Archive for May, 2006

Review of Friction by Anna Tsing

May 7, 2006

Anna Tsing: Friction.

In Friction, Anna Tsing re-evaluates the now conventional readings of globalization, late capitalism with an original anthropological approach. Her innovative ethnography describes the changing landscape of the Kalimantan region of Indonesia in the past 25 years to study the kind of global connections that are being forged in this remote locality. Tsing draws on her long term fieldwork engagement to show the messy encounter of multinational mining companies, finance capital, Indonesian state corruption, activists and the changing livelihoods of indigenous communities is creating different notions about the present and the future. These happenings foreground the dynamic interplay between the local and the global, universal/particular processes that Tsing calls Friction i.e. a productive site of encounter between different forces of change, histories that come together in myriad of different articulations. Her main intervention here is not to see globalization as an abstract truth but rather to see it as a macro-social activity or a process that is based on the circulation of ideas, goods, and people. The book traces these various circulations in different directions; the conjuring the hype of gold rush in Canada, USA, to the deforestation and destruction of tropical forests in Kalimantan, to the epistemology of classification and occlusion of local knowledge in history of botany to the awkward translations in the making of environmental social movement in Indonesia.
All of these things are happening on multiple scales. Here, “Global forces are congeries of local/global interaction where cultures are constantly co-produced in the constant state of interaction that Tsing calls Friction” (3). The series of dense descriptions of these changes deviate from the impact model of globality that is the penetration of capitalism and its rearrangement of local cultures in its own image. Instead, pre-existing histories, knowledge’s, conflicts reshape and refract these universal scaled processes and create a new spaces of hope/disillusion, freedom and un-freedom. However, like multi-sited ethnographies there is a shortage of a detailed engagement with a local community to get a broader sense of place and self in lieu of normative, material, cultural and symbolic change. I am also not sure if the pluralization of liberalism necessarily always proves to be subversive or not. Certainly as the civil rights movement has shown that significant cultural revolutions can take place within liberal schema of things but there is always certain enduring problems about isolation of property, class differences and other ‘otherized’ population that remain outside the ambit of rights. I will think about this point more and give more in future posts.