Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems

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Provides an exciting approach to some of the most contentious issues in discussions around globalization—bioscientific research, neoliberalism, governance—from the perspective of the "anthropological" problems they pose; in other words, in terms of their implications for how individual and collective life is subject to technological, political, and ethical reflection and intervention.

  • Offers a ground-breaking approach to central debates about globalization with chapters written by leading scholars from across the social sciences.
  • Examines a range of phenomena that articulate broad structural transformations: technoscience, circuits of exchange, systems of governance, and regimes of ethics or values.
  • Investigates these phenomena from the perspective of the “anthropological” problems they pose.
  • Covers a broad range of geographical areas: Africa, the Middle East, East and South Asia, North America, South America, and Europe.
  • Grapples with a number of empirical problems of popular and academic interest — from the organ trade, to accountancy, to pharmaceutical research, to neoliberal reform.
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About the author

Aihwa Ong is Professor of Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.


Stephen J. Collier is a faculty member at the Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
John Wiley & Sons
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Published on
Apr 30, 2008
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Pages
512
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ISBN
9780470695814
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Neoliberalism is commonly viewed as an economic doctrine that seeks to limit the scope of government. Some consider it a form of predatory capitalism with adverse effects on the Global South. In this groundbreaking work, Aihwa Ong offers an alternative view of neoliberalism as an extraordinarily malleable technology of governing that is taken up in different ways by different regimes, be they authoritarian, democratic, or communist. Ong shows how East and Southeast Asian states are making exceptions to their usual practices of governing in order to position themselves to compete in the global economy. As she demonstrates, a variety of neoliberal strategies of governing are re-engineering political spaces and populations. Ong’s ethnographic case studies illuminate experiments and developments such as China’s creation of special market zones within its socialist economy; pro-capitalist Islam and women’s rights in Malaysia; Singapore’s repositioning as a hub of scientific expertise; and flexible labor and knowledge regimes that span the Pacific.

Ong traces how these and other neoliberal exceptions to business as usual are reconfiguring relationships between governing and the governed, power and knowledge, and sovereignty and territoriality. She argues that an interactive mode of citizenship is emerging, one that organizes people—and distributes rights and benefits to them—according to their marketable skills rather than according to their membership within nation-states. Those whose knowledge and skills are not assigned significant market value—such as migrant women working as domestic maids in many Asian cities—are denied citizenship. Nevertheless, Ong suggests that as the seam between sovereignty and citizenship is pried apart, a new space is emerging for NGOs to advocate for the human rights of those excluded by neoliberal measures of human worthiness.

On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in then Soviet Ukraine. More than 3.5 million people in Ukraine alone, not to mention many citizens of surrounding countries, are still suffering the effects. Life Exposed is the first book to comprehensively examine the vexed political, scientific, and social circumstances that followed the disaster. Tracing the story from an initial lack of disclosure to post-Soviet democratizing attempts to compensate sufferers, Adriana Petryna uses anthropological tools to take us into a world whose social realities are far more immediate and stark than those described by policymakers and scientists. She asks: What happens to politics when state officials fail to inform their fellow citizens of real threats to life? What are the moral and political consequences of remedies available in the wake of technological disasters?

Through extensive research in state institutions, clinics, laboratories, and with affected families and workers of the so-called Zone, Petryna illustrates how the event and its aftermath have not only shaped the course of an independent nation but have made health a negotiated realm of entitlement. She tracks the emergence of a "biological citizenship" in which assaults on health become the coinage through which sufferers stake claims for biomedical resources, social equity, and human rights. Life Exposed provides an anthropological framework for understanding the politics of emergent democracies, the nature of citizenship claims, and everyday forms of survival as they are interwoven with the profound changes that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Where does the nation-state end and globalization begin? In Territory, Authority, Rights, one of the world's leading authorities on globalization shows how the national state made today's global era possible. Saskia Sassen argues that even while globalization is best understood as "denationalization," it continues to be shaped, channeled, and enabled by institutions and networks originally developed with nations in mind, such as the rule of law and respect for private authority. This process of state making produced some of the capabilities enabling the global era. The difference is that these capabilities have become part of new organizing logics: actors other than nation-states deploy them for new purposes. Sassen builds her case by examining how three components of any society in any age--territory, authority, and rights--have changed in themselves and in their interrelationships across three major historical "assemblages": the medieval, the national, and the global.

