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Globalisation of Politics

Politics of Globalisation edited by Samir Dasgupta and Jan Nederveen Pieterse; Sage, 2009.

Globalisation of Politics

Ranabir Samaddar

ountless books have appeared in the last two decades on the theme of globalisation and its many forms. From the emancipatory scenario to the doomsday picture – nothing has been left out of imagination. Initially writers wrote of fast flowing capital, newer forms of assemblages, refined versions of neo-Fordism, etc. Sociologists were not behind in these imaginations. Themes of global identity, placelessness, rootlessness, migration and formation of new diasporas, marked these writings. Then came the phase of writings on “subaltern globalisation” with focus on issues of trafficking of labour, human organs, women and children, and money laundering. Fancy accounting, internet sales, sovereign funds, currency trade – at some point when these discussions started, it appeared that we no longer needed the real world of production. The global was the virtual, and the virtual was global. When finally the crash happened two years ago, observers were hurled back to common sense; and the shock was felt among the chattering classes: how could they be so gullible?

One can find traces of these phases of studies in globalisation in Samir Dasgupta and Jan Nederveen Pieterse edited volume on Politics of Globalisation. The politics of particular viewpoints is also evident in this book. We have in this volume among the authors Andre Gunder Frank, I mmanuel Wallerstein, Amitai Etzioni. Wallerstein foresees a period of global a narchy; Andre Gunder Frank looks back on the behaviour of the US rulers and the response of China in the early years of this decade, while some other contributors discuss the politics of capitalist globalisation. Samir Dasgupta discusses in his i ntroduction to the volume different aspects what he terms as “globalisation politics”, such as dual citizenship, corporate social responsibility, the decline of the power and role of trade unions. These

Economic & Political Weekly

april 24, 2010

book review

Politics of Globalisation edited by Samir Dasgupta and Jan Nederveen Pieterse; Sage, 2009; pp 472, Rs 850.

essays add to our knowledge. It is a welcome addition to the existing discussion on globalisation.

The strength of the volume is also in the diverse angles and scenarios it presents. As usual political economy-driven analysis dominates. There is an interesting essay on anti-globalisation protests, “Policing Anti-globalisation Protests – Patterns and Variations in State Responses” by Tomas Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates. How can we ignore the irony that this mode of struggle for public space is possible only with globalisation? Also, who can ignore the fact that these anti-globalisation protests are now heavily western in mode, site, and participation, and thus anti-globalisation movements too are now of two types – one belonging to the developed western world and other characteristically of the post-colonial world? It is this big question that the book fails to address. Overwhelmed by the diversity of presentations, the book seems to lose focus: namely, the impact of the reproduction of certain historic relations on post- globalisation politics, and thus a lack of clarity in the study (the volume as a whole) as to what exactly would this word “globalisation” mean? This interlinked question is critical in understanding the politics of globalisation, because any discussion on globalisation would involve the themes of re-colonisation, empire-building, conquest, wars of annexation, and deployment of science, techno logy, and new modes of assembly in production methods.

Let me illustrate the point of specificity of our time by discussing briefly one essay in the volume, “Globalisation Theory or Theories of Globalisation – The Political Implications of the Distinction” by Ray

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Kiely. It is a rich essay and goes to some extent in showing the inadequacy of the globalisation theorists like Anthony G iddens and Manuel Castells. He rightly points out that neither is it a free-floating phenomenon (Giddens) nor a purely technologicallydriven phenomenon (Castells). But he stops there and argues that it is better to go back to Karl Marx and his theories of accumulation. Now that would not be enough, because the problem with Castells is not that he ignores accumulation, but has too much trust in networks, which he thinks earlier societies lacked. As if the power of flows has overtaken the flow of power. This west-centric view of globalisation is apparent in Giddens also. One would require a visit to Marx’s description of primitive accumulation, its salience in both western and non-western world, and thus a deep thought on what one call today “post-colonial capitalism”, in which the histories of power, technology, capital, labour, space, and time are scripted in a different way.

Such a view of “post-colonial capitalism”, parts of which Giovanni Arrighi captured in Adam Smith in Beijing, published before his death, will enable us to view the question of politics in a different way. Very briefly speaking, and one can hardly elucidate that in a short review article, this view of capitalism and globalisation will turn the question of politics on its head and will now require to ask, what of globalisation of politics? To answer that we need much more rigorous studies of what often appear as random accounts of politics here and there, and find out how these accounts constitute the specific politics of our time – the response to various aspects of post-colonial capitalism. Politics, with its global features such as rights, justice, new articulations of territoriality, collectivity, and new models of dialogue, attrition and war, will appear in such an analysis as the way to claim autonomy in life – precisely the attribute that post-colonial capitalism wants to rob people of.

Ranabir Samaddar ( is with the Calcutta Research Group.

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