Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger

Duke University Press
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The period since 1989 has been marked by the global endorsement of open markets, the free flow of finance capital and liberal ideas of constitutional rule, and the active expansion of human rights. Why, then, in this era of intense globalization, has there been a proliferation of violence, of ethnic cleansing on the one hand and extreme forms of political violence against civilian populations on the other?

Fear of Small Numbers is Arjun Appadurai’s answer to that question. A leading theorist of globalization, Appadurai turns his attention to the complex dynamics fueling large-scale, culturally motivated violence, from the genocides that racked Eastern Europe, Rwanda, and India in the early 1990s to the contemporary “war on terror.” Providing a conceptually innovative framework for understanding sources of global violence, he describes how the nation-state has grown ambivalent about minorities at the same time that minorities, because of global communication technologies and migration flows, increasingly see themselves as parts of powerful global majorities. By exacerbating the inequalities produced by globalization, the volatile, slippery relationship between majorities and minorities foments the desire to eradicate cultural difference.

Appadurai analyzes the darker side of globalization: suicide bombings; anti-Americanism; the surplus of rage manifest in televised beheadings; the clash of global ideologies; and the difficulties that flexible, cellular organizations such as Al-Qaeda present to centralized, “vertebrate” structures such as national governments. Powerful, provocative, and timely, Fear of Small Numbers is a thoughtful invitation to rethink what violence is in an age of globalization.

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About the author

Arjun Appadurai is the John Dewey Professor in the Social Sciences at The New School, where he is also Senior Advisor for Global Initiatives. His books include Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization and the collection Globalization, also published by Duke University Press. He is a cofounder of the journal Public Culture, founder of the nonprofit PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action, and Research) in Mumbai, cofounder and codirector of ING (Interdisciplinary Network on Globalization), and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as a consultant or advisor to a wide range of public and private organizations, including the Ford, Rockefeller, and MacArthur foundations; UNESCO; the World Bank; and the National Science Foundation.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
May 24, 2006
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Pages
176
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ISBN
9780822387541
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Human Geography
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this provocative look at one of the most important events of our time, renowned scholar Arjun Appadurai argues that the economic collapse of 2008—while indeed spurred on by greed, ignorance, weak regulation, and irresponsible risk-taking—was, ultimately, a failure of language. To prove this sophisticated point, he takes us into the world of derivative finance, which has become the core of contemporary trading and the primary target of blame for the collapse and all our subsequent woes. With incisive argumentation, he analyzes this challengingly technical world, drawing on thinkers such as J. L. Austin, Marcel Mauss, and Max Weber as theoretical guides to showcase the ways language—and particular failures in it—paved the way for ruin.

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With his characteristic clarity, Appadurai explains one of the most complicated—and yet absolutely central—aspects of our modern economy. He makes the critical link we have long needed to make: between the numerical force of money and the linguistic force of what we say we will do with it.
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