Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing approaches globalization from a unique, yet extremely powerful perspective. Unlike many social analyst and economist who often focus on conceptualizing globalization as a top-down rhetoric, Tsing uses ethnographic methodology to study global connections and universal aspirations (1, 4). She specifically looks at the Indonesian rainforest politics to illustrate how cultural specificity influences how global capital, universalism, and commodities are linked. She says,
There is no point in studying fully discrete “ capitalism”: Capitalism only spreads as producers, distributors and consumers strive to universalize categories of capital, money, and commodity fetishism. Such strivings make possible globe-crossing capital and commodity chains. Yet these chains are made up of uneven and awkward links. The cultural specificity of capitalist forms arises from the necessity of bringing capitalist universals into action through worldly encounters (4).
Tsing is much more interested in how universals are simultaneous productions of hegemony and resistance. And this simultaneous process, which is often contradictory, can be seen in specific cultural landscapes. Tsing pays close attention to specific cultural forms as “persistent but unpredictable effects of global encounters across difference” (3). For instance, universal local knowledge does not just operate locally, that knowledge is often mobilized across other cultures, which inevitably result in other forms of friction. By drawing attention to friction, which she argues often defines “movements, cultural forms, and agency”, she further argues that friction is a requirement “to keep global power in motion”. Tsing sees friction in specific historical contexts as important developments of universal aspirations, especially in their ability to mobilize knowledge. The three different types of universals she explores are prosperity, knowledge, and freedom, which successfully allow her to show us how friction within Indonesia keeps global power in motion as universal aspirations “travel as an ethnographic object” (7).
1. I was really interested in Tsing’s discussion of the frontier, but more specifically the role of hyper-masculinity, as both fueled by anxiety and virility, and one way we see that masculinity assert itself is in the exploitation of women’s bodies. Tsing says:
“women can be resourceful too, and prostitution brings new resources to the frontier. But this is a world formed by an intensive peculiar, exaggerated masculinity. This is a masculinity that spreads and saturates itself with images and metaphors, amulets, stickers of naked women, stories based on the confusion between rape and wild sex. Its moving force is perhaps best seen in the imaginistic effects of the “water machine,” the high-pressure hydraulic pump, small enough for one man to carry and connect to any local stream, but whose power in the spray emerging from the taut blue plastic piping can gauge a hole four feet deep into the land and thus expose the gravel underneath the clay, gravel mixed, perchance, with small flakes or nuggets of gold. What a charismatic force! And what possibilities it unveils.” (39-40).
Now, I don’t know if Tsing is specifically making the connection that these men’s masculinity is defined by the “water machine” era, which has inflicted for miners and loggers, no matter their culture, a drive for profit and what keeps these men enthralled in this process is the image of the sexualized woman, who is submissive to men’s desires. I may be wrong, but I am interested in discussing your own reading of the quote above because I think there is an interesting relationship between masculinity, gendered and racialized violence, and labor in the frontier. What do you think?
2. I was a little confused with Tsing’s discussion of “conjuring of scale”. I think breaking it down in class will be very helpful to me in order to see how frontier extraction relies on it. Therefore, how can we conceptualize “conjuring of scale” in our own words? And how does frontier extraction rely on the conjouring of scale?