phenomenon in terms of the origination of ‘third culture’, the ‘creolization of global culture’, and the development of an ‘intercontinental crossover culture’. Globalisation, from this perspective, is conceived in terms of a process of creative and conjoining hybridisation (Pieterse, 1995). On the question of if Manipur is really integrated or is really a part of the global economic process, it can be answered better, if we are to look at Castells definition of global economy, where “…global economy meant an economy that works as a unit in real time on a planetary scale…an economy where capital flows, labour markets, commodity markets, information raw materials, management and organisation are internationalised and fully interdependent throughout the planet” (Castells, 1994, p. 21).

While the frictions of time and space are significantly transcended, writer like Castells called this as the “space of flows, superseding the space of places” (op. cited, p. 29). Linda Harasim (1994, p. 8) calls this time-space compression as “global villagization.” It is worth noting that, when the supply side from Moreh depreciated, the economic life of Manipur is greatly affected, even though the Indian substitutes are available. In a sense, if the repercussions across the border can affect the lives of others, then it is nothing short of the super session of the space of places.

The very important factor, i.e. new technologies, may be missing. It is also important to recognise that new technologies may not overcome spatial constraints, but rather they are changing the basis on which global corporations relate to space and territory. Eg. Amway, an American MNC, infiltrated into Manipur even though the people do not have the necessary resources. The company was very well aware of the economic state of the people, but it still continues its operation. The high prices of the products of Amway and the question of investment ethics, could not find a proper market even in the cities, and thus the foray into the rural areas, whose people can be fooled for the time being. I remember my pharmacist neighbour, who was an active agent of Amway, who lost Rs. 4 lakhs, and is still under the burden of repaying the huge sum.

Even though the world is increasingly seen as ‘one’ irrespective of the borders that define the nation-states, as Ohmae (Ohmae, 1993, p. 78) puts, “The nation-state has become an unnatural, even dysfunctional unit for organising human activity and managing economic endeavour in a borderless world. It represents no genuine, shared community of economic interests; it defines no meaningful flow of economic activity,” I believe the state has reinvented itself in a number of ways in Manipur. The suppressed voice against the dams (Tipaimukh & Khuga) or the AFSPA, shows that the state has never retreated and not ready to give in to anything that challenges its domain.

Michael Foucault’s ‘governmentality’, had, I feel, become the common ground of all modern forms of political thought and action, especially in the context of Northeast and specifically for Manipur. Governmentality he argued was an ‘ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics, that allow the exercise of this very specific, albeit complex form of power’ (Foucault, 1979). And, he claimed, since the 18th century ‘population’ had appeared as the ‘terrain per excellence’ of the government.

The centre and state governments in India have addressed themselves to the regulation of the processes proper to the population, the laws that “modulate its wealth, health, longevity, its capacity to wage war and to engage in labour,” seeks to protect the territorial integrity and for the maintenance of law and order, and so forth. Thus, he implies, societies like our own are characterised by a particular way of thinking about the kinds of problems that can and should be addressed by various authorities. They operate within a kind of political ‘a priori’ that allows the tasks of such authorities to be seen in terms of the calculated supervision, administration and maximisation of the forces of each of all.

Instead of viewing rule in terms of the state that extends its way throughout the society by means of a ramifying apparatus of control, the notion of government draws attention to the diversity of forces and groups that have, in heterogeneous ways, sought to regulate the lives of individuals and the condition within particular national territories in pursuit of various goals. Rather than ‘the state’ giving rise to government, the state becomes a particular form that the government has taken. The government and the state merged into one. In this context, the Indian state is no less different from Louis XIV who declares: “I am the State.”

Example, while introducing the AFSPA on August 18, 1958, G.B Pant, then home minister of India said that certain misguided sections of the Naga in Assam and Manipur were indulging in “arson, murder, loot, dacoity” etc; and that it had become necessary to adopt effective measures for the protection of the people in those areas and that to enable the armed forces to handle the situation effectively, it had been considered necessary to enact legislation.

If “arson, murder, loot, dacoity,” etc. are the yardsticks for the imposition of the AFSPA, then the Act has been imposed discriminatorily in the Northeast states, especially for Manipur. There has been equal numbers of such incidents, if not more in, for instance, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where incidents of violence and insecurity of common citizenry have been outrageous, systematic and persistent. Armed insurrections have taken place also in other parts of India, for instance by the Maoist Communist Centre in Bihar and by Naxalites in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. Members of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra have resorted to "arson, murder, loot, dacoity,” etc. during communal riots in India. The most recent situation in Gujarat exemplifies such situations in other parts of India.

