Arundhati Roy is a fine essayist, and in this collection of work exploring the underbelly of India’s entry to global power status, its ‘gush up’ econoArundhati Roy is a fine essayist, and in this collection of work exploring the underbelly of India’s entry to global power status, its ‘gush up’ economic model and its brutal war in Kashmir she conjures up images and evokes the crimes of the new world order in the ‘world’s largest democracy’ to great effect. In doing so, she walks a fine line between presenting contemporary, voraciously capitalist India with its huge inequalities of wealth, its brutal suppression of dissent and its self-aggrandising élite as ludicrous and a blight on humanity. The chilling thing about almost all of the case that runs through the collection is that every piece was written before Modi and the BJP took power as a populist, ultra nationalist, narrowly communalist party of the right.
Close to a half the book (there are only 96 pages, plus end notes) is taken up with the title essay, which frames the growth of India’s major corporations and their enormous concentration of wealth in a small number of hands in the history of New World capitalism – the growth of US major corporation in the late 19th century – and then the role of those robber baron families in the support for a global system that sustains a neo-liberal, US-centric world – the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations. It is a compelling case based in the maintenance of a global system that favours the wealth of the few and the debt of the many, and parallels in many ways Phillip Mirowski’s fabulous Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste, acting almost as a localised case study of the neo-liberal movement he exposes. Elsewhere, she investigates the extent to which anti-corruption campaigns become critiques of the state that facilitate privatisation. There may not be much economics here, but there is an impressive amount of political economy.
Alongside that, the other strand is an analysis is the Indian state’s on-going was against the poor, the tribal peoples collectively (the Adivasi) and in Kashmir. These accounts are grim and harrowing, and fit with her earlier work on anti-dam campaigns and work for justice for the poor in a system that maintains their down-trodden status. We see the way that any form of rural resistance to corporate greed is repackaged as Maoist ‘terrorism’, how Kashmir is militarised but that this cannot suppress the wilful resistance and kindness of the people and how any attempt to provide an independent voice for these peoples is stamped out. Within this group of much shorter essays there are two that consider the fate of men charged with master-minding the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament; this is a tale of judicial corruption (it would be too polite to call it ineptitude), manipulation of legal system by the state and its lackeys in the police force and also by a media complex that is interwoven with the régime of power. The upshot was the execution of a man for whom there was no clear evidence of his involvement, except that he had former involvement in Kashmiri radical politics.
Running through all of these pieces is a sense of a state that serves only the interests of its élite (which is what states do) but that does so in a way that denies basic principles of equality and inclusion that is the professed basis of liberal (bourgeois) democracies. Therein lies the major problem with the collection; the sense that runs through it. This is a collection of independent essays; each in itself elegantly crafted and evocative of a sense, of a place, of a politics, of an emotion but barely held together. There is an introductory piece that traces poetically some of the themes and may well have been specific to this collection, but it is hard to tell – there are no acknowledgements of original place of publication and more frustratingly no dates of original publication (a few digits at the end of each piece would have done it - surely, Verso, it's not that hard), so when there is a reference to being “in Kashmir ten days ago” (p70) we have no reference points, no hooks or events on which to hang the discussion. This lack of a time-based reference is a problem in collections of journalism and essays, and even more so here were we know, or can infer, that all of these pieces were probably written some-time between the end of 2011 and the middle of 2013, but the absence of reference points and what seems to have been a decision to reprint them unchanged means that the collection as a whole lacks coherence and in places jars.
This is a minor problem over all: the essays convey a sense of oppression, a self-serving élite contemptuous of the vast mass of the people amongst whom they live, willing to use state power to brutalise those people and keep them in the servitude of poverty. In closing the collection with a transcript of a talk to the People’s University linked to Occupy Wall Street reader should be dragged out of a smug complacency that these systems of oppression exist only in India: Roy has exposed a specifically Indian form it may take, but its vampire squid tentacles may be found most everywhere else. Despite some frustrating moments, this is a wonderful collection of essays that no doubt really annoys the Indian state and its hangers on – what better reason to take notice. ...more
One of the most frustrating turns of phrase in history writing is the ‘event X changed the course of history’, as if history had some pre-ordained patOne of the most frustrating turns of phrase in history writing is the ‘event X changed the course of history’, as if history had some pre-ordained pathway. This kind of approach, with its ‘big bang’ transformation of destiny couldn’t be further away from the model of historical development Jaime Schultz deploys in this excellent history of the ordinary in US women’s sport. The approach is built around and inspired by the feminist historian Gerda Lerner’s question: “What are the points of change in women’s historical experience by which we might periodize the history of women?” and is explores ways in which much that we now take for granted as the banal, sports’ mundane, become so: the premise here is that some stage the now-ordinary was new. It is a subversive and exciting way to think about how we do history, and especially how we do history for those with less, little or no social power and therefore ability to shape the narrative of construct the periodization (one of history’s basic organising tools).
Before I go any further and in the interests of transparency I have to acknowledge that Jaime is a dear friend, I merit an acknowledgement “for amity” and we’ve spent many a long hour solving the problems of the world, at various places around the world. Having said that, I note that not only is this a superb piece of sports history, is should be picked up in gender history circles and be picked up and widely used by social historians more generally.
Why the praise? There is a dominant story we tell ourselves about sports history that is the product of both popular and academic sport history writing. At the heart of that story is a masculine enclave – modern sport – that has grown and developed in a logical and consistent manner associated with the growth of mass participation, the emerge of sports civic and commercial institutions, with the impact of various media forms (since the late 18th century) and taking account of national and cultural variations. Many of the key moments and the time periods that we use to shape this history are drawn from other phenomena and more importantly are very much shaped by the experiences of men in this enclave where historically women have been excluded or, and this is more the case now, viewed with suspicion. Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking women are not currently excluded – some of sports’ most élite institutions have major problems with women in their ranks: the Marylebone Cricket Club only agreed to admit women members in 1998, 212 years after it was formed, while women were admitted to Augusta National Golf Club only in 2012; Saudi Arabia was one of three countries to include women in their Olympic teams for the first time in 2012, and in their case only one of the two was Saudi based, the other was a US college student. What is more, women’s sport participation still falls well below men’s and shows an inverse class relation with far more middle class than working class women involved and women from minority ethnic groups under-represented.
