In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transnationalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • World Systems and Dependency Theory
  • Global Histories
  • Creolization of Culture
  • Diasporas
  • Colonial Cultures
  • Colonial Knowledge Systems
  • Postmodernity, or Late-20th-Century Transnationalism
  • Citizenship, De-Territorialization, and Transnational Encounters
  • Local Identities in a Global World
  • Global Politics and Late Capitalism
  • Commodities, Consumption, Tourism, and Youth Cultures
  • Migration
  • Transnational Formations of Race

Anthropology Transnationalism
Bayo Holsey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0115


Over the course of the past few decades, anthropologists have begun to pay increasing attention to the transnational dimensions of many cultural practices and beliefs. Once thought of by some as discrete entities, cultures and societies are now largely viewed to be enmeshed with global webs of exchange and meaning. The literature on transnationalism burgeoned in the 1990s as anthropologists, along with sociologists and cultural studies scholars, began to take serious note of the global transformations occurring around the world. The spread of new forms of global capitalism is responsible for a good deal of the scholarly recognition of transnational connections. Much of this work is rooted in world systems analysis, which understands the interconnected nature of the world to be the result of an international division of labor. The new self-described transnationalism literature was preceded by some early studies of colonialism as well as early work within anthropology on the African diaspora that addressed transnational flows without the benefit of the label of “transnationalism studies.” Within the latest transnationalism scholarship, while some scholars in other fields have celebrated what they see as the opening up of the world and the rise of new opportunities, anthropologists have been quick to recognize the attendant dangers and increased risk of global integration in the late 20th century. Others have noted that globalization is not new, and have pointed to early forms of transnationalism to prove the case. At the same time, anthropologists have extended the insights gained from the analysis of contemporary transnationalism into the study of colonialism. Current transnationalism literature includes works on citizenship; transnational constructions of local identities, capitalism, migration, tourism, and commodity flows; and transnational formations of race.

General Overviews

Several scholars have attempted to theorize transnationalism in broad terms. Some have done so by considering it as a distinctive and defining feature of modernity. They link the rise of capitalism in Europe in the 16th century to a greater scope of global interaction and, hence, as Giddens 1991 notes, the opening up of the age of transnationalism. This was structured, according to Hall 1997 and Trouillot 2003, by European imperialism. Anthropologists including Friedman (Friedman 1994) have been particularly interested in considering what this new openness means for the construction of cultural identities. Hall 1997 and Trouillot 2003 have also explored the power dynamics and various forms of exclusion that attend transnationalism. Along with this interest in transnational processes has come, necessarily, a reconsideration of the nature of anthropological fieldwork. Gupta and Ferguson 1997 and Marcus 1995 have rethought “the field” to include multiple sites. For a literature review of the field while it was still in its early years, see Kearney 1995.

  • Friedman, Jonathan. 1994. Cultural identity and global process. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A study of identity formation under globalization that takes into account new forms of exclusion that it engenders.

  • Giddens, Anthony. 1991. The consequences of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    Important discussion of modernity, defined here as a period beginning in 16th-century Europe. Argues that modernity is characterized by a higher degree of global integration, which has led to both greater opportunities and increased dangers.

  • Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. 1997. Anthropological locations: Boundaries and grounds of a field science. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Collection that questions the idea of “the field” within anthropology as a bounded locale. Explores the implications of the growth of the study of transnationalism to the meanings of “the field.”

  • Hall, Stuart. 1997. The local and the global: Globalization and ethnicity. In Culture, globalization, and the world-system: Contemporary conditions for the representation of identity. Edited by Anthony King, 19–39. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    Papers presented at a symposium held at the State University of New York at Binghamton on 1 April 1989. Originally published 1991 (Binghamton: Department of Art and Art History, State University of New York). An exploration of the roots of globalization in imperialism that considers the contemporary implications of this past.

  • Kearney, Michael. 1995. The local and the global: The anthropology of globalization and transnationalism. Annual Review of Anthropology 24.1: 547–565.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    A thorough literature review of transnationalism that takes note of its many forms.

  • Marcus, George E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24:95–117.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Examines the evolution of anthropological methods with the emergence of multisited fieldwork.

  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2003. Global transformations: Anthropology and the modern world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Challenges dominant narratives of globalization. Includes an important discussion of the concept of “the West.”

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