All these arise from the lack of understanding of the relevance and interaction of globalisation, nation-state and culture in Manipur. Even if the basic premise of Joel Bonnemaison’s (Bonnemaison, 2005) cultural geography as, “Cultural differences can only be understood when placed in their geographical context” and Agnew’s understanding that there are “significant cultural differences between places” (Bonnemaison, 2005), was taken into account to understand the cultural differences based on spatial arrangements, then I think the conflict or misunderstandings can be reduced to the minimum.

The state’s imposition of the “freedoms” that is supposedly necessary for the development of the people of this state are not always necessary what their cultural notions of “freedoms” suggest. In such conflicts, the neoliberal Indian state must “use its monopoly of the means of violence to preserve these freedoms at all costs” (Harvey, 2005; p. 64). At the popular level, the drive towards market freedoms and the commodification of everything can all too easily run amok and produce social incoherence.

The destruction of forms of social solidarity and even of the very idea of society itself will leave a gaping hole in the social order. It then becomes peculiarly difficult to combat anomie and control the resultant anti-social behaviours such as criminality, pornography, or the virtual enslavement of others. The reduction of ‘freedom’ to ‘freedom of enterprise’ unleashes all those ‘negative freedoms’ that Polanyi saw as inextricably tied in with the positive freedoms (op. cited; p. 80). Through the unwanted market freedom, there was also the rise in opium trade on the borders of Manipur. This negative freedom led to a large number of drug addicts in Manipur, which became the main factor for the huge number of AIDS/ HIV affected people.

The Bonnemaison understanding of culture as “the necessary outcome, even if contested and fragile, of the two opposing forces” (Bonnemaison, 2005), cannot take place in Manipur, and there is no possibility of acculturation. Cultures or macro-cultures (civilisations) are created in confluence rather than in isolation or in opposition. And obviously, questions of political power and identity are correlated. A debate over whether, culture is superstructural or fundamental (i.e. if it is determined by the economic processes), or whether culture exists at all except in the minds of those who refer to it, can be easily resolved in Manipur’s context where culture is very fundamental and is the moral, social and even the economic fabric of the people especially of the tribals.

For the tribals, space has culture as its basis. To quote Bonnemaison: “Space may be produced by society, yet society creates itself within a cultural space” (Bonnemaison, 2005). Bonnemaison’s “preliminary place” must be defined for all societies. From it, space is shaped, and through it, a web of values and meanings is organised. “Epic beginnings” give rise to perception and symbolism and a series of social and cultural images that make up a culture or alternatively, a ‘vision of the world’. It is true that such vision is not expressed by means of a constructed discourse or ideology but through images and metaphors that give rise to thoughts and representations.

Within this vision space is perceived as a cluster of islands, linked by roads, and society is a “canoe” that follows these roads (tree and canoe is a symbol used by Bonnemaison to understand the tanna tribes). Hence, space does not abide by the hallowed core-periphery model: spatial organisation is a network like. Space is not a centre with margins; rather it is a road with a beginning and an infinite end, farther on. The landscape reproduces this image and society arranges itself upon it. Political or cultural factors are considered more important than economic motives. The state’s failure to understand this aspect and trying to arrange the cultural life around the “constructed-society” creates more disaster than help.

Slowly, there has been a decline in the culture aspects, mainly due to the onset of education and modernising forces. But, along with schooling and disregard for custom came the progressive loss of territorial ties, the weakening of group links and the emergence of a desire for ‘urban mobility’ that needs to find personal expression.

Two factors may explain why the tribals of Manipur, Kukis and Nagas, followed a “network-model”, a “reticulated-space” and not a “core-periphery” model: a) the political will to create an egalitarian society, b) the determination to transcend the constraints of geographic insularity. Reticulated space takes shape as a network where each place, and therefore, each group is the equal complement to the place or group before and after it on the road. Society can only operate through the consensus of each of the sovereign links that are part of the same road of alliance.

Within recapitulated space, the focal place is not a central place but a founding place. The territory is not modelled according to the centralised-polygon or core-periphery models, but according to a nexus-shaped model. The founding place brings forth a road-like space where messages, political relations and rituals of alliance jump along from one link to the next. There is no allegiance to such a system but only precedence. The tribal societies in Manipur are stateless societies. Political power is gained through the prestige competitions and the relations of exchange. Power rarely extends beyond the geographical scale of a local group, which generally amounts to a few hundred people.

