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‘The anxiety of our era has to do with space.’

Michel Foucault

Space is never innocent, nor are our representations of it. From the struggle to take a strategic corner
for a little village shop to the military clashes over ‘no fly zones,’ from the conquest of land to the exploration
of space, peoples have always been scrambling to situate themselves in ‘places’ of advantage while at the
same time containing others in their subaltern ‘spaces’. The revelry having compressed contemporary space
into ‘one global village’ is at best ambivalent. What it boils down to is the struggle for power to represent
space, to map places. Map producers highlight or delete an actual space depending on one’s perspective –
touristic interest, business possibilities, religious sites, etc. Maps in fact reveal more of their geographers’
location than actual topography.
Let me start with a specific space. Seen from the outside, there are only single doors in the buildings
of the once aristocratic and ‘le plus chic’ Parisian 16 arrondissement. But having passed through the main
entrance, one is ushered into two different doors – one leads to the elevator and into the apartments of les
mesdames et messieurs; the other to a dark and narrow flight of stairs at the back of the building which, after
having walked up to the 7 floor, brings you into inhumanly cold little rooms – ironically called chambre de
bonne – reserved for their femmes de menage who are mostly illegal immigrants. These women-workers
never get to use the elevator or meet those who have access to it. One does not see this scheme on the
architect’s design since these cramped back stairs are designated as fire exits and the small rooms above
them, as storage places. There is one instance, however, when some of its inhabitants see each other: in the
context of work, that is, when this femme de menage knocks at madame’s door in the early morning to start
doing the dishes or the laundry. It is not insignificant that Emile Benveniste traces the word ‘place’ to locare
which originally means ‘to put something in its proper place, the place, to which it naturally belongs’. When
subsequently applied to ‘men and their work’, locare takes on an added but related meaning; this time being
opposed to conducere – two Latin terms which the French collapses into one (i.e., louer). While the latter
means ‘to hire [someone]’, the former came to mean ‘to put [oneself or one’s labor] on hire’, as when Plautus
says: locare operam suam tribus nummis (to ‘place’ his work for three coins, i.e., to hire it out). These doors,
stairways and rooms – these ‘proper places’ to which these two different classes and/or races are said to
‘naturally’ belong – betray such a social relationship (i.e., of hiring and of being hired) which is oftentimes
concealed in the discourse of ‘compressed time and space’ ushered in by technological progress and
globalization. For even in the high-tech district of modern Paris, La Défense, one can still see these chambres
de bonne – these ‘living places’ oftentimes deleted from present-day spatial screens.
This paper intends to first examine the discourse of ‘place/space’ in two globalization theories – that of
Anthony Giddens and David Harvey. We read Giddens as saying that the ‘emptying of space’ makes possible
the emergence of new cultural forms. Harvey, on the contrary, takes ‘time-space compression’ as some
‘totalizing device’ to advance the capital’s universal agenda. Through an interaction with their critics, we aim
to bring out the contrast but also the complementarity of their perspectives. In the second part, we elaborate a

I would like to thank Professors Georges De Schrijver and Jacques Haers for their valuable comments and suggestions to
this article.
Emile Benveniste, Indo-European Language and Society, trans. E. Palmer (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 125-30.
Ibid., 128.

concept of place from Raymond Williams which integrates the previous perspectives (i.e., Giddens’ and
Harvey’s) – and propose it as our paradigm for ‘locus theologicus’. In the third section, from the perspective of
the above paradigm, we will engage John Milbank and Robert Schreiter from the perspective of our
appropriated framework.


One or Many? The Complexities of Globalization

Though globalization is a phenomenon difficult to pin down, there are two contrasting yet
complementary perspectives which can help illuminate this complex reality. Frederic Jameson suggests to
view it from its cultural and economic dimensions: “I believe that globalization is a communicational concept,
which alternately masks and transmits cultural or economic meanings.” Heightened by the development of
electronic and communications technology, globalization makes its impact on all cultures as these latter are
not only significantly altered by exports from Hollywood but are also given a hearing in the world’s stage in
the joyous dance of diversity. Yet this communicational concept also slides into the economic realm since
what goes in circulation are not only the niceties of culture but hard cash in its ‘soft’ electronic forms within the
emerging ‘e-commerce’ and ‘dotcom’ capitalism. This development bears out two distinct philosophical
positions. On the one hand, an emphasis on the ‘cultural’ leads to the postmodern celebration of
‘Difference’, in the empowerment of the subaltern and once-forgotten ethnicities, genders and cultures. On
the other hand, a stress on the ‘economic’ ushers in ‘Identity’ as national productive zones adjust their
produce to achieve ‘global competitiveness’ in the now single global market. But these dual perspectives,
Jameson continues to analyze, are also dialectically related as each of their discourses are displaced into the
other. Thus, when the discourse of economic Identity is shifted to the cultural sphere, what we see is an
analysis, reminiscent of the early Frankfurt School, on the alarming vision of the ‘McDonaldization of the
world,’ the ‘standardization of cultures’ and the annihilation of ethnic pluralities. Inversely, transferring the talk
of cultural Difference to the economic realm bears out the optimistic language of the apologists of the global
market, i.e., the rich variety of local productivity, the enhancement of human creativity and the burgeoning of
new economic initiatives. These tensions only warn us that globalization is a slippery image which, if it has to
be understood, needs to be taken in its utmost complexity.
If there is any contemporary category which bears the imprint of this complexity in the context of
globalization, it is the concept of spatiality. From the double-perspective (identity and difference), we will
analyze the notion of ‘space/place’ elaborated by Giddens and Harvey, as we also intend to nuance their

‘Empty Spaces’ and Cultural Difference: Anthony Giddens

In The Consequences of Modernity, Giddens argues that the inescapable pace of contemporary
global experience is caused by the ‘separation of time and space’ brought about by modernity. The use of the
mechanical clock – a typically modern invention – has made possible the existence of an ‘empty time’. Once
attached to ‘space’ (as each tribe or locality contemplates a specific notion of time), an exact and uniform
time is imposed to the known world, thanks to the precision of the mechanical clock. However, this ‘emptying
of time’, Giddens continues, is also preconditioned by the ‘emptying of space’. The pre-modern ‘space’ most
often coincided with ‘place’. ‘Place’ refers to a concrete locale (a room in a house, a street corner, the shop-
floor of a workplace, a village, etc) – the site of social activity characterized by some sense of definite
presence. But “the advent of modernity increasingly tears space away from place by fostering relations
between ‘absent’ others, locationally distant from any given situation of face-to-face interaction.” This

Frederic Jameson, “Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue,” in The Cultures of Globalization, eds. F. Jameson
and M. Miyoshi (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998), 54-77, 55.
Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990).
Giddens, The Constitution of Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984), 118.
Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, 18.

