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Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    A wheel turns because of its encounter with the surface of the road; spinning in the air it goes nowhere. Rubbing two sticks together produces heat and light; one stick alone is just a stick. In both cases, it is friction that produces movement, action, effect. Challenging the widespread view that globalization invariably signifies a "clash" of cultures, anthropologist Anna Tsing here develops friction in its place as a metaphor for the diverse and conflicting social interactions that make up our contemporary world.

    She focuses on one particular "zone of awkward engagement"--the rainforests of Indonesia--where in the 1980s and the 1990s capitalist interests increasingly reshaped the landscape not so much through corporate design as through awkward chains of legal and illegal entrepreneurs that wrested the land from previous claimants, creating resources for distant markets. In response, environmental movements arose to defend the rainforests and the communities of people who live in them. Not confined to a village, a province, or a nation, the social drama of the Indonesian rainforest includes local and national environmentalists, international science, North American investors, advocates for Brazilian rubber tappers, UN funding agencies, mountaineers, village elders, and urban students, among others--all combining in unpredictable, messy misunderstandings, but misunderstandings that sometimes work out.

    Providing a portfolio of methods to study global interconnections, Tsing shows how curious and creative cultural differences are in the grip of worldly encounter, and how much is overlooked in contemporary theories of the global.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3059-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Global connections are everywhere. So how does one study the global?

    This book is about aspirations for global connection and how they come life in “friction,” the grip of worldly encounter. Capitalism, science, and politics all depend on global connections. Each spreads through aspirations fulfilluniversaldreams and schemes. Yet this is a particular kind of universality: It can only be charged and enacted in the sticky materiality of practical encounters. This book explores this practical, engaged universality as a guide to the yearnings and nightmares of our times.

    Post-colonial theory challenges scholars to position our work between the traps...

  5. I Prosperity

    • “Better you had brought me a bomb, so I could blow this place up”
      (pp. 21-26)

      Development has been portrayed as a great machine for manufacturing prosperity in poor countries. In New Order Indonesia, development was the state religion. President Suharto was the “father of development.”

      In the 1970s, development looked to technopolitics: the transformation of tradition into modernity. Big dams would water dry fields; the Green Revolution would make rice spring up; natural resources would enrich the nation. In the 1980s, the miracle of a growth-based nation arose. Indonesia became a “tiger” with its own dynamic capitalism. In the 1990s, privatization spread like wildfire around the world. In Kalimantan, privatization took a particular form: the...

    • 1 Frontiers of Capitalism
      (pp. 27-50)

      What do cancer and nuclear weapons have in common? Their expansion, proliferation, is always already out of control. Proliferation, too, is a key principle of capitalist expansion, particularly at capitalist frontiers where accumulation is not so much primitive, that is, archaic, as savage. Frontiers are not just edges; they are particular kinds of edges where the expansive nature of extraction comes into its own. Built from historical models of European conquest, frontiers create wildness so that some—and not others—may reap its rewards. Frontiers are deregulated because they arise in the interstitial spaces made by collaborations among legitimate and...

    • “They communicate only in sign language”
      (pp. 51-54)

      Everyone knows a commodity: It is the material good of capitalist production and the object of consumers’ desire. Commodities seem so familiar that we imagine them ready made for us throughout every stage of production and distribution, as they pass from hand to hand until they arrive at the consumer. Yet the closer we look at the commodity chain, the more every step—even transportation—can be seen as an arena of cultural production. Global capitalism is made in the friction in these chains as divergent cultural economies are linked, often awkwardly. Yet the commodity must emerge as if untouched...

    • 2 The Economy of Appearances
      (pp. 55-78)

      Indonesia’s profile in the international imagination changed completely at the end of the 1990s. From the top of what was called a “miracle,” Indonesia fell to the bottom of a “crisis.” In the middle of what was portrayed as a timeless political regime, students demonstrated, and, suddenly, the regime was gone. So recently an exemplar of the promise of globalization, overnight Indonesia became the case study of globalization’s failures.

      The speed of these changes takes one’s breath away—and raises important questions about globalization. Under what circumstances are boom and bust intimately related to each other? Mightderegulationandcronyism...

  6. II Knowledge

    • “Let a new Asia and a new Africa be born”
      (pp. 81-87)

      Stories of the Enlightenment often pair knowledge and vision, in two senses: the privileging of the sense of sight, and the importance of planning. Vision has energized knowledge of the globe by condensing it in a friendly visual icon and normalizing its futurist aspirations. Yet global imagery is contested and tentative. Knowledge that travels today is haunted by the disappointments of past visions. Haunting disturbs our reliance on vision. Double vision gives us a headache, reminding us of our frailty. Authoritative knowledge is forced to shore up its boundaries. “Experts” are those who have trained themselves to see with a...

    • 3 Natural Universals and the Global Scale
      (pp. 88-112)

      Many things are said to be universal: freedom, money, love. But the two most historically successful universal claims—which continue to form exemplars for all universality—are still God and Nature. The universality of God and the universality of Nature are historically connected; in the European Renaissance, the stirrings of modern science conceived the latter on the model of the former. Only because God was known to be universal could Nature be depicted that way. The connection between God and Nature has continued to inspire the musings of theologians, scientists, and naturalists, reminding us of the importance of reason and...