This segmented society coincides with a splintered political scale made up of multiple and competing places. Therefore, space is not unified by a core that produces a periphery that it dominates. Rather, networks of equal groups delineate space; these groups are allies or enemies, often alternately one and then the other. Political space has no actual centre or periphery but manifests itself as a broken line with numerous political nodes extending into secondary autonomous networks. The latter spreads over neighbouring space, as befits the geographical nature of island environments.

Over these flexible structures contemporary politics superimposes, the rigid organising principle of the nation-state copied from the Western world. As a consequence, ancient network relations are severed or redefined: a core node appears, around which a periphery is born. Space becomes unbending, yesterday’s flexibility fades away and the state apparatus girdles society. This take-over by the nation-state causes tensions; new problems appear. Centrifugal forces and libertarian movements, more or less organised, attempts to unsettle the new structure; they try to boost the autonomy of local groups, which the nation’s unfaltering goal is to eradicate, be it consciously or not. The tribals may not be able to survive without a territory, in other words, without roots that allow it to give a foundation to its Geosymbols and solidify the space-as-experienced with which it is familiar (Bonnemaison, 1981).

In this light, it is very important to see the “functionalist approach” which propounds that the “differentiated development of space created regions or belts based on monoculture and the optimal use of space.” The space that we study is a multi-level construction. The first level corresponds to structural or objective space, the second is the space-as-experienced, and the third is the cultural space.

a) Every society arranges and structures an original space according to its aims, functions, and technological level.
b) Spatial structure is not experienced identically in all societies. Space-as-experienced, as used by Armand Fremont, is space as movement. It is a space which the people acknowledge, a space associated with daily life.
c) Cultural representation is situated beyond day-to-day activities; sensibility and the search for meaning bring it forth. Reflecting on culture leads one to investigate the role of symbolism in space. Symbols become more intense and vivid when they are embodied in specific places. Cultural space is a geosymbolic space laden with emotions and meanings: in its strongest expression, it becomes a sanctuary-like territory, a space of communion with an ensemble of signs and values.
Culture and Customs

Custom often provides a political foundation to new nations or to nationalistic movements that aspire to sovereignty. Custom acts as a claim on the past that is intended to enlighten present issues. It represents a return to the values and mores of long ago. It is an affirmation of cultural and political identity. It tightens links among local residents, asserts the rights of original inhabitants, and fight against alienation by excluding ‘foreigners’. This is no less than the statements issued by the militant tribal groups of Manipur (National Socialist Council of Nagaland and Kuki National Army) and also the Meiteis, who even claimed its dislike for Hinduism and wants to revert back to the indigenous religion – Sanamahi.

According to the cultural-power theory of Gramsci, power is gained through the subversion of minds – through counter-culture. This is the theory of the cultural hegemony of the proletariat. Ideological and cultural majority precedes political majority in most cases. When a specific culture and a territory are linked, we speak of cultural space.

The intensification of the cultural processes leads to a certain westernisation of the world, but it also involves backlash effects, bifurcations and emerging processes of reaction and rejection. The technical unification of the world represents a totally new situation in history. It produces two antagonistic forces: homogenisation and a sort of cultural balkanisation, a withdrawal of many cultures as they turned down this ‘universal model’ because of its western overlay.

The same movement brings about a re-emergence of ethnic groups and territories as well as a renewal of the irrational and the sacred. Both effects herald the revolt of the local against the global. This further raises the question of the possibility of the existence of great cultures and sub-cultures. But the debate goes on. At the national level, this can be taken as the domination of the national cultural group over the regional and ethnic group, and the domination of the ethnic group by both the regional and national cultural group.


There has been lots of misrepresentation regarding the notion of territory that the notion of territory would lead to exacerbated nationalism, tribalism and ethnicism, with their de facto outcomes including exclusion and purification. This is a too narrow concept, as it just reduces territory to frontier – a fragment of appropriated space.

It is a well known practice amongst the tribals to have community ownership of land. The case being not different for Manipur tribals. Harvey acknowledged this when he says that the “neoliberals are particularly assiduous in seeking the privatization of assets” (Harvey, 2005; 65). The state government of Manipur, which is mainly comprised by the Meiteis (caste-hindus), sees the absence of clear private property rights as one of the greatest of all institutional barriers to economic development and to the improvement of human welfare.

The reason being that they cannot buy tribal lands, since no “pattas” existed for a community owned land. If it is privatised and people started owning individually, then the lands are ready for the competitive free market. For this, “enclosure and the assignment of private property rights” is considered the best way to protect against the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’ (the overcrowding and the excess use of the Meiteis inhabited plain lands).

