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Another World Is Possible?

Globalisation and the Prospects for Critical Reflection edited by Jung Min Choi and John W Murphy (Delhi: Aakar Books), 2009; pp xvi + 286, Rs 595.

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Another World Is Possible?

Rahul Varman

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--tell cynically: “for me to be rich someone has to be poor, equality is utopian”. Later Kramer and Kim (Chapter 10) aver that in the present order, quest for equality and dignity are replaced by acquisition of com

T
he neo-liberal process of globalisation is taken as something “natural and inevitable” and any debate is supposed to begin only after assuming it to be a given. One is repeatedly told that we can imagine and discuss the future of human affairs but only after granting the absoluteness of the present globalisation. It is also continually emphasised that any other course is foolhardy, nonsense and utopian. The present collection is an exercise to probe these taken for granted n otions, to bring out the inherent contradictions and severe limitations of these mantras. The work is based on “a hope that an alternative can be created that is based on justice, solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid”. Right at the outset it stresses that a break is necessary from realism, bold

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
august 13, 2011

Globalisation and the Prospects for Critical Reflection edited by Jung Min Choi and John W Murphy (Delhi: Aakar Books), 2009; pp xvi + 286, Rs 595.

strokes are needed to invent a new reality and the stated aim of the book is “to engage in some utopian thinking”. The collection brings in various facets of g lobalisation1 under its critical lens – from markets, nation states, civil society, culture, media, and education to labour-capital relations, human nature and conception of human rationality.

The problem as introduced by the e ditors is that most of the public has been convinced that universal justice and equitable social development are unattainable and utopian. To Dana Rasch (Chapter 6) her young student subjects in Colombia

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modities, which, in turn, only re-emphasises indignity and inequality. The idea of globalisation has become universal – one is considered “intelligent” and “rational” only if one recognises its inevitability and adjusts accordingly. Thus, a mythology has been propagated in the name of g lobalisation and most of the world has no voice in conceiving it and setting the priorities. This can be best summarised in the words of CATO Institute, a Washington based think tank, as quoted by Esposito in Chapter 3:

When all of the arguments are weighed, it should become clear that a policy of free trade is moral as well as efficient. Free trade limits the power of the state and enhances freedom, autonomy and self-responsibility of the individual. It promotes virtuous and responsible personal behaviour… it opens the door for ideas and evangelism. It undermines the authority of dictators by expanding the

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freedom and opportunity, and independence of people... It promotes peace among nations. It helps the poor to feed and care for themselves and creates a better future for their children. For which of these virtues should we reject free trade? (p 34).

‘Homogenising’

In Chapter 2 Choi and Berberi reflect on the globalisation’s agenda of homogenising and universalising a market-based culture. As Esposito in the following chapter suggests, the neo-liberal market is an ahistorical force that requires no basis for legitimacy outside its own logic – it is supposed to be an unbiased decision-maker where individuals finally end up getting what they deserve. Choi and Berberi assert that,

In a truly Durkheimian manner, globalisation reflects the organic solidarity among the elites where differences of ethnicity, culture, or beliefs become secondary to the mandates of the market (p 12).

And failure to compete successfully in the market becomes a reflection of personal shortcomings. This new form of empire claims not to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, culture or any other human traits; though it claims to welcome people with their idiosyncrasies, it only “manages” the differences in reality. In a ceaseless attempt to accumulate capital, the transnational power elites are devouring the entire world’s resources, including the human beings, behind the façade of the neutrality of the market. Furthermore, under the guise of the progress, they are pummelling any form of resistance as “irrational and anarchistic”; and when this rhetoric falls short, they are not averse to use force.

In the third chapter, Esposito comments on the “human nature, freedom and human rationality”. He reminds that for the George W Bush administration, efforts to expand free market capitalism constituted a “moral imperative” as it proclaimed that “liberty to create and build or to buy, sell, and own property is fundamental to human nature and foundational to free society” (pp 22-23). Virtue and success are equated with the purchase of fancy cars, big houses, etc. As Horkheimer proposed, prevalence of instrumental rationality in modern capitalist societies signifies the “eclipse of reason”. The (Adam) Smithian dictum that selfserving and competitive nature of the humans actually benefits the whole society is repeatedly highlighted. But, unlike the classical liberals, neo-liberals advocate unbridled capitalism, where corporate mono polies are free to do anything in the name of markets without any consideration for justice. Moreover, by explaining all human actions in terms of rational calculations made by self-interested individuals, an atomistic conception of the world is presupposed that completely ignores the social dimension. In a similar vein Gautney (Chapter 7) proposes that unlike liberalism which was premised on ethical individualism, neo-liberalism is based on market rationality that is entirely disembedded from social relations and norms, and hence free to deploy any means to realise its goals. For Martinez (Chapter 5) human nature is not something fixed, it is “denaturalised” and thus humans co-create their reality.

