Last week, the amazing Jerry Davis gave a talk at IU’s Kelley School of Business. Jerry’s talk addresses a very important corporate process – the move from organizations that employ lots of people to organizations that employ few people. For example, Facebook, one of the biggest wealth creators on earth right now, employs a paltry 12,000 people.
Jerry noted that this shrinking of the organization has even influenced politics. Social movements, for example, used to rely on vast organizations to contact and mobilize people. Now, you can stage a major protest with an announcement on social media.
Theoretically, what Jerry talked about was a profound shift in transaction cost economics (a field he said he used to hate, but didn’t say why). Advances in shipping and communication allow a lot of people to be shifted outside firm boundaries. He had a great example. Giant firms like Sony used to assemble TVs in house, but now Vizio outsources all assembly and design. They simple manage and coordinate the design, assembly, and shipping process.
One comment: I think Jerry over estimates the need to dispose of organizations among activists. As long societies rely on mass voting, there will be a need for large organizations to recruit and mobilize voters. So, yes, we can see the occasional protest movement wildly succeed using only twitter. But routine politics still belongs to the old clunky political organizations.
Only seven days into his presidency, Donald Trump has issued cruel executive orders aimed at immigrants and refugees. One recent executive order banned the re-entry of any individual who was a citizen of Iran, Yemen, Syria and other countries. The order was especially cruel in that it applies to travelers who had already secured visas, green cards, and other paper work. Observers noted that the order applied to newborn infants, the elderly, and the disabled, none of whom present risk.
In response, lawsuits were filed and protests erupted. Thankfully, at least two federal court judges believed that the executive order was likely invalid and ordered a stay. However, this is a short term victory. It will not be hard for the Trump administration to rewrite executive orders and propose legislation that comply with American law. This is because courts time and time again have agreed that people do not have the freedom of movement.
As time passes, the Trump White House will learn how to write policy in ways that pass judicial review and that are approved by Congress. This is deeply problematic on two levels. First, restrictions on migrations are irrational and cruel, no matter who is president. But also, the successful imposition of anti-immigration policy will embolden the White House to follow through on one of Trump’s most repulsive proposals, a religious registry.
What do to? I think the strategy is obvious. Simply, resist these anti-immigration proposals now so that future proposals are harder pass. How? There are simple ways: simply say to your friends and family that immigration is ok; call your local representatives; donate to groups that litigate on behalf of immigrants; and, for the brave, their will be plenty of chances of non-violent civil disobedience.
This is probably the book that Julian Go will be remembered for. For the last forty or fifty years, there’s been a stream of theoretical writings in the humanities that has been ignored by most sociologists and Postocolonial Thought and Social Theory is the book to bring it into sociology. It’s a joy to read and raises important issues. If Go succeeds in persuading sociologists that this is important, it would have a big impact on historical sociology, the sociology of race, urban studies, globalization, and related areas.
So I will briefly summarize the contents and then tell you about the strong and weak points in the book. First, in the humanities, there has been an extended discussion about the role that imperial politics and culture has on the literature, historical writing, and the arts. It might be summarized in the following way. The colonization of the world by European powers from 1500 to the mid-20th left an ubiquitous mark on everything. “Postcolonial” theory is a collection of ideas and claims about how one should incorporate an appreciation of imperial and colonial culture and politics into the study of arts and letters. For example, if a novel discusses brown and black people, you should think about the sense of “otherness” they feel since they are the subordinate class in a colonial society. Another example – the way we interpret “indigenous” cultures is wrapped up in our desire to either conform to narratives that support imperial power or the narratives that nationalists offer.
What does colonial theory offer positivist social science? Roughly speaking, Go suggests that social science should refine and amend its empirical focus. For example, there is a “metropolitan bias.” We use the imperial center as our model of global society. There is also an elaboration of standpoint theory, which suggests that there is great value to be had in exploration the social world of non-elites in the empire.There is a lot more in the book and I suggest you read it if you have an interest in the issues I raised.
Here, I’ll praise the book and critique it. One extremely strong feature of the book is that it is very well written. This is important to say because so much postcolonial theory is written like garbage. If Go’s only contribution to social theory were to produce a lucid account of Spivak, Bhabha, and others, it would be well worth reading. I use a social theory anthology when I teach, which includes a selection from Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and, frankly, it’s horridly written. This book will help me explain it better.
Another praiseworthy feature of the book is that Go does not get tangled up in the critical aspects of postcolonial writings. I have often found that authors in the postcolonial tradition spend too much time complaining about the Enlightenment, positivism, and science. This is bad for two reasons. One is that critique is valuable, but limited. I need the “so what?” Second, quite simply, a lot of these authors seem to know very little about intellectual history or the philosophy of science. Like a like of “critical theory,” they don’t really engage in the literature and often attack straw man versions of their opponents.Thankfully, Go reviews their arguments and moves on.
This brings to me some criticisms. Perhaps the biggest one is that Go let’s a lot of authors off the hook when they deserve more scrutiny. He takes a lot of postcolonial claims for granted. One example: the critique of the Enlightenment. Yes, it is absolutely true that many Enlightenment figures profited from or were active participants in colonialism. But it is also true that the Enlightenment also birthed the classical liberal tradition. For example, Adam Smith was an opponent of slavery, John Stuart Mill fought in parliament for relief for Jamaicans who were subject to colonial abuse, and Herbert Spencer was an anti-colonialist. So, yes, the Enlightenment included many hypocrites, but it included a lot of genuine criticism of slavery, servitude, and colonialism. Similarly, a lot of postcolonialists have other empirical and historical claims that should not be taken at face value.
Bottom line: If you like social theory, buy this book. Recommended!