Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Public Planet) by Arjun Appadurai (Author), Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar (Series Editor) (2 customer reviews)
"Fear of Small Numbers" by Arjun Appadurai offers an exceptionally astute and often original analysis on the topic of violence and globalization. Drawing on his extensive knowledge gained over an impressive career as a scholar, consultant and activist, Mr. Appadurai brings an unique and internationalist perspective to bear on the subject. Written with a high degree of intelligence, clarity and conciseness, Mr. Appadurai's book convincingly explains how much of today's violence is tied to economic and social forces that are peculiar to our moment in history, thereby providing much-needed insight into how we might begin to address and resolve the problem of violence in our time. Mr. Appadurai contends that globalization has created mass uncertainty by demolishing the state's ability to control its own economic destiny; as a consequence, the production of cultural cohesion has gained greater importance than ever for the nation state's bid to retain relevancy. Unfortunately, the globalization game can easily destabilize national borders and upset the state's attempts at social cohesion by creating mass unemployment and encouraging inflows and outflows of destitute workers. Under these conditions, the downtrodden can sometimes become scapegoats for the nation's failures; in extreme cases, the poor and disenfranchised may become victims of violent purges that are driven by the majority population's heightened social and economic anxieties. However, Mr. Appadurai believes that terrorism constitutes the truly nightmarish side of globalization. Mimicking transnational corporations by organizing themselves in flexible, decentralized production networks, terrorist groups threaten the survival of the nation state. Terrorist rage is often directed at the U.S. as a consequence of its perceived cultural and economic hegemony as well as for its frequent exercise of military power around the world, especially in the Middle East. Mr. Appadurai points out that suicide bombers attempt to make political statements by personalizing themselves and their victims in deliberate and pointed contrast to the anonymous mass violence inflicted by U.S. air bombing campaigns. While Mr. Appadurai understands that some of these outsider perceptions of the U.S. may be difficult to accept, we probably need to acknowledge the author's point about how the unequal distribution of wealth and the sometimes indiscriminate and reckless deployment of U.S. power may be contributing to political destabilization and violent backlash if we wish to address some of the root causes of terrorism in a meaningful way. Mr. Appadurai goes on to discuss how the rise and fall of the BJP in India illustrates how political struggle can coalesce around ideas of cultural identification and exclusion. We learn how relatively small segments of the population can challenge legal and religious doctrines in a manner that can seem threatening to the majority population, elements of whom sometimes lash out violently against perceived threats in ideologically motivated attacks. On the other hand, the author finds hope in the many grass-roots activist networks around the world who are working for positive socioeconomic change. Mr. Appadurai believes that such organizations can create a much-needed "third space" for democratic deliberation and decision making, thereby helping the global economic system to work towards just ends. I give this timely and important book the highest possible rating and recommend it to everyone.
Appadurai draws on his former work on globalization in Modernity at Large, to propose a set of exciting and innovatively original reflections on the agendas set by post-September 11. The way terrorism is a sequel to former globalizing tendencies, and has been used in local contexts to deal in a discriminating way with 'difference', and 'minorities', is set against larger issues, such as the question of the role of the territorialized nation-state, and deterritorialized global terror. The interest of his approach resides in the fact that it considers a wide range of examples from South Asia to Europe, and the US, thus making the more evident how reductive - to say the least- are views of contemporaneity derived from Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Appadurai is a genuinely original thinker, an exception in a world which sees a daily proliferation of repetitive and obvious approaches to such issues. An inspiring book I strongly recommend!