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Translocal Governance: Remembering What We Remember

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
October 27, 2019

Daily Afghanistan, Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Lisa Saye, October, 2019


Government Without Borders

Transnational notions of government include descriptions of cross-border bureaucracies and public and private delivery of goods and services. Within the last decade, descriptions and debate have started and stalled on what is meant by translocal governance and what is the actual use of translocal governance. Why all of the sudden starts and stops? I would not begin to hazard a guess, but it may be due to our inability to properly define the term or to build academic courses around it.

Translocal, like transnational, refers to crossing borders in some capacity or another. As it relates to governance, translocal is the degree to which a population that has moved to another geographic area. This continues to influence governance systems back home as well as in their new location. An example of this can come from understanding just a little about the music industry. R&B is a beloved music genre. At the exact moment that an R&B artist drops his or her new single in Atlanta, Georgia, music lovers in Cambodia, The Gambia, Japan and Papua New Guinea can enjoy the moment simultaneously in a variety of time zones. The song was a local drop in Atlanta, but through technology, the drop becomes a translocal drop of new music around the world. From that single, the Atlanta artist may both entertain and influence the musical sound around the globe. Translocals influence public administration and the delivery of public service in much the same way. Through mobility, they transport best practices and common practices from their previous homes and embed them and transplant them anew into systems and areas they themselves have moved into.

Doctors Without Borders is a recognized group of medical professionals who dispatch themselves into disaster and emergency situations to assist needy populations. They travel with medicines, equipment and personnel needed to save lives and lessen suffering. In essence, they are translocal doctors except for the fact that they are not permanent. Large migrations and refugee populations into new areas are often more permanent so the notion that government extending beyond its original borders is more of a possibility during resettlement. In this case, governance is necessary, crucial and expected.

The idea of incorporating concepts of governance into existing systems should not infer that translocal governance means regime change. What translocal governance does is make possible the collaboration of a unique laboratory of experimentation whereby citizens can see how existing government systems absorb new constructs without dismantling the structure completely. What works becomes governance and what does not work is discarded. In some cases, the new structure redefines the balance of local power in favor of the new residents, while in other cases the new structure is simply another way of governing.

Translocal Space and Collaboration

The impact of translocal governance on populations around the world should not be surprising. In 2005, the San Francisco Gate reported that more than 112 languages are spoken in homes in the San Francisco metropolitan area. How much of what is now governance in San Francisco represents translocal ideas from Kenya, Portugal, India, Spain or United States Native American tribes? It must be assumed that a significant portion of what is governance or what will become governance will be representative of the people living and working in that particular area. And, since the space for governance change is limitless, collaboration between and among groups and residents must also inhabit the space.

The San Francisco example demonstrates the degree to which collaboration in the translocal space is diverse, spontaneous and immediate. The same can be said for cities, provinces and countries in the international community. How to navigate translocal space and what that means for government and governance is vast. Afghanistan is a country of 34 provinces with two major languages, but home to more than a dozen ethnic tribes. The translocal space in one province may have fewer tribes, while the neighboring province could have more. The collaborative space in each may include core processes, but would understandably look different based on the different translocal contributions of each tribe. What government in each case has to do is to provide the space for debate, discussion, fairness and implementation of systems and processes where appropriate.

Public servants in the United States, Canada, Brazil or in Afghanistan inherently understand the space needed for collaboration. They regularly review the actors, the citizens, the political climate and the possibilities for implementation of new ideas and new concepts. Instinctively, public servants plan, monitor and revise groups, charts and operations in an effort to capture suggestions for better government that comes from translocal populations. We are all immigrants wherever we go. Public servants understand this at their core and by including parts of our governance structures in ones far away from home, public servants help all of us to remember what we remember.

The ‘Daily Afghanistan’ image was taken by Lisa Saye in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Author: Lisa Saye is Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. On July 9, 2019, Dr. Saye delivered the Pre-Departure Orientation Keynote Address at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for Fulbrighters leaving for Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected].


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