Monday, October 8, 2007

Capitalist Uncertainty

Ien Ang claims that capitalist postmodernity is "a chaotic system, where uncertainty is a built-in feature." This means that "the simplistic idea that existence of diversity is evidence of freedom from power and domination" could not be further from the truth. Pluralism and diversity don't challenge capitalist postmodernity--they fuel it. Indeed, Ang argues, true resistance is impossible--it can only "unsettle (but not destroy)" the boundaries of the global system.

Ang's theory reminded me of Benjamin Lee and Edward LiPuma's discussion of "cultures of circulation." One passage that was particularly striking was their passage on derivatives, financial instruments that commodify uncertainty itself. The derivatives markets are chaotic places, markets with too much information.

Lee and LiPuma later argue that "Semiotic analyses that fixate exclusively on cultural forms are inherently inadequate because the issue of capital cannot be ignored or bracketed." In this Ang seems to concur, with her criticism of communication theory.

In all this description of postmodern uncertainty, Ang seems deeply skeptical of attempts to resist the totalizing structure of postmodern capital. Quoting de Certeau, Ang says that resistance is "'escaping without leaving.'"

Here are my questions: is Ang implying that any attempt to impose a semblance of order on postmodern uncertainty would necessarily be conservative (and thus presumably undesirable)? Must all this uncertainty--e.g. the profit-making uncertainty of derivatives markets--be accepted? If any attempt to impose order on the situation (perhaps international regulations) will be futile, could more uncertainty, directed uncertainty, dramatically alter the postmodern system? Does Ang's text suggest any forms direct uncertainty might take?

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