In the book Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2011), Anna Tsing uses the term "friction" as a metaphor to describe the differences that come up and structure the contemporary world through the political, social, and economic realm. She challenges the widespread view that globalization invariably
signifies a "clash" of cultures, and develops friction in its place as a metaphor for the diverse and conflicting social interactions that make up the contemporary world. In her attempt, Tsing aims to answer questions about global connectedness. Her main argument is based on her fieldwork in Indonesia's rain forest industry and its environmental and political engagement during the 1980's and 1990's. She seeks to answer the questions "Why is global capitalism so messy? Who speaks for nature? And what kind of social justice makes sense in the twenty-first century?" (p. 2). She answers these questions in her book through a series of metaphors she argues are universal truths; Prosperity, Knowledge, and Freedom. Tsing challenges these universals, as she believes globalization is not about homogenizing the world but instead understanding that
we are actually not all the same. Tsing writes,
"The specificity of global connections is an ever present reminder that universal claims do not actually make everything everywhere the same….we must become embroiled in specific situations. And thus it is necessary to begin again, and again, in the middle of things" (p.1/2).
Tsing points out that these differences and disparities keep global power in motion. Treading outside of localities, Tsing uses environmental politics to see how well universals work in tracing global connections. She describes how in the 1980s and the 1990s capitalist interests increasingly reshaped the landscape
of Indonesian rainforest, through chains of legal and illegal entrepreneurs who extorted the land from previous claimants, creating resources for distant markets. In response, environmental movements arose to defend the rainforests and the communities of people who live in them. Her description shows that the
social drama of the Indonesian rainforest was not only confined to a village, a province, or a nation, instead it included local and national environmentalists, international science, North American investors, UN funding
agencies, mountaineers, village elders, and urban students, among others--all combining in unpredictable, messy misunderstandings.
    I love Tsing's work and her use of the framework of scapes proposed by Arjun Appadurai (1996) for exploring disjunctures. To pick one particular section, I would say, I really liked the second chapter The
Economy of Appearances.
Tsing very efficiently uses Appadurai's theory on finance-scapes (Appadurai, 1996), as she traces the global capital exchange. In her description of the Bre-X speculation and failure, she shows how the collaboration of several groups (foreign investors, migrant workers, political forces, etc.) who come together to demonstrate imagined "economy of appearance" could so easily conjure speculated richness through collaborative, yet misinterpreted, work (p. 57). I think this is a perfect example of Appadurai's concept and even though Tsing's analysis of "friction," disruption and conflict does not offer answers to the issues, she recognizes its differences. She writes that at every level for the New Order of Indonesia, confusion exists even with their mix of investors, citing how foreign is domestic, public is private that further adds to the corruption.

1. Reading Tsing was very valuable in terms of my project proposal. However, as I strive to narrow down my focus on my research proposal, I cannot help but wonder what can be some other ways of understanding activism and interpretation apart from mainstream ethnography. Is ethnography the only
way out to understand activism?

2. "Universal reason of course was best articulated by the colonizers. In contrast, the colonized were characterized by particularistic cultures; here, the particular is that which cannot grow" (p. 9). I am not sure
that I understood this line well, but I was wondering, is she critiquing the definition of universal reason from the colonizers perspective here? Or does she neglect the alternate idea of civilization (which apparently absent in the colonies) and the gradual replacement of it by the concept of culture?

3. I must admit, Tsing was not an easy reader and therefore it left me wondering about the audience of her work. Is it only targeted to a group of qualified academics? How far stretched are their capabilities to bring about change. Will the academicians be able to influence policy planners, foresters, ecologists, or taking a step backward I would like to know are they (policy planners, ecologists, etc.) even the most important
target to bring about change?


Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization (Vol. 1). University of Minnesota Press.
Tsing, A. L. (2011). Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton University Press.

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