New from SAGE!

New View of Civil Society

In Chapter 4, Murphy and Caro attempt to formulate “a new view of civil society” based on the recent experiments in Latin America for building participatory democracy. In the Durkheimian-traditional sense civil s ociety is not universal and should not be allowed to rival the State, the “true” representative of the society. Moreover, Rasch (Chapter 6) asserts that NGOs are very

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august 13, 2011 vol xlvi no 33

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much a part of the neo-liberal agenda and have practically become the face of civil s ociety in Colombia and elsewhere. But the practice of movements from below in Latin America is contesting this view through grass roots mass organising, based on transparency where hierarchy and centralisation are considered as impediments to democracy. They contend that in Latin America nowadays, civil society is neither contrasted to the state nor viewed as a niche where only “non-government” affairs are to be conducted. Instead, civil society is increasingly becoming the source of ideas, motives and desires that may provide the foundation towards a responsible and accountable order that embodies the will of the people.

In Chapter 7 Gautney contests the changing notion of state sovereignty under neoliberal globalisation. He brings out the changing equation between state and corporations in the favour of latter through the energy crisis that was manufactured by Enron in California that cost the exchequer $30 billion but finally the democratic governor Gray Davis was blamed who actually tried to rein in Enron.

In the following chapter, Roberts discusses “the dialectic of labour and capital in globalisation”. He avers that the time for the trade union strategy of corporatism, that emphasises cooperation between capital and labour (as a junior partner), by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) under Keynesianism is up. Even in its hey days it could never challenge the militaryindustrial complex, wars or environmental degradation. He counterposes it with the syndicalist traditions of AFL and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) between the civil war and New Deal which emphasised the struggle over labour process and control of labour markets. While AFL fought for keeping the immigrants out by involving the State and signing contracts with the owners, the capital moved where it could find more pliable and cheaper workers. In contrast IWW actively organised the “others”, like African Americans and immigrants to thwart drawing of strike breakers from such groups and also struggled for shorter hours.

‘Constructing Unreality’

In Chapter 9, Semm brings about the farce of global media and its attempts at

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constructing “unreality”. About 10 conglomerates dominate the global media with several dozen smaller media corporations dominating the regional markets. These conglomerates are a key weapon in the ideological war through production, distribution and exhibition of entertainment, advertising, and carefully framed and targeted “news” shows with a reach in every corner of the globe and publicprivate spaces. They peddle all kinds of conceivable “infotainment”, the combination of entertainment and information, from TV programmes, newspapers, books, music to films, that emphasise violence, natural disasters and celebrities but would not show wars and corporate crime. Hence, contrarian views on globalisation are hard to find but any amount of footage can be given to global warming deniers in the name of “neutrality”. The whole idea is to make the viewers anxious, angry and afraid, as such people make good subjects for advertisements and consumption. In any case the customer of the commercial media is not the viewer but the advertiser; hence estimates suggest that 40-70% of news is from press releases and public relations material. In the process while the “common people” are kept busy in consuming and mostly working so that they can find a toehold in the marketplace, the technocratic elite decide as per the wishes of their capitalist masters. Thus the job of the media is to create “a desiring person”, whose desires never get fulfilled. But the author also reminds us that this ideological war serves only a limited purpose as several billion people are outside the scope of globalisation – cut from the culture of advertisements, consumption, etc, and in their agency lies real hope of an alternative.

In Chapter 10, Krammer and Kim characterise the ruling elite as “global players” – players as opposed to workers, while the latter work the former “play” at the global stage. Global players disregard any rules or given structures and claim exceptionalism for themselves; they stand for self-interest without regard to any morality or law and thus reason becomes utterly subjective for them. All they service are markets and manipulate accounts and have no accountability for their actions. The players have their own set of games such as “super yacht envy” where they compete to own

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progressively bigger yachts. They need the buffer of the middle classes in order to create just enough mobility to prevent revolts. And failure to partake into the global sweepstakes for the majority is converted into private guilt and reasoned as personal faults.