‘emptying of space’ is ascribed, among others, to the production of universal maps that make ‘space’
independent of any particular place or region. In other words, the ‘objectivity’ with which modern maps are
drawn detaches them from specific contours of the places they refer to, thus, making space ‘empty’ yet also
available to be filled with other specificities. It is this development which leads to what Giddens calls
‘disembedding’– “the lifting out of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring
across indefinite spans of time-space.”7 But disembedding should not keep us mourning for the loss of our
familiar communities since this act of displacement in effect makes possible its own ‘reembedding’. The life in
a globalized world intensifies the realization that this contemporary experience of ‘place’ is highly influenced
by elements from distant realities, now ‘placed into’, reembedded, and integrated into one’s locale. Television,
cellular phones and internet – these permanent features of postmodern life – reinforce the consciousness of a
newfound familiarity since the events which are happening in the opposite side of the globe, I come to
experience with some intense emotional nearness via the screen; or the person I am ‘chatting’ with in the
web, one whom I have not even met and, and most likely, never will, has become my intimate friend who has
helped me through difficult times. Instead of viewing it as a loss of some organic Gemeinschaft from where
one can cling on for security, the experience of disembedding is a gain as it engenders new and fecund
opportunities for reinsertion and integration of the local into the globalized ‘communities’ of shared
experience.8 To put it differently, ‘empty spaces’ actually make possible a reinvention of traditions into new
pluriform practices.9 The openness to ‘re-invention’ of places and of traditions characterizes what Giddens
calls ‘reflexive modernity’ – a concept he appropriated from Ulrich Beck.10 As spaces are ‘emptied’ and
traditions evacuated out of their usual ‘places’, they make a comeback in more polymorphic realities, thanks
to reflexive appropriation and globalization’s restructuring of space which allow the once inert ‘others’ to
‘answer back’, leading to a ‘mutual interrogation’.11 It is in this context that globalization engenders discourses
of ‘hybridity’, ‘creolization’, ‘mestizaje’ or ‘glocalization’.12
Novel and opportune as this analysis might be, it is not in fact spared from criticism. Scott Lash, for
instance, suspects Gidden’s (and Beck’s) concept of reflexivity in the context of globalization.13 Why, he
inquires, do we see reflexivity in some ‘places’ and sectors (e.g. Silicon Valley) but not in others (e.g., Export-
Processing Zones)? What explains the proliferation of the new ‘McDonald’s proletariat’ in the service sector
and the large rate of unemployment even in developed economies? In Lash’s analysis, there are in fact
‘reflexivity winners’ and ‘reflexivity losers’. In other words, the celebration of cultural difference and ethnic
empowerment which Giddens proclaims do not paint the whole picture since while others celebrate, the rest
suffers spatial dislocation – both literally and metaphorically – denied the possibility of being reembedded into
more fecund grounds as promised. Thus even as Giddens is not lacking in references to the uneven powers
and risks involved in globalization by calling it a ‘juggernaut’, Tomlinson also claims, that he possesses a
‘comparatively undeveloped’ view of the problem. “[I]t is difficult to escape the impression that Giddens paints
a rosy picture. Global modernity may be essentially dialectical [between the local and the global], but it
distributes both its goods and its ‘bads’ along some pretty familiar lines of entrenched social division.” What
I want to point out in the above criticisms is the insistent presence of globalization’s ‘shadow’. As Jameson
reminds, when the cultural discourse on Difference shifts itself to the economic, what we often hear is the
promise of positive outbursts of local productive energies but what in fact is concealed is the resolute march

Ibid., 21.
Ibid., 141.
Giddens, “Living in a Post-traditional Society,” in U. Beck, A. Giddens and S. Lash, Reflexive Modernization: Politics,
Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Cambridge: Polity, 1994), 56-109.
Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992).
Giddens, “Living in a Post-traditional Society,” 95-104.
See Néstor Garcîa Canclini, Culturas Híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad (México: Editorial
Grijalbo, 1990); Ulf Hannerz, Transnational Connections: Culture, People and Places (London: Routledge, 1996); Roland
Robertson, “Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity,” in Global Modernities, eds. Lash and Robertson
(London: Sage, 1995); Virgilio Elizondo, The Future is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet (New York: Meyer-Stone, 1988).
Scott Lash, “Reflexivity and its Doubles: Structure, Aesthetics, Community” in Beck, Giddens and Lash, Reflexive
Modernization, 110-73 .
John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Cambridge: Polity, 1999), 61-63.

of the monochromatic global capital ever-willing to crush anyone that comes in its path. This brings us to the
analysis made by David Harvey.

‘Time-Space Compression’ and the One Global Capital: David Harvey

In The Condition of Postmodernity, David Harvey also goes back to the beginnings of modernity to
account for what he calls ‘time-space compression’. Like Giddens, he views modernity as annihilating space
through time. The conquering of space by time makes it possible to experience vast spaces collapsed into
one TV screen almost in an instant. Harvey, however, is more sensitive to its devastating consequences.
Even as we delight in the simulcast of far-away events as the Australian Olympics or the Philippine ‘People
Power’, he invites us to be conscious of its underlying dynamics. Spaces and the inherent material practices
they engender, now compressed, can be packaged, reproduced, reworked in a collage of fantastic places
labeled as ‘exotic’ to the gratification of global travel called tourism. Moreover, in the capitalist manipulation of
space, as in theme parks like Disneyland or whole cities like Las Vegas, one can now experience all those
places vicariously and almost simultaneously without the cost of travel. In other words, ‘places’ are produced
both symbolically and materially in such manner as to attract capital. Unlike Giddens’ analysis of the
production of maps as objective and non-perspectival charting of space paving the way for the ‘recreation of
places’ and ‘new opportunities for reinsertion’, Harvey faults it as a factor leading to the ‘pulverization’ of
space and ‘abstraction’ of place, dividing them into standard units expedient for market distribution. Drawn
from De Certeau’s critique of the map as ‘totalizing device’, he argues that it in effect is “a homogenization
and reification of the rich diversity of spatial itineraries and spatial stories. It ‘eliminates little by little’ all traces
of ‘the practices that produce it’.”
Two opposing movements are engendered by ‘time-space compression’ – both of which are
inadequate and ineffective from Harvey’s perspective. First, we see the postmodern dance with the volatility
and instantaneity of fast-pace life. “If it is impossible to say anything of solidity and permanence in the midst
of this ephemeral and fragmented world, then why not join in the [language] game?” In the level of cultures,
this is shown when the simulacra of ethnic differences are interwoven and placed along each other in almost
the same space and time. Just as the whole world’s cuisine are lined up in one boulevard, so are the world’s
cultures and practices collapsed into one TV screen. But aside from celebrating this outpouring of colorful
postmodern diversity, Harvey focuses on how this juxtaposition of otherness camouflages “almost perfectly
any trace of origin, of the labour processes that produced them, or of the social relations implicated in their
production,” thus, in a way, coopting these once oppositional cultural forms into endless commodification.
“Postmodernism has us accepting the reifications and partitionings, actually celebrating the activity of
masking and cover-up, all the fetishisms of locality, place, or social grouping, while denying that kind of meta-
theory which can grasp the political-economic processes (money flows, international division of labour,
financial markets and the like) that are ever more universalizing in depth, intensity, reach and power over
daily life.”
The second reaction, though coming from a totally different perspective, can also be read as
postmodernism’s own consequence. Shunning away from the outward, yet oftentimes, insecure interaction
with multiplicity and difference, one moves into a centripetal direction exemplified in the search for personal
and collective identities. As one needs an anchor in the shifting collage world of compressed time and space,
this exigency can take the forms of movements as opposite as fundamentalism and local socialism – both of
which are founded on their specific ‘place-bound identities’ and constantly fueled by a discourse on ‘tradition’.

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990).
Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, 142.
Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 253. See Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. S. Rendall
(Berkeley: university of Calfiornia, 1984), 115-130.
Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 291.
Ibid., 301-302.
Ibid., 300.
Ibid., 116-17.

