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October 26, 2005


Follow-up to Handling Empire from Jacob's blog

The big comment yesterday was the relevance (or the lack of it) of the national. Is the State symbolic or is it significant? Do the powers of globalisation rely on the State for its functioning through hierachies and networks like local government, local authorities, police, provincial governments and national governments?

At the surface, there seems to be this unholy alliance that exists between the State, various actors within it and the forces of globalisation. This then creates situations where some people are more equal than others and a small but influential minority control and monopolise decisions. This is done through a variety of ways including the logic of economics (let the market decide), activism (through the co-option of various NGOs), civil society (I dont know what that is too well) and various other forces.

The interesting thing about this alliance is that it embraces the ideas of apolitical decision making as well as use some idea of fairness and justice in the propogation of its ideas. Standards, methodology, process, indicators etc etc all become crucial in this world of depoliticised decision making. All of us have heard of the reputation that statisticians have and the phrases that are used for them. However, this is precisely the kind of people that we turn to in order to solve our problems in this new age where being ŽunbiasedŽ and being seen as unbiased are crucial.

Little else on Empire right now. More as the mind clears up

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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