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October 22, 2005

Initial Impressions of Empire

4 out of 5 stars

This has to be one of the most provoking books that I have read. As the authors suggest in the first chapter, it is meant to generate a discussion on what really is Empire. At one end is the possibility of a single unitary power that predetermines everything that is going on in the world. At the other, is this giant conspiracy theory. The authors clearly articulate that the reality is somewhere in between these two.

However, you cannot but help feeling despondent on the first read of the book. It paints such a gloomy picture of the world that it appears as if any sort of activism and intervention is a futile exercise against the force of ŽEmpireŽ. What it is is never clarified in the book with different people taking different positions on whether it is a giant power, or a monopoly of ideas/ ideology or something else.

The book looks extensively at networks of power. Of the networks of resistance. Of the world no longer being operated as if it had a centre, but multiple nodes out of which alliances emerge and people and institutions form strategies to live with Empire or counter it.

Thoughts of mine that emerged out of a reading of empire included the nature of globalisation and the nature of coporate strategy. While the economic logic of outsourcing is what is driving a large percentage of work to India, one wonders, if it is also a part of a strategy to fragment worker power around different centres.

What about the emergence of the large corporation as the saviour of developing countries? Especially in the way it relates to basic services like water, electricity and other services.

Other thoughts including responses of the World Trade Organisations to protests like that in Cancun. Did the change of venue after that to Doha suggest the work of Empire? Are sites like Singapore and Doha deliberately chosen in order to minimise dissent? There are just so many questions that emerge out of the reading of this book.

The other big one is whether Empire is something that is really an alliance of middle class interests? Or is it the victory of a particular way of life. Much like the victory of a particular lifestyle as suggested in Ishmael? Questions Questions.

The book overall is a bit difficult to read. But worth it and over cups of tea provides hours and hours of restless questioning!

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