The case is built around seven aspects of women’s sport, some of which may seem a little surprising given the linear, celebratory narrative we often have of the growth of sport and especially women’s involvement. These aspects are: the tennis dress (or rather suitable clothing for tennis), the development and acceptability of the tampon, debates over the appropriate forms of or balance between competition or mass participation in women’s sport, sex testing, discourses of a beauty ideal emerging as a backlash against increases in women’s sports participation, the emergence and development of the sports bra and competitive cheerleading (or Acrobatics and Tumbling as it is also known). In each case and in different ways, elements of these aspects of sport are ordinary, banal, mundane, but were not always so. The story of tennis clothing not unknown, but is here explored through attention to national, race, class and body issues. The relation between the development of the tampon as an alternative to pads and cloth resulted in debate across sporting, scientific and medical circles from the mid-1930s, and the gradual adoption of the tampon as a way to manage menarche – the scandalous, or at least the contest waged by forces of science and morality, was made banal by the choices and preferences of women athletes. One of the things that may surprise many readers is the relative lack of attention to Title IX, often presented in discussions of US women’s sport as THE moment when it all changed; it is not that Title IX is disregarded, it is just that it is presented as a much more complex question and as part of a more diverse set of changes.
The crucial thing about these seven areas of analysis is that they do not indicate a linear or even always progressive set of changes between a ‘retrograde’ past and ‘post-feminist’ present; if anything, they show times of change that benefit women followed by changes that are a set-back. Take the ‘sports revolution’ of the 1970s when there was a rapid increase in US women’s sports participation alongside a series of planned and structured changes to enhance competitive sport for girls and women: a time that many would same saw progressive change and improvement. This was then followed by the discourse of the body-beautiful associated with the fitness craze of the 1980s, the growth of aerobics as a practice gendered female and a reassertion of the woman athlete as eroticised figure. Similarly, the emergence of more opportunity for competitive sport for women also saw the previously women-run sport and exercise networks incorporated into national male-dominated leagues and organisations such as the NCAA, which may be connected to a rapid decrease in the number of women in sports administrative leadership and coaching roles. This, then, is a history of women’s sport marked by progress and regression, success and failure.
There is a welcome attention to issues of class, race and ethnicity throughout that further critiques the myth of linear progress. For instance, a combination of the incorporation of women’s college sports into the NCAA, a good thing for competitive sport, combined with desegregation of higher education, a good thing all round, meant the disappearance from high profile sporting success of the formerly dominant Tennessee State University ‘Tigerbelles’ from college track and field, which is not necessarily a good thing for African-American women’s élite sport. Throughout, and often fairly unobtrusively, there is a clear case made that a new image of US women’s sport favours the white, middle class, while women’s sport is clearly secondary to men’s.
Not long after it was published the book reviewed by the New York Times (a rarity for an academic sports book – well, for a sports book) quite harshly, mainly because it is an academic title. It is well written, much better than most academic books, and accessible (and I spotted only two typos so well produced also) but it is an academic text so readers not used to this genre should take their time – but it will be worth it. In addition, the illustrations are very good and well used.
This is a fantastic book. It is an example of those histories of women in sport that get beyond the élite performers, that disrupt the masculinst mode that we write in because it is the taken for granted, that get into the ordinary factors that shape women’s sporting experiences are just what we need to open up more space for revisionist analyses and so that history is no longer shaped only by those with power or the loudest voices: this is exactly what this does and the model it provides. What sets it apart from those titles is two-fold. First, it explores the banal and the mundane, the things that are so taken for granted that we often do not notice them but that were once new and radical (these are what Sarah Fields refers to in the blurb as ‘the commonplace’). The point of the argument is that through a focus on these things we can explore sports history in ways that unsettle our takens-for-granted but that also illuminate sport history. Second, in adopting this approach, focussed on ‘points of change’ the case suggests different ways to periodise sports history, different ways of framing and making sense of sports history that takes account of the ways that women athletes experienced sport and exercise. These are valuable and important moments of revision and reconsideration, and show the use of sharp insight into and critique of our conventions.
Would that we had more scholarly work of this kind: very highly recommended. And make sure you read the final endnote....more
Elisabeth Soep is an academic and media activist in the SF Bay Area. Drawing on several years’ work with a youth radio station in Oakland she has deveElisabeth Soep is an academic and media activist in the SF Bay Area. Drawing on several years’ work with a youth radio station in Oakland she has developed this case that there are five key tactics essential to participatory politics in a digital era, and that these tactics are supported by a specific set of literacies as forms of social practice. This is a great little book.
She starts from a position based in participatory media practice, and notes that there are three necessary conditions for audiences to turn into producers: “low barriers to involvement, a mandate to connect and share ideas and creations with peers, and informal mentorship systems that enable new-comers to learn from veterans” (p11) The tactics and literacies she discusses are designed to bring about these conditions. Tactics such as adopting an approach that does not rely on building a whole new media audience but working with existing networks on new issues, content development, learning research skills and ways to find information often hidden in plain sight, learn how to develop on-line platforms and manage public profiles and visibility. Many of these are not necessarily new tactics for activists, but aspects of each are in a digital environment.
The literacies might be more challenging, and focus on things such as developing a digital imagination, narrative and storytelling skills, using critical design literacies to initiate engagement, research skills, developing skills in what she calls algorithmic and constellation thinking to make connections and recognise others involved in an issue and skills in digital identity management. The key thing here is that these literacies are “practices honed through participation and situated within social contexts rather than … discrete, transferable skill sets” (p 52); that is, these literacies can only be learned by doing and continually shift.
There is a strong basis in social movement practice and activism in the book, but the basic of organisation are developed in a digital media context and then applied to participatory politics. The skills are transferrable elsewhere: I can see them being useful to many of my students developing work as community organisers but not necessarily political activists, for instance. At under 75 pages it is a short book, but it is packed with good advice, relevant examples (some of which may be recognised, many will not) and a really valuable addition to any organiser’s library....more
A young woman from an historic enemy but now friendly country arrives in a small village near the major battle site, claiming that the revered battleA young woman from an historic enemy but now friendly country arrives in a small village near the major battle site, claiming that the revered battle hero of the village is, in fact, her great-grandfather. The hero, Gezi Alican Taylar, had seldom left the village except to travel each year to the capital city, and had never visited the former enemy country, several thousands of kilometres away in a far flung ocean in another hemisphere – but Victoria Taylor, from New Zealand, is adamant – that Gezi Alican Taylar, hero of the Turkish army at Gallipoli is Pte Alastair John Taylor, of the Australia & New Zealand Army Corps. These ANZACs are at the heart of both Australia and New Zealand’s myths of nationhood, myths that claim both former colonies marked their place on the world stage, through their presence on the blood soaked beaches and hillsides of Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula. Could it be, Buket Uzuner asks in this delightful novel, that a man could a warrior-hero for both sides in the same war.
