#160…science, religion, ETC.: “The Power of Place”


Yes, we still like words.


An active new word (neologism) that hasn’t made it to the dictionary is



mobal  (n.)


And we’re not talking about a new phone or a tech. company…

Harm de Blij either invented this useful word (or put it into play).

               .     .     .     .     .

For more use the DOOR.



The word “local” already used as a noun, and “global” newly used as a noun provide a context here.

We’ve heard a lot recently about globalization and how our planet has (metaphorically) shrunk due to (nearly) instant electronic communication around the world, and physical travel to almost anywhere that’s only a bit slower.

According to Thomas Friedman and others we now have “flattened” the world, and the more open we become to foreign ideas, markets, etc., and the more we accept this, the better off we all will be. Of course, this is all quite complicated, and it’s not my purpose to explore that here.

Just the words.

From airplanes the world might look flat, but for people who live day in and day out below them there are walls and barriers to keep them out of the–new–fast lane. Millions, billions really, can see the planes overhead but will never be able to climb aboard though some of their children may.

For Harm de Blij, as he explains in his The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape (Oxford. U. Press, 2009), globals are those “world-flatteners [who] move every day from hotel lobby to first-class lounge, laptop in hand, uploading, outsourcing, offshoring as they travel, adjusting the air conditioning as they go.” They usually have a basic attachment to some region or place, but they see that place more or less as a “staging area” [my term], a home to leave and come back to. And with modern communication, an actual plane may be more metaphoric than real.

Yes, in a sense they are locals, but ones with increasing privilege. The true locals, many–though not all–who are poor, exist in much larger numbers, and will be forever trapped by their environment. “For all our heralded mobility,” says Blij, “the overwhelming majority of us will die relatively close to the place we were born.” Mountains, though majestic, are more forbidding when viewed from the ground.

And now for the third group. Mobals are small group of locals (anywhere) who are “risk-takers, migrants willing to leave the familiar, to take a chance on new and different surroundings, their actions ranging from legal migration to undocumented border crossing, their motivations from employment to asylum. They move as highly trained professionals and as unskilled workers, as doctors and domestic servants, as bankers and bricklayers. Mobals are transnational migrants; that is, they cross international borders–they are agents of change. Many millions of movers relocate within their homelands, never to leave their familiar domicile. Mobals take the greater chance often tempting fate. Some pay with their lives….[They] are drawn by perceptions of opportunity and realities of need.”¹

So globals invest, plan, build, organize, compete; locals work at whatever’s available, in the old ways as well as the new, trying to survive , and keep the gap between rich and poor from growing. Mobals with modest resources, but with broad vision and courage–though often from desperate circumstances–scramble to move up the ladder to what they believe is a much better life, though they probably end up far from home.


¹ Quotes from pages 3 through 6. Harm de Blij is Professor of Geography at Michigan State University and an honorary life member of the National Geographic Society. According to Bill Moyers, “What Carl Sagan did for cosmology, Harm de Blij is doing for geography.” Blij is not clear at the outset whether or not all his “mobals” must be “transnational migrants,” but he otherwise clearly, and helpfully, identified the new players in the geographic world game: globals, locals, and mobals–all nouns–and all waiting for dictionaries to catch up.


Author: John Knapp