Global citizenship in an insurrectional era

Authored by: Nevzat Soguk

Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies

Print publication date:  June  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519724
eBook ISBN: 9780203102015
Adobe ISBN: 9781136237966




‘10 tips to promote global citizenship….’ is how a recent article in the Guardian newspaper starts. (King, 2012) But what global citizenship means is never really foregrounded in the article. This is not unusual in conversations on global citizenship. Like the buzzwords ‘global’ and ‘citizenship’ from which it is formed, ‘global citizenship,’ both as concept and praxis, is often simply announced rather than exemplified or substantiated. To be sure, theoretically, innovation on the concept of global citizenship is rich and textured, pointing to varying formations of global citizenry in areas ranging from human-rights activism to environmental advocacy to multinational corporatism. 1 In actuality, the subjects of those innovations figure infrequently in the categorical ways in which they are heralded in prevalent popular discourses. Delanty (2000), Falk (2002), Dower and Williams (2002), Isin (2000), Isin and Wood (1999), and Held (2002), among others, have advanced the critical theoretical frontiers early on with a view to substantiating instances or practices, if not incipient regimes, of global citizenry. Archibugi (2008) and Hans Shattle (2008) have recently added considerable depth to the field to ideas of cosmopolitan democracy and civil society. Yet, despite considerable advances in theory, global citizenship as a practical ordering ideal and political agency is yet to establish strong roots (Bayart, 2007). It remains resilient as an aspiration but is unable to shake off doubts about its materiality. It is this paradoxical state – rich in theory, sparse in actuality – that allows the Guardian to talk casually of ‘10 tips to promote global citizenship’, or corporate organizations as diverse as the World Bank, Oxfam, and Hewlett Packard to define themselves as global citizens. 2 Still questions regarding global citizenship hang uneasily in the air.

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Global citizenship in an insurrectional era

‘10 tips to promote global citizenship….’ is how a recent article in the Guardian newspaper starts. (King, 2012) But what global citizenship means is never really foregrounded in the article. This is not unusual in conversations on global citizenship. Like the buzzwords ‘global’ and ‘citizenship’ from which it is formed, ‘global citizenship,’ both as concept and praxis, is often simply announced rather than exemplified or substantiated. To be sure, theoretically, innovation on the concept of global citizenship is rich and textured, pointing to varying formations of global citizenry in areas ranging from human-rights activism to environmental advocacy to multinational corporatism. 1 In actuality, the subjects of those innovations figure infrequently in the categorical ways in which they are heralded in prevalent popular discourses. Delanty (2000), Falk (2002), Dower and Williams (2002), Isin (2000), Isin and Wood (1999), and Held (2002), among others, have advanced the critical theoretical frontiers early on with a view to substantiating instances or practices, if not incipient regimes, of global citizenry. Archibugi (2008) and Hans Shattle (2008) have recently added considerable depth to the field to ideas of cosmopolitan democracy and civil society. Yet, despite considerable advances in theory, global citizenship as a practical ordering ideal and political agency is yet to establish strong roots (Bayart, 2007). It remains resilient as an aspiration but is unable to shake off doubts about its materiality. It is this paradoxical state – rich in theory, sparse in actuality – that allows the Guardian to talk casually of ‘10 tips to promote global citizenship’, or corporate organizations as diverse as the World Bank, Oxfam, and Hewlett Packard to define themselves as global citizens. 2 Still questions regarding global citizenship hang uneasily in the air.

A literature search offers a plethora of ideas, all anchored in a common call on citizens to awareness, that is, for citizens to be attentive to the developments in the world, to be outraged by injustices, and to participate in politics in order to effect change both locally and globally. At first glance, these are objectives that deserve endorsement. Being aware, being engaged, and acting together with fellow humans on the world’s diverse issues carry a cosmopolitan promise otherwise absent in calls to power and identity fuelled by mercantilist nationalism or competitive and often predatory capitalism. A close inspection, however, reveals that the concept of global citizenship, like the popular discourse itself, is fraught with tensions. 3

The tension that is most fundamental is found in the concept’s affinity with modern territorial citizenship. The concept is still bound up within the state–territorial order of the globe and rests on the authenticity claims regarding citizen subjects. It searches for global citizenship in the trappings of the state–territorial order, whether in international governmentality or nongovernmentality instead of looking into transitions from the order or the outright transgressions of the order. It rests on the ideal of citizen subjects’ presumed abilities and willingness to act as transnational actors. To put it simply, the ideas on global citizenship are still bound up in the local–global antimony anchored in Cartesian territoriality. What is needed is an approach that situates citizen agency under prevailing planetary conditions, which are neither purely local nor decidedly global but rather transversal – an interactive totality in which new forms of political agency militate, even if they are as yet concealed, waiting, as Deleuze puts it, to emerge:

we know that things and people are always forced to conceal themselves, have to conceal themselves when they begin. What else they could do? They come into being within a set which no longer includes them and, in order not to be rejected, have to project the characteristics which they retain in common with the set. The essence of a thing never appears at the outset, but in the middle, in the course of development, when its strength is assured.

