Peter Mayo, Politics of Indignation: Imperialism, Postcolonial Disruptions and Social Change, Zero Books, London, 2012; 121 pp: 9781780995366, 9.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
Around the end of 2010, Peter Mayo decided to explore writing online. I was quietly intrigued to see that Mayo had taken up 'blogging' and publishing online op-eds, since we had often discussed the opportunity social technologies afford academics wishing to reach out to people who would not normally gravitate towards university libraries, or who do not have access to academic journals online. Between 2010 and 2012, Mayo published several posts in online media outlets such as Truthout, Counterpunch and Gramsci Oggi, and clearly relished the new-found freedom to write and publish in real time, with a sense of urgency, about global events. The majority of the twelve articles in The Politics of Indignation are reworked versions of these original posts. Together with new material, the end result is what Mayo calls a compendium for our 'hard though interesting times' (p. 1): a slim book in which there is much to savour and unravel.
There are two overarching, interrelated themes in this book. The first is an impassioned attack on the workings of neoliberalism and the vagaries of the marketplace; the second is a call to arms to resist the gradual destruction of critical spaces, not least spaces for critical education.
Mayo casts a wide net for his inquiries, from Chile, Cuba and Nicaragua to Malta and other, more familiar territory: Italy, Turkey, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. In the process, the narrative skirts around two 9/11s--one in Chile in 1973, and that of New York 2001--the Arab Spring, labour and racism issues in the Mediterranean, and even cyber politics. The focus on 'the global' underlines the historicity of the 'groundswell of dissent, indignation and tenacity' (p. 2) that has been rooted in public protests in the squares and streets of many cities in the past two years. Mayo wryly observes that today's tensions are simply another phase in the 'violence, symbolic and also physical, that marked the birth pangs of neoliberalism' (p. 3). Indeed, the chapters are punctuated by a search for revolutionary alternatives to neoliberalism, and a reminder of the heavy price that has been paid and continues to be paid by people prepared to offer resistance to the mainstream. Mayo takes pains not to romanticise revolutionary experiments, but his sympathies dearly lie with people and movements that work against the grain in pursuit of 'social-justice oriented disruptions' (p. 105).
It would be easy to dismiss this book as being over-ambitious in scope, or even sparse in academic jargon, if you did not remind yourself that these chapters started life as online posts. The immediacy and economy demanded by the online medium has encouraged Mayo to couch his ideas 'in a more popular and accessible idiom' (p. 2), and the quality of the writing is the net beneficiary: consistently punchy and unashamedly opinionated, yet grounded as much in academic theory as in personal experience. A May Day demonstration in Taksim Square in Istanbul is an opportunity for Mayo to reflect on worker solidarity. The criminalisation of irregular migrants to Malta from the South, and their subsequent detention in closed centres, is the backdrop for a treatise on the way the 'carceral state' operates a caged environment that would render any human being insane. …