In the next chapter, Arxer and Reznik make a case for critical education. In the functionalist sense, schooling is the source of socialisation and its purpose is to create the “well rounded subjects” who can fit in. In such a scheme of things, critical thinking can be a distraction and frustrate the “absorption of the present world”. The purpose of such an education is to reproduce the present order, not to change it as the course of history is already set, independent of human action. Neo-liberalism transforms students and education into commodities, fit only for the marketplace and the purpose of such an education is to manufacture products that can fit into the labour markets. Thus questioning the

o rder is supposed to be a waste of time as only econo mics matters and there is no place for politics.

Possibilities Beyond

Though the predominant agenda of the volume is to critique the neo-liberal globalisation, many of the articles do reflect on the possibilities beyond the present order. For instance Esposito contends that one cannot speak about the immutable human nature outside the human relations in which people are situated. Genuine freedom requires breaking from both atomised individualism as well as blind collectivism and he proposes “reproductive rationality” that preserves the natural circuit of human life in terms of individual needs – material and spiritual, as well as external needs, that is the ecology in which life can thrive. He argues for a complete break from the neo-liberal fundamentalism and creating parallel institutions with attending alternate values. In Chapter 6, Rasch makes a case for a “new civil society” which engenders “democracy from below” where community empowerment along Gramscian lines should take place. Gautney agrees and argues that, like the Zapatistas in the Chiapas in Mexico, the state need not be at the heart of a movement for social change. Making a case for altering the equation between labour

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and capital, Roberts argues for going back to the demand of May Day for shorter work hours, but this time at a global scale. Arxer and Reznik contend for a pedagogy based on critical thinking which can demonstrate the limits of the present, intersect the necessary and possible, and thus bring a “disruptive moment”. For them alternatives can be imagined only if students are allowed to dream.

Though many chapters have interesting ideas, it is a collection of 13 different papers that is hard to integrate; possibly that is why the editors have not attempted to conclude the collection or categorise them in the introductory chapter. Some chapters are long winding and could have made the point in a more concise manner. Some of the treatment is repetitive but possibly this

Barooah, Nirode K (2010); Gopinath Bardoloi, The Assam Problem and Nehru’s Centre (Guwahati: Bhabani Print & Publications); pp xxiv + 675, Rs 690.

Beteille, Andre (2011); The Andre Beteille Omnibus (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxii + 269, Rs 950.

Bose, Sarmila (2011); Dead Reckoning: Memoirs of the 1971 Bangladesh War (Gurgaon: Hachette India); pp x + 239, Rs 495.

Brass, Paul R (2011); An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics, 1937 to 1961 (Vol 1: The Politics of Northern India 1937 to 1987) (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xxx + 575, Rs 895.

Crouch, Colin (2011); The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Polity Press); pp xii + 199, price not indicated.

Fernandes, Walter and Gita Bharali (2011); Uprooted for Whose Benefit? Development-Induced Displacement in Assam 1947-2000 (Guwahati: North Eastern Social Research Centre); pp x + 734, Rs 350.

Gokarn, Subir, ed. (2011); Challenges to Central Banking in the Context of Financial Crisis: The International Research Experience (New Delhi: Academic Foundation); in association with RBI, pp 492, Rs 1,295.

Gottlob, Michael (2011); History and Politics in Post-Colonial India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xi + 300, Rs 695.

Guha, Kalyan (2011); An Enquiry on Issues of Political Economy: Collected Essays (Kolkata: Priyashilpa Prakashan); pp 180 + x, Rs 200.

Gupta, Shishir (2011); Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (Gurgaon: Hachette India); pp xiv + 314, Rs 550.

Hale, Thomas and David Held, ed. (2011); Handbook of Transnational Governance: Institutions & Innovations

(Cambridge: Polity Press); pp xxv + 412, £18.99 (pb).

Hofmeyr, Isabel and Michelle Williams, ed. (2011);

South Africa & India: Shaping the Global South

(Johannesburg: Wits University Press); pp viii + 328, price not indicated.

Hughes, Barry B, ed. (2011); Improving Global Health: Forecasting the Next 50 Years – Patterns of Potential Human Progress (Vol 3) (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); with Paradigm Publishers, and Pardee Center, pp 345, Rs 995.

cannot be avoided in a collection of this kind. Some of the later chapters do not gel very well with the rest of the collection. Moreover, though the stated agenda of the volume is to question the deterministic ideological basis of the present order, at times the arguments in a few articles seem to be reverting back to determinism, like when a concrete alternative model is being proposed in the last chapter on “scenario planning”. Similarly, attempts to draw from the prestige of physical sciences – quantum theory and chaos for example, in a couple of chapters is not particularly convincing and perhaps a critique of the present and imagining of a better future has to be situated in the specificities of humans and their collective institutions – there is very much a need

Books Received

Jaising, Indira, ed. (2011); Elusive Equality: Constitutional Guarantees and Legal Regimes in South Asia, Malaysia and China (New Delhi: Women Unlimited); pp 252, Rs 425.

