Saturday, January 17, 2009

Domestic Clash of Civilizations

Advances in communication technologies and economic globalization are decoupling identity from location. Conventional wisdom claimed these two forces were collapsing distance and shrinking our world. Instead, the post-cold war world is asking us to re-imagine our communities:

"Steeler Nation" is one of the planet's most populous and intense sports-fan cohorts. There are many others, of course, and have been for many decades. But such groupings—what might be called "voluntary tribes"—are assuming a new importance in America. As neighborhoods and schools become more diverse, marriages become more mixed and social hierarchies break down, old lines are getting blurry. Voluntary tribes are a way of recreating a sense of community.

Voluntary tribes such as Steelers Nation are well suited for navigating our increasingly scattered sense of place. In this regard, Pittsburgh-ness travels well and provides a trust infrastructure for the geographically mobile. Generating trust is critical for doing business globally and Pittsburgh could position itself geopolitically as a nexus for this long-distance economy.

However, our traditional notions of community stand steadfastly in the way of activating the Burgh Diaspora. Real Pittsburghers question my authenticity as a Steelers Fan because of where I was born. The Urbanophile has run up against a similar impediment to his quest to help develop the economy of Indianapolis. Our political and cultural geographies are struggling to keep up with a globalizing economy. The dying landscape will not disappear quietly.

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