At the core of the story is the, for the villagers at least, perplexing relationship between the offensive interloper, Vicky Taylor, and Gezi Taylar’s last surviving child, Aunty Beyaz, who welcomes Vicky into her home and treats her as an honoured guest with much greater hospitality than Turkey’s, or at least the village of Eceyaylasi’s, social rules required. Outside the house there is a media storm, as a nationalist press seek a glimpse of this offensive foreign woman who has come to defile the national hero – because Gallipoli is also a major factor in Turkish nationality; it was the place where the great moderniser, Kemel Atatürk, emerged as a national figure.
Part satire, part realist and all family conspiracy and national crisis in the making – at least for the current news cycle – Uzuner skewers local pride and nationalist fervour on a spike of family stories, trust and honour to explore in deep and moving ways the trust that seems to exist between the former foes. The Turkish relationship with both Australia and New Zealand is an odd one, but deeply wound up in their respective stories of national maturity and independence from empire – British and Ottoman. Both former British colonies have nationally significant memorials to Atatürk, both of which carry the well-known 1934 statement:
“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”
as does the Atatürk memorial at Gallipoli.
In a sense, this novel is the story of this quotation, and as such manages to walk a delicate line between celebrating nationalism and rejecting it in favour of a cosmopolitan and inclusive outlook. The story and the writing a both delightfully domestic; close, intimate, clean and clear, but also disrupted by the 70 pages of letters home by the two men at the centre of the story: Alastair John Taylor of Wellington, New Zealand, and Lt Ali Osman Bey, of Istanbul, letters in which Uzuner tells a story of the grim and brutal battle, the tedium of waiting and the shock of difference.
It is also a novel for historians – it asks, what matters the truth? What happens if the truth is not what is generally believed, and at what cost can it be revealed? What are the stories we can discover behind the big events of the past and their commemoration in the present: a century after the invasion of Gallipoli (in April 1915) these are stories worth telling and questions worth asking. And as an anti-nationalist who continually falls foul of the romantic, emotional pull of people-like-me this turned out to be an engaging and entertaining read. It is just the thing for the centenary of the last big European Civil War....more
This fabulous set of essays is the buddy of Hutchins and Rowe’s superb 2012 book Sport Beyond Television that, as they explain in the introduction, iThis fabulous set of essays is the buddy of Hutchins and Rowe’s superb 2012 book Sport Beyond Television that, as they explain in the introduction, is designed the stand alongside that earlier book, but work equally well as a stand-alone text (so the introduction includes a tidy summary in broad terms of the case made in the previous book). There can be little doubt that media sport is a very different thing that it was at the beginning of the century, as media forms have become more dynamic and more interactive, as the notion of ‘the network society’ has grown and developed into a more subtle and complex thing and as the media we use and the way we use them has blurred the boundaries of personhood and social engagements.
The book explores and develops, in the context of media sport, several key concepts, in many cases influenced by the notion from Manuel Castells of three classes of communication: interpersonal, mass, and mass-self. Although this notion seems a common characteristic of the papers, this is far from theoretically monolithic; there is, for instance, a strong presence of ideas drawn from Irving Goffman: this theoretical openness is a key aspect of Hutchins and Rowe’s work – and I (again) need to acknowledge for transparency’s sake that both editors of academic friends and valued chums of nearly two decades standing. A significant aspect of the coherence the collection, however, is the influence of the idea advanced in Sport Beyond Television that although we may be used to the notion of sport in the media we also need to consider the idea of sport as media, and especially the idea that the ‘media sport content economy’ has transformed from one of (analogue) scarcity to one of (digital) plentitude. Essential to these two notions – sport as media and plenitude – is that new media (or newly mediated) sport-media forms do not replace legacy (or old) media forms but supplement them in a multi-screen/source environment.
Structured around three main themes – technological developments, users and audiences and what they call content ecologies – the book provides us with 15 essays (and the introduction) including typologies of various media forms, close case studies and practice analyses, including mainstream sociological analyses, a healthy dose of political economy, media studies and cultural studies based scholarship, all with a deep grasp of social context and several showing impressive historical subtlety. Crucially, none of these fall into the trap of anything that resembles technological determinism. Most highlight the important dialogue between technological intent and actual use and all accentuate the one-of-many media notion central to the idea of digital plenitude.
I read this with two objectives – the first was to get a better handle on many of the debates and developments in the sport-new media nexus, the other was to explore its usefulness as a potential text of a final year undergraduate class I run exploring the sport-media-consumption process for sports development and recently extended to management and journalism students (and that I have been asked to revise to highlight some of the new/social media developments); it will be a tricky class given the breadth of insights and skills the students come in with. The range of papers will work well for all of them. There is good stuff about consumption – including case studies of Major League Baseball’s development of forms of on-line engagement suitable for the workplace, about fantasy leagues as space of masculine homosocial praxis (and I recognise that there is a lot of production in those leagues). There is also very good material on sport-as-media, including really good typological analyses of sport’s role in mobile media development and the continuing power of television sport (or SporTV, as Ben Goldsmith calls it) as well as close readings of sports digital gaming, the not-so-newness of lifestyle sport media technologies including a nuanced analysis of parkour/free-running in/as social media. Equally impressive are the papers looking at journalistic practice – one dealing with the journalism/social media dynamic, another looking at blogging, the Olympics and the Chinese media framework.