Unlike Giddens’ celebratory acclaim of their reflexive appropriation, Harvey claims that the retrieval of these
traditions is also not exempt from the effects of commodification. Even in their more radical forms (which also
include the struggles in working-class communities, racial minorities, women or colonized peoples), they are
viewed as ambivalent by Harvey’s Marxist eyes since their localized praxis is not strong enough to wage war
against the resolute march of global capital. This is Harvey’s basic assertion: the discourse of the
’locale/local’, since it is fundamentally connected to Being (Becoming being associated with ‘time’), connotes
fixity and stasis, thus, inevitably leading to a kind of reactionary politics. Against all localisms and fetishisms
of ‘place’, Harvey ultimately wagers on the globalization and ‘internationalization of politics’ in order to counter
capital which has now gone global.
While Harvey’s analysis fills the gap in Giddens’ predominantly optimistic framework, it likewise needs
some critique and nuance. Doreen Massey, for instance, is of the impression that Harvey’s Marxism is
obstinately and “curiously solid in an age of recognition of decentered subject and of multiple identities.”23 It
appears that Harvey still establishes an inflexible and irreconcilable opposition between economics and
culture, base and superstructure, ‘class’ and ‘place’ in the formation of social identities. The fact, however, is
that these identities are not constructed from either but from both, as well from other multiple factors like
gender, race, religion, etc. Applying this to our question, Massey contends that ‘places’, mostly viewed by
Harvey as organic traditional ‘localities’, are not united wholes, already fixed and pre-given, but “are
constructions out of the intersections and interactions of concrete social relations and social processes in a
situation of co-presence.” Local cultures are not realities where ‘lines can be easily drawn around’ but are
‘shared spaces’ where the question of dominant identity has been a result of continuous conflict and
negotiation. It appears that in Harvey, Jameson’s forewarning again makes sense – it is in the shift of the
discourse of Identity from the economic to the cultural that we are enjoined to view the world as one ‘Coca-
colonized’ global village. If the framework of a tension-filled and contradictory but also solidaristic and
pluriform ‘places’ are excluded from the analysis, then all we are left with is a bleak picture of a unitary global
culture forever determined by the ‘invisible hand’ of capital – a view Harvey seemingly holds.
Despite their seeming inadequacies, which we have already indicated, the perspective of ‘spatiality’
provided to us by Giddens and Harvey are both necessary as they are complementary. This convergence is
best shown in Raymond Williams’ option for ‘placeable social identities’.


Globalization and ‘Placeable Social Identities’

The concept of ‘place’ which resists both the self-enclosure of postmodern fragmentary communities
and the abstraction of ‘locales’ present in some universalizing critiques of globalized power could be
discerned in Williams’ concept of ‘placeable social identities’. In Towards 2000, Williams argues for a “form of
primary and ‘placeable’ bonding [which] is of quite fundamental human and natural importance.” We could
not find any systematic treatment of globalization in Williams but his option to theorize and institute in politics
the project of ‘cultural struggle for actual social identities’ is born out of his succinct and accurate analysis of
this late 20 century phenomenon. Antedating Jameson’s forewarning of the complexity of globalization
experience, Williams (in 1983) writes this metaphor of contemporary metropolitan life.
There was this Englishman who worked in the London office of a multinational corporation
based in the United States. He drove home one evening in his Japanese car. His wife, who
worked in a firm which imported German kitchen equipment, was already at home. Her

Ibid., 303.
D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 137.
Ibid., 138.
For Raymond Williams’ (1922-1988) more important works, see Culture and Society (London: Hogarth Press, 1993); The
Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961); Marxism and Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1977).
Williams, Towards 2000 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 180.

small Italian car was often quicker through the traffic. After a meal which included New
Zealand lamb, Californian carrots, Mexican honey, French cheese and Spanish wine, they
settled down to watch a programme on their television set, which had been made in
Finland. The programme was a retrospective celebration of the war to recapture the
Falkland Islands. As they watched it they felt warmly patriotic and very proud to be British.27

Beyond Jameson’s cultural-economic dialectic, in fact, Williams introduced a third dimension into the analysis
– the political factor. The above life-metaphor of an urban middle-class couple is employed by him to point out
the tension between the concept of ‘national’ (patriotism) and the ‘global’ in the formation of personal and
social identities. The problem of ‘nation-States’ as a constructed fiction is quite well-known.28 The emphasis
on the ‘local’ (most often collapsed into the ‘regional’ or ‘national’) is seen to be problematic since all
discourses about it are in fact ‘bland and obscuring generalities of identity’ constructed by the dominant ruling
forces of the modern State. In the process, a ‘placeable’ feeling of a ‘native’ place has been projected,
pressed and incorporated into a decidedly political entity – a transformed kind of bonding useful for
administration, “to mobilise people for wars or to embellish and disguise forms of social and political control
and obedience.”29
The advent of globalization, therefore, is a welcome respite from this instrumentalist but also highly
concealed talk of ‘national identities’. In his analysis, Williams accounts for the present proliferation of global
‘universal forms’ – forms ‘believed to be true to all people everywhere’ – in intellectual, political and economic
formation. As the tourist and the jetsetter become the hallmark of a ‘cool’ lifestyle, joining the EU presents
itself as a higher political ideal and ‘flexible productivity’ serves as a slogan challenging the once protective
national economies. But Williams is far from uncritically endorsing this new development. He argues that the
discourse on ‘mobility’ in fact betrays the social location of intellectuals – from both liberal and leftist
orientations. “One reason is that many minority liberals and socialists, and especially those who by the nature
of their work or formation are themselves nationally and internationally mobile, have little experience of those
rooted settlements from which, though now under severe complications and pressures, most people still
derive their communal identities.” Furthermore, Williams also traces how modern capitalism
instrumentalized the ‘nation-State’. It is thus no different in late capitalist global society. Capitalist states have
always succeeded in mobilizing sentiments of patriotism and nationalism in the service of capital
accumulation at the same time disrupting natural bonds in ‘placeable’ communities. “Both in its initial creation
of a domestic market, and in its later organisation of a global market, the capitalist mode of production has
always moved in on resources and then, necessarily, on people, without respect for the forms and boundaries
of existing social organizations.” Williams, therefore, intends to go beyond these two constructed categories
of ‘nation-State’ and ‘globalization’.
Very much remains to be done by way of detailed discussions and proposals, but we
cannot in any case live much longer with the confusions of the existing ‘international’
economy and the existing ‘nation-state.’ If we cannot find and communicate social forms of
more substance than these, we shall be condemned to endure the accelerating pace of
false and frenetic nationalism and of reckless and uncontrollable global transnationalism.

The ‘more substantial social forms’ Williams is talking about refer to the cultural struggle of ‘placeable
social identities’, of ‘actual and sustained social relationships.’ These ‘placeable bondings’ are much more
local. Even in a globalized age, Williams reports, “in societies as different as Wales and Italy people say
where they come from, where they were formed or belong, in these insistently local ways.” People ‘chatting’
in the internet in fact still ask for one’s ‘location’. ‘Placeable social identities’ is William’s equivalent for that

Ibid., 177.
See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso,
Williams, Towards 2000, 181-83.
Ibid., 195-96.
Ibid., 185.
Ibid., 199.
Ibid., 193.
Ibid., 180-81.

once meaningful word, ‘community’ – “places where we have lived and want to go on living, where
generations not only of economic but also of social effort and human care have been invested, and which
new generations will inherit.” The word ‘community,’ like its earlier counterpart – ‘society’ – then was initially
a term to denote face-to face relations, mutual responsibility, reciprocal concern, and neighborliness made to
challenge the anonymity brought about by its opposite – the ‘state’. The discourse of ‘national community’
(or by its more recent counterpart, the ‘international community’) has rendered blunt and abstract the word’s
once radical intentions as it moves its signification to the meaning it once was made to counteract.
‘Placeable social identities’ is Williams’ attempt to find a term that again represents this basic intuition of
‘directly responsible relationships’ in newer contexts. Far from Harvey’s fears, however, this move does not
signal a nostalgia for the static and organic Gemeinschaft. As it tries to avoid the globalizing abstraction, it
also eschews the romantic consensual view since it is aware that these social identities were products of
fierce socio-historical conflicts as they molded their destinies against new adversaries. For whatever
disruption the global capital has done to these communities, they continue to “adjust, because they must, to
altered, even radically altered conditions.”38 And it is this ‘stage of their current integration’, these new
situations, new ‘places’, new social identities in their ‘actual material historical process’ that need to be faced,
analyzed and worked out. Any highly universalist and globalizing discourse such as Harvey’s, which abstracts
these identities from their ‘placeable’ contexts only serves as an effective evasion from actual problems real
people struggle to solve.

The ‘Borders’: Spatial Metaphor for Culture as Praxis

The cultural struggle of ‘placeable social identities’ is best understood through a spatial metaphor
used by Williams – that of the ‘border’. Those ‘placeable bondings’ which became the source of his idea of
culture were located in a ‘border country’ – at the crossroads of a changing society, thus, also at the
crossroads of meaning. ‘Border’ can be taken to mean ‘boundary’, ‘margin’, or ‘fringe’ – words which reveal
a view of reality from the center, that is, as outskirts or limits of something, an outline of a specific reality
conceived from the inside. But Webster also offers another word for ‘border’: the ‘frontier.’ ‘Frontier’ retains
the previous meanings of ‘limit’ and ‘boundary’ but it also means other things: new field of discovery, cutting
edge, breakthrough, – as in ‘the frontiers of knowledge’ or ‘the verge of discovery.’ Beyond the concept of the
fringes and the limits, ‘border’ – in the context of ‘frontier’ – refers more to the tensions and unease, but also
to the negotiation and dialogue between the inside and the outside, the familiar and the uncommon, the
known and the knowable, the actual and the possible.
For Williams, culture is praxis at the borders – a dynamic process of making and re-making of
common meaning, of a constant negotiation over and amendments of signification with the multiple pressures
of a changing history and society. Culture then is a dialectical conjunction, with its accompanying tensions,
between two differing worlds: between the traditional and the creative; between the old and the new, the local
and the global. It is in this context that Williams speaks of the creation of a common culture. Common culture
does not refer to a uniform and single global culture; one which is difficult to imagine in an era of the
postmodern fragmentation and decentered identities. For Williams, the common culture is both a critical
concept and a socialist ideal. It acts as a critique of any society which “either suppresses the meanings and
values of whole groups, or which fails to extend to these groups the possibility of articulating and

Williams, “Mining the Meaning: Keywords in the Miners’ Strike,” in Resources of Hope, ed. Gable (London: Verso, 1989),
Williams, “The Importance of Community,” in Ibid., 111-19.
The same fate happened to the term ‘society’. “The attempt to counterpose society to the state, to insist that there was a
whole area of lived relationships which was other than that centre of power and display: this was a very crucial phase. But
then in its turn ‘society’ moved towards the meaning which it had originally opposed.” Ibid., 112.
Williams, Towards 2000, 187.
Williams, Border Country (Harmondsworth: Penguin, [1960] 1964).
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (988), s.v. “border”.

communicating those meanings.” It is also one whose meanings and values are created, not by a special or
privileged minority (e.g., the intellectuals) but from a complex process of articulation by the community
members themselves from their whole common experience.
However, beyond the levels of these utopic ideals, this entails a project to institute liberative and
solidaristic political forms whose project is to keep the channels of real communication open so that all voices
are heard, all values and meanings deliberated, all sensitivities considered. And this is not an easy task since
some voices are structurally ‘louder’, some sensitivities privileged, some meanings have become dominant
and hegemonic in the context of the all-pervading global capital. This distinguishes Williams’ ‘border’
framework from the formation of ‘public sphere’ in liberal discourses or the postmodern talk of ‘hybridity’,
‘creolization’, or ‘glocalization’. If ‘culture’ is dialogue, it should be understood that the dialogue is
fundamentally colored, restrained, blocked and quite often paralyzed by dominance and subordination.

‘Class’ and ‘Place’: Beyond ‘Orthodox’ Marxism and the Postmodern

We find Williams’ theoretical position and political practice as dialectically moving between the
unwavering commitment to human emancipation through class-struggle (which can be considered as a
continuing modernist project of humanization) and the respect for the postmodern celebration of difference.
This tension is best balanced by his recognition of the centrality of both ‘class’ and ‘place.’ The importance he
gives to the politics of ‘place’ – the ‘social location’ where particular ‘bondings’ of gender, culture, history,
religious traditions take place – presupposes a recognition of a plurality and difference of perspectives and
A new theory of socialism must now centrally involve place. Remember the argument was
that the proletariat had no country, the factor that differentiated it from the property-owning
classes. But place has been shown to be crucial element in the bonding processmore so
perhaps for the working class than the capital-owning classesby the explosion of the
international economy and the destructive effects of deindustrialization upon old
communities. When capital has moved on, the importance of place is more clearly

In recent decades, however, when most left intellectuals went ‘sail-trimming,’ Williams, for his part,
consistently held on to the idea of ‘class.’43 He in fact never wavered on socialism. He never lived to see the
Berlin wall crumble but his legacy could still be best described by a poster carried by East German students
at the time of the wall’s collapse: “Socialism is dead. Long live socialism!” For as Williams says: “since
there are many peoples and cultures, there will be many socialisms.” His delicate balance between the
‘political’ and the ‘personal’, between ‘class’ and ‘place’, between ‘human struggle’ and ‘human bonding’,
brings his theory into the midst of the burning issues of globalization.


Theology and Place

The notion of ‘place’ has always been central to theology. Theological reflection in recent decades are
couched in spatial terms, e.g., theologies from ‘below’ or from ‘above’, from the ‘right’ or from the ‘left’, from
the First or Third Worlds, theologies from the ‘underside’, the ‘center’ or the ‘margins’, etc. Even the classical
reflections of Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae do not escape spatial categories. His classic ‘exitus-
reditus’ framework, even as it gives a sense of travel and mobility, itself presupposes a ‘locus’ from where
one comes from and to where one returns. That theological ‘space’ which Aquinas then calls ‘God’ is
presented as the proper object of theological science. Though theology discusses everything under the sun,

Williams, “The Idea of a Common Culture,” Resources of Hope, 35.
Williams, “Decentralism and the Politics of Place,” in Resources of Hope, 242.
Williams, “The Practice of Possibility,” in Resources of Hope, 318.
Christopher Prendergast, “Introduction: Groundings and Emergings,” in Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams, ed.
Prendergast (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 25.
Williams, “Towards Many Socialisms,” in Resources of Hope, 297.

it is always from this theological ‘locus’ that they are viewed and evaluated.46 Aquinas is very well aware
though that theology’s sublime assertion of its own ‘God-location’ is quite far-fetched, for who among us can
ever stand from that ‘locus’ if not God him/herself? Thus theology looks to ‘His [sic] effects, either of nature or
of grace’47 to appropriate this ‘God-location’. It is for this that the Church also came to be considered as the
‘locus theologicus’ – the starting point of theological reflection from where ‘God’s effects’ could be discerned.
Walter Kasper defines this ‘locus’.
The starting point for theology is the faith of the Church; by definition, this faith has a
relationship with the normative witness of Scripture, and it must be integrated into the
contemporary process of Christian proclamation. Dogmatic theology serves this
hermeneutic process.

