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Neo-Colonialism 101 – Dance!

January 7, 2012 by and tagged , ,

From the Guardian (emphasis mine):

“The Jarawa tribe have lived in peace in the Andaman Islands for thousands of years. Now tour companies run safaris through their jungle every day and wealthy tourists pay police to make the women – usually naked – dance for their amusement. This footage, filmed by a tourist, shows Jarawa women being told to dance by an off-camera police officer.”

Posted in Gender, Indigenous Populations, Neo-Colonialism | No Comments »

Chilean Miners, International Division of Labor, Export-Oriented Development, and Racial Stratification

October 13, 2010 by and tagged , , ,

Like everyone else, I was deeply moved by the rescue of the Chilean miners. But of course, being a sociologist being a curse, several things immediately emerged.

The first one is the labor issue. Under what working conditions can such a thing happen, especially in light of the previous serious mining accidents in the US? The Guardian Poverty Blog offers a few ideas:

“Several commentators – including international trade unions – have pointed to Chile’s failure to ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on safety and health in mines, and drawn attention to the consequences of inadequate workplace safety standards across the country. According to the Inter Press Service, in 2009 alone Chile had a total of 191,685 workplace accidents, including 443 deaths.

Carmon Espinoza, head of the Chilean NGO Programa de Economia del Trabajo (Labour Economy Program) remarked in late August that job insecurities mean miners “for logical reasons pay greater attention to keeping their jobs than to work safety”.

The San José mine, in particular, is no stranger to workplace tragedy: over a dozen lives have been lost there in recent years.

Bélgica Ramírez, sister-in-law of one of the trapped miners, suggested that even if workers did express their concerns, they were ignored. “The mine was in precarious condition and they [the miners] always told the bosses, but the only thing they cared about was production,” she said.

In early September, a Guardian report revealed that “the dangers were so well known that locals called its miners ‘the kamikazes’.” Even the owners of the mine recognised the dangers, offering “salaries 30% higher than average, a tacit acknowledgement that the job required extraordinary sacrifices”.

(…)

Other commentators went further, arguing that the mine collapse happened not in spite but because of Chile’s rapid economic growth and reliance on an export-oriented development strategy.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, and the country’s often-congratulated 4-5% growth rate has been largely fuelled by copper exports to Europe, the US, China and India. The government celebrates Chile’s status as a prime investment destination, and is proud to proclaim the country as Latin America’s fastest growing economy.

However, though Chile’s drop in absolute poverty rates (which have fallen from 40% in 1990 to 14-15% today) is accredited to the country’s rapid and sustained economic growth, inequality figures have barely budged. According to the 2009 UN human development report, of the 147 countries for which there are figures, Chile is the 19th most unequal state in the world in terms of the social distribution of the country’s wealth. Figures from the report suggest that the richest 10% account for 40% of Chile’s income and expenditures, while the poorest account for only 1.6%.

While labour standards and workers’ rights are often sidelined by the aggressive “pro-growth” talk of development economists, they are fundamental components of social or human development.”

Chile is not exceptional in that respect. This is the model of development that has been pushed by institutions of global governance (the whole comparative advantage idea along with good old-fashioned trickle-down economics).

This avoided tragedy should get us to reconsider not just models of development but also the fact that, in the 21st century, we still have a lot of people working at such jobs and working conditions.

The other thing I could not help notice as I was watching the rescue is this:

Notice the number of indigenous faces. And watching the coverage, it becomes obvious that this mining community is an indigenous community, as opposed to the President, his wife and the other officials:

This is not new in Central and South America. One would find that, in the agricultural sector, large agricultural producers and owners are descendants of Europeans (white) while the working class is made of larger numbers of indigenous peasants and workers. Race stratification is a pervasive traits of these societies. This case is no different.

Finally, one cannot help but be reminded of other miners on the same continent, in Bolivia, dramatically depicted in The Devil’s Miner:

Posted in Global Governance, Globalization, Indigenous Populations, Labor | 1 Comment »

Book Review – This Land is Ours

June 13, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Wendy Wolford‘s This Land is Ours: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil is a much more pessimistic book than the one I previously reviewed. Here again, Wolford writes about the MST, but where To Inherit The Earth was a fairly optimistic history of the rise of the movement, the present book (more recent) addresses more directly the failures of the MST, especially the failure of massification, that is, the MST’s attempt to succeed outside of the Southern states (especially in the Northeastern states) at the same time that the movement was becoming a national and global force on behalf of peasants.

In this book then, the focus is more on what happens within a social movement once it scales up. Oftentimes, social movement organizations are depicted as homogeneous totalities. Wolford goes deeper into the MST and examines the various modes of mobilization and their success (or failure).

She first looks at mobilization in the Southern states (the MST’s place of birth and its greater success in mobilization), then turns her attention to the Northeaster states, where success has been limited. Why such a difference? For Wolford, the explanation revolves around the concept of moral economy.

What does this refer to? Wolford points to a working paper by Andrew Sayer (2004) on the subject:

“It is now commonplace to note the influence of rules, habits, norms, conventions and values on economic practices and institutions and to note how these vary across different societies. Economic processes, even capitalist ones, are seen as socially embedded in various ways. Thus there is no ‘normal capitalism’, only different varieties, distinguished partly according to their cultural legacies and forms of embedding (Hollingsworth and Boyer, 1997; Crouch and Streeck, 1997, Hall and Soskice, 2001). The rise of ‘cultural political economy’ has complemented this focus on embeddedness. If culture is taken to refer to signifying practices then economic practices can be seen in terms of what they signify as well as materially, and as culturally embedded (Ray and Sayer, 1999; du Gay and Pryke, 2002).

(…)

In this paper, I revive this focus by using a moral economic perspective to examine some of the ways in which markets are associated economic phenomena both depend on and influence moral / ethical sentiments, norms and behaviours [sic] and have ethical implications. As a kind of inquiry, ‘moral economy’ is the study of how economic activities of all kinds are influenced and guided by moral dispositions and norms, and how in turn these norms may be compromised, overridden or reinforced by economic pressures (Sayer, 2000). On this definition, all economies – not merely pre- or non-capitalist ones – are moral economies (Booth, 1994). We can also use the term ‘moral economy’ to refer to the object of this kind of inquiry.  Of course, what counts as moral, as opposed to immoral, behaviour is contestable; some forms of moral economy, for example, that of patriarchal household, might be deemed immoral, or as domination disguised as benevolence and fairness.” (pp. 1-2)

For Sayer, a major founding father of this kind of thinking was Adam Smith, who was never the pure free marketer that neo-classical and neo-liberal economists make him out to be.

For Wolford, the different moral economies between the Southern and the Northeastern Brazilian states largely explains successful mobilization in the former and demobilization in the latter. In the Southern state, economic practices revolved around small farming whereas in the Northeast, rural wage labor (mostly in sugarcane plantations) prevailed.

