In An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing explores power struggles over Indonesian rain forests as sites of friction, which she defines as “the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (p. 3). Tsing’s methodology is ethnographic and her analysis is grounded in the narratives gathered while doing field research in rural Kalimantan. Specifically, Tsing focuses on Indonesia’s national environmental movement of the 1980s and early 1990s.   

As we discussed last week in class, although Tsing studies very specific global connections that relate to deforestation in Indonesia, her book is also a study of globalism, global capitalism, and liberalism. Tsing offers a theory of globalization that challenges previous scholars’ understandings of economic and cultural change (i.e. globalization) as spreading from global “centers” outwards. Rather, Tsing demonstrates how capitalist systems and ideologies of liberalism emerge locally in peripheral places out of the frictions of global connections.  

Although Tsing’s analysis really came together in part three on “Freedom,” I found her study of the nature lovers in part two particularly interesting.  Tsing describes how the nature lovers, or pencita alam, and the networks they formed take international ideologies of nature and make them local – redeploying that knowledge to formulate an historically-situated cosmopolitan nationalism. The chapter describes the nature lovers’ complex relationships with student resistance movements and the military, their cultural distinctions between the rural and the urban, and their identity as consumers of outdoor equipment and – my personal favorite – Philip Morris cigarettes (p. 141 -146). This part of the book was noteworthy because it provides a detailed illustration of Tsing’s argument that “we know and use nature through engaged universals" (p. 270) and more broadly that globalization always manifests itself through local, fragmentary frictions.    

Discussion Questions:   

1.     Like Castells, Tsing states that her research is motivated by a desire to know what kinds of social justice (or social movements) make sense in the 21st century. Also like Castells, she investigates global connections and social movements that attract the participation of social actors with diverse goals and ideological motivations. What are some connections that you made between these two texts as you were reading this week?

2.     I like the idea of a project that would combine Castells’ focus on networked social movements and Tsing’s careful analysis of global frictions. What might such a project produce? 

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