(1984: 37)

This is the critical ethos that energizes my approach to global citizenship in this chapter. Instead of celebrating something called a ‘global citizen’, I reflect critically on the global conditions that have exposed citizen subjects’ vulnerabilities across the world. Instead of privileging political agency through the citizen–nation-state chain, I treat agency as increasingly enabled in transversal conditions. Following Glissant, I see ‘transversality’ as deep historical relations, extending in multiple directions linking people and places together without collapsing them into one another or treating them as territorially contained and determined. (Glissant, 1996: 66–7) In these conditions, agency is found not in simple assemblages of citizens into national or global movements but in insurrectional movements born of the struggles of human beings within dominant political and economic sets, which no longer fully include them even as they appear to represent them. Migrants and citizens or natives and strangers have increasingly more in common in their alterity within the dominant relations and institutions. There is a common insurrectional dimension to their conditions found in the abjection visited upon both citizen and migrant lives. Without reflecting on this nexus, it is difficult to assess the extant and emergent realities of what might one day justifiably be characterized as global citizenry. Situating my thoughts within the critiques by Édouard Glissant, Paul Gilroy, Fredric Jameson, and Paul Virilio, I aim at such a critical reading, even if only in fragments.

From territorial to transversal politics: agency in an insurrectional era

The contemporary lines of flight appear to be conditioned by the ontology of debt to modernity as the source or the measure and not sufficiently by the politics of escape from it. Jacques Derrida famously raised the question of whether there is any outside to capitalism, treated as a text (Derrida 1994). Many took the question literally spatially, that is, spatiality as a function of capital’s expanse over terra firma, but only a few treated the question politically, to speak of the spatial as a function of the temporal – in terms of the sense we make of spaces we shape through the practices of time we imagine and empower. Derrida’s concern was with the possibilities of the flight of escape from the singular theoretical hegemony of the meta-idea which capitalism has come to represent. That is, theory has to always exceed the debt it owes ontologically to the source. In other words, returning to Derrrida’s question, there is always an outside, found in orientations that go beyond the preoccupation with prevailing anchors – territoriality, nationhood, and citizenship in modern governmentality. Seeing the ‘outside’ requires a leap in thought, a new position across space, a new sense of timing time and placing space.

Even a slight reorientation of thought from the territorial to the transversal alters the axiomatic view of the prevailing boundaries. Territorial is anchored exclusively in the nation-state form. The transversal is characterized more richly by multiple scales and levels of movements, including nanopolitical and metapolitical (Soguk, 2007). These scales and levels are inflected by territorial imperatives but are not fully determined by them. What is more is that transversal levels and scales travel through, over, under, along with, and against the territorial modes, altering the boundaries of the territorial – their insides and outsides – in form and content. Their challenge is not merely to the territorial as the dominant form but as the hegemonic mode through which modernity has historically been expressed as a pure measure of the political.

Transversality construed as mélange is not space of formlessness or measurelessness. It is not carnivalesque with fleeting marks or striations on political geographies. Rather, it supports political and economic coherences, among others, those not always or not fully empowered on the maps of the visible. Migrant movements, for example, are enabled in the transversal openings in the territorially striated space. While their movements appear to project a sheer chaos in direction, intention, and results, they share in the knowledges of the commonspaces – whether of economic deprivation or political repression – which not only trigger, but also inject a coherence to, their mobilization. The depths and expanses, unregistered in the territorially oriented distribution of the sensible, say between Mexico and the USA or North, or Sub-Saharan Africa and the European Union, become a compass of a new insurrectional subjectivity and positionality. Migrants operate, live, and die in overlapping or convergent spaces and domains as citizens. Tensions and conflicts exist in these spaces along ethnicity, race, and religion. Yet the common alterity compels awareness that they are collectively measured and marked politically as alien or strange as much as seen necessary or indispensable economically – at once both inside and outside the territorial orders, at once, strangers and citizens. Citizens in revolt in search of their ‘basic protections’ are now prevalent rather than exceptional, as seen in the Occupy Movements in Europe and the United States, the Arab Revolutions in the Middle East, and most recently in the economic collapse in Spain, Greece and Cyprus – all with roots in the transversal systemic conditions.