One of the really important things that these new media analyses do is open up spaces for exploration of both new and old social practices – so in the section on users, fans and identities we see a great investigation of women’s experiences in fan forums, of sex and race objectification in video sharing sites as well as identity making in football (soccer) in Manchester and Melbourne and fan and athlete identity protection. Each of these articulates to ‘old’ practices but the media forms where they are played out mean that there are new and challenging issues for social analysts, but also for sport industries. The issues for industries were the most unsettling, not that I have any attachment to sports corporate powers (so no sympathy here); it is clear to me from these essays that in many cases sport industries and governing bodies remain wedded to business models that are hopelessly unable to cope with the shifts in mediasport flowing from new media practices.
The editors have made a good effort to internationalise the collection; the paper focussing on the (formerly) People’s Republic of China highlights these attempts at an international spread, as does the exploration of the Belgian TV football/soccer market. If there is a weakness in the collection it is that this effort has not been as successful as might have been hoped – but then I know from the various edited sport academic collections I have worked on just how difficult it is to break out of the Anglo-phone world. The internationalisation also takes on more subtle forms, for instance the paper about NBA fantasy leagues focusses on Australian participants. That said, I hope further work in this area manages to get more into parts of the globe often passed over in sportmedia studies to look at Latin American evidence, for instance, but also South and Central Asia, as well as eastern Europe – but I recognise just how hard this is to do.
That criticism aside, the collection is really impressive and an important supplement to Sport Beyond Television (which I reckon to be one of the best pieces of sport sociology in the last few years) as well as to new media studies. I’ll be using it as one of my textbooks in my new course (and look forward to paperback edition). The field is developing so quickly that the papers here barely scratch the surface, although it seems as if both editors and contributors have, as much as possible, tried to minimise the risk of the collection dating too quickly.
I suspect that there is much about this argument that will jar with many readers, especially the case that under Stalin’s leadership the USSR was closI suspect that there is much about this argument that will jar with many readers, especially the case that under Stalin’s leadership the USSR was close to the full embodiment of communism: almost all of the key ructions in 20th century Marxist theory as well much of the history of the left has turned around this problem. Perhaps more unsettling, and the thing that we should focus on in this book is the more problematic conclusion that the development of capitalism in the USSR and PRC is the apotheosis of communism. Surely both of these points are counter-intuitive – for Marxists to argue that the murderous régime that was the Stalinist USSR was the embodiment of communism and for really existing socialism’s collapse into capitalism to be its highest achievement seem to be absurdities… which they are in a world governed by the rules and systems of formal logic. There is an awful lot in this short, complex, demanding, infuriating, invigorating essay and masterclass in dialectical reasoning (another mind bending piece from Verso’s Pocket Communism series) – and almost all of it denies modes of thought and answers demanded by formal logic.
Groys explicitly rejects the reasoning represented by formal logic in favour of a rigorously dialectical argument built on two key presuppositions. The first is that the rejection of formal logic as the commodification of ideas because “speech that hides its paradoxical structure becomes a commodity” (p11) and, second, that it is the role of the philosopher to allow “the full logical evidence of the hidden paradox to shine forth” (p14). So, this is not an empiricist historical, political or other form of analysis of really existing socialism, Stalinist or otherwise, but a philosophical exegesis on the centrality of paradox (the dialectic) in a mode of analysis that celebrates the paradox that may only be explored and represented in what Groys calls the linguistification of society.
The argument has several stages: paradox is essential and to be celebrated; paradox may only be explored in language; (here comes more Stalin) “language is neither superstructure nor base not yet a productive force” (p61), and crucially language cannot be owned by any class; state socialism/communism is a totalising form concerned about all of existence and as such can only be represented and understood in the linguistic order (he makes the sure-to-annoy-people argument that the issue with monarchies and fascism is that are not properly totalitarian, concerned only with the ruler or the nation rather than all of existence); as a linguistic order, the USSR was the fullest possible form of communism (he takes about a quarter of the book to make this point); the decision by the USSR (and the PRC) to destroy their state socialist forms to develop a capitalist system could only happen because they were successful (well, as successful as they could be given the state of the dialectic and struggle); and in taking decisions to develop a capitalist system these states developed their anti-thesis (this is a dialectical case) that allows for new struggles to build a communist order. Dialectics takes arguments in ways that the purely logical demand for ‘truth’, the mode of thought and reasoning we are used to, finds unsettling and often repulsive.
At the heart of Groys argument is a rejection of a singular measure of the ‘truth’ – the commercial, financial commodified measure that is money and economic success – in favour of continual recognition of and engagement with the negation that is the essential form of the dialectic. It is an argument for complexity, against the state form taken by really existing socialism – the USSR and PRC and others like them – in favour of a mode of thinking that allows us to envisage utopia, embrace the contradictions that make our human and worldly existence and engage in struggle with that negation to move forwards. It sounds, in this crude summary, almost mystical, in part because it is not an argument in favour of a linear 10 point plan to communism’s electoral success but a reminder of the messiness of any political and social and cultural struggle.
It is an infuriating argument – celebrating Stalin’s writings but not Stalinist (as I am sure some will condemn it as) but recognising how Stalin shaped the model of socialism/communism we have to work from; dialectical, so going off in unexpected directions; totalitarian, as in rejecting the partiality of the privatisation of knowledge and power and positionality – but in the end, despite all its shuffling between Plato, Socrates, Marx, Stalin and Hegel, it finishes up liberating us from the limitations of actually existing socialism. Whether it is right, now that’s a different story….. if this is Groys, where is there a not-Groys?...more
Christopher Fowler has a spectacular eye for labyrinthine Gothic absurdity, and when he turned it to the police procedural he conjured up Bryant and MChristopher Fowler has a spectacular eye for labyrinthine Gothic absurdity, and when he turned it to the police procedural he conjured up Bryant and May, octogenarian detectives dealing with London’s most peculiar crimes, the ones that attract attention, instil fear and panic and turn on a form of perverse celebrity. In their fourth outing, we find minor celebrity as the target, fame as the goal, London’s psycho-geography as the weapon in a caper linking vampires, highwaymen, the Knights Templar and more than one serial killer, wrapped up in a story featuring bureaucratic ambition, tabloid aggrandisement, class difference and ennui. As always, Fowler is entertaining with an ability to make the impossible mundane. I think, though, I would have appreciated just a little more of the arcane....more
The terms we use to describe what we used to call the Third World, or the Empire, or Less Developed Countries, or Developing Countries – that part ofThe terms we use to describe what we used to call the Third World, or the Empire, or Less Developed Countries, or Developing Countries – that part of the world made up of the majority of the people who have ever lived on this small ball in the galaxy – seem to be endless and never varying … and when ‘The Global South’ came along it just seemed too perplexing; much of it was not ‘South’, but it was disempowered, deprived, made to pay the costs of global capitalism. As the Brandt Commission reported in 1980, to call the majority world the South is to be clear about global relations of power.