    • “Dark rays”
      (pp. 113-120)

      Popular environmental knowledge is diverse and syncretic. It takes multiple forms of expertise and brings them down to size. This is not a one-way street, however. Individuals, including scientists, politicians, and activists, apply their eclectic perspectives in forming projects of nature-making.

      It makes no sense to search for a singular “Indonesian” environmental knowledge or one divided neatly into ethnic groups or religions. Instead, we might begin by identifying distinctive confluences of knowledge, as well as the nodes of practice and discourse informed by these confluences.

      1997. President Suharto is still in power, but the New Order regime is beginning to...

    • 4 Nature Loving
      (pp. 121-154)

      It is not necessary to have traveled to imagine oneself as cosmopolitan. To be cosmopolitan is to cast off parochialism in order to reach out to the world. All over “affluent Asia,” emergent classes of professionals, managers, and technical workers have fashioned themselves in relation to an imagined worldliness that reaches across oceans and cultures toward a beckoning global future.³ During Indonesia’s “economic miracle” years in the 1980s and 1990s, as foreign money flowed into the country, self-consciously cosmopolitan projects blossomed. Yet these projects were neither homogeneous nor variations on the same design. There were many reasons to reach for...

    • “This earth, this island Borneo”
      (pp. 155-170)

      Knowledge grows through multiple layers of collaboration—as both empathy and betrayal. The process of layering is perhaps most striking in insignificant, vernacular collaborations—like the one I catalyzed in the village of Kalawan, at a moment when a much-cherished biodiversity was becoming an issue of anxious concern.

      1994. It started with an innocent question about eels; I was thinking of dinner. “Are there any eels in the river?” I asked. Uma Adang, my Meratus Dayak friend and mentor, leaned back, assuming her most serious oratorical bearing.“Facing the year 2000,” she proclaimed, “we must make a list of all the...

    • 5 A History of Weediness
      (pp. 171-202)

      Those readers used to concentrating on humans may feel tempted to skip this chapter, which requires you to attend to nonhuman species. Ironically, this would introduce you to the chapter’s chief conceptual tool. Our categories and discriminations always produce zones of “boredom” and unreadability; powerful projects of categorization, including development and conservation (as well as your scholarly reading practices, whatever they may be), produce persistently uninteresting, invisible, and sometimes illegitimate zones—which I call “gaps.” Universal knowledge projects cannot be understood without attention to gaps. Of course, I would like to entice you to go on despite this warning. I...

  7. III Freedom

    • “A hair in the flour”
      (pp. 205-212)

      How does one speak out against injustice and the destruction of life on earth? Words and concepts betray us. The concept of freedom is much abused, and yet the idea of freedom is still as important a tool as any for the disenfranchised. Movements split and change. What seems at first empowerment can come to seem an oppressive discipline or an empty rhetoric. To pick among the causes presented to us—as well as those hidden from our view—is a constant work of passion and judgment. It changes who we are. We imagine that we find our “voice” for...

    • 6 Movements
      (pp. 213-238)

      Travel changes the way we imagine our home places. We suddenly see them as fragile, strange, and worth savoring in new ways. In his poem “Houses of Love,” Eka Budianta (2000) is struck by the fragility of his tamarind trees as he readjusts time and space beneath George Washington’s trees by the Potomac River. All rural nature seems perishable in these times of cosmopolitan development. His solution—as in a number of Indonesian nature poems—is to move these cherished landscapes into his heart. After bringing us further on his travels through the blooming trees of a Tokyo spring, he...

    • “Facilities and incentives”
      (pp. 239-244)

      The post–New Order period has been a bundle of contradictions. Political life has revived in cities and towns. Meanwhile, a new level of chaos and violence has torn up much of the countryside. U.S.-led global war has encouraged a return of military rule, while military crimes of all sorts are re The post New Order period has been a bundle of contradictions. Political life has revived in cities and towns. Meanwhile, a new level of chaos and violence has torn up much of the countryside. U.S.-led global war has encouraged a return of military rule, while military crimes of...

    • 7 The Forest of Collaborations
      (pp. 245-268)

      Freedom is elusive. It is easy to condemn any dream in hindsight. Yet there is something to say for delving into those bumbling moments of passion and empowerment when so much seems possible.

      Freedom comes in many guises. The freedom of middle-class students to roam in wild nature contrasts with the struggle of activists for communal empowerment. Each of these in turn is barely in dialogue with the practical lives of forest residents, which depend on their ability to stay out of the way of the schemes of the ruling class. Can any cause for common justice emerge across these...

  8. Coda
    (pp. 269-272)

    Contemplating the emerging triumph of free-market liberalism in his country, a Russian scholar is said to have quipped, “The future is clear and wellknown. Only the past is worth studying, because only the past still has mystery.” The successes of corporate consolidation, free-ranging finance, and transnational economic standardization backed by military muscle have made it difficult for people all over the world to think beyond the story of neoliberal globalization. This story is not enough. Like the apocryphal Russian scholar, this book has turned away from the sureties of a selfmaking future to re-open a sense of mystery that might...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 273-296)
  10. References
    (pp. 297-312)
  11. Index
    (pp. 313-321)