Defining “Global”

Each Spur festival has a distinct theme, and Spur Vancouver’s is “Global Power Shift: The rise, fall and re-imagination of societies.” While Spur Winnipeg and Spur Toronto dealt with similarly important and grand issues (cash and nature) Vancouver’s festival has been framed in explicitly “global” terms. Yet at the same time, Spur is an explicitly nationally framed festival. What do we make of a national festival framed in global terms? Is there any significance to having the globally-focused Spur in Vancouver, as opposed to Toronto and Winnipeg, two other cities that both historically and in contemporary times are the products and producers of global phenomenon?

A question I will be posing throughout the festival is what scalar/spatial terms are participants and speakers framing their thoughts in? I contend that these, and our other “geographical imaginations” (Gregory 1994), have a direct bearing on the issues we will discuss.

This is especially relevant in the Monday’s “Where Does Change Happen?” event. The event will feature speakers who are for the “local vs national vs global case for shifting power within or between countries.” In this formulation, local, national and global scales are treated as distinct—maybe even nested like Russian dolls—and the national scale “between countries” is the default scale of conceiving politics. Is it possible that framing where change happens in this way misses out on some of the most interesting social dynamics that characterize our age? Local versus national versus global treats each level as distinct but also static—like boxes of unchanging size. What if we think about change and politics in terms of process and flow instead. What different view would this afford us?

What will be in speakers’ and participants’ minds when we discuss “global” shifts during the festival? A homogenous flow of everything, everywhere? Or are “global” shifts and processes more uneven and lumpy? As an example, Canada is the home base of about 75 percent of world’s publicly listed mining companies (Le Billon 2013). We could talk about shifts in the “global mining industry,” but in reality, a shift the national mining regulations of Canada would have much more of an impact on global mining practices than arguably any international convention. Can global and national be so discrete after all?

Or perhaps during the festival talk of the Canadian economy may arise. But how discrete is the “Canadian economy”, per se, in a world of free trade agreements, global labour migration, and the reinvigoration of the country’s raw resource export-oriented “staples economy” (this time in LNG and bitumen, instead of fur and timber)? Perhaps our national economy is more global than we thought.

The scalar and geographical categories we use in our reasoning affect what contents they contain. So thinking about the flows between scales, and the uneven local and national processes within supposedly global shifts will be relevant to any of the week’s discussions about the “rise, fall and re-imagination of societies” be they local, national, global, virtual or yet to come.

Gregory, Derek. 1994. Geographical Imaginations. Malden, MA: Blackwell

Le Billon, Philippe. 2013. “Exporting Dispossession?” Literary Review of Canada 21(4), May 2013.


Emilia Kennedy is currently PhD candidate in Human Geography at the University of British Columbia, studying climate and energy policy. In her academic and civic work she has always been interested in how categorization and spatial language (re)define the contours of the possible. When she is not hitting the books, she often volunteers for social justice causes.

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