This outstanding book traces the emergence of the Global South from the crumbling of the Third World Project, through the struggles over neo-liberal hegemony and dominance and the emergence of new sites and forms of resistance in the slums, among indigenous peoples and those lead by women. Prasad’s grasp of the institutions and personalities is excellent while his understanding of the complex politics of regional, multilateral and shifting bi-polar world power means that this institutional focus is tempered by a clear and lucid exploration of political and ideological context and practice.
We could read this as a sequel to The Darker Nations, his 2007 history of the Third World project, but there is no need to have read that book to get this one. In this case, rather than the earlier focus on a decolonising opposition to the bi-polar politics of the Cold War as seen in the Non-Aligned Movement, the argument turns around three key strands. In the first, we have the collapse of Northern social-democratic liberalism as seen in the struggles in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s over the push for a New International Economic Order and the multi-lateral politics of structured development we saw in the work of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); these struggles resulted in the defeat of multi-lateralism and the anti-colonial/imperial NIEO in favour of the dominance of the increasingly neo-liberal Washington Consensus in the IMF and World Bank. The final fling of this Northern social-democratic liberalism came in the form of the (former social-democrat FDR Chancellor Willy) Brandt Commission’s 1980 report North-South: A Programme for Survival that laid out a vision that was largely swept away during the 1981 International Meeting for Cooperation and Development that saw a global policy victory driven by increasingly powerful neo-liberal order fronted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but driven by a rich global network (as Philip Mirowski shows).
The second strand of the argument centres on emerging Southern neo-liberalism through struggles within the states and international organisations of the South: the Non-Aligned Movement, UNCTAD and the like. Despite his great respect for some of the South’s elder statesmen, such as Julius Nyerere, Prashad is also clear that the desire for consensus and to hold together the institutions and voice of the South was in effect a victory for a neo-liberal South. The analysis here turns on the South Commission during the 1980s, headed up by Nyerere but drawing in a range of technocrats, politicians and Southern political heavyweights.
Throughout this shift to more powerful Southern neo-liberalism the notion of the locomotives of the South as part of a collective Southern development programme, Prashad’s third strand, fades; it is replaced by a focus on these Southern power houses summed up in the acronyms BRICS and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) not as part of a collectivist South but as states whose goal is to force their way into the neo-liberal order of the G7/G8/G20. This new emerging global order of an expanded neo-liberal grouping and the enforcement of global rules that serve their interests, and not those of the South or its people, he argues, resulted in global resistance during the 1990s resulting from (1) enforced austerity (via, for instance, ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’), (2) growing unemployment as both industry and to a lesser but significant extent agriculture mechanised/technologized, (3) a neo-liberal growth strategy based in the interests of finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) and public sector privatisation leading to asset stripping and a focus on short term gains, (4) growing global hunger as a result of the growth of agribusiness and the displacement of family farmers, and (5) the rapid growth of very high rates of global inequality between and more especially within states.
The significance of this global resistance was that it was grounded in civil society and popular movements, in contrast to the 1950s and 1960s struggles based in state building and national liberation. These new movements are fluid, but centred on three principle sectors – women, indigenous peoples and slum dwellers; that is, they are based in the excluded within the states in the South. This new form of Southern power, Prashad argues, is building strength through emerging institutional forms (such as the World Social Forum, and increasingly regional and international networks based in and across these and other sectors). It is always risky to prognosticate on these kinds of struggle as they are underway, but Prashad’s argument that we are seeing power struggles based in neo-regionalism and multi-polarity that are undermining (it is far too early to say destroying) US hegemony 21st century is a powerful one for an analysis at this stage. (Crucially, Prashad argues that China’s economic power and global dominance is, at this stage, overstated.)
The case is both rich and dense, with a close focus on the global and regional multi-state and corporate institutions of both states and social forces – so we, as readers, need to keep on top of these groups. The institutional focus is brought to life by his detailed grasp of the personalities involved, personalities who often shift between groups and roles, as well as a regular reminder of who these characters are and where we last met them.
This is a major contribution to our understanding of global struggles for justice, and is essential reading for new internationalists....more
Despite all the image of it being a dull, glum place, the Soviet Union produced a fair number of satirists – although few if any of the really good onDespite all the image of it being a dull, glum place, the Soviet Union produced a fair number of satirists – although few if any of the really good ones were published in the USSR. Bulgakov’s satire is biting, and in some work subtle, while other work in the 1920s, especially the early part of the decade, was very much of the politically engaged and critical avant-garde, some of it (a fair amount) produced by Party members, true believers in the forthcoming era of liberation that was foretold by the overthrow of the aristocracy and the defeat of the capitalists.
Of course, that is not exactly how things went; the problem is usually presented as Stalinism, which with its monolithism must carry some of the blame, or among some of the more astute (or jargon engaged) the dictatorship of the proletariat – when it might better be seen as not the dictatorship of the proletariat as such but the Leninist notion that the vanguardist Party knew what the proletariat wanted. The result was a mass of the people isolated from the struggle taking place in their names, leading to a great proletarian mass as alienated from their ‘species being’ (to take Bertell Ollman’s term). This problem of alienation is at the heart of the sharp, brutal novel based in the absurdities of the second five year plan. It is made all the more unsettling because Platonov was a true revolutionary believer and had been a loyal Party member – unlike Bulgakov or many of the other satirists.
It is this insider status that makes this novel so fabulous and so subtle because it is a novel of language – the satire rests in the disruptive deployment of the language of the revolution. There is a wonderful moment where the local hierarchy is thrown into a state of crisis because there remains one waged worker in the collective farm, a metal worker in the blacksmith’s foundry who must immediately be organised into a union (a union of one? Surely that is a contradiction). It turns out that this one proletarian member of the commune is not human, is the best in the village at identifying kulaks (who must be annihilated as a class, which does not according to some mean extermination as people, just as a class) and in a sense provides the peasants of the village with their proletarian leadership (because, of course, peasants cannot have the revolutionary consciousness to lead the struggle because they are not workers). Throughout the slightly surreal narrative, this linguistic satire plays with revolutionary jargon to disrupt the heroic status of the workers.