In this sense, the MST emerged in the Southern state and promoted what was already the cultural and moral system of farming: small landholding. To fight for agrarian reform in effect reinforced an already-existing moral economic perspective. Mobilization was therefore easier to promote and “sell” to the peasant population because it matched their habitus (if I dare use this term even though Sayer contends that Bourdieu’s concept fails because it lack moral dimensions).

In the Northeast where moral economy is based on rural wage labor and the paternalistic structure dominated by the plantation owners and their bosses constituted a moral economic background where small farming (with no wage and therefore more uncertainty) was harder to accept. Part of this moral economic structure also included the fact that if a worker does not get along with a boss, he packs up and leaves for the next job and stay there as long as things work out. In this context, a small farm is not something one can walk away from if things do not work out.

Moreover, the MST had as goal to get former rural workers / new small farmers away from sugar cane and to get to plant staple and local market crops through sustainable means. However, the new farmers preferred to plant sugar (what they knew) but on their own land, they ran the risk of no income if crops failed and they lost the benefits attached to working on a large plantation. In addition, the workers resented the “collectivism” promoted by the MST and seemed to prefer an indvidualistic organization of production.  In this sense, they saw membership in the MST as an instrumental matter (get land) but would drop it as soon as that goal was achieved as they saw MST requirements as too constraining.

Through interviews and accounts regarding the relative failure of mobilization in the Northeast, Wolford reveals the clash of moral economies between the MST organizers and leaders and the rural workers who thought the MST people behaved like the bosses without the benefits. When the sugar economy failed, rural workers were more receptive to the MST message but once it recovered, they went back to planting sugar.

In all, this book is written more for an academic audience than To Inherit the Earth. It makes greater use of theories. That being said, it is still an fascinating read as it contains a lot of field materials, interviews and descriptions even if the tone is definitely more pessimistic.

Posted in Book Reviews, Corporatism, Economic Sociology, Embeddedness, Global Civil Society, Indigenous Populations, Labor, Public Policy, Social Inequalities, Social Movements, Social Norms, Sociology | 6 Comments »

The Tyranny of the Local – Religious Fundamentalists Edition

June 9, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , ,

It is no surprise that religious fundamentalist groups are at the forefront of claims of legitimacy of traditions and locality to justify their lack of respect for human rights, since the human rights regime is now globally accepted (if poorly implemented and enforced). In other words, no one really claims to disagree with human rights and their universality. So, people wishing to continue oppressing women and girls (always a favorite) or minorities often invoke the local and traditions (as imagined and socially constructed) to do so. If, in addition, geographical, political and social conditions foster relative isolation and/or capacity to resist national / federal interference, it’s even better.

Case in point:

“Millions of Pakistanis live in a “human rights-free zone” in the country’s north-west, Amnesty International says.

Residents of tribal areas face Taliban abuse and get no protection from the government, the rights group alleges.

In a report, it says the Taliban secured their rule by killing elders and torturing teachers and aid workers.

Over one million people have been displaced by fighting between the Pakistani military and the Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Some 1,300 people were killed in the conflict during 2009.”

Here is the Amnesty International account.

Posted in Gender, Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, Mass Violence, Patriarchy, Religious Fundamentalism, Sexism | No Comments »

Book Review – To Inherit The Earth

May 29, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wendy Wolford and Angus Lindsay Wright’s To Inherit The Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil is the perfect introduction to the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST).

The book is roughly divided into four main sections. The first goes through a general political history of Brazil along with its Portuguese colonization and how it ended up with the large-scale plantation system which is at the source of the demand for agrarian reform. The agricultural situation is tied not only to colonial development but also to the subsequent governments, especially the military dictatorship that lasted until the 1980s, which is when the MST was officially founded (1982), following the first occupations of land.

The other sections of the book cover MST occupations and settlements in different Brazilian states, from the Southern states, where the MST originated, to the Northeastern state where sugar was traditionally grown, at the expenses of the coastal rain forest, to the Amazonian states where deforestation has accompanied mining and ranching.

There is no question that the authors are sympathetic to the MST’s goals and approach (occupation and push for expropriation under a constitutional provision stating that land has to be used productively, and promotion of ecological and environment-friendly agriculture that minimizes deforestation and land degradation). The book provides lengthy descriptions of life in MST settlements along with interviews from various MST local leaders and settlers.

The history of the MST is also the story of a social movement confronting established social structures, power and economic differentials and violence. In its struggle for land reform and redistribution, the MST has confronted local rural elites (large plantation / mine owners) that wield so much power in Brazil so much so that it is difficult even for the now-democratic government to impose reform. But the MST has also had to fight local, state and national governments for  the fulfillment of promised support for the settlers. In some cases, the movement has also been faced with violence, mostly from the rural elites. Local politics, in Brazil, can get nasty.

The MST struggle is also part to the general anti-neoliberal globalization that has promoted chemical- and capital-intensive, export-based, monocultural agriculture so dear to the IMF, the World Bank  and the World Trade Organization (competitive advantage) while the MST promotes small-scale, communal, diversified and sustainable agriculture. So far, the Brazilian administrations have followed the lead from these global institutions. As the authors explain well, this has to do with the fact that the Brazilian government does not see land reform as agricultural policy but as social policy: finding something to do with the rural poor but not as a sustainable form of agriculture. From the government’s perspective, “serious” agriculture is large-scale, chemical-dependent and energy-intensive, and for exports whereas land reform is an anti-poverty program. For the MST, agrarian reform is agricultural policy but also the first step into changing the caste-like Brazilian social structure.

The MST also has had to position itself within Brazilian politics. It is not a political party (nor does it intend to become one), but it has ties to Lula’s Workers Party, and it has found itself sometimes in competition or conflict with traditional rural unions that are often part of the patronage structure that is so hard to eradicate in rural Brazil.

Finally, the MST struggle must also be interpreted as part of the global peasant rebellion movements against neoliberal agriculture that eliminates small-scale farming and subsistence agriculture. The national and local contexts may be different but the MST goals are not all that different from that of ATTAC or La Via Campesina in the pursuit of agricultural policy based on solidarity economics.

In other words, the MST stands at the crossroads of many local, national, regional and global dynamics. One cannot understand it without understanding Brazilian colonization and development, its politics alongside regional issues in South America and the global context of neoliberalism as well as the local dynamics of rural communities in Brazil and the power of large landholders and corporations.

The book is an easy read, clearly not written for an academic audience for more for the general public. AS I mentioned above, it is especially good for people who know nothing of the MST or Brazil in general beyond the Rio carnival and the touristic images.

Posted in Biodiversity, Book Reviews, Corporatism, Corruption, Development, Economy, Environment, Global Governance, Globalization, Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, Labor, Mass Violence, Politics, Poverty, Public Policy, Social Justice, Social Movements, Social Stratification, Social Structure, Sustainability | No Comments »

Movie Review – Avatar

January 1, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What can I say about Avatar that has not been written already, especially in this often-cited post:

As mentioned all over the place, this is Dances with Wolves meets The Last Samurai where noble savages who, unlike modern white folks, have not lost their connection to nature and are happy in their spiritual bliss and gentle nature stewardship (see how the Na’vi connect – literally – with animals and other natural elements, including souls). Cameron’s noble savages are very new-agey and, in a very 2009-fashion, they are connected to each other and the entire ecosystem through a global network (as Grace the biologist – Sigourney Weaver – tells us).