Theology as fides quarens intellectum starts from an authentic questio – a ‘living process of questioning’ – an
attempt to respond to the “questions that has really been put to us, not simply with questions we have
formulated within the context of our professional discipline.” The ‘fides’ and the ‘intellectum’ in effect
became the two dialectical poles of theological reflection – a faith which inquires and an understanding of
reality which in turn seeks its ultimacy, the Church and the world, tradition and contemporary experience,
Christian texts and ‘common human experience and language’.
The basic question this paper has posed is: what contemporary questions does globalization pose for
theological reflection? If our new globalized world has radically changed ‘space’ and our experience of it,
what challenges does this new ‘locus theologicus’ pose? Among the many, we choose two contemporary
theologians who attempt to tackle the question – John Milbank and Robert Schreiter. We read Milbank as
emphasizing the ‘tradition’ pole while Schreiter as privileging the ‘experience’ dimension of the hermeneutical

Two Theological Responses: John Milbank and Robert Schreiter

John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory (1990) – a theological bestseller in its own right – has
been conceived to foreground the difference of the Christian mythos and logos against modern secular
reason, postmodern nihilism and all theologies which rest on their foundations. Milbank’s ‘radical orthodoxy’
sees itself as a theological project in response to a globally imploding world ever since ruled by the logic of
modernity and secular reason. “Speaking with a microphoned and digitally simulated voice, it [this secularism]
proclaims –uneasily, or else increasing unashamedly – its own lack of values and lack of meaning. In its
cyberspaces and theme-parks, it promotes a materialism which is soulless, aggressive, nonchalant and
nihilistic.” Against this materialistic nihilism and violence gone global, Milbank intends to recover the
Christian tradition whose absolute ontological peace already prefigured in Augustine’s City of God presents
itself as the lone alternative.
Relevant to our theme is Milbank’s discussion of Christian practice as ‘locus theologicus’. His
rejection of social theory as product of secular reason paves the way to posit the Christian doctrine and
tradition as social theory in itself. “There can only be a distinguishable Christian social theory because there
is also a distinguishable Christian mode of action, a definite practice.” Also considered as an ecclesiology,
this social theory claims for itself the right to read and critique other realities (i.e., other societies, cultures,
peoples) from the perspective of its own new social practice. If secular sociology has been unmasked as

St. Thomas states: “In sacred science, all things are treated under the aspect of God: either because they are God
himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. Hence it follows that God is in very truth the object of this
science.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 1, a. 7.
Walter Kasper, The Methods of Dogmatic Theology (Shannon, Ireland: Ecclesia Press, 1969), 31.
Ibid., 30.
David Tracy, Blessed Raged for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (Chicago and London: University of Chicago
Press, [1975] 1996), 43-90.
John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, [1990] 1993) [Reprinted 5 times
(1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999)].
J. Milbank, G. Ward and C. Pickstock, “Suspending the Material: The Turn of Radical Orthodoxy,” in Radical Orthodoxy:
A New Theology, eds. J. Milbank et al (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 1.
Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 380.

‘theological’, Christian theology now is to take its vacated place as it proclaims itself to be sociological. “The
claim is that all theology has to reconceive itself as a kind of ‘Christian sociology’: that is to say, as the
explication of a socio-linguistic practice, or as a constant re-narration of this practice as it has historically
There is nothing novel in the concept of theology as direct explication of the practice of the Church
and aiming to provide some guidance to Christian social life. We see, however, a certain specificity with
which Milbank conceives of this Church. Calling his theological project ‘postmodern critical Augustinianism’,
he aims to recover the Augustinian vision of Civitas Dei for our times. In the midst of an imploding Roman
Empire, what Augustine has done, contends Milbank, was to posit an altera civitas – a wholly different reality.
Though seemingly a post-modern move, Milbank argues that this contemporary recovery of Augustine is in
fact a postmodern project since the altera civitas eschews any violence inherent in all dialectical
engagements characteristic of modern universal reason. His description of it runs as follows:
In ‘the heavenly city’, beyond the possibility of alteration, the angels and saints abide in
such a fellowship; their virtue is not the virtue of resistance and domination, but simply of
remaining in a state of self-forgetting conviviality. Here there is nothing but the ‘vision of
peace’, a condition that originally pertained also for temporal creation, before the sinful
assertion of pride and domination introduced a pervasive presence of conflict leading to
death in both society and nature.56

This vision is not utopian, argues Milbank, because God has given us liberation from all dominium here and
now in the form of the Church – a ‘different inauguration of a different kind of community’. Milbank thus
transposes the categories of the ‘heavenly city’ into the ‘city of God on pilgrimage in this world’ describing it in
a highly spatial language made suitable to the polycentric picture of a global world without boundaries but
also to bring out ‘Christian difference’.
The city of God is in fact a paradox, ‘a nomad city’ (one might say) for it does not have a
site, or walls or gates. It is not, like Rome, an asylum constituted by the protection offered
by a dominating class over a dominated, in the face of an external enemy… The peace
within the city walls opposing the ‘chaos’ without, is, in fact, no peace at all compared with
peace coterminus with all Being whatsoever. Space is revolutionized: it can no longer be
defended, and even the barbarians can only respect the sanctuary of the Basilica.

Despite the postmodern language of ‘collapsed walls’ and ‘revolutionized spaces’, Milbank in fact still
conceives of the Church as a ‘we’ against ‘them’, of the peace within and the chaos without, of a safe haven
from the ‘barbarians’ beyond the gates.
Way far more open than Milbank’s methodology is the theological project of Robert Schreiter. If the
‘locus’ of theology is found in two dialectical poles and Milbank privileges ‘Christian tradition’, Schreiter
chooses contemporary ‘context’ as his starting point. “Be context construed as culture, social structure, or
social location, it always plays an important role in framing any theological articulation.”58 Though careful of
not reducing theology to ‘context’, his works consistently argue how to take stock of this primary locus of
theological reflection. From his first known book on inculturation, Constructing Local Theologies59 to his
recent works, Schreiter has always dialogued, critiqued and appropriated sociological theories to more
seriously account for theology’s contextual ‘locus’.
In his recent work The New Catholicity (1997), he engages with the theories of globalization – this new
‘context’ of theology. If space is compressed and the world has become one, Schreiter asks, what
repercussions does this have for theology? This new development engenders what he calls ‘globalized
concept of culture’. While the ‘integrated concept of culture’ – one characterized by permanence and fixity of
organic communities – helped the first generation of contextual theologies in earlier decades to assert their

Ibid., 381.
Milbank, “Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forty-Two Responses to Unasked Questions,” in The
Postmodern God: A Theological Reader, ed. Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 265-78.
Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 391.
Ibid., 392.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1997), 3.
Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1985).

local identities, theological thinking today needs to be able to grapple with the new global cultural flows. But in
an era of rapid change, with both significant improvements in our lives as well as the havoc it engenders,
globalization proves to be ambivalent. Yet it is from this ambivalence, Schreiter contends, that theological
discourse should start. Opposite Milbank’s centripetal moves, Schreiter proposes an approach characterized
by basic openness to the world, its present anguish and hopes. Through intercultural hermeneutics and a
process of communication among cultures now made easier by technological innovation, theology can then
become ‘catholic’, that is, ‘universal’. “A new catholicity can meet the challenges of our times, both as a
theological vision of the Church and as a policy for intercultural communication.”60
How do these two theological proposals fare with our appropriated framework? We will continue to
examine them in the next section.

