EssaysMedia/Publics

Israeli Hasbara, the Breakdown in Negotiations, and the Consequences

At this point, we can say that things are more or less over: President Obama announced on Friday that the American government is abandoning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as neither side has been ready to make “tough decisions.” Basically, Obama was repeating what Secretary of State Baker once said to Israeli Prime Minister Shamir, following an earlier collapse of attempted peace negotiations: “Give us a call if you decide to get serious.” In response, Netanyahu’s office has already complained about the “soft” treatment that the Americans are allegedly giving the Palestinians.

Immediately, the Zionist regime (not my term: that’s how this administration defines itself) has initiated a hasbara campaign — basically, a PR attack — directed at the Israeli public. (“Hasbara,” literally, “explanation,” is the semi-official code in Israel for its propaganda efforts.)…

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EssaysPsyche

Physics Envy

The troubles in psychiatry and psychology

These are troubling times for the mental health field in the United States. A variety of historical developments have paved the road to the current predicament. Following World War II, the federal government and growing mental health lobby began an unprecedented expansion of mental heath services. This expansion in may respects continued over the next 30 years. It was not until the 1970s that American psychiatry underwent its first major crisis in the post war era. This crisis was precipitated by a number of factors including: the growing evidence of the lack of reliability of psychiatric diagnosis, the anti-psychiatry movement that was in keeping with the counter-cultural ethos of the 1960s, and a growing crisis of confidence regarding psychiatry’s status as a genuine medical specialty. …

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CapitalismEssaysThe Left

On the Heilbroner Center’s Manifesto

Explanation and Critique

In our opinion, the document drafted by Julia Ott and Will Milberg for the new Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies should be the beginning of a debate among NSSR faculty about the Center’s mission rather than a final manifesto. There are many claims in the document with which we wholeheartedly agree: the pressing necessity to return to discussing and analyzing large structures, long processes, and big questions; the idea that capitalism must be a central object of study and concern; the interpretation of capitalism as a social process; the identification of various power relations as critical determinants of economic outcomes; and the acknowledgment that economic theories operate as political ideologies. Further, we agree with Ott and Milberg that capitalism “should not be assumed.” However, we think that it should not be only “explained,” as the present document suggests, but also, by the same token, criticized. Critique, indeed, is a constitutive part of the explanation of social phenomena and processes, and explaining capitalism without criticizing it does amount to assuming it. …

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EssaysThe Left

Ernesto Laclau, 1936-2014

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Ernesto Laclau, the outstanding Argentinean political philosopher, at the age of 78. Ernesto had a heart attack in Seville where he was giving a lecture. He was the author of landmark studies of Marxist theory and of populism as a political category and social movement. In highly original essays and books he demonstrated the far reaching implications of the thought of Antonio Gramsci, probed the assumptions of Marxism and illuminated the modern history of Latin America, rejecting simplistic schemas linked to notions of dependency and populism.

After studying in Buenos Aires Ernesto came to Britain in the early 1970s, where he lectured at the University of Essex and later founded the Centre for Theoretical Studies. The Centre ran a very successful postgraduate programme, attracting students from around the world. In the 1970s Ernesto made his mark with his critique of the so-called “dependency school” of Latin American political economists such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso. …

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Walking dollar graffiti © Daniel Lobo | Flickr
CapitalismEssays

Capitalism Studies: A Manifesto

It seems odd now to recall that up until a few years ago, the concept of capitalism largely had fallen out of favor as a subject of academic inquiry and critique. Most scholars in the humanities and social sciences regarded the term as too broad, too vague, too encumbered by associations with either Marxism or laissez-faire. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism could be taken for granted, it seemed. No person or nation could escape the discipline of efficient, spontaneous, self-regulating, globalizing markets.

Economists cut economies loose from society, institutions, culture, and history. They repositioned their discipline upon models that assumed that rational, utility-maximizing individual parts represented and explained the behavior of the economy-as-a-whole. Many social scientists — especially in political science — embraced these rational-actor models. Others joined historians and humanities scholars in the “cultural turn.” …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Three Reflections on Media Responsibility: Discussing Issues of Monstration

How do you show people’s words?

One of the most interesting problems posed by centralized media and journalism is the problem of authorship. Any news item bears traces of the organizational processes it went through. These processes involve various interventions, by different actors. In a sense they are no less collective than those processes that add up to scientific discoveries. In both cases the notion of “authorship” is misleadingly individualistic.

Take the extreme case of op-eds. Op-eds come with an identifiable author’s signature. They are supposedly characterized by the existence of a simple, indictable origin. Does it mean they were not co-produced by the publishing organization? Does it mean they were not edited by the organization either politely through an exchange of letters and suggestions, or forcibly, through cuts, re-phrasings, and imposed titles? This may be done in the name of clarity. Yet many op-ed authors are extremely lucid writers and need no help in achieving clarity. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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CapitalismEssaysRace

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” …

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EssaysThe Left

What’s Left?

A response to Jeremy Varon

Jeremy Varon’s interesting and important response raises three questions: 1) What do we mean by a “Left”? 2) How are we to understand the New Left’s break-up and, specifically the relation of the women’s movement to that break-up and 3) How are we to evaluate the Left today? Let me start with the third and work backwards.

I do not believe we can properly speak of a Left today. Jeremy’s view of a plurality of different movement working independently but parallel to one another avoids all the important questions. A Left needs coherence and direction. It needs leaders, organizations, its own counter public-spheres, some sense of the values that distinguish it from the mainstream. It needs a coherent analysis of such basic ruling class institutions as the Democratic Party, the universities and the so-called public sphere. Obviously I am not advocating a vanguard party, or a mass party of the Debsian sort. But to speak of the huge diversity of present protest movements that might be termed progressive as a Left stretches the term beyond reason. …

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EssaysThe Left

Shifting Geographies Rather Than Defections

The debate on feminists and the Left continues

We share Zaretsky’s desire to understand the trajectory of the Left past, present, and future. We disagree with him over the nature of the Left itself and with his account of the dynamics of political change. Where Zaretsky looks to the long duree and to political breaks as sources of current decline, we argue that the Left was always a more protean political formation in which lines of affiliation and disagreement were porous and changing. Finally, we insist, that if we are to understand the fate of the Left we must put it in dynamic relation with the actions of capital. Without expanding the political field, we mis-specify the geographies of political action — then and now. …

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