Against them are lined the superior forces of global corporations and military contractors who do their bidding and get well paid for it. And the battle is over resources that Pandora has and that Earth needs. The corporation wants it and it will take it one way or another. The message on environmentalism and the rights of indigenous peoples is not exactly subtle.

And so, the movie culminates in the final battle between mean Goliath against the gentle David. But the Na’vi have a joker card which answers the question asked in the post cited above:

I have a different view. It’s not about having a character to relate to. It’s about white supremacy. Let’s look at the evidence: Jake Scully gets initially introduced into the tribe because of some religious sign that designates him as special and he will be the only one to be able to connect with the big-ass red bird that will come so handy in battle and reinforces his spiritual status as “Super Na’vi”. And that is on top of the skill set he brings to the tribe: his marine and military training, which will ultimately save the Na’vi. The noble savages, with their bows and arrows, need a white military man to save them and become their leader. Where have we seen that before? Oh, yeah, in tons of movies. The white man in the avatar becomes a better Na’vi than the true Na’vi (and gets the girl, of course).

So, even though we are presented with a story that is designed to convey a message of environmentalism, multiculturalism and peace, we end up with the maintenance of white supremacy… oh and apparently, violence works, especially when based on military training, it’s what allows the Na’vi to win, once all the tribes are united under the leadership of Jake Scully. Without him, they’d be toast.

And, by being a super Na’vi, Scully can erase his being a defective / inferior white man due to his disability who initially agrees to spy on the Na’vi to regain his legs and therefore become a full man again, as promised by the über-patriarchal man delightfully played by Stephen Lang.

Oh, and let’s not forget who tells the story: Jake Scully. He is the narrator all through the movie. White man’s voice and perspective.

As I watched the movie, I could not help thinking whether all these people in the movie theater would think twice about drone bombing in AfPak? I don’t think so. It seems that the sociologists over at Sociological Images are skeptical as well:

In other words, because it relies so much on common colonizer history revised through multicultural lenses that more befit the enlightened 21st century, the story is entirely predictable, almost plot point by plot point.

Another interesting aspect of the story is detailed by Antonio Casilli (and links to a full peer-reviewed article in French for those of you who read it). Casilli’s argument is that cultural analysis shows that there is nothing really new about the avatar trope, including its blue color.

So, why is it blue?

Do check out the illustrations over at Casilli’s post. The theme is ubiquitous.

And the disable hero? Another common cultural trope:

Do read the whole thing or the paper itself if you can.

All that being said, the movie is certainly enjoyable and not boring (even though the final battle scene was getting a bit long for me). I saw it in 3D and the visuals were indeed stunning (the images of the forest at night were beautiful) but again, it has to be viewed with a critical eye beyond the technical prowess.

Posted in Corporatism, Environment, Gender, Ideologies, Indigenous Populations, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Militarism, Movies, Neo-Colonialism, Networks, Patriarchy, Racism, Resource Wars, Risk Society, Science-fiction, Sociology, Sustainability, Technology | 4 Comments »

The Photo of the Year

December 28, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

A Palestinian boy from Gaza flinches as other boys scare him with toy guns. Compare the level of media attention given to the assault on Gaza by the Israeli army to that of the repression of the movement in Iran.

See the whole collection here. As with the Boston Globe year in photos, a lot of natural disasters and low-attention conflicts as well as attention to indigenous peoples.

Posted in Environment, Indigenous Populations, Mass Violence, Media, New Wars, Sustainability | No Comments »

Book Review – Southern Theory – Part 2

August 29, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Part 1 here.

After reading through most of Southern Theory, I was afraid the final section would be a version of “let’s dump everything Northern and embrace everything Southern as infused with golden wisdom.” But, of course, Connell is much too smart a sociologist to endorse such a simplistic position. See the short and sweet and yet devastating take-down Vandana Shiva for a sample of that.

In truth, the last part of Southern Theory is a powerful piece of writing that made me go “wow!” several time for the sheer cleverness of the arguments put forth and the brilliance of the writing.

In the first part of this last section, Connell reintroduces space (or land, as she puts it) against both Coleman’s “blank dance floor” but also against theorization of globalization as spacelessness and deterritorialization. To bring back “the land” is also to bring back the history of dispossession and loss that so many Northern theories elided and avoided. It is, abstractly, a call to bring back the context out of which theories emerged but it is also very concretely a call to study the persistence of space-ness (as Connell puts it) whether through indigenous peoples’ struggles for their land (and the far- and deep-reaching implications for human rights, democracy and economic order), or through Saskia Sassen’s studies of the global city. In either cases, sociology and social theory need to get back down on the ground. Space and land still matter and embodies all sorts of social relations of domination and resistance that sociology and social sciences need to address.

“The general idea of dispossession – one of the most important and under-theorised concepts in social science – needs to sink roots in the mud of particular landscapes.

Taking the land seriously has implication for social science knowledge. (…)

This applies to theorists as well as to fact-grubbing empirical researchers. I want to suggest a new meaning for the term ‘grounded theory’: linking theory to the ground on which the theorist’s boots are planted. To think in this way is to reject the deeply entrenched habit of mind, mentioned at the start of this chapter, by which theory in the social sciences is admired exactly in the degree to which it escapes specific settings and speaks in abstract universals.” (206)

This does not mean that Connell advocates the rejection of generalizations in social theory. Quite the opposite.

“The power of social science generalisations is multiplied if they can be linked to the characteristics of the context within which they apply.

This suggest an argument against pure theory, in favour of what we might call dirty theory  – that is, theorising that is mixed up with specific situations. The goal of dirty theory is not to subsume, but to clarify; not to classify from the outside, but to illuminate a situation in its concreteness. And for that purpose – to change the metaphor – all is grist to the mill. Our interest as researchers is to maximise the wealth of materials that are drawn into the analysis and explanation. It is also our interest to multiply, rather than slim down, the theoretical ideas that we have to work with. That includes multiplying the local sources of our thinking.” (207)

This move is almost the exact opposite of the neoliberal takeover as the “theory of everything” and the one-size-fit-all that all society should embrace and that makes all other theorizing irrelevant. Neo-liberalism is the spaceless, deterritorialized theory par excellence; the theory that eliminates the very material nature of commodification processes and global economic integration, be it – I might add – in terms of grabbing more land in Africa for the metropole’s resources as neo-colonial dispossession. Contra that, more studies are needed to study the urban ecology of global cities that are more and more designed and built to keep the poor available as cheap labor but out of sight and segregated otherwise. Indeed, many studies have already shown how the transnational capitalist class actually is able to reconfigure space to its own needs and comfort, buffeted against the nasty side effects of neo-liberal policies and the workings of the transnational state, to use William Robinson’s construct.

