Political Power and Social Theory: Volume 23

Cover of Political Power and Social Theory

Table of contents

(20 chapters)

Political Power and Social Theory is a peer-reviewed annual journal committed to advancing the interdisciplinary understanding of the linkages between political power, social relations, and historical development. The journal welcomes both empirical and theoretical work and is willing to consider papers of substantial length. Publication decisions are made by the editor in consultation with members of the editorial board and anonymous reviewers. For information on submissions, please see the journal website at http://www.bu.edu/sociology/ppst.

I am honored to present Volume 23 of Political Power and Social Theory. I do so amid tumultuous times. It is now spring 2012. Fiscal uncertainty and economic stagnation freeze the globe, racial division continues to plague political discourse in the United States (witness the case of Trayvon Martin), new social movements like Occupy proliferate and resurface while war, revolution, and political instability unsettle the Middle East. The essays in this volume do not directly address these specific issues but they do offer informed research and theoretical reflection on the larger themes the more specific issues invoke. Robin Archer's thoughts on revolution “Free Riding on Revolution” invites reflection in the wake of the revolutions that still grip the world's attention and perhaps, too, on the Occupy movement. Manali Desai's essay on the origins of neoliberalism in India offers some historical context to rising criticisms of neoliberalism around the world while also revealing the importance of national political parties in the formulation of globally circulating policies. Nitsan Chorev's essay on the World Health Organization illuminates how health programs are challenged and reformulated in response to political pressure from different parts of the world; an important observation given that international organizations face the prospect of dwindling revenues amid the current economic crisis.

There are a number of reasons for thinking that the pursuit of change through revolution is fundamentally flawed. Indeed, after over two centuries of debate, Burkean conservatives seem to have won the argument. They have made a strong case against revolutionary change by demonstrating how it has regularly produced some of the worst atrocities we have known. They point out that despite the fact that revolutionary movements have often been the repositories of some of our highest aspirations, their unintended consequences have produced enormous human suffering. And they show how the pursuit of gradual change in some countries brought about the very same goals to which revolutionaries aspired in others, but with far less bloodshed and suffering.

But are the conservatives right? In this article, I consider various problems with their argument. One of the biggest is that the gradual changes they admire were closely entwined with the revolutions they deplore. Not only did revolutions provide incrementalists with a kind of compass that set the direction of change, but they also induced fear in powerful elites: fear that gave these elites an incentive to accept incremental changes they would otherwise have resisted. Indeed, because of these kinds of effects, countries that are usually seen as paradigm examples of the virtues of conservative change may have ultimately been among the major beneficiaries of revolution. In short, there is a good case for arguing that modern conservatism has been free riding on revolution.

This chapter enquires into the political struggles that have led to the gradual institutionalization of neoliberal policies in India. As India witnessed a surge in democratization since the 1980s, the state sought to implement a policy regime of privatization and liberalization, albeit with mixed success. This chapter's contribution is to focus on the party-movement relationships that were integral to establishing this new political economy. To this end the chapter undertakes an “event-centered” analysis of the failed authoritarian interlude of 1975–1977 (the Emergency) and its aftermath. Subsequent to this turning point, the chapter argues the two key political parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress – converged upon and shaped support for a neoliberal project. In particular, the chapter traces the mechanisms by which the BJP seized the political opportunity opened during the wave of democratization that occurred from the Emergency period onward, gradually constructing a political bloc in opposition to socialism. Together with Congress Party policies “from above,” the populist mobilization led by the Hindu Right sought to embed neoliberalism by eroding the disciplinary power of the middle classes. In making this argument, the chapter offers a theory of neoliberalism as a political project that, even as it is led by particular agents such as sections of the capitalist class, technocrats, and/or organized global interests, nevertheless must be embedded through democratic processes.

This article explores the range of responses available to international bureaucracies when confronted with demands made by their member states through the study of the World Health Organization (WHO) during the 1970s and 1980s. I show that the WHO bureaucracy successfully addressed the demands of developing countries for health policies compatible with a more equitable world economic order, but in a way that preserved the bureaucracy's own agenda and without upsetting the opposite coalition of wealthy countries. Drawing on insights from the sociology of organizations, this article shows that externally dependent international bureaucracies are able to preserve their autonomous agenda by strategically reframing countries’ demands before responding to them.