Neoliberals therefore tend to favour governance by experts and elites – i.e. army generals from the central government, and the police, and politicians from the state government. A strong preference exists for government by executive order and by judicial decision (Harvey, 2005; p. 66). State regulation of provision, access, and pricing seems unavoidable in such domains (op. cited; p. 67). At the end of the day, in a “democratic neo-liberal state” mostly everything goes down to legal paths, and the courts are in any case heavily biased towards ruling class interests, given the typical class allegiance of the judiciary. Legal decisions tend to favour rights of private property and the profit rate over rights of equality and social justice. Chandler concludes, ‘the liberal elite’s disillusionment with ordinary people and the political process (that) leads them to focus more on the empowered individual, taking their case to the judge who will listen and decide’.

The main substantive achievement of neoliberalization, however, has been to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income. conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights; suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land. The state, with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes.
Space and Territory

Space is a physical reality, which buttresses relations of production. A geography of production structures ensues from it. Space produced by the world system or the world economy may be explained by the interplay of centres and peripheries; it is first and foremost a functional unit determined by economics. In the margins of the market or ‘underneath it’, an anti-world is revolving, a sort of world ‘in reverse’, which is defined and perceived in different ways.

The territory may be defined as the reverse of space. It is based on an idea and often on an ideal, whereas space is material. The territory is a worldview first and only secondly an organisation. It refers more to representation than to functional purpose, but this does not mean that it is devoid of structures and substance. The territory has its own configuration, which varies according to societies and civilisations, and its substance is linked more to cultural, historical and political analysis than purely economic analysis.

The territory is not necessarily the contrary of geographic space; it completes space. The territory is an elsewhere with two dimensions; a constituent element of a deeply rooted identity and, beyond it, a political stake.

Territory as Identity

In its various spatial guises, the territory is inherent to all civilisations. The feeling of identification embodies itself in various places and Geosymbols. Any given society has a territory: identity is linked to core places, which are also places of the heart. Places of identity often refer to the origins and are permeated by the “undefinable grandeur of beginnings” (to use Levi Strauss’).

For Luc Bureau (1971), the territory is the resonance between oneself and the world. For Bonnemaison, it is the resonance of the earth with oneself. Thus the territory is something that is very sensual and primary, but also very profound and magnificently elevated.

The territory is also the space that allows for self-identification – based on a feeling and a vision. Its spatial form has little importance: it can vary to a great extent. The territory can even be imaginary or dreamed about. It can be a path, a heartland or a frontier or even a continual search for equilibrium between heartland and frontier. The territory is a fragment of space that gives roots to one’s identity and unite those who share the same feeling. The territory is primarily a space of cultural identification or belonging; appropriation only comes later.

Territoriality as Political Stake

The territory as a political space is quite different. Marked out by frontiers, which delineate a space of survival for power, this kind of territory is at the core of geopolitical challenges. There, space is defended, negotiated, coveted, lost or else imagined. In it, nations play out their relations of domination. Nations fight for a territory, even though they have no real economic interests (eg. Falkland Islands)…there is no compromise as far as territory is concerned.

Geopolitical conflicts that arise from the delineation of the state frontiers are basically unresolved identity problems. Eventually, they led to wars all the more violent as identity-related issues have been denied, held in check and repressed for a long time, e.g. Yugoslavia. The adversaries are fighting for territories buried for centuries in their memories and imaginations, and it may not be so much their craving for space that motivates them as the assertion of their identity – wounded, long muzzled and ailing. This is why adversaries in this conflict are so viscerally determined and why the search for a reasonable solution is difficult.

The territory is also the nexus of power; the master’s eye of Foucault is constantly present. To carve out and to control places within the territory is to dominate. Control of the land mediates the relations of authority between people and the nation. The idea of territory may be disliked/distrusted because it upholds a notion of power or affirmation of identity that may be dangerous. Yet, it is a tangible reality inscribed in space and time from which no one can free oneself. To deny the territory may result in serious crises or excesses. On a highly pessimistic note, we can refer to Claude Raffestin who says that, “Space is the original prison; the territory is the prison that human beings give themselves.”

Without a liberal-style market, even Sen seems to say, none of the other freedoms can work. A substantial segment of the Indian public seems for its part to accept that the distinctively neoliberal freedoms that Manmohan and his fellow Congressmen promote are all there is. These freedoms, they are told, are worth dying for in Manipur. An army becomes a martyr if he sacrifices his life fighting the “others” of Manipur, who sees no reason why the Indian army should fight in the first place. They claimed to be in their own turf, just seeing that it is well protected.