How do we comprehend and theorize these transversal emergences without either overreading their significance for citizenship or, inversely, capitulating to the dominant norm in mimicry of its logics and modalities? How do we theorize them beyond registering them as spectacular eruptions of political capacities, powerful today and deflated tomorrow?

The Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico offers quick yet crucial insights. For all the celebrations around the world at the time of its eruption in 1994, the Zapatistas constantly spoke of the necessity of establishing a new participatory movement – ‘a movement of movements’ that is organized across the world just like global capitalism along a transversal ideological project. The Zapatistas worked over a decade concealed under the jungle’s penumbra, before erupting, à la Deleuze, into the historical crucible of capitalism, the modern state, and indigeneity. And not surprisingly, it is the solid grounds of the preparatory work that still impel the Zapatista movement from strength to strength. While nowadays the Zapatistas hardly ever figure in current political imaginaries, the movement continues to cultivate new forms of participatory agency, or one may say, new forms of citizenship in Mexico and beyond. It is informed by the political geography of its struggles but it also practises mastery over geography by harnessing its modern mechanics to its transversal political solidarities.

In this sense, the world’s so-called first ‘postmodern revolution’ had a deep modern consciousness rooted in an emancipatory orientation and strategic groundwork. The forms, tactics, and methods of their struggles might have been construed as ‘postmodern’, commensurate with the times, but not their ordering beliefs regarding the underlying cause of their struggles. Much has been made of the Zapatistas’ use of the Internet to reach sympathizers around the world, but it was the messages that registered in people’s political consciousness and imagination. The consistent Zapatista message of ‘dignity and justice’ issued an ideology of emancipation from the local and global constellations of domination, thereby not only crystallizing the pivotal issues but also galvanizing collective energies within and beyond Mexico. It managed to tell the Maya story as an indigenous story of displacement and domination, but also as a novel citizenship story. Finally and most importantly, it cast both the indigenous Maya story and the Mexican nation story into the fold of the global capital story as the meta-story – as that which is more definitive of, than external to, both the Maya displacements and Mexico’s systemic capture by the neoliberal economic machine. In a fundamental way, the Zapatista rebellion is a transversal insurrectional movement under the orchestrated chaos of the world’s seemingly limitless differences. It highlights the conditions of chaotic heterogeneity and its coherences in Mexico and beyond, and simultaneously abstracts from them its ideals of emancipation.

In this sense, beyond the singularity of the struggle, the Zapatista rebellion erupted onto the historical scene as a political intervention, clarifying in a new line of flight the entire world differently. It moved the world from the end of history to the ends (read: limits) of triumphalist politics of the global capital and neoliberal state. As an event, it delivered an unexpected jolt to the political consciousness across the world, beginning to reveal the elements of the new subaltern politics already gnawing at the edges of the capitalist political–economic coherence. Its links with other movements in the Americas, particularly in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, fostered radical popular militations. Moving through the ‘transversal networks, the lessons of these struggles ‘extended in multiple directions linking unlikely people and places’.

Édouard Glissant and chaotic coherence of capitalism

Édouard Glissant was among those who alerted us to coherence in capitalist chaos. He calls this systemic coherence the chaos-monde, a chaos-world with its own temporality and spatiality through which the most infinitesimal human experiences, be they of individuals or communities, are assigned a place, a position, and a status. In their particularity and uniqueness, every individual, every community coheres to the world through the confluences of global capitalism. They represent echos-monde, the obscured expressions of human persons around the world. (Glissant, 1997: 91–5) Nevertheless, Glissant insists, these expressions echo more than the characteristics of their singularity, they also echo the experiential ‘unities whose interdependent variances jointly piece together the interactive totality’ of the world (1997: 93).

As Glissant puts it, the echoes are at work in the matter of the world:

they prophesy or illuminate it, divert it or conversely gain strength within it. In order to cope with or express confluences, every individual, every community, forms its own echos-monde, imagined from power or vainglory, from suffering or impatience… Echos-monde thus allows us to sense and cite the cultures of peoples in the turbulent confluence whose globality organizes our chaos-monde. The confluence is not chaotic, it is neither fusion, nor confusion: it acknowledges neither the uniform blend – a ravenous integration – nor muddled nothingness.