How are social groups unmade? Current theories identify the symbolic power of the state as a primary factor in the creation of social groups. Drawing on Gramsci's The Southern Question, this chapter extends state-centered theories by exploring policies that are critical but under-theorized factors in group formation. These include the concession of material benefits as well as the use of coercive means. Further, while current theories focus on how social groups are made, a Gramscian perspective draws attention to how the state intervenes to prevent or neutralize group-making projects from below. This chapter explores a case of a decrease in national group solidarity. Specifically, this study explains how in the 1990s the Israeli state weakened national group formation among Palestinians by adopting two spatially distinct but coordinated strategies. First, the rearrangement of the military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through the establishment of an authority of self-rule (the Palestinian Authority) demobilized and divided Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories, especially along class-cum-moral lines. Second, state practices and discourses centered on citizenship rights shifted the center of political activism among Palestinian citizens of Israel toward citizenship issues. I argue that these two routes, which I call the indirect rule route and the civil society route, were complementary components of a broader attempt to neutralize Palestinian collective mobilization around nationhood. Despite recent changes and contestations, these two strategies of rule continue to affect group formation and to create distinct experiences of politics among Palestinians under Israeli rule. Analysis of the Palestinian–Israeli case shows that the state can unmake groups through the distribution of interrelated policies that are specific to certain categories of people and places. Understanding the conditions under which certain policies of inclusion or exclusion affect group formation requires going beyond the analytic primacy currently given to the symbolic power of the state.

In a context of increasing globalization and neoliberal restructuring and with labor's power diminishing vis-à-vis employers, American workers have turned in recent years to community-based campaigns targeting local government. These mobilizations have received considerable attention from scholars who see this emerging community orientation as a significant strategic innovation. This study, alternatively, focuses on the subjective and ideological consequences of such mobilizations for those engaged in protest. In particular, it seeks to extend social movement theory regarding the transformative impact of collective action by asking: how do distinct forms of collective action bring about particular kinds of consciousness and identity among participants?

Scholars rooted in a variety of traditions – from theorists of “post-industrial” society and “new” social movements to state theorists and geographers – have suggested that identities fostered at the local level are characterized by a “defensive,” “introverted,” or “retrospective” quality. This study examines a local mobilization, the case of a living wage campaign in Chicago, which deviates from these expectations. Through an analysis of interviews with participants, I find that instead of spurring defensiveness the campaign engendered a citizenship identity that was both active and inclusive. In explaining why my findings diverge from existing theories of identity formation, my analysis highlights three conceptual deficiencies in the literature with respect to (1) the distinction between local versus transnational collective action, (2) the relationship between social movement goals/tactics and outcomes, and (3) the prioritization of “new” social movements over the labor movement. Examining the citizenship identities that developed during Chicago's living wage campaign is instructive, finally, for understanding the sources of counter-hegemonic subjectivity within a broader context of eroding citizenship rights and a dominant market fundamentalist ideology. More generally, this analysis paves the way for a more productive engagement among theories of social movements, citizenship, labor, and globalization.

This paper examines the Pakistani state's shift from the accommodation to exclusion of the heterodox Ahmadiyya community, a self-defined minority sect of Islam. In 1953, the Pakistani state rejected demands by a religious movement that Ahmadis be legally declared non-Muslim. In 1974 however, the same demand was accepted. This paper argues that this shift in the state's policy toward Ahmadis was contingent on the distinct political fields in which the two religious movements were embedded. Specifically, it points to conjunctures among two processes that defined state–religious movement relations: intrastate struggles for political power, and the framing strategies of religious movements vis-à-vis core symbolic issues rife in the political field. Consequently, the exclusion of Ahmadis resulted from the transformation of the political field itself, characterized by the increasing hegemony of political discourses referencing Islam, shift toward electoral politics, and the refashioning of the religious movement through positing the “Ahmadi issue” as a national question pertaining to democratic norms.

Racialized class formation is a process in which both racial formation and class formation shape the experiences of African Americans in the stratification system. This occurs for blacks in differing social classes. However, this chapter focuses on African Americans in the professional middle class. The professional middle class as a whole has grown substantially under postindustrialism. Racialized class formation has been greatly shaped by the nature of state policy regarding citizenship rights and has varied in the transition from the pre-civil rights era to the post-civil rights era. This chapter utilizes historical, interview, and secondary data to analyze experiences of the “first generation” of black professionals to integrate employment in mainstream institutions after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The focus is on the processes of recruitment, hiring, and promotion, as well as relations with clientele among those black professionals and how their middle class employment experiences are racialized.