Since the centre and even the mass media came to view of Manipur’s problem as solvable only through arms and army, it gives rise to the belief that opposition mobilized outside the state apparatus and within ‘civil society’ is the powerhouse of oppositional politics and social transformation. Therefore it is no wonder that the period in which the neoliberal state has become hegemonic has also been the period in which the concept of civil society––often cast as an entity in opposition to state power – has become central to the formulation.

The Gramscian idea of the state as a unity of political and civil society gives way to the idea of civil society as a centre of opposition, if not an alternative, to the state. It is this civil society – the press, the Meira Paibi, the Kuki Movement for Human Rights, the Naga Movement for Human Rights, and the Churches among others – that has been the strongest opponent of the repressive laws and its acts. It is this civil society that really looks into the, “use of spatial space,” its representation, and “representational space..

Non-Space/ Place

After looking at all these confluences, we can easily inferred that there are many gaps in space or place that the different interacting cultures in Manipur cannot fill up. It is very important here to bring Marc Auge’s concept of non-space/ place as “spaces of circulation (freeways, airways), consumption (department stores, supermarkets), and communication (telephones, faxes, television, cable networks)…spaces where people coexist or cohabit without living together” (Auge, 1995; 110). "Non-place" refers to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as "places”… sites marked by the ‘fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral’…essentially the space of travellers…they do not appear to have histories and are marked by transience and mobility…(op. cited).

The playgrounds and prisons of Manipur are the first places that come to mind in this respect. From my childhood, the playground, whenever was used by the army, was only to mete out punishments to the terrorists. However, the same playground would be used for the cultural exchanges, festivals, functions etc. when used by the locals amongst themselves. So, this playground is a total non-space for the different cultures to meet in. The same goes for prisons, as a non-space, with the social deficits being very evident. I think the final word on non-space should be Auge himself who says, “place has never been an empirical notion.

Anything can become a place, every space can be one, if in one manner or another encounters take place there that create social ties. A space can be either a place or a non-place, or a place for some and not for others. One classic case is the airport, which is a very different case for someone who works there regularly, with colleagues and relationships, and someone who passes through once only, or by chance” (

The ‘borderless world’ discourse must be contested, because it has caricatured the intricate and multiple relationships between capital, the state and space. First, the capitalist state continues to perform its functions in capital accumulation and to exert influence in the global political economy. Second, capital is more territorially embedded in places rather than having become ‘placeless’. Globalization is a complex process of interrelated tendencies; there is a dialectical and dynamic tension between spatial integration (a result of the globalizing of economic activities) and spatial disintegration (an outcome of localization of these very activities). Territorial differences and geo-graphical unevenness remain integral to globalizing processes.

Laclau wrote ‘(Frank) shows us how the advanced countries have exploited the peripheral countries; what he at no time explains is why certain nations needed the underdevelopment of other nations for their own process of development’ (Laclau 1977: 35-6). This is I think, very important because we hardly ever question the underdevelopment of the Northeast areas of India. And again: ‘if we want to show that . . . development generates underdevelopment, what we have to prove is that the maintenance of pre-capitalist relations of production in the peripheral areas is an inherent condition of the process of accumulation in the central countries’ (Laclau 1977: 37).

I think a lot of the people of Manipur want development, development on their terms, they want development that benefits them and not the elites around 10 Janpath. There is a need to find a way of politically uniting those struggles for a “down-up” development, and that is why I think something like the concept of neoliberalism and its penchant for “accumulation by dispossession” provide a kind of vocabulary to start to bring together.

There is the westernisation of not only the world, but also India, into a basic culture, at once technical, aesthetic and ethical, along with a way of life and a way of thinking. Humanity discovers its universality in it. Simultaneously, India as a whole is becoming more commonplace, acculturated, and seemingly more poorer in cultural terms. One part of India dominates the rest. This planetary space is an “illusion,” for there is neither exchange nor reciprocity, only the imposition of one viewpoint. 

Auge, M. (1995):  Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London, Verso 

Bonnemaison, J. (1981): ‘Voyage autour de territoire’, L’Espace geographique, special issue on cultural geography, 10:4 (1981), 249-62.

Bonnemaison, J. (2005): Culture and Space: Conceiving a new cultural geography, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., New York.

Bureau, Luc (1971): La Terre et moi, Montreal, Boreal

Castells, M. (1994): ‘European Cities, the Informational Society, and the Global Economy’, New Left Review, 204.

Gay, Paul du (ed., 1997): Production of Culture/Cultures of Production, Sage Publications Ltd., London.

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The writer is pursuing a Master’s degree in Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.