This irony, this disruption of linguistic meaning finds a parallel in the experience of the novel’s characters, who all exist in a thoroughly alienated state: Voshchev, the ‘hero’ drifts into his work having been sacked from a machine shop because he spent too much time thinking and slowed down production; the powerful peasant-turned-proletarian labourer Chiklin finds satisfaction only in physical work – but when he knocks someone down with a well-placed punch he is not responsible because it was not him, but his fist. Katya, the child who provides revolutionary hope spouts clichéd slogans the seem to be centred on denying her status as an orphan child of the bourgeoisie and who despite her love for Chiklin, her protector, only wants her mother. These are not people who have been brought to a higher form of humanity by the socialist revolution.
Finally, there is the foundation pit that Voshchev, Chikiln and their fellow proletarians are digging, a foundation pit for a great communal home for the town so its residents will no longer live in individualist isolation from the people….. a pit that we just know will never be finished for a residence that will never be built….. as a symbol of a revolution that is so clearly failing. Platonov’s true belief was clearly in a bad way by the end of the 1920s when this was written.
Despite the despair, despite the alienation suffered by all in this, it is not a sad or depressing novel – it is absurd, with moments of wry humour, such as on p 39:
“The investigation had dragged on for an entire month and they had even made a fuss about her husband’s first names. Why Leon and then Ilyich? Just whose side was he on?”……. [it is taken for granted that we will know to ask: Trotsky or Lenin?]
The challenge in reading this now is that for many of us, this language, this jargon of the revolutionary party and its functionaries has little resonance – but it is the element of the novel around which the satire turns and relates not only to the levels of signification carried by words and especially this jargon of revolutionary rhetoric, but also in the dual hard and soft form of Russian consonants and the way as a language it functions in both a circuitous and direct manner. Platonov has given us a subtle and powerful novel that while lacking the grotesque satire of some Bulgakov (most obviously, The Master and Margarita with its excesses of adherence) or the absurdist accessibility of Waiting for Godot should be seen as brutal in its critique of language and nihilistic in its view of better times to come. But in order to see that, we need to pay close attention to the multiple meanings of language. All in all, this is a quite brilliant piece of work....more
Of all the feminist detectives in contemporary novels, V I Warshawski is the godmother. She’s a hard boiled loner in the tradition of Sam Spade, runniOf all the feminist detectives in contemporary novels, V I Warshawski is the godmother. She’s a hard boiled loner in the tradition of Sam Spade, running with the products of the pens of Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes and Damon Runyon. She loves and works in contemporary Chicago, against the backdrop of a crumbling formerly-industrial South side, the new powers of finance capital and obscene inequalities of a post-Reganite USA. Just like Sam Spade, her creator, Sara Paretsky, is a self-defined leftist (with, it helps, a PhD in history – which those of with similar degrees like to think makes us ideally suited for appreciating, or composing, detective fiction – find a problem, solve a mystery, compose a cracking narrative to make it all plausible).
In this, V I’s (you might get away with calling Victoria, but never us Iphigenia) 12th outing she returns to South Chicago, where she was born and raised, at the behest of her old High School basketball coach who needs her to step into the unpaid role as girl’s coach. This move, reluctant that it is, brings her into a world dominated not by the steel mills of her youth but low paid work in a retail giant (By-Smart, the conglomerate at the centre of the story, bears an uncanny resemblance to Wall-Mart, but also to pretty much every other major retail chain – think Tesco, C&A, Target…. the list goes on, but Wall-Mart is the reference point, and in case we miss it, once, just once, one of the characters makes a reference to the major opposition).
It is not just the politics, leftish, with a powerful feminist bent (not that we are over hit over the head with either – they are just there, as a taken for granted presence) – Paretsky’s work usually comes with a narrative complexity we seldom see in 45 minutes of television. In this case we have an incredibly wealthy family smugly asserting their wealth is produced by their own hard work while maintaining contempt for their local workers – all lazy welfare cheats – or distinguish Mexicans from Guatemalans (who are seen as all the same, illegal immigrants from south of the border); smugness combined with casual racism – Paretsky is not being subtle here…. except that one of the forces at the centre of the story is the well-meaning grandson of the family who, as a result of a church exchange programme sees past the stereotypes. Elsewhere we have the teenagers in the basketball team with hopes, dreams and children, the single mother (and new grandmother) working to support four kids between 7 and 16, the evangelical preacher, the angry ex-schoolmates of VI’s, the irresponsible adrenaline junkie journalist – many of whom are developed into rounded characters full of contradiction giving depth the core set of characters we’d expect in any VI novel –old friends, neighbours, ex-lovers and all.
Although, as with many good detective novels there is a death early on (Laurie Anderson once suggested that the thing about detective novel is that the hero dies on the first page) he is a character who appears only briefly and we do not get a ‘proper’ killing, one that galvanises the story until well into the piece while Paretsky builds up her narrative strands and none of us, readers and characters, seem at all clear about what is going on, who really is on the side of angels (usual core characters exempted) and who in the family most obviously not on the side of angels (in this case, the rich evangelicals) can be trusted. As with so many of Warshawski’s outings, the concern ends up being justice, not the law, where justice is secured by threats to reputation.
I haven’t read a Warshawski novel for years, and have been delightfully reminded just how much I enjoy them, just how good they are, and how Paretsky created a character who shifted detective fiction in fundamental ways by taking the old school, social justice concerns of authors such as Hammet, Montalbano and the like and dragged them into a world where a feminist PI sells well – but before we get too carried away, Charlotte Perkins Gilman went there in the 1920s, once, and it was not published in her lifetime…….. ...more
Despite the title, this is not an exploration of satanic rituals – but it is very much an ethnography of religion, colonialism and the changes broughtDespite the title, this is not an exploration of satanic rituals – but it is very much an ethnography of religion, colonialism and the changes brought about in life experience as a result of the imposition of the new ways of being that colonialism brings about. Good cross cultural scholarship and ethnography can expose and reveal an enormous amount about the ‘home’ culture of the researcher while at the same time unravelling and allowing us to make sense of another way of being and living.