(1997: 93–95)

Insurrections emerge in this confluence of power and suffering, production and destruction, extraction and pollution. Elsewhere, Giorgio Agamben (1998) calls this crucial confluence of power relations the ‘zone of indistinction’, where politics over bodies acquires its economy and efficiency. Its ‘turbulent confluence, neither a uniform blend – a ravenous integration – nor muddled nothingness,’ organizes the order of the chaos-monde. On the other hand, the confluence gives rise to commonspaces where experiential convergences reveal the interplay of power and suffering or extraction and pollution. Zones of indistinction are diffused, and the hidden potentials for radical knowledge and praxis are clarified.

The sulphur mines in Indonesia, the silver mines in Bolivia, and the Cobalt mines in the Congo are revealed as commonspaces, linked not only to one another through the subterranean veins in mine pits, but also to glittery metropolises of the world through the supply lines of capitalist chaos-monde. In the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, while ‘the local men toil barehanded to feed an insatiable global demand for cobalt, their radioactive harvest poisons the water and air around them even as it feeds their families.’ However, a who’s-who list of nationalities comes together to facilitate cobalt’s routes within the coherent chaos of global capitalism. A form of global citizenship or global bondage within dominant relations?

The route the cobalt takes … passes through many hands from mine to border. First come the mainly Congolese buyers, such as Mwengala’s boss. They sell it to larger traders – a polyglot collection of Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Zimbabwean, and South African businessmen – who concentrate the ore, by hand or in a furnace, before selling it. Once the cobalt crosses the border into Zambia, Tshiswaka loses track of it. Some ends up in China … In 2003 that 28 percent of China’s imported cobalt concentrate came directly from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(Drohan, 2004)

Still, this knowledge of indistinct zones of connection within capitalist coherence has to be organized into its own coherence in order to have any political powers. Clearly, the conditions for such a shift in the political consciousness are amply manifest around the world. Although any rise in political awareness does not necessarily generate or galvanize action, it helps dispel the myth of borders in the world as the boundaries of acceptable and legitimate horizons of life. It reveals borders as facades beyond which commonspaces of insecurities are precariously situated. Indeed, behind the glitter of mega-city lights and sky-piercing towers, a multitude of insecurities – from economic deprivation to environmental degradation – cohere to dole out unequal access to means of living to citizens. These insecurities arrest millions of ordinary citizen lives and condemn them to a living conditioned through alienation, hardship, and exploitation. They quietly and cruelly grind people down – everywhere.

Paul Gilroy, postcolonial melancholia and neo-colonial economism

Not ironically, the cruelties concentrate against the background of celebrations of capital, always triumphalist in outlook, always already announcing itself in pure and objective economism. Yet, in his Post-colonial melancholia, Paul Gilroy (2004) reminds us about the open secret of capital’s meta-story. Capital’s economic logic is largely dependent on instituting and sharpening numerous hierarchies of inequality and exploitation across peoples and places. ‘There is, Gilroy states a ‘calculus that assigns differential value to lives according to their locations and racial origins or considers that some bodies are more easily and appropriately humiliated, imprisoned, shackled, starved, and destroyed than others.’ In order to illustrate this logic, Gilroy draws on the words of Lawrence Summer, a former World Bank economist, the former president of Harvard University, and a former Obama economic advisor. On the economics of ‘exporting pollution to less developed countries,’ Summer (quoted in Gilroy, 2004: 11) writes in a memo worth quoting extensively on the lethal politics of pure economism that conceals or camouflages its benchmark logic and calamitous prospects:

I think that the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable … I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change add the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is about 200 per thousand.

Gilroy highlights the prevailing logic of economism as the neo-colonial form of domination. Further, he suggests, behind the facade of a sterile language of market imperatives and managerial efficiency are old divisions and hierarchies along race, among others, which this new colonial form reactivates, owes a debt to, and yet also works to conceal. Assumptions about racial hierarchies, argues Gilroy, are central to securing the arguments in Summer’s words and more importantly in the broader logic of economism within which Summer’s words intersect with global orientations and regimes of value and meaning. The political is concealed in the rhetoric of economism, where the market axioms can cast peoples and places across the world into spaces of worth and worthlessness, of agency and inefficiency. Large numbers of humans are thus positioned in what Gilroy (2004: 43) calls ‘spaces of death’, where ‘like the generic enemies, the invisible prison inmates, and all other shadowy third things, they are lodged between the animal and the human’ (Gilroy, 2004: 11). Their lives can be arrested, exploited, and processed into the abyss of the prevailing economic logic.

The lowly biopolitical status common to all these groups underscores the fact that they cannot be reciprocally endowed with the same vital humanity enjoyed by their rulers, captors, conquerors, judges, executioners and other racial betters.

