MODERNITIES IN STRUGGLE: Economies, Polities, Cultures

Fall 2008 Tuesdays 5-7:50 PM, GEC 1005


Anth 897-53 (________); Comm 754 (__________); Geog 804-2 (____)

This class will address the questions of how one might think about economic realities and relations in the contemporary world, focusing to some extent on questions of “globalizations,” in the context of thinking about modernities. Yet the argument of the class is that such matters (economies and globalizations) cannot be understood in isolation, either from the systems of relations in which they are constituted and operate, or from the broader ethical and political concerns of the contemporary context. These challenges become all the greater when one consider the growing assumption, common among many scholars and researchers, that we are in a highly transitional moment in terms of both institutional and everyday lives. The challenge is, as Stuart Hall put it, to find ways “to interpret how a society is changing in ways that are not amenable to the immediate political language.” Similarly Boaventura de Sousa Santos –an architect of the World Social Forum movement—suggests, on a planetary scale, “we are facing modern problems for which there are no modern solutions”.

Disciplinary knowledge is, to a large extent, predicated on the “modern” fragmentation of the social formation into relatively autonomous and often fetishized spheres, such as economy, politics, culture, and nature and largely overlooking or oversimplifying the intricate flows and relations among them. In this class, we want to consider interdisciplinary ways of thinking about these challenges by hypothesizing the possibility and even existence of a multiplicity of modernities (against the most commonly held views of either a universal modernity or alternative modernities that are variations of the universal one). By looking at economies, as well as polities, and cultures, as deeply relational domains, the class attempts to de-essentialize these categories and to re-theorize them by embracing the complexity, hybridity, and multiplicity not only of social formations, technologies and organizations of power, forms of agency, individualities and collectivities but also of the forms and practices of mediation and articulation, constituting contemporary economic—and political and cultural--realities.

We do not intend to offer a linear narrative of intellectual progress and transcendence, but rather, a nonlinear and relational logic of reading that will enable us to think about the different ways in which economies and globalization (as spatio-temporal modes of being-in-the-world-together)–and with those, nature, knowledge, and value—have been and are being constituted as having particular sorts of existences and effects.

The course will be organized in four sections:
1. Modernity as an enlightenment project. Is there a dominant “euro-modernity?; the construction of “the economy” and the “national” economy; (neo)classical and Marxist theories; globalization as modernity writ large.
2. Modernities in struggle: multiple modernities and economies; economics and constructionism; difference and contestations among modernities and economies.
3. Modernities and relationalities: re-theorizing the economy and globalization from varying perspectives of relationality: e.g., embeddedness, contextuality, articulation, complexity, spatiality (scale), networks, assemblages and immanence.
4. Place and practice: locating knowledge (and the academy) in a post-enlightenment world; re-theorizing social totalities; reconceptualizing globalization as a pluriverse of modernities.

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