The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Monday Morning Linkage

June 17, 2013

Rubber_ducksGood morning.  Here are some loosely connected articles on development, bureaucracy, and state power…

  • I am quite taken by James Ferguson’s metaphor of “swarming state power” as an alternative to James Scott’s “controlling state power” and thus as a way of understanding contemporary “development” (a discourse whose objects have apparently all but abandoned progress for the “hope of egress”).  Ferguson helps us to understand both why so many development projects “fail” and what development projects are actually (i.e. functionally) doing even as they fail repeatedly and spectacularly.   Surely, this metaphor of the state as a swarm, i.e. an enlarged bureaucratic state that engages usable objects without a coordinated and rationalized apparatus of planning and control, can be extended beyond the field of development?
  • I’m still working through my copy of Akhil Gupta‘s Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India, but it is a gripping read. Gupta’s work challenges the (often faddish) application of Agamben’s Homo Sacer to developmental policy — particularly in a democratic republic like India.  The irrationality and arbitrariness of the plan-rational bureaucracy which routinizes the suffering of the poor is carefully detailed by Gupta’s ethnographic field work.  On reading Gupta, one cannot help but recall Marx’s dictum that “The bureaucrats are the Jesuits and theologians of the state.”
  • The irrationality and arbitrariness of the bureaucracy is not confined to the “lesser places,” of course.  John Sifton‘s brilliant account of how the US FBI reacted to a practical joke is well worth the read.  What could be more amusing than forcing a dilettante to explain Finnegan’s Wake to humorless and intellectually brain-dead bureaucrats and lawyers?
  • Stephen Graham‘s essay on Foucault’s Boomerang is also worth a read.  The essay reminds us that techniques of bio-power and bio-politics that served as the foundation for the surveillance state were the product of Europe’s colonial encounters.  Nevertheless, these techniques have evolved rapidly toward a form that Graham calls “militarized urbanism.”  The vision of urban spaces in capitalist heartlands as problematic sites or infected zones beyond the scope of the authentic national community fuels the incendiary politics of the right wing.  Thus it is not surprising to see the emergence of a rightist discourse which weaponizes the bodies of migrants; and national security states that display an almost “instinctive anti-urbanism.”

  • Corey Robin argues that David Brooks is the last Stalinist: “In the long history of state tyranny, it is often those who are bound by close ties of personal connection to family and friends that are most likely to cooperate with the government: that is, not to “betray” their oaths to a repressive regime, not to oppose or challenge authoritarian rule. Precisely because those ties are levers that the regime can pull in order to engineer an individual’s collaboration and consent.”
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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia