I just watched Keith Hart at Cambridge talking about the diffuse nature of Cambridge networks and the implications of that for the possibility of radical change and a real and sustained attack on global inequality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsGfDU1gATU&feature=relmfu).  It is nice to listen to my esteemed colleague who sees the world as I do, but who seems more optimistic.  His glass seems three-quarters full.  We need that, because I am less optimistic and need all the encouragement anyone can muster.  I was part of that Cambridge diaspora of foreign students that began to pour into Cambridge even before the establishment of the EU and it has certainly exploded since.  However, all of the non-UK students who went home after getting exposed to Cambridge went home to a growing inequality.  I got my PhD at Cambridge in 1974, so I hit a society that was about to experience Ronald Reagan as the UK was to suffer under Maggie Thatcher.  I am less hopeful that our seeding of the world with Cambridge graduates will usher in progressive change than I am about Hart’s point that the shift of the power center back to Asia will destabilize the West.  But will that usher in a world of greater progressiveness and equality?  Doesn't the power structure in China seem the very antithesis of the diffused innovative networks in Cambridge?  I suspect that the world is in for a long period of entrenched inequality and one can only hope for an evolution that leads toward a progressive light at the end of that long tunnel.  But then evolution is not teleological, is it?  One must hope anyway.

 

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Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on May 20, 2012 at 2:07pm

Nathan Dobson says that reports are flooding in that the Chinese presence in Africa is enormous.  Here is one more.  I just spent 5 weeks exploring the West African coast from South Africa to Morocco and can confirm that the hand of China is almost everywhere visibly evident in the continent, at least on the Western coast.  Not only is it visible, but the people vocalize vociferously about how great China is and that China is helping them toward development.  When I first went to Africa in the late 1960s, it was America that was the darling.  No more.

Comment by Nathan Dobson on May 20, 2012 at 10:09am

The issue of debt cancellation is never far from the surface of debates about development in Africa especially when it becomes clear that wiping the slate clean doesn't fix the problem. Reports are flooding in about Chinese investment in the continent (e.g. Ethipia's third largest creditor) so does each attempt to erase data from the memory bank bring China one step closer to becoming the world's financial custodian?

Comment by Huon Wardle on May 20, 2012 at 8:52am

Eugene, I happen to be in China at the moment and I can affirm that itis not only creative but also displays innovative networks in abundance. It is a place on the move to use  the cliche with every possible variety of social variable currently available on the planet. As our friend/informant here says 'China is not sleeping dragon any more'. More later.

 

Comment by Keith Hart on May 19, 2012 at 6:07pm

Gabriela Coleman, an anthropologist who has carried out a participant observation study of the subversive group of internet hackers known as Anonymous, makes an interesting analogy with the work of Ernst Bloch:

“Anonymous acts in a way that is irreverent, often destructive, occasionally vindictive, and generally disdainful of the law, but it also offers an object lesson in what Frankfurt School philosopher Ernst Bloch calls ‘the principle of hope.’ In his three-volume work Das Prinzip Hoffnung (1938-47), Bloch attends to a stunningly diverse number of signs, symbols, and artefacts from different historical eras, ranging from dreams to fairy tales, in order to remind us that the desire for a better world is always in our midst. Bloch works as a philosophical archaeologist, excavating forgotten messages in songs, poems, and rituals. They do not represent hope in the religious sense, or even utopia—there is no vision of transcending our institutions, much less history—but they do hold latent possibilities that in certain conditions can be activated and perhaps lead to new political realities. ‘The door that is at least half-open, when it appears to open onto pleasant objects, is marked hope,’ Bloch writes. The emergence of Anonymous from one of the seediest places on the Internet seems to me an enactment of Bloch’s principle of hope.”

So Bloch’s vision is that this aspiration for a better world is everywhere and inside us, an infrastructure always ready to be tapped into and given more concrete impression. It is similar, at the level of ideology, to what I argue for the economy – people have always had many different ways of organizing their economic lives and these make up a reservoir of knowledge and aspiration that, given appropriate direction, could lead us to a better economy.

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