Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s 2005 Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection reimagines conceptions of global connections by focusing on “zones of awkward engagement” (xi). Drawing from her anthropological work in Indonesia, specifically the Meratus Mountains of Kalimantan, Friction refutes the homogeneity of Globalization—a concept that she sees to be simply encouraging the “dreams of a world in which everything has become part of one single imperial system.” (xiii) Instead, Tsing stresses the importance of cultural difference by putting questions of “distress center stage rather than trying to avoid it” (xii). According to Tsing, contemporary views and advances into Globalization Theory are quite misleading to the concrete realities of localized spaces and histories:

Most theories of globalization, for example, package all cultural developments into a single program: the emergence of a global era. [Asking] If globalization can be predicted in advance, there is nothing to learn from research except how the details support the plan. And if world centers provide the dynamic impetus for global change, why even study more peripheral places? (3)

     Seeking to go beyond dominant narratives of Globalization, Tsing refutes the advances of globalists such as Friedman and Fukazawa and finds it infinitely more productive to view global connectivity through the metaphorical lens of friction. This serves as a reminder that “heterogeneous and unequal encounters can lead to new arrangements of culture and power” (5). Tsing’s metaphor of friction is applied throughout her ethnographic study of Indonesia’s forest industry, and its political-economic-cultural dimensions. She does so to trace the historical legacies of power, difference, and culture regarding the rise of New Order Indonesia and the ecological destruction that ensued in the late twentieth-century. More significantly, Tsing finds that friction—the grip of worldly encounters—is a helpful way to understand universalisms: prosperity, knowledge, and freedom. Ultimately, Friction (2005) seeks to erase the binary constructs that dominant globalization theories have alluded to and instead makes the claim that difference is at the heart of global connections; as a result of these culturally produced differences, friction should be viewed as “the fly in the elephants nose” (6).
    Interested in complicating understandings of universalism—specifically claims centered on prosperity, knowledge, and freedom—Tsing asks: “How can universals be so effective in forging global connections if they posit an already united world in which the work of connection is unnecessary?” (7) Rather than giving credence to –isms that perpetually assume to have all the answers (capitalism, globalism, environmentalism, conservatism, liberalism, etc.), Tsing’s Friction realigns abstract notions of universalism by telling the “story of how some universals work out in particular times and places” (10). Focused on narrating the dimensions of Indonesian youth, Tsing finds it imperative to study the specificities of cosmopolitanism in order to fully grasp the “cultural analysis of knowledge” (122).  Her case study of Indonesian nature lovers--pencinta alam--then, provides a means by which to study global dimensions of inner connections and location (122). 
    It was helpful to read about the development of this student identity formation, as influenced by the political aspirations of Indonesia’s first president, but also via the youth movement’s historical genealogy. As invested as I am in student movements, reading about Indonesia’s very own youth movement was very insightful. Tsing’s theory of global connectivity revealed multi-layers of how power, resistance, and hegemony worked throughout the 20th century youth movement. Tsing’s metaphor of friction was particularly evidenced to me in her description of the relationship between the Kopassus and the pemuda; (128) particularly the ways that the youth student groups connected with the elite military guard. Similarly, the ways by which identity formation, rooted in desire and collaboration, provide a meaningful framework to conceive of student organization as anything but agents of political change.

Discussion Questions:
1)   Using her conceptual framework of friction to better understand the local, national, and global connections between entrepreneurs, politicos, and grassroots movements, does Tsing allude to a difference between a politics of resistance and a politics of refusal? Or better yet, is there a difference between the two?
2)   Writing about the student Nature Lovers, Tsing characterizes the group to be one of identity-formation based on national anti-politics; middle-class distinction; domestic adventure tourism; consumer culture. Writing about the intricacies of capitalism, Tsing acknowledges:
“Both domestic and foreign companies began to see the potential of advertising using images of nature lover activities: They could show young active people challenging the world with the help of their brand-name products.” (131).
Would you consider this to be similar to what Rosemary J. Coombe (1998) found to be the appropriation of counter-cultures?

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