(Gilroy, 2004: 11)

Agamben’s thoughts on ‘Homo Sacer’ resonate deeply in Gilroy’s take on the new colonial economism. Through Agamben, Gilroy suggests the ‘lowly’ peoples, such as African bodies, continue to remain expandable, representing, not unlike the flora and the fauna of the land, no more than the sites where others carry out their political and economic activities. To quote Paul Virilio, they become ‘matière dernière – final deposits of the underclass undergoing an intense biological exploitation’ (Virilio, 2005: 173). Measured, managed and portioned, and pressured to understand and offer themselves as the ‘final resource’, these lowly people, the subalterns are being more intensely farmed than their historical counterparts.

Gilroy is correct on racial biopolitics. Virilio, however, is more instructive in comprehending how the economism (of the new colonial form) makes the biopolitical possible as metapolitics of the world. Observations on the ‘lowly’ people, defined in Gilroy primarily in terms of historical racial relations, have to be recast in planetary lights of subalternity in what Virilio calls the ‘transpolitical’ world order (in criss-crossing and interrelating spatialities and temporalities of the First and the Third Worlds and the normative shifts in territorial state and nation forms). In some ways, while spaces of singular racial, ethnic, gender, and religious identities continue to display differences that are meaningful, they are also being judiciously fashioned into masses of ‘lowly’ people around the world. Regardless of their formal status, citizens or not, more and more people are incorporated into political–economic calculus as objects of pure economism at times, as sites of extraction and, at other times, as sites of pollution. Virilio tells us that this pivotal shift to biopolitical, where the authenticity of the political body is obliterated into the physical body, is pulled off ironically in the name of the political body, that is, as citizen subject (Virilio, 2004: 165–167).

Yet, in the confluence of global capitalism and territorially unbound statism, traditional citizenship as a space of modern authority and privilege has lost its centre. It is fragmented, diffused, and, in the words of Fredric Jameson, ‘amputated’, possessing little effective historical agency (Jameson, 1991: 17). 4 This phenomenon is differentially experienced and disparately manifested across the world’s diverse geographies of privilege and abjection. Ironically, in Western countries where citizenship has historically been afforded concrete political and economic protections, the amputation of the citizen subjectivity is now more deeply, if still surreptitiously, operationalized. While still in the political unconscious, the diminishing role of citizenship is a crisis that is forming. As I will elaborate shortly, Jameson has more to say on this crisis in the West. Curiously, Virilio, too, has not written systematically on the state of citizenship beyond the West. Paradoxically, for me, this lacuna stimulates theorizing on insurrectional politics. For beyond the West, in countries where citizenship always existed largely in name, the central anchors of life already largely operate in a post-citizen era/mode. Citizenship, which effects little to no concrete political and economic agency, commands little to no legitimacy. Citizen subjectivity fails even to veil citizen abjection.

In spite of these ontological differences, ultimately, what becomes apparent is a universal crisis of citizenship. The citizen subjectivity is largely a colonized, objectivized subjectivity on the one hand, and a subjectivity of abjection on the other. Surely, it still can and does enthral many in a certain kind of manufactured sublime. The recent histories of popular and governmental discourse on migrants in the US and Western Europe attest to the seductive powers of the nation and citizen stories. Inversely, for others, citizenship was and remains an ephemeral dream, imported with the winds of colonial modernity into what under state-centric modernity have subsequently become the quasi-states of the Third World. Think of the hundreds of citizen women and children in the Congo who escape within their country to floating artificial islands on a lake in order to save their lives (Lewis, 2012). Or think of a fourteen-year-old Bolivian, a citizen miner, who every day has to enter the bowels of the earth in order to support his family. 5 In all such situations, prevailing realities belong to an incommensurate ontology. Regardless of its varying fortunes in history, nowadays, citizen subjectivity is increasingly unable to cope with the insecurities visited upon ‘citizen’ bodies, now extracting from them and now polluting them. Let me then, once more, return to Jameson, who long ago alerted us to a certain kind of decline of the capacities of citizen subjects under the postmodern form/logic of capitalism. It is only now that his concerns can be articulated into insurrectional times.