Enclaves, World Church and Placeable Social Identities

Milbank denies that his vision of the Church – his ‘locus theologicus’ – is utopic. In distinctly spatial
terms, he proposes it “as another place, which we might arrive at, or as this identifiable site, which we can still
inhabit” – an altera civitas, an alternative abode of peace in the context of this postmodern nihilistic world.
Milbank’s theology presents itself as a reflection on the actual practice of such Church and its members. Or
transposing Williams’ terms to theology, it is the systematic discourse of the praxis of these ‘placeable social
identities’. For all its polemics with liberation theologies, a critic acknowledges, what is envisaged in the end
by Milbank’s project is “the sustaining of paradigm creative political societies, like the Latin American base
communities.” But against the liberationist flirting with Marxism, Milbank wagers on the particularity and
difference of the Church and its Christian message. The spatial category that Milbank uses to describe the
Church is the ‘enclave’. Pursuing the image, he points out that Christ even came to those who, because they
were disconnected from global dialogue and excluded from ‘universal resonance’, were marginalized into
dark ‘enclaves’.
But we all dwell in enclaves, within founding dishonesties and deprivations which no later
virtue can truly undo. Christ suffers this enclosure and so loves it, discloses it to us and for
us. The enclave is henceforwards our hospital and asylum. Here – nowhere yet – is the
Church. Everywhere.

Even if couched in some liberationist metaphors, Milbank’s description of the Church as ‘enclave’ is at
best ambivalent. From the Latin ‘inclavare’ which can be literally rendered as ‘to be in-keys’, one gets the
impression not only of enclosure and unfreedom but also of being ‘out of place’. For Webster gives this
alternative meaning of ‘enclave’: a “substance removed from its normal place in the body and enclosed in
another organ or tissue.” From the perspective of this ambivalence, we give some critical comments on
Milbank’s project: (1) its isolationist tendencies masquerading as ‘difference’; (2) its idealist discourse and its
suspension from the ‘material’; and (3) its universalizing pretensions despite its particularism.
(1) Isolationist Enclaves. Globalization theories have us believe that even as space has compressed,
‘placeable identities’ have not sulked into their own dark cells. If ever there is activity at Williams’ ‘borders,’ it
is the constant negotiation between the old and the new, the same and ‘the other,’ the familiar and the
uncommon, towards a more viable signification and praxis. Milbank’s enclaves, despite his assertion of their
practice as a form of postmodern ‘politics of difference’, appear to be isolated communities without the
capacity to engage with the real politics of the day. Or, if ever it still maintains its ‘walls’ in this cyber-age, it
does not possess the competence to deal with the ‘others’ outside its gates nor does it intend to do so. In a
globalized world, such an attitude is no different from what Harvey criticized as the inward-looking and
fundamentalist moves of ‘place-bound identities’. If ever this spatial view of the Church becomes the

Ibid., 133.
Milbank, “Enclaves or where is the Church?” New Blackfriars 73 (1992): 342.
Rowan Williams, “Saving Time: Thought on Practice, Patience and Vision,” New Blackfriars 73 (1992): 324.
Milbank, “Enclaves or Where is the Church,” 352.

contemporary ‘locus theologicus,’ then our theologizing is nothing more than a nice melody of the properly-
dressed choir in the Evensong celebration of a Cambridge chapel which, though polyphonic and harmonious,
is in effect drowned by the hustle-bustle of a busy city outside its walls. Here, religious option at best
becomes another pastime, a needed respite, a hobby, if you like, one among the many others available in the
contemporary market. I just could imagine how the young boys who sing there for an hour or so could hardly
wait for all these pageantry to end so that they can go back to ‘normal’ life where their ‘real’ friends are
waiting. I am tempted to trace Milbank’s theologizing to this more immediate context.
(2) Idealist Discourse. Milbank could hardly be faulted for not having engaged with the problem of
violence. He musters all his resources to unmask its pretensions – ensconced in both discourses and
practices. Our question, however, is on his proposed alternative. Against ‘ontological violence’ he proposes
‘ontological peace’: “not of peace we must slowly construct, piecemeal, imbibing our hard-earned lessons, but
as a peace already given, superabundantly.”64 This entails the rejection of the agon in favor of harmony;
preferring the ‘circle’ over the ‘arrow’. For “peace is circular, like a ritual dance, or else the laurel crown
adorning the brow of the victor.”65 As the metaphor suggests, Milbank merely emphasizes the endgame, not
the process. For if peace does not only mean ‘ritual dance’ but also a laurel crown, as Lash observes, the
agon has not been totally displaced since a crown can only be placed on the victor’s head after having
struggled, violently or otherwise, with the adversary. What concerns me here is the repercussion Milbank’s
idealist discourse has to theological reflection. If the City of God on earth can only speak from the ideal (of
peace, reconciliation, love, justice, etc.) and suspends itself from the ‘material’ (i.e., the actual struggle and
politics to attain them), we are then witnessing the return of the (in)famous dualism typical of Western
Enlightenment which Milbank quite rightly abhors. This process of abstraction of social identities from their
‘placeable bondings’ only betrays the nature of the ‘enclave’ – an entity which is ‘out of place’ and irrelevant
to its surroundings. Furthermore, from this perspective, it is the theologian who arrogates unto him/herself all
the powers to interpret all these ideals and dispense it to the members – s/he, being unchecked by the ‘real’
discourses which can come from other sources, both from within and outside the enclave ‘walls’. This
direction is effectively shown by Milbank’s refusal to grant other sciences, sociology and philosophy, even at
least the quite patronizing function of ‘ancilla theologiae’. This non-reflexive character of theological
knowledge does not sit well with the reflexivity of globalized modernity in the view of Giddens and Beck.
Appropriating Williams, we opt for a vision of the Church as ‘placeable social identities’ in order to counter
these elitist tendencies by defining culture as a common creation of meaning and praxis from all sides. “The
culture of a people,” Williams points out, “can only be what all its members are engaged in creating in the act
of living: that a common culture is not the general extension of what a minority mean and believe, but the
creation of a condition in which the people as a whole participate in the articulation of meanings and values,
and in the consequent decisions between this meaning and that, this value and that.”68 As with culture, so
with theological discourse and Christian praxis.
(3) Concealed Universalism. ‘Difference’ is the name of the global theological game and Milbank is far
better skilled at it than many other theologians. As he debunks the violence of postmodern theories, he also
appropriats their linguistic constructs such as the Christian message is seen as ‘different’ and the Church as
a ‘paradisal community of differences’. The task of theologizing, thus, is to “articulate Christian difference in
such a fashion as to make it strange.”69 Yet for all his talk of difference, Milbank only means the uniquely
different power of Christian Identity. For Milbank, what rules all discourses is his own Christian metanarrative

Ibid., 342. [Emphasis mine]
Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 332.
Nicholas Lash, “Not Exactly Politics or Power,” Modern Theology 8 (1992):353-63.
For a parallel critique, see Georges De Schrijver, “The Use of Mediations in Theology Or, the Expanse and Self-
Confinement of a Theology of the Trinity,” Statement Paper delivered in K.U.Leuven, 19 April, 2001 [forthcoming].
Williams, “The Idea of Common Culture,” in Resources of Hope, 36.
Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 381. See also Milbank, The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language and Culture
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

as he skillfully crushes any adversary – sociological or philosophical, modern or postmodern – that comes
along its way. As many of his commentators point out, in Milbank’s hands, we see the “Christian story
become a Christian imperialism that polices the sublime.” Even as he acknowledges that in the postmodern
context, the Christian tradition is but one narrative among others, it in fact is viewed as the narrative, the only
metanarrative capable of ‘out-narrating’ its others. In Milbank, we are then reminded of Jameson’s keen
observation of many globalization discourses – a discourse of the ‘many’ which can subtly shift, often for
ideological reasons, into the ‘one’, not very different from the jubilation of cultural diversities in all corners of
the world which also conceals the metanarrative imperialism of global capital, as Harvey acutely analyzed.

