Transnational Conflicts: Central America, Social Change, and Globalization

Article excerpt

TRANSNATIONAL CONFLICTS: CENTRAL AMERICA, SOCIAL CHANGE, AND GLOBALIZATION By William I. Robinson. London: Verso, 2003. USD 26.00 paper (ISBN: 1859844391), 400 pages.

William I. Robinson's latest contribution to scholarship on Central America is an ambitious and challenging book that is both theoretically sharp and solidly rooted in empirical material. Robinson writes from the perspective that academics make a commitment to either uphold the current social order or to change it, and he firmly locates himself within the latter group. His aim, first, is to suggest new ways of theorizing globalization and development, and second, to examine Central America in particular, highlighting the region's specific insertion in transnational capitalism. The book offers a structuralist explanation of globalization as the latest phase of capitalism, yet Robinson is careful not to ignore the question of individual agency and action.

Robinson argues that the issue of 'development' can no longer be analyzed according to individual nation states, because power-holders in the current context are a transnational elite that is no longer constrained by national borders. 'Development' and 'underdevelopment' can no longer be located territorially, but rather are determined by social groups globally. The four main features of transnational processes outlined by Robinson are: national and regional insertion into the globalized economy through specialized activities within a global division of labour; transnational class formation, as some classes become globalized and others disappear altogether; neoliberalism and political polyarchy, which Robinson defines as "low-intensity democracy"; and finally the transnationalization of political systems and civil societies. Throughout the book, Robinson emphasizes the gendered aspects of these processes. For example, Robinson highlights the specific effects of neoliberal economic policies on women's labour, exploring the types of jobs in which women are concentrated (service and factory) and the short and long term consequences that such policies have on women. This attention to the gendered character of transnational processes is one of the strengths of his analysis.

Given his focus on transnational processes and globalized networks of power, Robinson runs the risk of writing off the role of nation states all together. While he argues that nation states have become less and less powerful, he is quick to point out the important role they have played in restructuring national economies to play new and specialized roles in the global context. …