Fredric Jameson, postmodern capitalist form, and citizen-subjects’ amputation

The postmodern condition, Jameson famously contends, works to exhaust in citizen subjectivity any transformative instincts and convictions. ‘We are submerged in its henceforth filled and suffused volumes to the point where our now postmodern bodies are bereft of spatial coordinates and practically (let alone theoretically) incapable of distantiation’ (Jameson, 1991: 48–9). There is ‘no creativity, no coalitional alliances, and no effective oppositional forms of consciousness’ (Sandoval, 2000: 32). It operates by locating citizen subjectivity in a world of seemingly limitless plurality anchored in a similarly vast universe of organizing ideas, relations, and institutions along race, ethnicity, class, religion and so on. Heterogeneity expresses a politico-aesthetics in postmodern capitalist form as though it is the inexorable mode of life. Jameson notes, however, that heterogeneity that is privileged is primarily discursive, articulated in stylistic and formative plurality as though the plurality’s world is ‘devoid of normative cohesion’ (Jameson, 1991: 55). When stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without normative or ethical codes becomes dominant, the world is made visible only as a façade, while its deep structural politics and economics remain hidden (Jameson, 1991: 65). The political–economic ideas that make such an alignment between the façade and the depths rise into the status of hegemony. For Jameson, the postmodern form represents this kind of hegemony, not of normative heterogeneity after/ beyond the modern but of ‘plurality of the form’ orchestrated to obfuscate or camouflage the singularity of the ruling norm – that is, global capitalism. The ruling ideology that pretends to plurality, but can only, if at all, tolerate it in style, not in logic or norm or ideology. Plurality in method or approach, not in theory, and by extension, not in ideology, is the sort of heterogeneity capitalism in postmodern form wishes for and works to promote. Not only are its proponents disciplined in this ethics, but also its opponents are pressed to construct themselves, their citizen subjectivity, in light of the same ethics.

Jameson submits, as I see, that the weight of form over norm, method over theory, style over ideology is unmistakable in the contemporary era. The weight does not represent a final triumph. It represents hegemony – no controlling codes, no norm, theory, or an ideology capable of mapping the mobile terrain of postmodern conditions for the subaltern masses or the ‘lowly’ people around the world. Instead a fragmentation, operating under the guise of pluralism as the absolute supremacy of the autarkic local, works to diffuse political projects. Citizen subjects have lost their critical positions in the social order that does not make itself easily legible. Fragmentation prevents the nodes of politics from being connected to reveal the larger or broader logic of control. As a result, subjects cannot easily develop capacities to act and struggle beyond their immediate environment. Citizen subjects have become immobilized or ‘neutralized by spatial as well as social confusion’ (Jameson, 1991: 54). They are anchorless, disoriented, and incapable of ‘cognitively mapping’ their positions inside postmodern capitalism. No moment of greater truth in globalization beyond individual lives can be imagined and acted upon.

For Jameson, all of these conditions necessitate new struggles in which the transformative consciousness of the people can be developed (Jameson, 1991: 90–1). Notwithstanding the disagreements with Jameson’s categorical pronouncements on radical movements, his broad observations regarding the logic of capitalism remain remarkably relevant to theorizing the present and the future from transformative struggles. His critique anticipates the contemporary radical movements echoing collective pains and aspirations.

Contemporary struggles manifest the kind of radical transformative consciousness Jameson is yearning for. They have already invented languages, strategies, positions, and thinking reflecting a new attitude on opposition to the conventional ideal and idioms of peoplehood and community or nationhood. These new struggles find justification and support in the continued efforts to incarcerate historical subjectivities in the Cartesian geopolitical paradigms in support of the supremacy of territorial statism, nationalism, and exclusionary citizenship. For several decades now, the struggles have been stymied in a stasis through a convenient coalition of modern and postmodern forms that offered commodified aesthetic relief and release as substantive resolution of foundational material contradictions in citizen life.

The end of the Cold War, taken as a substantiation of the victory of capitalism over socialist ideals, started this era. However, the claims of victory also sharpened the critical focus on capital’s inability to deliver on the ideological promises of wealth and emancipation in the post-Cold War era. Increasingly, in the absence of a demonized counter-ideology, these contradictions are being clarified as deep systemic problems, translating into greater vulnerabilities for citizen subjects, whether they live in the West or in the Rest. What the Arab revolts represent for the Middle East and North Africa, the Occupy and the Indignant movements in the US and Europe display in the West – signs of deeper systemic crisis (Soguk, 2011).

While there are still vast qualitative and quantitative differences in the ways people of different economic and political geographic locations receive and accommodate the systemic vulnerabilities, the differences are being flattened to emerge and be exposed as gradations of vulnerability as opposed to guarantees of security for citizen subjects. In short, what is more fundamentally unsettling is that the very foundational subjectivity of the modern state-supported capitalist order – citizenship – is in crisis even in places considered to signify privileged locations and positions. What is still forming is the active political consciousness of the crisis, especially in the West. Unpacking the dynamics of this crisis that has as yet no proper name in the West is key to understanding the dynamics of insurrectional politics born in the Rest.

