Transnationalism is a concept that refers to the connections, flow and exchange of economic, political and social processes across national borders.
It acknowledges the increasing interconnectedness between people, cultures, communities, and even countries in the era of rapid globalization. This interconnectedness involves activities ranging from the emergence of large multi-national corporations, to global integration through migration, to the rise of international political organizations like the UN.
At its core, this concept calls into question the traditional boundaries between nation-states that have dictated politics for centuries. It posits that traditional boundaries may no longer work as effectively in today’s globalized world, where goods and services need to cross borders with ease.
Definition of Transnationalism
Transnationalism, an academic term introduced by Raldolphe Bourne (1919) refers to the process where individuals and groups establish connections and networks across national boundaries, often involving a dual or multiple-country sense of belonging.
Often, students confuse transnationalism with globalization. I’ll outline their differences below. But the key thing to remember is that transnationalism is a direct analysis of changing ideas about nation-based cultural identity, recognizing cross-border identities (Tedeschi, Vorobeva & Jauhiainen, 2022).
The best way to conceptualize it is by comparing it to nationalism, which advocates for the maintenance of nation-state borders and a single national identity.
Transnationalism is a reaction to nationalism, and an argument that nations and nationalism are becoming increasingly less useful in a globalized era (Mitchell, 2016). It notes that individuals may feel they have transnational identities, i.e. my children identify as both Australian and Canadian because they maintain cultural ties to both nations.
Transnationalism vs Globalization
Transnationalism primarily describes the weakening role of the nation-state and national identities due to increased movement of goods, people, services, and ideas across borders. Its focus is specifically on the changing ways we relate to the concept of national identities, promoting cross-border cultural interaction and identities (Green, 2019). Globalization, on the other hand, describes the broader phenomenon of increasing global integration along the axes of economic, technological, cultural, and social development, which facilitates transnational activities and identities.
Examples of Transnationalism
There are various examples of transnationalism that illustrate how it affects our societies today:
1. Migrant Communities: People who move to foreign countries often continue to maintain links with their home country through regular visits or remittances sent back home. This creates a sense of connection that extends beyond national borders.
2. Global Companies: Corporations such as Apple or Toyota operate in multiple countries at once reflecting an economic process known as transnational capitalism; bringing goods and services from one country/state/city to another depending upon market demand.
3. International Political Pacts: This refers to the negotiations and agreements between different nations, which are political processes that occur across national borders. They range from deals on trade to ceasefire negotiations, which aid in transnational activities.
4. Tourism – Most countries’ economies rely heavily on foreign tourism, which involves the influx of visitors from other nations and contributes to the exchange of cultures. Here, we see transnationalism taking place as tourism is a direct trade and spread of culture.
5. Education – International students coming in for knowledge from different parts of the world accounts for the flow of knowledge, culture, and values across borders often to their home country post-studies.
6. Religious Diffusion – Some religions like Christianity or Islam span across borders; they attract believers from different nations who share a common faith but live in different cultures.
7. Nonprofit Organizations – Civil society groups that operate transnationally focus on health care services provided in regions such as NGOs committed to providing services such as access to clean water or HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
8. Entertainment Industry – Films, music, and literature often transcend national boundaries thanks to international audiences, allowing artists or media-makers opportunities for exposure globally.
9. Remittances – The money sent by migrant workers back home contributes significantly to their relatives/families/societies’ income structure and economies as whole regardless of geographic locations they may be situated at.
10. Social Media Platforms – Platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram connect people worldwide generating cultural exchange and dialogue beyond traditional physical boundaries opening up opportunities for people worldwide to create connections with individuals who may share similar interests despite being a part geographically-distance communities / societies.
Benefits of Transnationalism
1. Cultural Exchange
Transnationalism promotes cultural exchange by facilitating interactions between people from different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and societies.
It enables diverse communities to come together and share their customs, cuisines, music, language with each other; this fosters an environment of mutual understanding and respect along with acceptance (Tedeschi, Vorobeva & Jauhiainen, 2022).
Cultural exchange programs can occur in schools, cultural festivals, and tourism, with the aim of promoting harmony amongst the various cultures.
Furthermore, it helps combat ignorance as individuals from different nations learn about one another’s history and traditions, showcasing that every community has its unique contributions to the world despite geographical and cultural differences (Faist & Bilecen, 2019).
