Press release 2019/058 from

Globalization? “A flashy term with plenty of definitions – and plenty of drawbacks.” If at all, then Professor Matthias Middell prefers to speak of “globalizations”. For him, the core element here is not the crossing of borders or even a globe-spanning reach, but a “respatialization of the world”. Also, he finds it important to speak much more clearly about the agents of globalization and what motivates them. Middell, whose roles include heading the Centre for Area Studies at Leipzig University, is the editor of a new handbook comprising 70 articles, which is the result of an international joint effort. Readers can take a look at the Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies this week at the University’s stand at Leipzig Book Fair (21–24 March, Hall 3, stand G200).

Debates surrounding globalization and transnationalism have been ongoing for decades. “Contrary to what is usually portrayed and perceived, it is not a process without alternatives that renders us powerless to act. What’s more, there are countless fragmentations and countermovements,” explains Professor Middell. “I am interested in establishing who is globalizing – out of what interest, by what means, and at what cost. Globalization is not simply happening to us. When we talk about different globalizations, then people can express themselves, adopt positions, argue, for example on issues such as migration, export orientation and arms deals.”

Or the construction of a Baltic Sea pipeline. “You can ask questions about whether a pipeline through the Baltic Sea is a good or a bad thing, from a purely ecological perspective. You might find it good or bad, either geopolitically or in terms of European cohesion. But first of all we have to understand it as an element of multifaceted and highly complex respatialization, hence why such a project brings together many agents with their individual interests.” In Middell’s view, such forms of respatialization take place “because politicians allow or forbid them, because people do or do not accept them, because companies can or cannot profit from them”. Middell wants to draw public attention to respatialization. “After all, we all wrap ourselves in an entire process of globalization every time we put a T-shirt on in the morning. The question is not whether that is so, but why we do not talk more thoroughly about the costs and benefits it involves.”

As Middell puts it, with the Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies the more than 80 authors propose a new way of viewing and narrating “developments that unite at least two major regions of the world”. “Such relations are economic, political and cultural in nature, they are reflected in international organisations, they stimulate mobility and the drawing of new borders. They support new value chains, but also the rise of global cities and international non-governmental organisations.” While digitisation is often what makes them possible in the first place, it is argued that at the same time many transregional connections have long historical roots.

“The volume thus contains case studies as well as theoretical and methodological considerations. I think we have succeeded in bringing together a lot of experts who are currently working on this, and to capture their different perspectives,” says Middell. In doing so, we are always mindful of our own role as interpreters of transregional processes, who judge from a certain place, and try to compensate for this by allowing authors from other parts of the world to have their say. This is an important milestone for our research, but of course also a starting point for new investigations.” 

Matthias Middell developed the book with many colleagues from Leipzig, in particular researchers from the Collaborative Research Centre 1199: Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition. “This book is both from Leipzig and at the same time extraordinarily international.”

The book reflects “Global Connections and Comparisons”, the title of one of nine research profile areas at Leipzig University. It brings together scholars from regional, cultural, social and historical sciences, including in the aforementioned Collaborative Research Centre and in the Forum for the Study of the Global Condition, which is a collaboration with the Universities of Halle-Wittenberg, Jena and Erfurt. Leipzig University is also training more than 120 doctoral candidates from over 30 countries at the Graduate School Global and Area Studies. Work is currently under way to establish a centre for globalization research.