This state of consciousness of crisis in the West leads to deficits in understanding of the links to the conditions of abjection in the Rest. The rhetoric of citizenship in the West still obfuscates the plight of peoples both in the West and the Rest. This chasm, as Étienne Balibar suggests, lends itself to politics of blended ‘hierarchizing’, creating and unequally distributing vulnerabilities around the world and fostering insurrections (Balibar, 2004: 57).

Transpolitical order and citizens as the ‘living death’ in Paul Virilio

Paul Virilio speaks of this crisis in Negative Horizon. However, going further than Jameson, he locates the crisis conceptually in a more tightly regimented international condition he calls a ‘transpolitical’ condition. Not unlike Jameson, Virilio highlights a qualitative osmosis in the political qualities and powers of citizenship in the postmodern era. 6 In many ways, he argues, modern citizenship has long become a ‘process leading to a disappearance’ of rights-bearing citizenship by turning citizens into ‘foreigners within’ transpolitical societies and anational states; where the living citizens, and others, are little more than living–dead (mort–vivant) in permanent deferment.

According to Virilio, enabling this process is a new transnational economy of production and division of means of power. As nations’ economic bodies are diffused transversally, so are their bodies-politic becoming ‘something’ other than what they know themselves to be. They know themselves as peculiar spatialities and temporalities expressed historically in nation-state forms across the world; yet both the nation and state forms are being unbound temporally and spatially.

Virilio maintains that, curiously, in spite of an intense transpoliticization and deterritorialization, there still exists a deep attachment to the idea of the nation-state form as being ultimately definitive of human political and economic conditions around the planet. This attachment, this exceeding passion, is due in large part to the fact that the world’s political identities can be imagined more easily by appeals to the maps of colourful divisions signifying peculiar historical nation and state formations than by conjuring ideals of cosmopolitanism or global humanism.

In short, for Virilio, as early as the 1980s, there seems to have been a critical disconnect between the postmodern historical conditions shaping the material lives of citizens and the prevailing political consciousness that still operates through modern modes of identity. Crucially, the disconnect serves as a productive space of political control in the contemporary era. It obfuscates the process of disappearance of citizenship as critical constitutive agency or subjectivity in the political realm while preserving an ideal image of citizenship. The disappearance is a function of the transpoliticization of the state – from presumably national to anational – where the new political and economic spatiality is a concentration of power increasingly defined by the global movements of capital, not by the constitutive powers of modern citizenry. Yet, Virilio submits, the transpolitical as a deflation of the capacities of modern citizen subjectivity can never be recognized or registered as anything outside the nation-state form, but simply as its new temporal expression. And the more skilful the transpolitical, anational powers deferring the rise of such knowledges in the interplay of political and economic forces, the more intense is the politics of disappearance. The facade of rights-bearing citizenry conceals the reality of citizens as ‘living dead’, increasingly there as a support for a political–economic order beyond their grasp and control.

‘Transpolitical power aims to create and maintain citizens in permanent deferral of their political subjectivities in support of their being in the world as the last resource’ (Virilio, 2005: 170). Increasingly, Virilio claims, citizens around the world, most imperceptibly in the hegemonic West, are positioned as

deposits of underclass undergoing intense biological exploitation… beyond the extensive and migratory exploitation of the work force of a transplanted proletariat that provides for worldwide industrial redeployment. Here we find a final form of transplantation indeed, a transpolitical transfusion for the felicity of an order beyond the national proficiencies and knowledge.

(Virilio, 2005: 173)

The new zones of control and domination are no longer simply militaristic, but are shaped in ‘the sinister dawning of slow regression of the nation, of the extermination of a civil society where the neo-feudal tyranny works to assume the discharge of the national state in the interests of a transpolitical/transnational state arising both everywhere and nowhere’. In this new postmodern era, Virilio predicts

the traditional political enclosure will be succeeded by a great transpolitical disorder…the subject that will see the day will be born less mortal than visible, less a topos than a chronos, this subject will be born in the light of the time of a chronotopism of the living where mythical conditioning of the liturgy will give way to the technological conditioning of populations (in technological sublime) exploited in their bio-rhythms.

(Virilio, 2005: 175)

In the face of this trauma,

the principle of the geo-morphical identity of the citizen tends to be effaced; less a native (originaire) than a member of a society (sociétaire). There will be no delay in the imperceptible process whereby the citizen becomes nothing more than a stand in (suppléant).