This article argues that social scientists should reconsider the analytic value of the term “capitalism.” The paper argues that the two most coherent definitions of capitalism are those derived from classical Marxism and from the World System theory of Immanuel Wallerstein. Marx and Engels’ formulation was basically a genetic theory in which the structure of a mode of production is determined by the mode of surplus extraction. During the course of the 20th century, however, Marxist theorists had to modify this framework and the result has been an uncomfortable hybrid. Wallerstein resolved these tensions by redefining capitalism in terms of the logic of a world system. However, his argument has difficulty in explaining the consequential variations over time in the specific rules and institutional structures that operate at the global level. The article goes on to argue in favor of Karl Polanyi's concept of market society because it focuses attention on the political governance of market societies at both the national and the global levels.

This chapter responds to Fred Block's article about the weaknesses of the concept of capitalism because of its close association with Marxism, and his proposal for a Polanyian analysis of political economy. In this chapter, I interrogate what may be the commonalities as opposed to divergences between Marx and Polanyi, and I question whether the concept of capitalism is really so wedded to Marxism so as to loose its analytic value, and be better replaced by notions such as market society, or political economy, as used by Polanyi. I agree with Block that a Polanyian analysis importantly widens our view beyond economic reductionism to an understanding of economy and society as co-constitutive. However, I see utility in adding the qualifier “capitalist” to “political economy” to differentiate between socialist and capitalist political economies, for instance, and to properly characterize a system based on private property rights, guided by pursuit of material gain, which advantages some strata in society more than others, leading to endemic social inequality. I propose that a Polanyian focus on society and economy as co-constitutive is more effectively coupled with an analysis that considers capitalism not as a self-driven system of surplus extraction and accumulation, but as an institutional order dependent on political choices. Such a perspective would advance a Polanyian analysis of capitalism.

Seeing capitalism as a system defined by the imperative of the ceaseless accumulation of capital, instead of using the definition based on wage labor or international trade as Block questions, I argue that the concept of capitalism is still too useful to be abandoned, and cannot be replaced by the Polanyian concept of market in our critique of political economy. As Fernand Braudel and Giovanni Arrighi contend, the capitalist logic of capital accumulation, which is affined to monopoly and state power, is antithetical to the logic of market exchange, which is decentralized and prioritizes livelihoods over profits. Historically, capitalism sometimes made use of the market and sometimes subjugated the market to facilitate accumulation. Likewise, globalization today is a combined movement of expanding free market in certain aspects of life through financial deregulation, privatization, trade liberalization, etc. on the one hand, and exclusion of various processes and costs outside the market through revival of extra-economic coercion, externalization of environmental costs, etc., on the other hand. The imperative of capital accumulation drive capitalists and capitalist states to foster marketization and demarketization in different times and spaces. The critique of and resistance to our capitalist system needs to be antimarket in some instances and pro-market in others. A Polanyian critique of the free market is surely powerful and helpful, but it is not enough for our full understanding of the economic malaises of our times. It is at best counterproductive to throw away the concept of capitalism altogether.

There are good reasons for preferring the concept of capitalism over that of “market economy.” A capitalist economy is one that depends on the commercialization-through-monetarization of ever more social relations. The result is disequilibrium as the normal condition of a society placed under pressure by its “economy” for continuous reorganization in line with a need for ongoing capital accumulation. A capitalist society enlists the possessive individualism of its members as its principal vehicle of social progress, measured as an increase in wealth-as-money. While Polanyian theory has pointed out important features of advanced capitalist societies, there is no need to sacrifice core Marxian concepts for it. Marxian theory helps avoid the trap of political voluntarism, which stipulates a priority of politics in the capitalist political economy or a fundamental difference between “varieties” of capitalism. Moreover, rather than regarding the capitalist economy as by definition “always embedded,” political-economic theory must allow for a self-destructive, and indeed socially destructive, tendency of capitalist political economies to “disembed” themselves by struggling free from social controls and dictating to social life the imperatives of market efficiency and a market-conforming distribution of life chances.

In response to Bandelj, Hung, and Streeck, I make three basic points. First, while the initial article focused on definitions of capitalism as a system, the critics prefer to see capitalism as a spirit or a tendency that emphasizes the unlimited pursuit of profit. While we are in agreement that such a tendency is destructive, it is confusing to define capitalism this way when most others are using the term to describe a system that they see as coherent. Second, some of the critics question whether efforts to reign in the capitalist impulse can be successful for very long. I argue that the breakdown of restraints in the post-World War II period can be traced to the end of the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates in 1973. This policy shift was neither inevitable nor the result of political agency by financial or corporate interests. Third, the concept of capitalism fails to illuminate key fault lines in contemporary political economies such as the divide between finance and production or between giant firms and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Cover of Political Power and Social Theory
Publication date
Book series
Political Power and Social Theory
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN