Sunday, 23 November 2008

Aihwa Ong

Ong’s anthropological and ethnographic approach to neo-liberalism and citizenship is presented in part as a critique of authors such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who contend, inter alia, that a uniform global labour regime is emerging. Rather, Ong argues in favour of more localized and situated analyses of labour regimes, focusing on the various manifestations of ‘translocal publics’, for example, where specific interests intersect and are given particular formulations (p. 62). As an alternative to examining ‘identities’, which are often simplified interpretations of national groups or ethnic communities possessing considerable diversity, Neoliberalism as Exception emphasizes that the concept of translocal publics describes ‘the new kinds of borderless ethnic identifications enabled by technologies and forums of opinion making’ (p. 63). Ong’s work examines a wide range of regional events and assemblages, from the Chinese diaspora after the 1997 Asian financial crisis (chapter 2), to foreign domestic workers in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong (chapter 9).
Neo-liberalism as exception is also a critique of juridical-legal interpretations of the connections between citizenship and government. Ong argues that this method is evident in Giorgio Agamben’s focus on the bifurcation of the population into two halves: zones of citizenship, consisting of political beings, and zones of bare life, consisting of those without citizenship protections (p. 22). Instead, Ong contends that a ‘temporal conceptualization of the politics of exception’ is a more appropriate means for recognizing the validity of other ethical regimes - such as the various world religions - that also ‘operate along the continuum of inclusion and exclusion, though without mapping onto the same division between citizens and bare life’ (p. 197). In contrast to Agamben, Ong argues that new modes of analysis are necessary for examining the ways in which those without territorialized citizenship might make claims, whether through local communities, NGOs or corporations (p. 24). While most of the book’s content consists of essays already published elsewhere, Ong also presents new contributions, and has reworked and reorganized the existing material to provide an ethnographic perspective critical to an understanding of the global economy and socio-political systems. By placing each article in a particular context that reveals new insights into neo-liberal transformations of citizenship and sovereignty, Ong brings theoretical potency and empirical energy to a growing field of scholarship.

Eliot Che's review, "Rethinking Neoliberalism", Originally published in: International Affairs 83(4), 2007.

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