Joseph, K V (2010); Economics of Culture Industry: Television in India (Delhi: Shipra Publications); pp xvi + 206, Rs 595.

Karnani, Aneel (2011); Fighting Poverty Together: Rethinking Strategies for Business, Governments, and Civil Society to Reduce Poverty (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan); pp 296, Pounds 26.00.

Kidwai, Rasheed (2011); 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress

(Gurgaon: Hachette India); pp xv + 295, Rs 495.

  • (2011); Poverty and Social Exclusion in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); in asso ciation with The World Bank, pp xii + 173, Rs 495.
  • (2011); The Essential Sudhir Kakar (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp xxxii + 394, Rs 750.
  • Kulkarni, Mangesh, ed. (2011); Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Political Theory (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xxiv + 273, Rs 795.

    Kuno, Yasunari (2011); The Real Employee Satisfaction: Capable Young People Quit Their Jobs within Three Years (Delhi: Shipra Publictions); pp 182, Rs 450.

    Nadkarni, M V (2011); Ethics for Our Times: Essays in Gandhian Perspective (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xv + 262, Rs 650.

    Nair, Neeti (2011); Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black); pp 343, Rs 750.

    Nilayamgode, Devaki (2011); Antharjanam: Memoirs of a Namboodiri Woman (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxxi + 169, Rs 395.

    Noorani, A G (2011); Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xvi + 487, Rs 850.

    Palit, Chittabrata (2011); Tensions in Rural Bengal: Landlords, Planters and Colonial Rule (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, Foundation Books); pp 226, Rs 595.

    Pandian, Anand and Daud Ali, ed. (2011); Ethical Life in South Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp viii + 290, Rs 695.

    august 13, 2011

    for critique and creative imagination in attempting to find the way out of the present crisis, but no place for hasty answers. Overall, given the progressively and rapidly deepening crisis of neo-liberal globalisation across the world, the volume is a useful and timely addition to the growing critical literature on the present order. It should be insightful for the scholars of globalisation and for those looking for nuanced analysis.

    Rahul Varman (rahulv@iitk.ac.in) is with the Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

    Note

    1 Unless otherwise stated by globalisation we mean the present order of “neo-liberal globalisation”.

    Parthasarathy, D, Thanksy F Thekkekara and Veena Poonacha (2011); Women’s Self Help Groups: Restructuring Socio-Economic Development (New Delhi: Dominant Publishers & Distributors); pp 191, Rs 650.

    Pinney, Christopher (2011); Photography and Anthropology (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp 174, Rs 1,595.

    Raghavendra, M K (2011); Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation, and the Kannada Language Film (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xlvii + 209, Rs 695.

    Rajan, Ramkishen S, with Sasidaran Gopalan and Rabin Hattari (2011); Crisis, Capital Flows and FDI in Emerging Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxvi + 247, Rs 695.

    Ram, F, Sayeed Unisa and T V Sekher, ed. (2011); Population, Gender and Reproductive Health (Jaipur: Rawat Publications); pp 416, Rs 925.

    Revathi, A (2011); Our Lives, Our Words: Telling Aravani Lifestories (New Delhi: Yoda Press); pp xii + 76, Rs 150.

    Roy, Arpita Basu and Binoda Kumar Mishra, ed. (2011); Reconstructing Afghanistan: Prospects and Limitations (Delhi: Shipra Publications); pp xviii

    + 285, Rs 800.

    Schelling, Andrew, ed. (2011); The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxvii + 273, Rs 695.

    Sengupta, Anita and Suchandana Chatterjee, ed. (2011); Demography & Migration in Asia: Issues and Trends (Delhi: Shipra Publications); pp 175, Rs 550.

    Singh, Jaspal (2011); Instruments of Social Research (Jaipur: Rawat Publications); pp xxiii + 312, Rs 775.

    Singh, Sukhpal and Naresh Singla (2011); Fresh Food Retail Chains in India: Organisation and Impacts (New Delhi: Allied Publishers); pp xxiv + 267, Rs 900.

    Sundara, Rajan Mira T (2011); Moral Rights: Principles, Practice and New Technology (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xx 549, Rs 1,250.

    Vickery, Raymond E (2011); The Eagle and the Elephant: Strategic Aspects of US-India Economic Engagement (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp x + 336, Rs 695.

    vol xlvi no 33

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