“How can you occupy an abstraction?”

McKenzie Wark, author of the new book on the Situationists titled The Beach Beneath the Street, said of Occupy Wall Street:

How can you occupy an abstraction? Perhaps only with another abstraction. Occupy Wall Street took over a more or less public park nestled in the downtown landscape of tower blocks, not too far from the old World Trade Center site, and set up camp. It is an occupation which, almost uniquely, does not have demands. It has at its core a suggestion: what if people came together and found a way to structure a conversation which might come up with a better way to run the world? Could they do any worse than the way it is run by the combined efforts of Wall Street as rentier class and Wall Street as computerized vectors trading intangible assets?


These are important questions. Certainly the people are capable of self-governance, particularly as they gain more practice and experience at it. I think the success will be largely determined first by the degree of success the movement achieves in keeping the politics diverse, disallowing figureheads from shaping the politics through charismatic and institutionalized authority, and avoiding explicitly reformist tendencies. As soon as the economic and political institutions are broadly affirmed, the movement will begin to close its most liberatory options. The goals for the short run should be diversity of politics, diversity of tactics, and maintaining the revolutionary impulse. Continue reading

The Decade of the Leak

After the first major Wikileaks release and the subsequent “manhunt” for Julian Assange, I dubbed this the Decade of the Leak. I was referencing the news that was just waning in popular discussion of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That leak was just starting to pass from public memory as a new leak – this time of information – was the topic du jour. Then came the “Palestine Papers.” Now we’re hearing about the leaking nuclear reactors in Japan, after a massive series of earthquakes and tsunamis devastated the country. We are seeing two concurrent catastrophes for global capitalism: the rush for abundant, cheap energy causing ecological crises, and the struggle by centralized powers to control information in a decentralized, globally interconnected web of information. These twin catastrophes are likely to (1) continue and expand in ways we can’t predict, and (2) significantly alter the ecological, economic and political world we live in for many decades to come.

More thoughts on the matter to come soon….

Review of “Pathologies of Power” by Paul Farmer

In Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, Paul Farmer combines his experiences as a physician and anthropologist in the Third World to bring forth evidence and analysis of poverty.  While primarily focused on health, and profiling the effects of Tuberculosis, AIDS and other diseases on particular locales, his experience in treating patients beaten by members of military dictatorships and those who experience malnourishment point to deeply social health problems.  As he quickly demonstrates, military attacks on civilians and AIDS are equally socially determined problems. Continue reading

Review of “Grassroots Postmodernism” by Esteva and Prakash

Esteva and Prakash’s Grassroots Postmodernism presents a powerful theoretical model for alternatives to development.  In reading this accessible, yet deep survey into the competing ideologies of development and local people’s power, one is confronted with a text rife with aphorisms that challenge the sacred cows of global development. Continue reading

Post-development theory, alternatives to development and activist anthropology

In “Anthropology and the Development Encounter,” Arturo Escobar discusses the past approaches of development anthropology as problematic.  He focuses on the epistemology of development, the complicity of anthropologists in the modernization approach of development, and the Western worldview assumptions that pervade the discourse even among critics of development within the discipline.  In this short response, I will focus my attention on the alternative episteme Escobar offers, particularly in his discussion of alternatives to development and indigenous resistance to the development process.  I will then quickly profile Nash’s view of activist anthropology, and argue this methodology offers the applied anthropology of development an avenue to explore alternatives to development.

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A thought on the net effect of globalism, per se

Globalism brings into the fold of an all-encompassing structure, an ever larger conglomeration of individuals and communities dependent upon maintaining the status quo, particularly of over-arching economic and political structures. Rather than responding to local social needs, or ecosystemic needs, the system of dependency globalism fosters – primarily through specialization of production and international trade of the objects of production – the prioritization of preserving the functionality of global structures. This essentially undermines the sovereignty of the local, and is contrary to ecology. As communities move further from self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and closer to a relationship of dependency to a global flow of goods and wealth, the community grows increasingly aligned with the status quo of the global structures over that of their own needs.