In this case, Taussig has problematised many of the taken for granted aspects of capitalism, not as an exploitative economic system or any of those other critiques from the left, but in terms of a capitalist way of relating to the people and things around us (the things Bertell Ollman explores in his brilliant book Alienation even though it, too, is demanding). He has done this be taking two cases of societies-in-transition, of communities in Colombia and Bolivia where the peasantry is becoming proletarianised – that is, being made into a working class we can recognise as waged labourer. Based on fieldwork conducted in the 1970s, Taussig was able to draw on informants whose lives spanned much of the 20th century and as such who had witnessed and been part of the gradual collapse of the traditional hacienda system with it social relations and hierarchies in favour of a gradual incorporation in a global capitalist economy.
He built the case around two settings. In the first, we see peasant farmers in north-west Colombia being drawn into capitalist agriculture, but more importantly whose residual peasant systems are being rolled back as agribusiness established itself in the region. In the second, he draws on evidence from mining communities in Bolivia, where the change is much slower – there were commercial mines from the time of Spanish conquest – but the industrial change much more severe as workers are removed from anything resembling the former agricultural settings.
In both cases, his analysis turns around systems of exchange. In the Colombian case (the Cauca valley, on Colombia’s Pacific coast), he paints a picture of two parallel economic systems – a peasant economy built on notions of gift, reciprocity and exchange with minimal need for cash, and a capitalist economy based in the trade in commodities and dependence on externally supplied markets. As part of this transition, peasant small holdings allowing relative self-sufficiency (he is careful not to romanticise the extent of self-sufficiency or quality of life) with work cycles based in mutuality were being wound back as agribusiness, in this case sugar, established itself as the dominant cash crop and peasant farmers were transformed into farm labourers.
The role of the devil in the cosmology of this region centres on the ability to gain advantage over others, principally through deals done to produce wealth – but the cost of these deals it enormous: first, the land becomes unproductive and second the wealth is tainted and cannot be used for anything but consumption. That is, the cost of consorting with the devil is the loss of productivity. The devil, then, can only be invoked in the capitalist economy, not the peasant economy which is, to a large degree, non-acquisitive and local provisions prevent the transfer of peasant wealth to descendants. Crucially, the devil arrived with colonialism, and in this area had become associated with the conservative land owning class that, among other things, invoked the devil and the church to maintain its power through years of conflict in the 19th and 20th centuries. That is, the devil informs a class analysis and class consciousness among workers in the region. Taussig is careful not to overplay this relation, but to see the devil (and therefore an external source of evil) as a factor in the breakdown of older forms of peasant-based reciprocity in favour of capitalist social relations.
The other case draws on a very different experience of proletarianisation in the form of commercial mining in and around Oruro in Bolivia. Here the economic transformation is quite different, given the extent of disruption to lifestyles, but also there is a very different underlying cosmology drawing on local concepts of balance and Inca notions of dominant deities (with all the contradictions this brings). Here, the devil-like form is the controller of the mines who must be propitiated and who remains a constant threat to miners. Again, drawing on historical evidence and field work with older miners and several centuries of archival material, Taussig is able to point to a transformation in owners’/bosses’ relations with these cosmological forces. In this case, however, the change is not newly framed capitalist relations but the nationalisation of the mines in the late 1940s. The picture Taussig paints is of previous owners’ recognising the power of the devil, here called Tio (uncle), as a force in mine production and safety; a recognition lost once bureaucratic management took over under state ownership.
The image of the devil in these miners’ lives is much more complex that the clearer lines of change in the Colombian case in part because Taussig is able to show how traditional cosmology provided sites for resistance of both Inca rule and subsequent Spanish and later rule. He paints a compelling picture of colonised peoples taking on the cosmology of their rulers and reinscribing the figures of that religion (the Inca’s Sun God, from the Spaniards, Christ, the Devil and the Virgin) and weaving them into their cosmology and with it their way of organising the world to make those figures forces of resistance to external dominance and assertion of local autonomy and control. Once again, he draws a powerful contrast with gift economies and systems of reciprocity, and in doing so reveals the changes social links, relations and associations associated with capitalist relations of production.
These are rich and engaging ethnographies that tell us much about social relations in transition in these regions. This is enough to make the book valuable. There is the second tier, however, that Taussig notes early in the discussion but then, for the most part, leaves implicit. For many of us, capitalism is simply a taken for granted, along with the ways and forms of social relations that flow from it.
Stepping back from that set of taken for granted views by looking a societies-in-transition allows us to ask significant questions dominant everyday ways of being in the world – and this is where commodity fetishism comes into the case. This notion, developed most comprehensively by Marx in Capital, provides a means to explain acquisition and the mediation of social relations through things. It is not an easy concept to get hold of; Taussig’s way into the problem here is to present commodity fetishism though the distinction between use value (which he sees as the dominant facet of gift/reciprocal/peasant economies) and exchange value (as the dominant form of value in capitalism). In this he is being classically Marxist (the book remains, for me, one of the best pieces of Marxist analysis and for that reason alone is great for teaching). As a result of this analysis, Taussig has not only given us a rich ethnography but has allowed us as readers to look back on our ways of being (that frame and shape our reading position) to allow us to ask fundamental questions about social organisation, cosmology and ways of being in capitalist societies.
The book was first published in 1980, and I first read it a few years later while still an undergraduate; it hurt my head then, especially the opening theoretical chapters, and it is still, in places, quite demanding, but I think 30 years later I recognise its power and importance, its subtle grasp of the cultural relations of colonialism and its insightful and important interweaving of economic, religious and daily social relations into a potent explanation of how oppressed and marginalised groups make sense of and keep power over their lives and ways of being in the world. Three decades later and on a second read, I still think it one of the finest analyses of social relations, of colonialism and resistance to it and of the alienation from self (individually and collectively) that results from capitalism’s form....more
I really wanted to like this collection of essays more than I have, and after musing about them for some time have deciding that the problem probablyI really wanted to like this collection of essays more than I have, and after musing about them for some time have deciding that the problem probably lies in the word ‘alternative’ in the title. Not enough of the essays seem to acknowledge the constraints capitalism places on the potential of redesigning individual businesses or ventures to change, undermine or replace capitalism… leaving us with alternatives within capitalism. Part of the problem is also that these were essays submitted as part of a competition and sorted afterwards, so there are gaps and in some senses contradictory aspects to the collection (I have edited both kinds of collection – open calls for papers and planned requests; the latter is more satisfying in that it is more coherent).