As Connell puts it much better than I can,

“The land, therefore, is not irrelevant, even in the citadels of globalisation. We have to understand its social significance in a complex dialectic of place and power, of which the history of colonisation and the consequent land rights struggles of indigenous people are key parts. These struggles, the experiences that underlie them and the arguments advanced in them are now strategic matters of social justice globally. Taking them seriously, and learning from them, is necessary for regenerating social science on a world scale.” (209)

“Social science on a world scale” is then the final and culminating topic of Southern Theory. This last chapter contains several recommendations, almost guidelines, as to what a non-hegemonic social science should guard itself against. So, what should a social science on the world scale pay attention to?

  • It should recognize the pattern of exploitation and inequalities in power, wealth and cultural influence between the metropole and the periphery (this was the core of the critique of Northern theories).

  • It should recognize that the periphery is neither homogeneous nor fixed, but dynamic. A variety of social movements (women, indigenous peoples, peasants, etc.) have emerged to challenge exploitative arrangements.

  • It should not erase the experiences of the periphery. Instead, it should recognize peoples of the Global South as subjects with intentionality and agency and, sometimes, experiences that are unknown to the Global North and its theorists, such as colonialism.

  • It should recognize the centrality of the colonial experience and the enormous influence of past and persisting colonizing structures on peripheral societies and collective experiences.

  • Similarly, it should recognize other non-Northern experiences such as – in addition to colonial dispossession – military dictatorships and neo-liberal restructuring (through structural adjustment programs, for instance) and the multiple sites of “subaltern” resistance to these experiences. Its hob is to analyze all those, not erase them under the guise of universal theoretical claims.

  • It should also recognize and analyze the metropole-capacity or apparatus (that is, the social processes and institutions) that allow the metropole to function qua metropole. This capacity or apparatus is often hidden behind colonial structure and not recognizing it or shining a spotlight on it contributes to its power.

And Connell never forgets the “science” part in social science, that is, the attention to the type of knowledge social science produces.

  • This involves investigations.

  • This involves what Connell calls the “permanent revolution of corrigibility.” Science is a collective endeavor and a series of collective practices. However, what is needed is to bring in the voices of the periphery not as data or fields of applications but as potential correctives and theoretical clarifications.

  • This involves, again, a capacity for generalization, for patterns that bring the data together.

  • This involves a concern for truthfulness that cannot be attained if the periphery is absent or treated as data or object.

Finally, a social science on the world scale should serve to promote democracy. According to Connell, this can be accomplished through four main ways. Here, let me quote Connell herself, in order to do her justice,

1.

“The first is through the growth of compassion (…) a solidarity with,, the despised and rejected. A multi-centred social science has a great capacity to circulate knowledge of social experiences other than those of the global elites, and thus enable mutual learning. ” (230-1)

2.

“The second is social science’s function of critique. When researchers investigate topics that are sensitive for neoliberalism, they find themselves contesting a torrent of lies and distortions from governments and corporate-funded think-tanks. A major example is research on poverty (Saunders 2005). Given the restructuring of the world economy and the growth of the global-private, issues of social justice unavoidably have an international dimension.” (231)

3.

“Finally, world social science is relevant to democracy because it is itself a field of democratic action. To contest a privileged minority’s control over a field of knowledge is a democratic cause, whether on a local or a world scale. The learning process based on recognition and discussion among many voices – the picture of social-scientific knowledge which the arguments of this book imply – is inherently a democratic process.” (231)

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this book, even I found a couple of examples unconvincing in the mobilization of Southern theories. If taken seriously, it should completely question the way we teach sociology, starting at the undergraduate level and how such teaching reproduces hegemonic practices. I am not yet sure though how the way the curriculum is shaped and delivered in the institutional context of the American university (especially) but also in Europe in a different way can be changed and opened. American undergraduate education is more and more utilitarian (designed to train people faster and faster for the job market) and the French system, for instance, well, good luck making that one budge from its hegemonic position.

However, there is a space where Connell’s recommendations can be implemented: the open virtual spaces of public sociology outside of academia: blogs, sociology online communities, and yes, even social media such as Twitter or Facebook. After all, there is more democratic potential there than within academia… Of course, this raises issues of digital divide and this is where the privileged (those of us who have access to these spaces) should work towards finding ways of reaching out to the periphery and open these spaces for them as well… who’s with me?

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Development, Gender, Global Governance, Global Sociology, Globalization, Indigenous Populations, Neo-Colonialism, Patriarchy, Social Disadvantages, Social Exclusion, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Justice, Social Privilege, Social Research, Social Theory, Sociology | 3 Comments »

Book Review – Southern Theory – Part 1

August 29, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science, Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell sets herself the ambitious task of extirpating the imperialist roots of Western social science (sociology in particular) and bring to the fore the social science projects of the periphery through the exploration of a variety of sociologists from the Global South. In the context of globalization, such a project is long overdue.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. In the first part, Connell provides a critique of Northern theory, and in particular, the work of James Coleman, Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu for a common theoretical attitude in the metropole: taking the Global South either as source of data to be theorized about in the metropole, or as subjects of application of Northern theory assumed to be of universal validity. That is, theories devised in the metropolitan universities based on work in societies of the Global North are taken to have automatic valid application to the societies of the Global South. That move, in itself, makes sociology an imperialist discipline and that is this unexamined imperialist core that Connell sets out to extirpate. As she puts it,

“Sociology was formed within the culture of imperialism, and embodied an intellectual response to the colonised world. This fact is crucial in understanding the content and method of sociology, as well as the discipline’s wider cultural significance.” (9)

For instance, the evolutionary nature of early sociology provided a neat justification to colonialism and imperialism under the guise of scientific objectivity.

The hegemonic universalizing tendency of sociological theorizing is especially visible in James Coleman’s work:

“Coleman’s theoretical ambition is announced in his first sentence: ‘A central problem in social science is that of accounting for the functioning of some kind of social system.’ A social system is defined as a set of individuals linked by transactions in which they must engage to satisfy their own  interests because the other individuals have some control over the resources they need. The interplay between individual and system, the micro-macro link becomes a formative problem in Coleman’s theorising, and is generally a central problem in modern positivism.

Less readily noticed, because it is so common in sociological theorising, is Coleman’s assumption that this language of individual and system, interest, control and resource, micro and macro, is of universal relevance. The concepts can be applied in any time and place.” (29)

Not to mention that such a system is unable to account for colonial and imperial social relationships, or even slavery or any other type of power relations for that matter. And of course, this theorizing is ahistorical:

“Coleman’s actors move in an energetic dance, calculating, bargaining and exchanging on a featureless dance floor, It is not entirely accidental that his visual models of action systems resemble teaching diagrams for the foxtrot or the jazz waltz. The featurelessness of the dance floor follows from the ahistorical method. In each derivation, the same limited set of elements and possible relations is set in motion, The theoretical logic will not work, any more than one can dance a foxtrot, if the dance floor is lumpy with footprints from previous dances of with the bodies of previous dancers.” (31)

So, what of Giddens and structuration theory? After all, Giddens borrows from a variety of traditions (all the way to ethnomethodology and conversation analysis) to transcend the traditional dichotomies of sociology (e.g. micro – macro or structure – agency). The problem, for Connell, is that Giddens does not escape his own version of “stages of human societies” in which the Global North is more advanced than the Global South. Here again, colonialism and imperalism are evacuated.