Characterizing a paradigm shift: The UN discourse on sustainable development as the greening of globalism

Below is the introduction to a 15,000 essay I just completed, summing up the theoretical and historical basis for my critique of UN environmental discourse, particularly the UNCED documents. This was completed for a graduate social theory course, and will be used in different sections of my thesis. I have only provided the first 3 of 61 pages here. People who wish to discuss these points more specifically may email me, and will send the entire document for further discussion.

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Quote from “Sustainable Development and Agenda 21″ by Timothy Doyle

When I was researching for my work on Agenda 21 and the UNCED, I found very little wholesale criticism in the academic press until I stumbled on this article, “Sustainable development and Agenda 21: the secular bible of global free markets and pluralist democracy” by Timothy Doyle, published in Third World Quarterly, Vol 19, No 4, pp 771-786, 1998.

This is the concluding and final text from this article:

With the emergence of global ecology, many environmental issues are seen as beyond the traditional scope of national governments. Governments are, more often than not, severely lagging behind in their responses, ‘and this transnational political space has been occupied by corporations and NGOS, which can cross nation-state boundaries more readily. This globalisation of ecological and market systems has led to “the politics of no-fixed address.” ‘* Jacques Attali, who served as the foundational head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development looks into the near future, and sees the following:

Severed from any national allegiance or family ties by microchip-based gadgets that will enable individuals to carry out for themselves many of the functions of health, education, and security, the consumer-citizens of the world’s privileged regions will become “rich nomads.” Able to participate in the liberal market culture of political and economic choice, they will roam the planet seeking ways to use their free time, shopping for information, sensations, and goods only they can afford, while yearning for human fellowship, and the certitudes of home and community that no longer exist because their functions have become obsolete. Like New Yorkers who every day face homeless beggars who loiter around automated teller machines pleading for spare change, these wealthy wanderers will everywhere be confronted by roving masses of “poor nomads”-boat people on a planetary scale-seeking to escape from the destitute periphery, where most of the earth’s population will continue to live. These impoverished migrants will ply the planet, searching for sustenance and shelter, their desires inflamed by the ubiquitous and seductive images of consumerism they will see on satellite TV broadcasts from Paris, Los Angeles, or Tokyo. Desperately hoping to shift from what Alvin Toffler has called the slow world to the fast world, they will live the life of the living dead.**

This is the world of Agenda 21.
The only force which currently seems capable of moving beyond the boundaries of nation-states in hot pursuit of transnational corporations are social  movements and NGOS, also acting through transnational  conduits. At first glance,  the age-old story depicting the battle between David and Goliath seems an appropriate metaphor to describe this situation. Only this time, David has no sling-shot.

*Doyle & McEachern, Environmental Politics, p. 105

** Attali, Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order, 1991, pp 5-6

Thoughts on Paul Hawken and Blessed Unrest

Thoughts on Paul Hawken and Blessed Unrest by Ben Brucato, September, 2009:

One Big Movement

In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken discusses the history of ideas and action of “a broad nonideological movement” that “has come into being that does not invoke the masses’ fantasized will but rather engages citizens’ localized needs” (18). This movement offers “thousands of practical and useful [ideas]” and “processes, concerns, and compassion” and is “eminently pragmatic” (ibid.).

The movement that Hawken is dealing with “has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization, all of which have become intertwined” (12). He explores dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of environmental destruction, human rights abuses and the decimation of aboriginal culture, some with passing comments and others with great elaboration. However, we see few mentions of particular organizations or coalitions of organizations mobilizing against a particular offender or groups of offenders with a particular single-issue campaign or as part of a broad reform or revolutionary movement. The avoidance of particulars of the movement while being particular about what they oppose is deliberate. The more he veils the conglomeration of thousands of organizations and corporations comprised by hundreds of thousands of individuals, the easier it is for him to suggest they are part of one great whole. We should, as Hawken suggests, see that “the movement’s key contribution is the rejection of one big idea,” (18) but that this is one big movement.

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