The book consists of three parts. The first, "Assembling the National," traces the emergence of territoriality in the Middle Ages and considers monarchical divinity as a precursor to sovereign secular authority. The second part, "Disassembling the National," analyzes economic, legal, technological, and political conditions and projects that are shaping new organizing logics. The third part, "Assemblages of a Global Digital Age," examines particular intersections of the new digital technologies with territory, authority, and rights.

Sweeping in scope, rich in detail, and highly readable, Territory, Authority, Rights is a definitive new statement on globalization that will resonate throughout the social sciences.

Fleeing the murderous Pol Pot regime, Cambodian refugees arrive in America as at once the victims and the heroes of America's misadventures in Southeast Asia; and their encounters with American citizenship are contradictory as well. Service providers, bureaucrats, and employers exhort them to be self-reliant, individualistic, and free, even as the system and the culture constrain them within terms of ethnicity, race, and class. Buddha Is Hiding tells the story of Cambodian Americans experiencing American citizenship from the bottom-up. Based on extensive fieldwork in Oakland and San Francisco, the study puts a human face on how American institutions—of health, welfare, law, police, church, and industry—affect minority citizens as they negotiate American culture and re-interpret the American dream.

In her earlier book, Flexible Citizenship, anthropologist Aihwa Ong wrote of elite Asians shuttling across the Pacific. This parallel study tells the very different story of "the other Asians" whose route takes them from refugee camps to California's inner-city and high-tech enclaves. In Buddha Is Hiding we see these refugees becoming new citizen-subjects through a dual process of being-made and self-making, balancing religious salvation and entrepreneurial values as they endure and undermine, absorb and deflect conflicting lessons about welfare, work, medicine, gender, parenting, and mass culture. Trying to hold on to the values of family and home culture, Cambodian Americans nonetheless often feel that "Buddha is hiding." Tracing the entangled paths of poor and rich Asians in the American nation, Ong raises new questions about the form and meaning of citizenship in an era of globalization.
Fleeing the murderous Pol Pot regime, Cambodian refugees arrive in America as at once the victims and the heroes of America's misadventures in Southeast Asia; and their encounters with American citizenship are contradictory as well. Service providers, bureaucrats, and employers exhort them to be self-reliant, individualistic, and free, even as the system and the culture constrain them within terms of ethnicity, race, and class. Buddha Is Hiding tells the story of Cambodian Americans experiencing American citizenship from the bottom-up. Based on extensive fieldwork in Oakland and San Francisco, the study puts a human face on how American institutions—of health, welfare, law, police, church, and industry—affect minority citizens as they negotiate American culture and re-interpret the American dream.

In her earlier book, Flexible Citizenship, anthropologist Aihwa Ong wrote of elite Asians shuttling across the Pacific. This parallel study tells the very different story of "the other Asians" whose route takes them from refugee camps to California's inner-city and high-tech enclaves. In Buddha Is Hiding we see these refugees becoming new citizen-subjects through a dual process of being-made and self-making, balancing religious salvation and entrepreneurial values as they endure and undermine, absorb and deflect conflicting lessons about welfare, work, medicine, gender, parenting, and mass culture. Trying to hold on to the values of family and home culture, Cambodian Americans nonetheless often feel that "Buddha is hiding." Tracing the entangled paths of poor and rich Asians in the American nation, Ong raises new questions about the form and meaning of citizenship in an era of globalization.
Why are Malay women workers periodically seized by spirit possession on the shopfloors of modern factories? In this book, Aihwa Ong captures the disruptions, conflicts, and ambivalences in the lives of Malay women and their families as they make the transition from peasant society to industrial production.

To discover the meaning that the market economy and wage labor hold for Malay peasants, Ong conducted anthropological field work in an agricultural district in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia, which is undergoing rapid proletarianization. Weaving together history, ethnography, and quantitative analysis, she addresses many questions pertaining to peasants and state policies. The book shows how the diverging roles of young men and women are increasingly channelled, by educational and labor market pressures, toward conformity with corporate culture and capitalist discipline.

A unique feature of this book is the portrayal of Malay women workers in Japanese factories, caught between their culture and the culture of capitalism. Ong argues that cultural values and practices—both Islamic-Malay and foreign—are reworked and reconstituted in the industrial hierarchy. Her vivid accounts of hysterical episodes, violent incidents, and women’s self-perceptions provide insights into their attitudes toward capitalist relations.

By illuminating the encounter of Malay peasants with global industrial production, the book also throws light on the attitude of neophyte wage workers elsewhere in the Third World.
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