Academic journal article LSE Gender Institute. New Working Paper Series

Globalisation, Governmentality and Failure through the Prism of Petén, Guatemala

Academic journal article LSE Gender Institute. New Working Paper Series

Globalisation, Governmentality and Failure through the Prism of Petén, Guatemala

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this paper, I consider the analytical purchase of a focus on 'failure' for the analysis of globalising processes in Petén, Guatemala. I locate my interest in 'failure' at the point of intersection between theoretical reflection and ethnographic experience, and propose to frame my interrogation of the nexus between globalisation and failure specifically in terms of governmentality. The emphasis on governmentality unsettles simplistic assumptions concerning the meanings of 'globalisation' to suggest the importance of a link between globalising processes and specific 'projects of governance'. A consideration of the relation between globalising processes, governmentality and failure through the 'local prism' of Petén focuses the analysis on situated understandings of contemporary processes of social transformation, a point which is illustrated with reference to declarations of failure of the large conservation project Maya Biosphere Reserve. In turn, failure through this global/local prism brings into focus the knowledge practices, analytical operations, scalar assumptions and imaginative figurations inherent in thinking through global/local 'contexts'. The paper concludes that 'failure' constitutes a concept-metaphor linked to a plurality of local/global interpretative strategies through which people make sense of globalising processes and their histories. This suggests a broader point concerning the role of concept-metaphors for ethnography.

Introduction

In this paper, I draw on questions thrown up in the course of ethnographic research in Petén, northern Guatemala, to examine the analytical purchase of a focus on 'failure' for the analysis of globalising processes in this region. I locate my interest in 'failure' at the point of intersection between theoretical reflection and ethnographic experience, and propose to frame my interrogation of globalisation and failure specifically in terms of governmentality. The emphasis on governmentality unsettles simplistic assumptions concerning the meanings of 'globalisation', to suggest the importance of an analysis of the link between globalising processes and specific 'projects of governance' (Valverde 1996, p. 358 cited in Perry and Maurer 2003, p. xiv). Further, a consideration of the relation between globalising processes, governmentality and failure through the 'local prism' of Petén aims to focus the analysis on situated understandings of contemporary processes of social, cultural, economic and political transformation. Evoking historical specificity as well as social and cultural location, this prism draws attention to the knowledge practices, analytical operations, scalar assumptions and imaginative figurations inherent in thinking through global/local 'contexts' (Miller et al 1995; Strathern 1995). The global/local prism therefore references both a historical and socio-cultural context for the nexus between globalisation and failure, and a set of analytical strategies for its apprehension and contextualisation.

The first key aspect here is that 'failure' evokes very directly vernacular understandings of, and responses to, forms of rule over territory and populations in contemporary Petén. Failure materialises in everyday conversations and in people's own preoccupations and judgments. Whilst its specific locations and manifestations may vary, here I am concerned with instances when failure is ascribed in the form of a verb, cumplir, conjugated in the negative. In its positive inflections, cumplir refers to successful execution and implementation, while the negative form references non-compliance and a failure in the realisation of an obligation, a duty, a legal prescription, or a promise. Failure is, in these vernacular inflections associated specifically with the verb cumplir, a failure to realise or accomplish a rule, in this double sense of a stipulation, agreement, or prescription, and a form of governing. In 1999, as Peten emerged from a thirty- six year long conflict, the overwhelming majority of my interlocutors in the field - all of whom had been politically active in the insurgency - invested much hope in the Guatemalan Peace Accords. …

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