Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Globalization as Governmentality

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Globalization as Governmentality

Article excerpt

  To repeat: don't think, but look!
  --Ludwig Wittgenstein

At the 2002 International Sociological Association meeting, globalization was described in one session as "the story we all know." It was suggested that whereas economists tend to develop empiricist accounts of globalization focused on outcomes, scholars of international relations and international political economy were to be commended for their move toward feminist and postpositivist accounts focused on ideas, identities, and culture. Yet in the discussion that ensued it became apparent that, despite such theoretical innovations, the story of globalization itself remained remarkably unaltered. The shared collective conception was one of epochal macrolevel change. The intellectual challenge was to specify more clearly the content of this change, to develop more rigorous accounts of hegemonic projects and institutions, to examine the consequences for different places and people, and to identify how globalization was being resisted.

Our argument is that while there is considerable diversity in the way that globalization is understood, above and beyond this, the major international relations and international political economy theories are linked by a certain sociological and political realism. Put simply, globalization is treated as a transformation in the very structure of the world. This is true not just of mainstream accounts, but even many of those employing critical perspectives. The task of the researcher is to capture the substance of change along axes such as speed, space, time, territoriality, sovereignty, and identity. We suggest a useful alternative is to consider globalization as a "governmentality," that is, as a governmental rationality. (1) More specifically, we are interested in what we call elsewhere "global governmentality." (2) This article demonstrates the value of this approach in terms of four key questions regularly posed or implied by analysts of globalization: What is globalization? When is globalization? Where is globalization? and What are the politics of globalization?

Our purpose is not to venture another, truer or more complete, definition of globalization or a typology of competing theories. What we seek is a less substantialized account of globalization. With their search for the hidden processes animating global change, studies of globalization have been too deep. Tully argues there has been a "general reorientation in Western thinking in the twentieth century ... a move away from the search for an essence hidden behind human activities to the surface aspects that give them meaning." (3) We think it is high time that studies of globalization also attended more closely to surfaces, practices, and routines. We argue for greater "superficiality" in studies of globalization, an "empiricism of the surface," (4) and aim to demonstrate how this approach might promote different ways of understanding the present.

The term "governmentality" has been employed in two distinct ways in the literature. (5) Used in a specific sense, it denotes a particular way of thinking about and exercising power, whose historical emergence Foucault dates to the eighteenth century in Europe. Here "governmentality" names a form of power whose logic is not the defense of territory or the aggrandizement of the sovereign but the optimization of the health and welfare of the population.

But governmentality is also used in a second, more general, sense. This is as an approach that explores how governing always involves particular representations, knowledges, and expertise regarding that which is to be governed. This second understanding draws attention to the complex relationship between thought and government. Whether it is the government of an enterprise, a state, or one's own health, the practice of government involves the production of particular "truths" about these entities. Seeking out the history of these truths affords us critical insights concerning the constitution of our societies and ourselves. …

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