Opposite Milbank’s exclusive ‘enclaves’ which are curiously asserted ‘to be everywhere,’ Schreiter
proposes an inclusive spatial field of a ‘World Church’ characterized by catholicity as response, not mere
reaction, to globalization theory. “Theology must be able to interact with globalization theory out of its own
internal history and resources and not be simply reactive to it. It seems to me that the concept of catholicity
may be the theological concept most suited to developing a theological view of theology between the global
and the local in a world Church.”71 Opposite Milbank’s one-sided retrieval of Christian tradition, Schreiter,
already in Constructing Local Theologies, has opted for the analysis of the local ‘culture’ as the starting-point
of theological discourse.72 Compared to Milbank’s almost monochromatic account of theology and its others,
Schreiter is far more nuanced. Through his powerful synthetic competence, he can state his point and at the
same time embrace its opposites. From the perspective of our appropriated framework, however, we give two
comments on his theological project: (1) his concept of culture; and, (2) his emphasis on ‘universal theology’
and ‘catholicity’.
(1) The Concept of Culture. The globalized concept of culture, in Schreiter’s analysis, is characterized by
unevenness and asymmetry, thus, the experience which proceeds from it is fundamentally fragmented and
conflictual. The global cultural conversation is hardly perceived to be a dialogue due to the unequal positions
of its (un)willing participants. Schreiter thus appropriates postcolonial theory to posit a ‘third space’ which
makes possible at least a fragmentary construction of the once shattered cultural identities. But rich countries
which supposedly benefit from globalization are not exempt from this deep anxiety; they have become ‘risk
societies’, as Beck keenly shows. This fundamental disruptive experience, Schreiter argues, is the locus
where theology should start asking where God is to be found.73
But Schreiter’s discourse is also ambivalent. For all his stress on unevenness and asymmetry, he
ends up searching for cultural symmetry and commensurability.74 This assertion is done in the context of the
possibility of ‘intercultural communication’ as the paradigm for inculturation of the gospel. If the Gospel is to
be received in all cultures, there should be some way that cultures can communicate between one another,
that is, they should be commensurable. From the perspective of Williams’ ‘border’ metaphor, there is nothing
novel about this. Cultural process has always been a constant communication of values and signification.
Both Williams and Schreiter can agree that formation of meaning spells a ‘negotiation of culture boundaries’.
However, Schreiter does not take ‘asymmetry’, despite his constant reference to it, as an integral part of his
framework. If basic commensurability is the fundamental characteristic of cultures, asymmetrical power
relation is but a temporary interlude which ultimately can be overcome when people learn to effectively
communicate with one another, that is, when both senders and hearers have acquired sufficient competence
for intercultural exchange to bear out effectiveness and appropriateness.75 This interpretation of Schreiter’s
framework is heightened by the fact that in the exposition of his thought, structural analysis of asymmetrical

Graham Ward, “John Milbank’s Divina Commedia,” New Blackfriars 73 (1992): 317.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 118-19.
Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies, 22-74.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 59, 93.
Ibid., 128.
Ibid., 33.

power is not really accounted for, or if at all, quite marginally. Since his theory of ‘intercultural hermeneutics’
which provides a framework to globalized theology proceeds basically from ‘interpersonal communication’
researches, it is but logical, that structural relations of power do not form a central part of the analysis, as
Pierre Bourdieu has already pointed out somewhere in his polemics with Austin and other speech-act
theorists. This points to the fundamental difficulty in Schreiter’s framework, present in Constructing Local
Theologies to The New Catholicity, which appears to be the basic source of the ambivalence of his discourse:
his ‘semiotic theory of culture’. If culture, therefore, is merely viewed as the circulation of signs and
meanings, the unevenness of structures can only figure out secondarily in the scheme. The structuralist
origins of semiotics reinforce this tendency since its enchantment with signs and their underlying linguistic
structures lead to the neglect of the real historical process where unevenness roots itself. From the
perspective of our analysis of globalization, Schreiter has imbibed more of Giddens’ cultural emphasis; what
he lacks is Harvey’s hard economic analysis. In consequence, Schreiter is led to several paradoxes. On the
one hand, he wants liberation theology which he names as one of the ‘global theological flows’ to become the
new form of ‘universal’ theology today; on the other hand, he claims that developing liberation theology in
Europe seems ‘to miss the mark’. Without a theory which integrally accounts for asymmetrical power,
Schreiter will not have the theoretical resources to resolve the dilemmas he finds himself in – between the
violence unleashed by globalization and his longing for an ‘ontology of peace’, between the phenomenon of
‘two Churches’ divided by economic injustice and his insistence on ‘reconciliation’ as its solution,81 between
the struggles to recover cultural values and the fight for economic liberation.
(2) ‘Universal Theology’ and ‘Catholicity’. Schreiter has started his analysis of contemporary global
culture with the discourse of fragmentation, change and plural diversity. One finds references to
‘glocalization,’ ‘creolization,’ ‘hybridization’ and ‘tiempos mixtos’ all to give the impression that globalization is
not a homogenization of the world. Even in theology, ‘global theological flows’ with quite diverse concerns as
liberation, gender, ecology and human rights, are anti-systemic movements which call into question the
universalizing hegemony of Western rationality. Thus in the globalized view of the world, theological reflection
is “a study in surprise, in turning up the unexpected, in celebrating the small victories, for the experience of a
globalized world lies in its peripheries, in the moments of risk and change, in the celebration of survival of yet
another day.”82 In the end of his work, however, Schreiter’s discourse shifts to ‘new universalism,’ ‘catholicity,’
and a ‘new type of universalizing theology’ necessary in a ‘World Church’. “Faced with the diversity of
cultures and the implications of taking them seriously, and the challenge of maintaining the unity and integrity
of the Church worldwide, the eschatological sense of catholicity… takes on new salience at the interface of
the global and the local.”84 We may ask why this concern for unity and integrity when the context is one of rich
diversity? From whose perspective has this need arisen? Who has interest in universalism? From the
perspective of Williams’ critique of ‘nation-States’, is not the talk of ‘catholicity’ in the context of asymmetric
global powers equivalent to the ideological use of ‘patriotism’ and ‘national unity’? Or is not the search for
cultural or religious integrity also a sign of a threatened dominant culture – its apologists included – which has

Ibid., 28-45; Idem, “Communication and Interpretation Across Cultures: Problems and Prospects,” International Review of
Mission 85 (1996): 227-39. In this second work, he made an allusion on the asymmetry of power in merely one sentence
(p.234). In The New Catholicity, the ‘role of power in the formation of knowledge’ is only mentioned in ‘further issues’,
seemingly as a sort of afterthought (p. 44).
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 235.
Pierre Bourdieu, Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistiques (Paris: Fayard, 1982).
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 29, 47; Idem, Constructing Local Theologies, 49-74; Idem, “A Semiotic-Linguistic Theory
of Tradition: Identity and Communication Amid Cultural Difference,” in Zur Logik religiöser Traditionen, eds. Schoppelreigh
and Wiendenhofer (Frankfurt: IKO Verlag, 1998), 87-118.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 20, 86n3.
Ibid., 78, 60.
Ibid., 59.
Ibid., 116-133. This universalist discourse could also be found in other parts of the work. For instance, he alludes to
Pannikar’s and Krieger’s proposal for a ‘new universalism’ (p. 45, 58). Or in the context of the ontology of violence, he asks:
“Can a non-dominative form of universalism be found?” (p. 60).
Ibid., 128.

lost grip on its former position of power in an era of fragmentation? Schreiter himself quotes Robert Young as
saying: “Fixity of identity is only sought in situations of instability and disruption, of conflict and change.”85 Or
to ask again as Williams did, does not the search for global ‘universal forms’ betray the social location of the
intellectual who can only see universals because s/he oversees the reality from some objectivist
perspectives, him/herself more mobile than most people?
What repercussions has this to Schreiter’s theologizing? The project in The New Catholicity to search
for themes and “concepts in theology that globalization can inform” betrays this detached direction. I find
this as a regression from his earlier position in Constructing Local Theologies. There he maintained that these
theological themes must emerge from within culture itself. If theology is always a second-act, reflections in
theological congresses and in well-funded theological projects need to start only from the concerns of
‘placeable social identities’, not from some forms of universalized themes or concepts from Christian tradition
re-invented from the imagination of theologians alone. Schreiter writes that “theology must be in forms
intelligible to its communities.” This injunction should not have been necessary when theological themes
were born out of their struggles and hopes in the first place. In the book’s introduction, he asks: “In such a
dizzying world, is there any place for ‘universal’ theologies, or are these remnants of an obsolete imperial
project?”89 My response: a move towards ‘universal theologies’ can engender some new forms of imperialism
– which might be benign and subtle but, in effect, more dangerous.

