Thursday, December 3, 2009


Tsing’s critique of the body of theories surrounding globalization is based on the claim that the totalizing scope of these theories remain insufficient in understanding the complexities and differences that these exchanges and interactions produce and are produced by. However, it would seem that Tsing's argument also proves to be insufficient, failing to actively engage with the theories that she criticizes, merely deeming them wrong instead of expanding on why she believes that. I found Tsing's criticism to be weak due to the lack of rigor in her arguments. For example, in the coinage of spectacular accumulation, Tsing hopes to argue against notions of an evolutionary political economy, citing such theorists as David Harvey relying on teleological assumptions:

“According to regulation theorists, “flexible accumulation” is the latest stage of capitalism. Flexible accumulation follows Fordist production as barbarism follow savagery, that is, up a singular political-economic ladder” (75).

Although it could be argued whether or theorists like Harvey have such a deterministic take on global capitalism and the social relations of power within such a system, Tsing takes this as means for dismissing Harvey’s claims. It would almost seem that she is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

So while Tsing does not find Harvey’s analysis adequate in terms of its failure to leave room open for possibility or for having a causality that she finds, it would seem that her ideas of globalization are equally as problematic.

And although it is the problematic of the relation between the particular and the universal that Tsing sees as exactly that which makes her conception of friction revolutionary or aligned with conditions of potentiality, it would seem that any other understanding or conceptualization of globalization that does not come from her experience with global flows is wrong. The use of ethnographic writing, while provocative in its challenges that it brings to ‘dominant’ cultural theorists or theorists who discuss globalization, fails to actively engage with the theorists she is critiquing or the theories that she seems to find ‘universalizing’ or ‘totalizing’. Theory, as Tsing argues, “has addressed itself more to replication and planned development than to unexpected opportunities and injuries that must be addressed, however inadequately” (266). The very charge that she seems to give the body of theories that she is critiquing is something that I find in her work as well – inadequate. Inadequate in terms of addressing and fleshing out her argument on engaging universals and the somewhat asymmetrical power relation at work in the different scales that Tsing outlines but that which she points to and shines in a positive and rather hopeful light. That is not to say that I would have preferred her text to maintain a dystopic look at the condition and friction of global connectedness, but rather, that there was more engagement with the very friction that Tsing comes up against in her own theory when in dialogue with other theory.

The way in which Tsing critiques dominant theories of globalization and her proposal of a rethinking of global connectedness, while offers something different and seemingly complex, nevertheless relies on a narrative. As she conceptualizes the complexity of the friction between actors, scales and flows, it seems that her choice to handle this conceptualization in the form of the narrative raises questions. What is at stake in the use of narrative for Tsing’s project? And what assumptions does Tsing’s project rely on?

1 comment:

Lauren said...

"As she conceptualizes the complexity of the friction between actors, scales and flows, it seems that her choice to handle this conceptualization in the form of the narrative raises questions"

What word would you like to use, instead of 'actor'? The production of culture, etc., I think, is inextricably linked to the homosapien prediliction for narrative form, or, rather, to paraphrase Clifford Geertz, "the way we show ourselves to ourselves."

Perhaps Tsing's use of narrative to call attention to the ways in which we can re-learn to make use of the form is problematic (can the master's tools dismantle the master's house, or, how can you critique/deconstruct a hermeneutic from inside of the restrictions and delineations of the system?), but I don't believe that she is incorrect in her assessment.

I think she believes in the power of narrative: obviously, or, according to her, we wouldn't subscribe so to such totalizing/universal (albeit, often destructive) ones. So perhaps she wants to reevaluate the ways in which we use an effective tool... Maybe the use value of a hammer increases, used upside-down?