“Giddens implies that the West is dominant not because it conquered the rest of the world, but because of its ‘temporal precedence’. the West industrialised and modernised first. Other social orders are passing away not because Europeans with guns came and shattered them, but because modernity is irresistible.” (38)

One can already discern the similarities with modernization theory and common approaches to globalization (including Giddens’s own).

And for Connell, Bourdieu can be credited for crafting a powerful toolkit for sociological research (the concepts are familiar: structure, field, habitus, symbolic violence, social reproduction, etc.) deemed to be universally applicable even though Bourdieu’s own analysis of Algeria are devoid of references to colonialism.

The bottom line is that Northern theory is guilty of four traits:

  • Claim of universality
  • Reading from the center
  • Gestures of exclusion (there are apparently no theorists in the Global South)
  • Grand erasure (the experiences of the people of the Global South is erased to make room for projections of Northern theorizing about them)

Connell finds similar problems with contemporary theorists of globalization. For many theorists, globalization is the next state beyond modern society dismantling its main tenets, such as the nation-state structures. In many cases, globalization is capitalism’s next stage and we are all in it, all in the same boat in a decaying environment for which global solutions have to be found. But here again, Northern theorizations (“world risk society”, “liquid modernity”, “individualization”, “global scapes” and so on) are taken to be universally valid. It is again a view from the North upon the rest of the world and non-metropolitan thinkers are absent.

“Perhaps the most remarkable example is on Beck’s What is Globalization?, which end with a short essay on ‘The Brazilianization of Europe’ (Beck 2000: 161-3). This does not discuss Brazil at all, but uses the name to evoke a horror scene of social fragmentation, violence and selfishness which the European readers surely do not want. The remarkable social educational reconstruction efforts undertaken by the Brazilians, in the aftermath of a violent military dictatorship and in the teeth of corporate power, does not enter Beck’s argument.” (65)

Actually, since we are talking about Brazil, see this, this and this for what is going on in Brazil… and yes, it is more Northern perspective. Still very interesting, though.

When the Global South is considered, it is through Development Studies or Area Studies or International Relations. Connell is more merciful with World-system analysis which is historical, was always global in its analysis of the capitalist world system, and never evaded analysis of imperialism. The missing pieces are gender and race in this context though. As I have quoted before,

“The underlying problem of the social-scientific approaches considered in this chapter [Ed: everything I read: Bourdieu, Beck, Bauman, Robinson...] is their geopolitical logic. They rely exclusively on the metropole for their intellectual tools and assumptions, and therefore treat the majority world as object. This closes off the possibility of social science working as a shared learning process, a dialogue, at the level of theory.

Inhabitants of the majority world are not just the objects of theory, the data mine for social science. They are also subjects – the producers of theory about the social world and their place in it. (…)

Every colonised [sic] culture produces interpretations of imperialism. Intellectuals in the majority world have been studying empire, colonisation and globalisation processes as long as intellectuals in the metropole have. This represents a huge resource for learning, which metropolitan social science currntly discards. Because of the metropole’s hegemonic position in the global organisation of social science (as Sonntag (1999) shows for sociology), this waste is difficult contest.” (68)

This concludes the first part of the book and it is extremely compelling and should make any sociologist think twice about the way we teach sociology and social theory. In the second big part of the book, after reviewing the sociological landscape in Australia, Connell dives into Southern theory per se. I have to say that even though it makes for an interesting read, this was the weakest part of the book, ironically and I will get to it in a moment, but first, this important issue, that Connell mentions regarding Africa but which is, I think, relevant for the rest of the Global South intellectuals as well:

“Intellectuals had mostly supported nation-building in the 1950s and the 1960s, but repressive regimes closed the spaces for debate and often demanded ideological conformity. African social scientists in particular were cut off from policy-making. When neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programs arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, the alienation was renewed. Governments turned to foreign advisers, while NGOs wanted only consultancies, not basic research programs, assuming that ‘poor research was good enough for the poor’.” (109)

This is almost the statement that was made to me by Professor Mutumba Bull, Director the Institute of Economic and Social Research of the University of Zambia and former Minister in the first independent governments of Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda. This is a statement of neo-colonialism and persistence of imperialism that also explains the precarious position of intellectuals and theorists in the Global South.

That being said, I especially had problems with the chapter on Islam and Western Dominance. While Connell presents interesting work by Al-e Ahmad and the important and powerful concept of Westoxication, I had problems with the idea of building social theory from Islam. As much as I understand using Islam as a tool of political action against Westoxication, Islam, per se, cannot be legitimately be seen as sound theoretical basis. Political Islam is a topic of analysis (see Olivier Roy on this) but not a theoretical position. After all, would we take seriously a sociologist basing his theory on Christianity (especially of the revival kind) or any other religion? I personally would not. Liberation Theology has demonstrated that Christianity can be used as a political basis for liberationist projects. That does not make a proper theoretical foundation. This may have sounded interesting to Connell, but religion is not basis for good sociology.

Ironically, as I was reading Southern Theory, I was also reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. It is a very interesting novel whose plot takes place as an indigenous culture gets its first taste of colonial oppression and its socially dislocating effects. Certainly, the sociologist in me was fascinated by that aspect of things but, here again, a novel is not a social theory.

Similarly, and this is, I think, another difficulty with Connell’s book, any political project that seeks emancipation requires some analysis / diagnosis of society and power. Again, this is not automatically sociology. Interestingly, though, the one African theorist that comes to mind, Franz Fanon, is mentioned but not examined at all. I don’t know if this is because Connell assumed her readers would already be familiar with him, but I thought it might have been interesting to have more on him.

Things got more interesting, for me, when Connell gets to dependency theorists, because these guys are more up my alley than religious activists. I also think that dependency theory is not just economic theory but also good social theory of the relationships of exploitation and domination between metropole and periphery:

“The core of Cardoso and Faletto’s dialectical sociology is the interplay between global structures and local political dynamics – the formation of the local state and the struggles to control and reshape it. (…)

Their strength, therefore, is not in a subtle analysis of the structure of Latin American society. It is rather in their subtle analyses of the historically changing relationships between systems of domination within Latin America and the structures of the international economy. In this regard, Dependency and Development has implications far beyond Latin America and is still, I think, an intellectually important text. It offers a carefully thought out method for the analysis of transnational social processes that is far more sophisticated than most of the metropolitan literature on ‘globalisation’ that appeared 25 years later.” (148)

Hear hear. And Connell’s summary of the insights in How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart is just plain fun to read in addition to making important points. These insights on the cultural reproduction of colonial attitudes and prejudice along with a pro-capitalist position is familiar for anyone who has also been raised with Tintin comics or watched the Tijuana Toads as a child, as I did… I mean, seriously…

It is so bad it is painful to watch.