But maybe I am being too harsh: calls for a cooperative economy are utopian, and utopias are vital tools in exploring options and developing change by giving us a vision of what might be possible giving us goals that are desirable (the most long term, often needing fundamental social change), viable (medium term goals requiring less social change) and achievable (those we can do now, or very soon). Most of these essays straddle the achievable and viable. Some paint quite short term pictures giving us a vision of immediate change that can make our lives better – including ideas of economic democracy and political changes in the legal infrastructure for cooperative. Others require more significant change – such as cooperative financial organisations that take a long time to build, or the potential for cooperative work to build more inclusive and responsive global social economies, or changes to intellectual property frameworks required to democratise capitalist dynamics (labelled here open source capitalism).
To their credit, the editors have included two critical essays (along the lines of my opening paragraph – you can’t rely on the design of businesses to change capitalism, we must confront its power régime).
That said, there are a whole bunch of good ideas here and in their totality the essays challenge us to think differently about how we organise our work…. I guess I was just hoping for more....more
The Falcos return to Britain, this time as a couple and avoiding the Mendips and mines in favour of a building site where it seems an Imperial projectThe Falcos return to Britain, this time as a couple and avoiding the Mendips and mines in favour of a building site where it seems an Imperial project is well over budget, there is a disturbing number of deaths on site and the whole project seems to be out of control. Not that Falco is all that interested in accepting the Emperor’s commission – but it also seems that two dodgy builders he believes responsible for the corpse under his bathroom floor may also be in the vicinity. So off the go – Marcus Didius, Helena Justina, their terribly well-behaved children and assorted kinfolk including younger sister Maia Flavonia head off to what we would now see as the Sussex coastline. Aside from that threat of violence, it seems just like a family get away, except the season is wrong and why eave Rome for a coastal holiday in Sussex?
Davis has ventured into new territory here – most of the story takes place on a building site and in the nearby town, with a larger than usual cast in a smaller than usual area, and it doesn’t quite work as well as it could. The story and motive is a little too labyrinthine to hold together with many of the initial presumptions red herrings and a couple of the character associations just a little too unwieldy to hold together – although as a satire of the building trades and playing with stereotypes of cowboy practitioners and wide boys on the make it works fairly well.
Enjoyable then, but it feels a little like its major contribution to the series is build some character associations as Falco settles into his middle class lifestyle and as the private informer business grows – but as it does the cases become more complex (if this one is anything to go by). Hopefully, the narrative will come back under control for the next outing, even though the fast talking, wise cracking, droll Sam Spade of the Aventine keeps the story trotting along and entertaining....more
Book number ten in the series in which sleuth, Sister Fidelma, dálaigh (advocate) of the Brehon courts of Ireland, sister of the King of Cashel and loBook number ten in the series in which sleuth, Sister Fidelma, dálaigh (advocate) of the Brehon courts of Ireland, sister of the King of Cashel and logician extraordinaire sets out to save her trusty sidekick, Brother Eadulf, convicted of murder in the neighbouring kingdom. There are all the things we’d of a Fidelma mystery: red herrings, arrogance and pride as source of distraction, missed associations (but very few missed clues), rivalry at various levels of the social hierarchy (here, between royal lines), and in this case a clash of legal codes.
It is this clash of codes that gives this outing some of its kick. Tremayne is a pen name for Peter Berresford Ellis, an established historian early Irish history (these stories are set in the mid 7th century): he brings that scholarly insight, so they are rich in historical context. He writes well with good pacing and at times gentle ‘cliff hangers’. Happily, he managed to avoid some of the habitual (and annoying) textual tics – at no stage, for instance, did Fidelma’s unruly hair threaten to escape her habit.
All round, a good yarn, with just enough twists and sidelines to keep us guessing and me entertained without being particularly demanding; just the thing when there is much else going on....more
Not long before The West Wing started it television run I had left a job in a small policy unit advising a Cabinet Minister. I was alarmed at the extNot long before The West Wing started it television run I had left a job in a small policy unit advising a Cabinet Minister. I was alarmed at the extent to which I recognised conversations in that show – not their detail, but their tone, of trading ideas and pragmatic balancing of often contradictory interests of sectors of government ostensively all working to the same goal: I had forgotten that sense, that feeling of recognition until this marvellous ‘graphic novel’ (I just like to feel secure in my middle age, reading comic books).
Lanzac, aka French diplomat Antonin Baudry, takes us inside the world of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq is developing internationally; Blain drew, Lanzac/Baudry wrote. Here we find the minister, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms as a tour de force whose appearance in the room is marked by a Darth Vader-esque Dööm, and as a barely disguised Dominque de Villepin, negotiating the world of international relations, managing French interests and warding off the self-aggrandising aspirations of other ministries and trying to stymie the neo-cons rush to war. Using the arrival of a new speech writer, Arthur Vlaminck, as the way to tell the story, Lanzac and Blain let the events play out through Vlaminck’s more than slightly perturbed and perplexed vision.
We see Vlaminck writing to meet the Minister’s intentions only to find that as he was doing so, said Minister had another meeting resulting a profound change of tone; we see other advisors working hard to make sure Vlaminck gets their pet issue/spin on an issue into the speech; we see fundamental differences dressed up as matters of emphasis, and minor perspective changes as profound shifts and schisms. All in all, this is a scathing expose and critique of the realpolitik of diplomacy and government advisors' self-protection and self-interest advancement. In the end, we know what happens globally – what is presented here (in a refreshing counterpoint to the dominant Anglo-American narrative) as principle loses out to naked aggression – but more important is the seeming cost that Vlaminck pays in terms of his independence, social life and romance although not, it seems, principle (he does not seem to have many). In places, it reads like Borgen in a comic book, in others like a primer in government service.
All of which it seem very earnest and worthy, and in part it is – but it is peppered with Star Wars gags, Metallica lyrics and visually rich inter-textual moments all of which make it incisive and entertaining (and a little less earnest). Having worked in the world of ministerial advisors, I suspect I have read is slightly less cynically than others might. This is satire as it should be, and all the more powerful a critique of government (and close to the bone) for it....more