2. Economic Growth
Transnational flows have a positive impact on economic growth as they support cross-border trade between countries (Green, 2019).
It benefits industries globally, operating across regions that significantly contribute to GDP levels.
The opening up of the world economy since post-World War II helped promote economic growth. This was led by multi-national corporations which stimulated the rise of emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil across many economic sectors (like manufacturing, services sector).
Overall, this created jobs opportunities not just locally but also abroad virtually connecting communities even more closely through global business practices (Duff, 2015).
Collaboration among professionals from various cultures and regions allows them to access a wealth of new perspectives. It allows us to leverage one another’s expertise and integrate cross-cultural perspectives.
For example, it may involve integrating other nations’ techniques and research into a local product in order to improve it – be it medical, technical, economic, and so on (Mitchell, 2016).
Transnational gatherings like conferences or workshops facilitate the bringing together of experts from multiple backgrounds for discussions around innovation and research, which can lead to groundbreaking results benefiting humanity at large (Dahinden, 2017).
Criticisms of Transnationalism
1. Loss of National Identity
Transnationalism, while being a great tool for cultural exchange, may lead to a loss of a cohesive national identity within a society.
When we begin to prioritize global connections over our own culture and traditions, we run the risk of losing our history and connection to our traditional cultures (Faist & Bilecen, 2019), perhaps even leading to a global culture.
For example, when countries embrace multinational corporations instead of local businesses, it takes away the chance for local businesses with local customs to flourish (we call this cultural homogenization).
While it’s argued that transnationalism leads to the disappearance of cultural diversity, others argue that it will lead to a phenomenon called glocalization, where local cultures mix the global and local to maintain their unique identity.
2. Intercultural Conflict
When cultures interact, the differences between the cultures can cause intercultural conflict. This it the so-called Clash of Civilizations hypothesis proposed by Samuel Huntington (2020).
Furthermore, according to postcolonial theorists, western culture norms are often viewed as superior in the age of globalization, creating problems for other cultures that have different values or ways of life.
Some may feel like they’re being forced into accepting western ideals and may resent this intrusion upon their way of living or traditions (Duff, 2015).
An anecdote would illustrate this concept well: A friend from Vietnam once told me that upon arriving in Canada, she felt overwhelmed by Canadian culture which was significantly different from what she is used to growing up in Vietnam where community values and religion played an important role in her upbringing. The feeling alienation led her down a path where she sought comfort among other Vietnamese people in Vancouver, leading to less cultural integration between herself and the majority Anglo-Canadians.
With globalization comes exploitation from powerful entities that want nothing more than profits without regard for the consequences on local communities or societies at large (Dahinden, 2017).
Multinational corporations may take advantage of weaker labor laws or exploit natural resources, leaving locals worse off than before transnationalism came into play (Green, 2019).
An example highlighting this weakness involves how Western nations benefit from cheap labor sourced from underdeveloped countries with weak labor laws (e.g. Bangladesh’s garment industry). Here, workers work long hours under terrible conditions but with little pay.
Transnationalism is a complex phenomenon with both positive and negative implications on our globalized world.
While it has paved the way for cultural exchange and economic growth, and helped us to question the arbitrariness of cultural boundaries, it has also potentially weakened national identities and created conflicts among cultures.
It’s important to recognize that transnationalism isn’t always equitable nor ethical, as some weak communities may be exploited for the benefit of powerful multinational corporations in the international market.
Bourne, R. (1919). Untimely Papers. New York: B. W. Huebsch.
Dahinden, J. (2017). Transnationalism reloaded: The historical trajectory of a concept. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(9), 1474-1485.
Duff, P. A. (2015). Transnationalism, multilingualism, and identity. Annual review of applied linguistics, 35, 57-80.
Faist, T., & Bilecen, B. (2019). Transnationalism. In Routledge international handbook of migration studies (pp. 499-511). Routledge.
Green, N. L. (2019). The limits of transnationalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Huntington, S. P. (2000). The clash of civilizations?. London: Palgrave Macmillan US.
Mitchell, K. (2016). Transnationalism. International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology, 1-6.
Tedeschi, M., Vorobeva, E., & Jauhiainen, J. S. (2022). Transnationalism: current debates and new perspectives. GeoJournal, 87(2), 603-619.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]