Connell’s developments on the contemporary Latin American’s women’s movement is also important as she shows how gender was a major blind spot  for the Southern theorists she reviews in previous chapters.

Finally, Connell turns to India to examine the theory under the label of subaltern politics, as illustrated by the journal Subaltern Studies in which articles explore local forms of resistance to oppressive power by peasants or working class movements into coherent theory, as Connell demonstrates with her analysis of Partha Chatterjee’s ‘modes of power’:

“He defines three basic forms: communal where entitlements are allocated on the authority of a whole social collectivity; feudal, where entitlements derive basically from physical force (i.e. a situation of direct domination); and bourgeois, where property rights are guaranteed by generalised law, and indirect domination is achieved through the institutions of representative government. (…)

The most interesting part of Chatterjee’s argument concerns the interplay between these modes. Feudal society was not established as a homogeneous system; rather, it involved the intrusion of the feudal mode of power into the communal realm. The result was constant resistance to feudal lords, with unstable outcomes. (…) Expanding capitalism does [not] simply obliterate feudalism. Indeed, it can incorporate feudal structures of domination. What capitalism does tend towards is the extinction of the communal mode of power. (…)

It is the complex combinations of modes of power around postcolonial states that are characteristic, opening up ‘an entirely new range of possibilities for the ruling classes to exercise their domination.” (171-2)

And these variegated forms of resistance are the subject of Subaltern Studies. It is clear that such a framework as Chatterjee’s modes of power can be applied beyond India. Reading through these sections, I was, of course, reminded of the Zapatistas’s struggle in the Chiapas where one can clearly see the interplay of all three modes within the specific Mexican context.

It is also in this chapter, and especially in the section titled ‘Intimate Oppositions’ that I felt the most Fanon’s relative absence especially as he is presented as the counterpoint to Ashis Nandy’s insights on the colonized self:

“In his 1978 essay ‘Towards a Third World Utopia’, he criticises Fanon’s idea of cleansing violence as being insensitive to the cultural resistance of oppressed (Nandy 1987: 33). He considers this strategy of opposition to be contained within the logic of colonialism, reproducing its hypermasculinity, cult of violence, loss of emotional connection and dehumanisation of enemies.” (188)

It is indeed central to reintroduce questions of masculinity into discussions of colonial oppression and that seems to have been something that most theorists, Northern and Southern missed (apart, of course, from the feminists).

So, having laid out some more or less convincing examples of Southern Theory and thrown some pretty devastating criticisms at Northern Theory, what is left for Connell to do if not lay out clearly the foundations of a non-imperialist sociology. She does so in the last section of the book and I will pick that up more in details in part 2 of the review.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Development, Global Governance, Global Sociology, Globalization, Indigenous Populations, Neo-Colonialism, Patriarchy, Social Disadvantages, Social Exclusion, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Justice, Social Privilege, Social Research, Social Theory, Sociology, Structural Violence, Symbolic Violence | 1 Comment »

Social Stigmas That Kill

June 26, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Burned alive in Kenya:

This is horrifying, of course, but it is even more so to see how casually people who have participated in these lynchings behave afterward and how just a touch of rationality could put a stop to this:

I have already mentioned how these cases seem to increase as the economic situation deteriorates and people see their conditions degrade and experience even more uncertainties than before. In such conditions, it is not uncommon for scapegoating mechanisms to emerge and for the population to turn against a specific category of people who have no way of avoiding their being stigmatized and targeted, in this case, the elderly targeted by the youth.

Lest we think these things are limited to Kenya (or Tanzania in the case of stigmatized Albinos), case number two: poisoned in Kosovo.

Violence against Roma is not limited to Kosovo… not even to Eastern Europe:

Stereotypes abound about the Roma and here again, economic deterioration makes them an even easier target for violence and institutional discrimination.

In both cases, there is no way the targeted population can disprove the accusations against them. How does one prove a negative ("I am not a witch")? Or how does one prove that one has the right "soul"?

There are always anecdotes available in public discourse that support the stereotype (along with "personal knowledge" stories taken as sufficient evidence). And confirmation bias is commonly used: any information that reinforces the stereotype is easily believed without questions whereas information or data that does not support it is treated with suspicion and questioned. And if that is not possible (the information is factual), then, the new information only proves that there are a few exceptions ("they’re not all bad") but that these do not invalidate the rule.

One argument often invoked to justify racism attitudes and behaviors is that the target (as representative of a whole category and proxy for it) must have done something to the racist perpetrator(s). There is something about the Roma that predisposes them to be victims of violence. This conveniently turns the table and blames the victims for their own victimization.

Research, however, has shown that prejudice and discrimination against one category of people is usually accompanied by prejudice against other categories (racism, sexism and homophobia often go hand in hand). So, unsurprisingly, once the Roma were gone, more violence followed against other categories:

Posted in Collective Behavior, Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Precarization, Prejudice, Racism, Social Discrimination, Social Exclusion, Social Stigma | No Comments »

Book Review – King Leopold’s Ghost

June 1, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

KLG Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost – A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa seemed an appropriate book to bring with me to Africa. I don’t know why I hadn’t read it yet since issues of colonialism, neo-colonialism and slavery are never far from my thoughts.

Anyway, I am glad I did read the book. It is indeed a great read and a page turner. It is also a book of horrors: the horrors inflicted upon the Congo by the rule of Leopold, King of the Belgians in the late 19th Century, early 20th Century, out of greed. It is not a surprise that Joseph Conrad wrote his Heart of Darkness about the colonial Congo and modeled his Mr Kurtz based on real agents from the Leopold regime there.

The Congo never seems to make headlines even though it is a tormented country and it is a prime example of what Virgil Hawkins describes as stealth conflicts: conflicts with high death tolls and long-term nasty consequences, but largely ignored by the media. Here is a short introduction on the concept:

Similarly, the horrors of the Congo were by and large ignored in their time, until pioneers in the human rights movement made it impossible to ignore, but to this day, they are still largely forgotten. It is to Hochschild’s credit to have dug up the details of the untold story of King Leopold’s empire of horrors.

It is a kind of detective work that Hochschild engages in as he pieces together the truth about the Congo through a variety of sources (unfortunately, only a few sources reveal the voices of the victims of the regime, the Congolese, of course), and in spite of Leopold’s attempt to destroy the records of his rule in the Congo (in those days, embarrassing documents were burned, not shredded).

What this all boils down to is this: King Leopold (a relatively toothless constitutional monarch) got himself a colony over which he ruled without parliamentary oversight. His goal was not just to match the reach and influence of other colonial powers (and be part of the scramble for Africa) but also to enrich himself personally through the plundering of Congolese ivory and rubber. And of course, how does one lower one’s labor costs? Through forced labor, of course (all in the name of teaching the savages the value of work!).

It is this forced labor component, accompanied by the institutionalization and rationalization of racism, that opened the door to massive and violent exploitation that ultimately killed half the population of the Congo, either through direct elimination, starvation, overwork, disease (which spread more easily when a population is overwhelmingly malnourished and worked like beasts of burden), and a declining birth rate.

