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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 8 (2001)
Questioning Geopolitics: Political Projects in a Changing World System, Edited by Georgi M. Deruglian and Scott L. Greer. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers (2000), 264 pp.
Reviewed by Douglas Keare, Lincoln Institute, Cambridge, MA.
This collection of essays aims
to find regularity and predictability in a changing world geopolitical
system and, frankly, falls far short of its mark. There are at least three
features of this particular book that "put me off": its too
liberal reliance on jargon; its apparent preoccupation with a "contemporary
global crisis" that I was not aware existed; and its underdeveloped
editorial organization. The problem of having to try to deal with a jargon
with which, as an economist, I was totally unfamiliar and the overuse
of arcane words (the more arcane the better, apparently) is a minor
quibble. My other two concerns are not, for they affect the question of
whether this is in fact a book, as opposed to a printing between covers
of thirteen essentially unrelated essays.
There is a sense running through
the book which was written well before 11 September 2001
that we were somehow in the throes of a "contemporary global crisis".
This would, I think have been news of a rather surprising sort to the
majority of the worlds population who, at the time didnt even
know if we were in or moving into a first recession in over a decade.
To be sure, a motley group of protesters had been doing their level best
to disrupt meetings having to do with the international economy for the
past couple of years, most people were vaguely aware of potentially escalating
threats from terrorists, and we confronted the familiar set of problems;
but a global crisis? What were the authors and/or editors thinking about?
And how broad a coterie of political scientists and other social scientists
concerned with geopolitics and world-systems shared their opinion(s)?
Beyond this, it is difficult to
imagine the considerations that gave rise to this extremely loosely integrated
book. Its section titles provide clues ("Restructuring World Power,"
"Redefining World Culture," "From National States to Regional
Networks"), although they are not supported in the progression of
their papers. And these clues are pretty much obliterated by reading the
Introduction, which, besides being besotted with the concept of hegemony,
is devoted to this and a couple of other themes/concepts that are scarcely
picked up by the component papers. The introductory essay does offer rough
guidance on its final page, but, until I had ploughed through the first
two papers of Part I to little avail ("Globalizing Capital and Political
Agency in the 21st Century," by Stephen Gill, and "Stateness
and System in the Global Structure of Trade: A Network Approach to Assessing
Nation Status," by Michael Alan Sacks, Marc Ventrisca, and Brian
Uzzi), I did not return to the Introduction and Table of Contents to see
if I had missed the roadmap or hints thereof.
I found that I had missed the hints,
and that the book's papers should have been rearranged to go from the
general to the more particular cases. This would have given a logical
sequence to the principal themes of the component papers, though it doesnt
seem to sustain the intended structuring of the first two Sections. The
present introduction would have to have been largely reconceived to served
to introduce this flow of ideas; and perhaps its authors could have, in
addition, constructed a paper to rebut in some measure the principal argument
of the last paper in the book's first section, Collins and Waller's "Predictions
of Geopolitical Theory and the Modern World-System. And in a final organizational
suggestion, the book would have benefited from a concluding chapter, on
which more below.
I am oversimplifying, though one
must do so within the constraints of a Review, to point out that, thus
reorganized and depending principally on the papers of Collins and Waller
(fortunately not Wallerstein, who apparently sowed the main seeds of the
books confusion a generation hence), Chirot ("Why Must There
Be a Last Cycle? The Prognosis for the World Capitalist System and a Prescription
for Its Diagnosis") and Chen ("The Geoeconomic Reconfiguration
of the State: The Asian-Pacific Transborder Subregions in the World System"),
the principal messages of the book are as follows:
(1) "The notion of world-system
hegemon (should) be deconstructed" (Collins and Waller, p. 59).
(2) The term "modernization"
should be resurrected from the disrepute into which it was thrown by readers
of Wallerstein some 25 years ago (Chirot, p. 69).
(3) In order to understand better
how regional networks (trade and other) may interact and perhaps conflict
with globalization, it is vital to look at the role of transborder regions.
So much for world-system theory.
Facetiousness aside, it really does
seem that the search for regularity and predictability in the changes
in world geopolitical systems at least as this has been described
in the Introduction and component papers has gone off the tracks,
maybe even from the start. A particular clue to this is in the discussion(s)
of long economic cycles or waves (Kondratiev cycles) in Derluguian and
Goldfrank (p. 7) Chirot (p. 81) and elsewhere. This becomes particularly
clear when Chirot observes, in error, that " the only noted recent
economic historian to have taken long cycles seriously is Walt Rostow"
Has he never heard of W. Arthur Lewis, the Nobel laureate? More to the
point, though economists do indeed take cycles seriously inventory
(or business) cycles and, yes, long cycles too they do not, apart
from infrequent exceptions, such as Rostow, do so deterministically. Perhaps
this is a caution world-systems analysts should take to heart in seeking
to restructure their study of world power relationships.
I wonder, too, whether a bit of a change of heart or at least perspective might not also serve them well. It might be too much to hope, but, in addition to the restructuring of this book suggested above, I would very much like to have seen at the end a couple of papers devoted to alternatives to the approach taken by Thomas L. Friedman to much the same set of issues examined in this set of papers in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux 2000). While I freely admit to preferring an evolutionary approach, à la Friedman, to addressing the principal problem behind the concerns of the authors in this book that todays democratic processes are woefully too slow in recognizing and dealing with the socio-economic and other "injustices" prevailing in a "globalizing" market economy I dont insist upon being gratified on this point. Still it seems that those persuaded that only revolutionary approaches will do the trick, might do well to set a conscientious effort such as Friedman' as their counterfactual, rather than the caricatures they habitually use as, apparently in this case.