CONCLUSION: ‘Separate Doors, Different Tables’

At the outset, we inquired on how ‘place’ is understood in the context of globalization in order to better
discern what the contemporary ‘locus theologicus’ should be. Harvey’s hard economic analysis of ‘time-space
compression’, even as it helps us uncover the metanarrative dictate of global capital, neglects the power and
resilience of subjugated peoples and their local solidarities. Giddens’ ‘empty spaces,’ even as they signal
reflexive cultural diversity, also bring about an uneven experience of it depending on their socio-economic
location. The ‘separate doors’ in first-class Parisian buildings serve as the appropriate spatial metaphor for
this complex reality. In the global world, there are ‘proper places’ for ‘proper peoples’; for ‘those who hire’ and
for ‘those who are hired’. If there is a ‘Two-Thirds World’, there are in fact ‘Two First Worlds’. In such a
context, where can theological reflection start? What is a liberating ‘locus theologicus’?
We propose Williams’ ‘placeable social identities’ where questions of ultimate meanings and values
can be asked from the ‘rough grounds’ of the real historical process of actual communities. I have in mind the
Basic Christian/Human Communities, peoples’ organizations and the social movements in the Two-Thirds
World and the challenge they pose to the European Churches. Beyond their often lively and colorful
celebration of life and solidarity through rhythms and rituals, what is at the center of their concerns is in fact a
struggle for daily life, for sustainability, for justice and equality. They have often posed as threats to any
hierarchy – political and ecclesial – in their calling to question any imposition on their economic or cultural
history. Against Milbank’s ‘enclaves’, the Church as ‘placeable social identities’ opens itself to the hopes and
anguish of the world, engages in respectful dialogues with its ‘others’ in the ‘borders’ without some pre-
determined intention to conquer or to impose. If we want to see ‘inter-religious dialogue’ at work beyond its
often high-sounding academic rhetorics, we only need to experience the life of these base communities.
Beyond Schreiter’s ‘World Church’, these ‘placeable social identities’ also attend to the particularities of each
locale, its meanings and praxis without the unnecessary pressure of ever having to come up with ‘universal’
discourses valid for all. Far from regressing into contemporary ‘tribalism’ Schreiter wants so much to avoid
(which explains his concerns for universalism), these ‘place-bound identities’ are never inward-looking.

Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), 4 in Ibid., 119.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 118.
Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies, 28-31.
Schreiter, The New Catholicity, 97.
Ibid., ix.

Through a communal creation of viable political forms, they also engage themselves in unmasking
asymmetry both in its own internal arrangements and its relationships with others.
Let me go back to that original ‘space’ to concretely spell out this challenge in a European context.
Several meters away from those Parisian buildings with two doors is the majestic Église d’Auteuil where les
mesdames et messieurs celebrate their Sunday liturgies in the French language with occasional Gregorian
chants. Just across the street is a smaller chapelle of Saint Bernadette where their Portuguese and Filipino
workers come to worship, also with their lively local songs and colorful dresses. Even if these different
peoples, all Christians, meet daily in the context of domestic work, never once have they sat together around
one Eucharistic table. For Giddens and others like him, this points to the rich celebration of cultural difference.
In Harvey’s view, tribalism may soon loom in the horizons. Even as their claims are partially true, the Church
as ‘placeable social identities’ intends to ask a further question: “Are these separate Sunday tables not an
extension of those separate doors all of them pass through everyday of their waking lives?”
It is here in this concrete disrupted/disruptive ‘locus’ with its hard and urgent questions of personal
meanings, social values and structural praxis, that theology should start asking ‘where God is found’.

Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.

Brusselsestraat 165/K010
B-3000 Leuven, Belgium

SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE (around 300 words)

The metaphor of space/place has always been crucial to theological discourse. Throughout its history,
theology has expressed itself in spatial images correlative to its concomitant culture. The phenomenon of
globalization makes possible a revolution in the concept of space/place. It is this transformation which we
seek to examine in order to bear out some methodological consequences for theological reflection. This
article consists in three parts. First, we explore the notions of space in two contemporary theorists of
globalization – Anthony Giddens and David Harvey. We have seen that both Giddens’ ‘empty spaces’ and
Harvey’s ‘compression of time and space’, even as they partly describe the present-day global situation, are
also deficient if only considered individually. In a second step, we propose to integrate into the analytical
framework Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘placeable social identities’ as establishing a complementary
relationship between Giddens and Harvey. In this powerful spatial metaphor, Williams has argued for the
primacy of real ‘placeable’ communities of peoples where meaning is constantly constructed and negotiated.
His assertion of identifiable settlements and rooted communal identities is an antidote to the often ideological
talk (most common among intellectuals and the economically well-off) of the high-speed movement and
constantly shifting identities in globalization. But these are not nostalgic identities since in their borders, they
constantly reshape their own meanings and valuations as they interact with contemporary global challenges.
In a third move, we examine two spatial views of the church (and consequently, two ways of doing theology)
as response to globalization: Milbank’s ‘enclave’ and Schreiter’s ‘World Church’. While Milbank’s discourse of
the ‘difference’ of the Christian tradition echoes the postmodern sensibilities of a globalized world, his concept
of the Church as ‘enclave’ also reminds us of a reactionary persecuted Church which hides behind its mantle
the rhetoric of universalism characteristic of an isolated minority. Schreiter’s ‘World Church’ is much more
open; but his concern for ‘universality’ and ‘catholicity’ almost erases the asymmetry and disruption which the
global culture has done to Two-Thirds of the world population. Beyond Milbank and Schreiter (whose
frameworks, in different degrees, are reminiscent of Giddens and Harvey), we conclude by suggesting that
Williams’ placeable social identities may thus provide a metaphor for theorizing spatiality in a global world that
would be consistent with liberative theological methodology.


How does one think of space or place in a globalized world? What impact has this to one’s
theologizing? In a world where space is compressed and one finds oneself ‘everywhere’, what does it mean
to do theology? Two contemporary theologians sought to answer these questions. Milbank thinks that
Christian identity must assert its ‘difference’ in a world of multiple and often confusing alternatives. Schreiter
argues for a new conception of a new ‘universal theology’ to match with the current global discourses. Even if
these projects are partially valuable, we argue that they are deficient. We thus propose to use Williams’

concept of placeable social identities to serve as spatial metaphor of a Church whose theological production
process respects the local concern for liberative autonomy as it opens itself up to the wider space of
intersecting global identities.


Daniel Franklin Pilario is a member of the Congregation of the Mission (Philippine Province). He is
presently finishing his PhD in Theology at the Katholeike Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). He is also a
collaborator of the Centre for Liberation Theologies (K.U.Leuven).

Other data:

Date of Birth: July 21, 1961

Place of Birth: Butuan City, Philippines
Nationality: Filipino
[if you need more information, please let me know]