It is not like the natives did not resist. Resist they did indeed. Leopold’s rule was constantly challenged by rebellions that were incredibly violently put down through mass killings. The main tool of "order" in the Congo, was the brutal Force Publique that would burn villages to the ground if men refused to work to harvest wild rubber (a grueling work), take women and children hostage until chiefs gave in. And then, private companies had their own militarized forces that tortured and mutilated the natives in the name of discipline and productivity.

It is the productive nature of these atrocities that will ultimately be the downfall of Leopold’s rule as a young clerk for the main shipping company between Belgium and the Congo starts to notice what comes off the ship arriving at Antwerp (rubber and other goods) and what gets exported to the Congo (weapons, mostly) and realizes what is going on there.

The second half of the book is mostly dedicated to the heroes of what became a strong precursor of the human rights movement: E. D Morel and Roger Casement as well as George Washington Williams and William Sheppard . All these men worked tirelessly to expose the atrocities of the Congo and force change. In that last respect, they were not really successful but they did force Leopold (who had managed to fool the world into thinking him a great humanitarian) to divest himself from the Congo.

Because the book is not just a depersonalized account of the regime, but also a story of characters, it reads almost like a novel. We encounter famous characters: in addition to Leopold himself (and his miserable family life), Henry Morton Stanley, but also Joseph Conrad and a few others. Many of the actors involved in the regime in the Congo such as a variety of managers and districts heads appointed by Leopold. Through their correspondence or diaries, we see the banal dehumanization of the Congolese, the ease with which they tortured, exploited, humiliated and killed so many of them without much second thought.

At the same time, the book also makes clear that it is not free market capitalism and free trade (along with higher moral status) that sealed the West’s economic dominance but rather the plundering of the Global South that fueled industrialization and mass production (I would add that this plundering was made possible itself by the luck of the draw and "guns, germs and steel"). It seems that "free market", "free trade", etc. were as much ideological concepts (as opposed to reality) then as they are now. The type of unfairness may have changed (direct plunder is not as obvious now), but the rules of the WTO still guarantee that the Global South is still being exploited and disadvantaged in one form or another despite big talks of free trade.

In the last chapter of the book, Hochschild reflects on the face of the Congo. since the end of Leopold’s regime and the independence. This is a lesson on the long-term consequences of colonialism as well as the lingering influence of neo-colonial mechanisms. Without stating a clear cause and effect trajectory, Hochschild still asserts that Leopold certainly looks like a great role model for dictator Mobutu, all with the blessings of former colonial powers, once the CIA got rid of Patrice Lumumba.

Mobutu’s rule indeed looks a lot like a continuation of the plundering of the country, (then renamed Zaire) along with mistreatment of the population. Ultimately, misrule led to the Mobutu’s downfall and the persistent state of regional conflict at the center of which the now-named Democratic Republic of the Congo finds itself. Should we really be surprised that the social dislocation wreaked by Leopold’s rule has continued to plague the Congo to this day (with other factors, to be sure)? And that the Congo is still being plundered for its resources (not ivory or rubber anymore, but coltan and copper)? And that the world is still largely silent about it?

Posted in Book Reviews, Corporatism, Economy, Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, Institutional Racism, Labor, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Patriarchy, Politics, Racism, Slavery, Social Justice, Social Movements, Social Privilege, Structural Violence, Trafficking | 1 Comment »

Dialectics of Contestation from The Periphery

April 13, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

André C. Drainville, "Resistance to Globalisation: The View From The Periphery of The World Economy", International Social Science Journal, 2009, 192, 235 – 246.

Using a world-system analytical perspective, André C. Drainville examines how the periphery articulated its global presence in contesting globalization. In the process, he reviews the different forms that contestation took at different modern time periods and the current spaces of struggle against neo-liberal globalization. To put it simply, these forms of contestation articulate the social presence of the periphery on the global scene and relation to the world order.

What is the world order that the periphery faces? According to Drainville,

"The core of the world economy is no longer just a country or a group of countries: there is also a transnational elsewhere, beyond the reach of all nationally organised societies. It is there that transnational capital made itself into a self-knowing political subject (Cox 1987; Sklair 2001; van der Pijl 1984), where it set up a nebulas of institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund [IMF] and the World Bank) to read and reproduce general conditions of accumulation, and where it attempts to assemble an apolitical global civil society to legitimate the new world order (Drainville 2004)." (235)

Which means, of course, that current globalization, far from eliminating social inequalities between areas of the world-system or from generating one world under cultural homogenization, has created a vastly differentiated space. Correspondingly, forms of contestation are equally differentiated. Drainville puts it better:

"Notwithstanding the transnationalisation of finance, the delocalisation of production or the cosmopolitan rhetoric of global governance, the world has not become an undifferentiated field of action." (236)

In typical world-system analytical fashion, Drainville then takes the perspective of longue duree to examine the modes of contestation of the periphery against the world order. The central thesis of the article is then:

"At the periphery of the world economy, in what Amory Starr and Jason Adams call the "global South" (Starr and Adams 2003, pp. 28 – 29), social forces have historically constituted themselves in their meeting with world order. What is new to the current phase of globalisation is that terrains of world significance are less authoritatively circumscribed then ever, and that the social forces involved in struggles are more varied and less isolated from one another than before, both on the terrain of the world economy and locally. As a result, what we may term ‘the dialectics of global presence‘ operates to greater effect than ever." (237)

Drainville distinguishes between three different historical periods with their respective mode of peripheral constestation.

From the second half of the 19th century until WWI, this era is structured by colonialism and imperialism. Contestation then took the form of everyday resistance from peasants and indigenous workers.

From the end of the colonial era until the crisis of the Bretton Woods order, this period is marked by the struggles for decolonization but also against the world ordering processes of the Bretton Woods institutions. Ultimately, the debt crisis and structural adjustment programs prevailed as peripheral authoritarian regimes failed.

From the end of the 1980s onward is the era of global governance, marked by a softening of global regulations and programmatic impositions on peripheral countries but for the same purpose, bring the global South more deeply into the world economy.

For Drainville, global governance means something more specific than just issuing global regulations or international air traffic:

"Global governance is the political face of the globalisation project at the periphery of the world economy. It has been accompanied by attacks on state corruption and violence, efforts to bypass state agencies and anchor regulation directly in civil society, and attempts to institute ‘low intensity democracy’". (238)

"Low intensity democracy" means that the economy is off-limit to state’s action through massive privatization, lower government spending, openness to foreign investment, deregulation and liberalization, firing of government employees, and overall reduction of state capacity down to its repressive functions (police and military). And the civil society here refers to the private sector, which include the economic private sector.

