Interrupting Inevitability: Globalization and Resistance

Article excerpt

Recent and past events indicate that the meanings, effects, and outcomes of globalization are highly contested. Despite this, an underlying assumption of inevitability characterizes dominant globalization discourses. How is it possible that inevitability claims persist despite multiple contestations? In this article, the author makes two arguments. The first corrects a pervasive problem in the literature that separates contingency and inevitability as two competing logics of globalization; the second proposes a new analytic approach, based on a postcolonial critique, that more appropriately challenges ideological arguments while explaining their persistence. This approach is illustrated through an examination of an encounter that took place during an antiglobalization rally in Washington, D.C., in April 2000 and in a rethinking of our current economic crisis and the "new thrift" that has changed US consumer behavior.

KEYWORDS: globalization, antiglobalization, teleology, inevitability, resistance, Provincializing Europe, economic crisis, the new thrift, Dipesh Chakrabarty


In 1999, Stuart Eizenstat, President Clinton's under-secretary of state for economic, business, and agricultural affairs and under-secretary of commerce for international trade, responded to the WTO Seattle protests by stating, "Globalization (1) is an inevitable element in our lives. We cannot stop it any more then we can stop the waves from crashing on the shore." (2) In this statement, Eizenstat aligned his claims with a long history of teleological arguments that insist on the inevitability of free trade, the persistence of "market forces," and the natural, progressive increase of economic exchange that "evolves" like an organism far beyond the purview of human control. This statement connected globalization to nature--the natural force of the ocean--and portrayed it as an inevitable part of modern economic life.

Eizenstat was hardly alone in invoking this dominant imagery of globalization as inevitable (3): It even appeared among those at the forefront of the antioglobalization protests. For example, David Smith, AFL-CIO director of public policy, invoked similar natural imagery while assuaging fears that labor now stood for a complete rethinking of the global economic order by saying, "Globalization is a fact. ... We're not going to turn these tides back. We shouldn't want to turn these tides back; even if we wanted to, we could not." (4)

With the recent financial crisis, globalization proponents had to contend with arguments that neoliberal globalization might be at least partially responsible for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and, thus, its future inevitability might be in question. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated on the eve of the April 2009 G-20 meeting that "world leaders also must manage globalization to prevent a repeat of the mistakes that led to the current financial crisis. ... Instead of a globalization that threatens to become values-free and rules-free, we need a world of shared global rules founded on shared global values." (5) WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy agreed, but also cautioned against overly criticizing the benefits of the globalization of markets, "It's clear that globalisation globalised the crisis, but for many decades globalisation also globalised growth while lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty." (6) Robert Zoel-lick, current World Bank president and former US trade representative, insisted that despite the crisis, economic globalization must be pushed forward, "We cannot turn back the clock on globalization. Even as the United States and the world dig out of the present financial hole, we need to look further ahead ... the goal must be to build a more inclusive and sustainable globalization." (7) Thus while some proponents of globalization recognize that the current economic crisis raises questions about the success and benefits of globalization, they nevertheless insist that there is no alternative. …