(Virilio, 2005: 175)

The struggles against this horizon yet being born are also where the new political can be shaped. Yet one thing remains clear, as Virilio emphasizes: ‘return to the past’, as in a return to the national state or to national community, is recourse to the apolitical. Now, when the political– economic zones are being constituted differently along complex, diffused, and non-isomorphic features, what needs retrieving from the past is a sense of politics as a collective project – a task requiring a consciousness of the collective topographies in all their contours and hidden resources.

Return to the past is a return to the passive, a state of internal pacification coupled with external imperialisms in the name of citizen as a mode of liberation from the feudal tyrannies. The political turn, then, must be to the zones of new struggles, whether à la Gramsci or Deleuze, but with the critical sensibility articulated by Emanuel Levinas in The rights of the man and the rights of the other:

the defense of the rights of man corresponds to a vocation outside the state, disposing, in a political society, of a kind of extra-territoriality, like that of prophecy in the face of the political powers of the Old Testament, a vigilance totally different from political intelligence, a lucidity not limited to yielding before the formalism of universality, but upholding justice itself in its limitations.

(Levinas, 2004: 283)

In this sense, postmodernism, which many have seen as liberating from modern statism and capitalism, has largely been a return to the past, concealing its links to the universal claims of capital and statism in commodity sublime on the one hand and the sublime of the trans-nation on the other. However, as Jameson and Virilio argue, the ‘post’ in postmodernism does not have a referent beyond the modern horizon. Its instantiations, both materially and ideationally, are still rooted in territoriality enacted globally. They are not expressions of ‘extra-territoriality’, as envisioned in Levinas’ desire to radically reposition political agency. Certain ontological and epistemic continuities in logic, intent, norm, and praxis remain definitive of the experiences of humankind. As with the modern form, the postmodern form, too, promised autonomy and agency but helped produce new forms of entrapment for people within the old ideas of governmentality: transnationalism that cannot exceed its nationalism and global citizenship that dares not see its roots in Orientalism.

Remarks in lieu of the ‘Conclusion’ that can never come…

It is not surprising that these impasses have in turn begun to engender counter-subjectivities, which are increasingly insurrectional in logic, intent, and practice. While in the past unfettered capitalist exploitations through worldwide colonialism and imperialism fuelled nation/territory-bound counter-mobilizations, the current network-based and hyper-flexible capitalism is giving impetus to similarly highly networked political movements. These new movements are pressuring the very foundations of the global state–territorial system in which they operate. It is this that interests me the most – the ever-intense transversal insurrections, as yet in the shadows, of the shadows, and indeed they are the shadows. It is possible to map the shadows by framing issues in new and unexpected ways. David Featherstone (2008), for example, refers to ‘maps of grievances’ through which subalterns accommodate a hierarchy but also defy its proscriptions. Whether found in immigrant or indigenous struggles, or the Arab or the Occupy uprisings, such are the struggles that have the promise to engender a fresh participatory ethos of theory and praxis. Their agents offer the best prospects as global citizens.


For rich and varied discussions, see: Christopher L. Pallas. 2012. ‘Identity, individualism, and activism beyond the state: examining the impacts of global citizenship’, Global Society, 26 (2); Leslie Sklair. 2009. ‘Globalization of human rights’, Journal of Global Ethics, 5 (2): 81–97; Terence Lyon and Peter Mandeville. 2010. Think locally, act globally: toward a transnational comparative politics’, International Political Sociology, 4 (2): 124–41; Luis Cabrera. 2010. Practice of global citizenship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Nigel Dower and John Williams. 2002, Global citizenship: a critical introduction, London and New York: Routledge.

See the Oxfam website at <> for Hewlett Packard’s Global Citizenship claims, see among other sites, <>. For the Global Economic forum in partnership with the World Bank, see <>. University College London markets itself as offering ‘Education for global citizenship’ at <>.

Another tension is manifested in the ethos underlying the global citizenship discourse. It is an ethos that conceptually alienates the very world it is interested in engaging. It distances subjects’ worlds into sites exterior to those of global citizens. People are called to be outraged by social injustices but injustices are often accorded an ontological distance and their subjects a categorical civilizational exteriority – all to be found elsewhere in the world.

Jameson’s use of the word is in the context of his discussion of ‘pastiche’ in the following fashion: ‘But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction…’ (Jameson, 1991: 17). Cf. also ‘…from which everything interestingly complex about “Western civilization” has been amputated’(ibid., 334).

Devil as a protector. This points to a syncretic approach to good and evil.

The expression ‘postmodern era’ is Virilio’s own.


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