We already know that the social consequences of this process of pushing for low intensity democracy have been across the global South, and there lie the roots of contestation across the social structure:

"Nowadays resistance does not take place only in haciendas and plantations, it does not only have the colonial or neo-colonial state as its targets, and it is not a creation of specific groups with particular histories and trajectories. Rather, it involves a broad array of the dispossessed: those ‘without roof, without land, without work, without rights (Zibechi 2005, p.13), the impoverished middle classes, small and medium agricultural producers, indigenous peoples, unemployed professionals, public employees, women in the informal sector, small savers, retired people, "students, lecturers and nurses in Angola; public sector workers in Benin, farmers, electricity workers and teachers in Kenya; municipal workers in Morocco; health workers in Nigeria; community groups and organised labour in South Africa’, displaced farmers in Mexico, maquilla workers in Guatemala, garment workers in Bangladesh and peasant groups in Brazil and India (Bond 2003)." (238)

Based on such a diversity of forms of contestation, Drainville identifies three specific spaces of struggle in the global South where resistance to world-ordering processes are questioned:

  • Global Cities where the transnational capitalist class and the slum-dwellers coexist uneasily (see, IMF riots)
  • Export Processing Zones where workers, especially women are the manufacturing base of the world economy
  • Countryside where peasants and indigenous peoples are located fighting for self-determination and land reform

All three categories are engaged in struggles again neo-liberal globalization according to what Drainville calls the dialectics of global presence. The dialectics works in two stages:

"In the first stage of the dialectic, social forces ensconced in localities are brought out of their situated selves by the exigencies and opportunities of increasingly globalized struggles." (240)

Good examples of this are provided by the EZLN holding its global meeting at Aguas Calientes a few years back, or the women of the Niger Delta occupying a Chevron Texaco refinery. Local dynamics shape the structure of the global struggle. This is at this stage that local connections are linked with other groups globally, creating transnational networks involved in gathering information, or promoting organizational models or straightforward activism and advocacy. Local movements make global connections.

"At the second stage of the dialectic, what was created globally (the alliances made and networks formed, resources gathered, strategies and tactics learned) is brought to bear on localities." (241)

As an example, the EZLN uses its global connections to organize the defenses of localities in the Chiapas fighting for self-determination and autonomy.

But what is new about this dialectic?

"What is new in the current phase of globalisation is how relatively open and diverse peripheral terrains of world significance are, how struggles born there have found focus outside state-centred struggles and how pregnant is the sentiment of global propinquity that unites different movements. Never have such distinct social forces so rooted in local struggles taken place on the terrain of the world economy, never have they been as conscious of a common context of struggle and never has this context so informed and radicalised localised struggles. Never, in a word, has the dialectic of presence been activated to such effect." (243)

Indeed, the article is rich in examples and mentions that reflect the incredible diversity of peripheral global presence articulated according to the dialectic, and localized in the three main spaces of contention. These various movements are unified in their struggling to define their connection to the world order, but they do so in great diversity of modes of resistance.

Posted in Activism, Global Governance, Globalization, Indigenous Populations, Social Change, Social Justice, Social Movements, Social Theory, Sociological Articles, Sociology | No Comments »

So Many Good News… Count ‘Em

January 23, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , ,

One

Two

Three

Four

Posted in Gender, Health, Indigenous Populations, Science, Social Discrimination, Technology | No Comments »

Globalization Losers – Indigenous Peoples

January 16, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have blogged before about indigenous peoples as a category of populations that are the prime victims of globalization (as they were also prime victims of colonialization and industrialization) but the difference between now and the previous eras (industrial and colonial) is that now, there is some concern about their fate and their rights. Still… Case in point, the Kuchis of Afghanistan, who were constantly in the middle of the fighting during the Soviet invasion (mostly because they are nomadic traders), and now:

As a general rule, central governments have a hard time figuring out what to do with indigenous peoples who, by definition, do not fit the model of sedentarism that is the basis of social institutions and norms.

As such, they are also more likely to bear the brunt of risk society:

The impacts of any risk are amplified when they affect a category of the population that is already socially disadvantaged, as indigenous peoples are in most societies they are a part of (voluntarily or not).

Similarly, social change tends to have more adverse effects on indigenous peoples and they are more likely to have policies enacted by central governments imposed upon them… and that is in the favorable situation in which they do not stand in the way of resource exploitation by corporate interests. However, as the potential for scarcity and resource wars increases, indigenous peoples who stand in the way are more likely to be victims of violence, as has already occurred at the very same time that their livelihood is already threatened by climate change.

Posted in Culture, Environment, Globalization, Indigenous Populations, Population, Poverty, Risk Society, Social Change, Social Institutions, Social Interaction, social marginality, Social Norms, Sustainability | 2 Comments »

Book Review – The Wild Girl

December 22, 2008 by and tagged , , , , ,

The Wild Girl Having read and deeply enjoyed Jim Fergus‘s One Thousand White Women, I decided to read his other novel, The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932. The structure of the book is very similar to OTWW: we follow the story through the eyes of the main character as he writes his observations in his notebooks. Here, we follow Ned Giles, a 17-year old Chicago native who, after his parents deaths decides to enlist as photographer in an expedition in Mexico to retrieve the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher abducted by the Bronco Apaches.

The whole story takes place within the context of the Great Depression and, as in OTWW, the expedition allows Fergus to introduce a variety of characters: the female anthropologist, the gay son of a wealthy family whose father thinks that the rugged life of the expedition will make a man out of him, his British butler, the seen-it-all drunkard newspaper photographer who mentors Ned in his job as photographer, Joseph and Albert Valor, the Apaches hired as scouts, as well as Billy Flowers, the religious fanatic, wildlife hunter, and many others.

The story actually starts when Billy Flowers’s dogs tree a wild Apache girl whose family has been slaughtered by Mexican ranchers. Not knowing what to do with her, he takes her to the town where the expedition is gathering and it is soon decided to try to exchange the girl for the abducted Mexican boy. In the process, Ned and the wild girl develop a bond… and then, some members of the expedition get captured by the Apaches… and I won’t spoil the rest.

As I said, the narrative structure is very similar to OTWW and so does the progression of the story. Although it is a page turner and I could not put it down, I have to say that Fergus is not as successful here in writing from the perspective of a 1930s adolescent as he was conveying the voice of May Dodd in OTWW. THat is the only negative point I have with the book. Some times, I had just had to stop reading and think "no way."

The other similarity with OTWW is that the line between civilization and savagery is a very blurry, porous and changing one and at different points in the story, it is hard to tell who are the savages and who are the civilized people: the Apaches who consistently rape Mexican women, slaughter men and torture their prisoners in horrific ways, or the Mexican who kill and scalp Indians for money with the blessings of the Mexican government, or the wealthy Whites who sign up for the expedition for a bit of fun, fishing and hunting, and, they hope, killing a few Indians for sport? Both societies are patriarchal and sexist, each in its own way, and both use violence. The only real difference lies in the power differential, which, ultimately, is the only distinction that matters.

Finally, whereas OTWW tied the loose ends at the beginning and ending of the book, TWG does not do so, which always leaves me frustrated. I have a primitive mind and I like stories to actually end someplace. I wished for an ending / epilogue similar to OTWW. But this is nitpicking. Like I said, it’s a page turner.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Indigenous Populations, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Patriarchy | No Comments »

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