Abstracts IV

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Robert H. BATES, "The Economic Bases of Democratization", 1999.
Richard Joseph (ed.), State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999. pp. 83-94.
This neat little essay, from a collection that goes far towards showing that academic arguments can shed light on concrete development issues no less well than the usual political polemics, discusses the progress, difficult in many African countries, towards democracy, looking at it as a matter of economics rather than of ideology.

Underlying this discussion is a general 'theory' of the different routes – all prompted by the enlightened self-interest of those in power – that this progress has taken in Western countries: from an initial state of autocracy, democracy could gain a hold when (a) the autocrat or ruling grouping, facing rebellion, gave up political power in exchange for taking the economy hostage, as in the US (or recently in South Africa,) (b) the autocrat needed to be able to levy taxes, typically to defend his territory, as in the UK, (c) as the relative importance of land declined, taxes had to be levied primarily on movable goods and capital, and (d) the cooperation of a skilled middle-class was needed for the economy to remain productive, as in the former East Bloc countries.

When this theory is tested against particular African cases, it can be seen that the preconditions for that progress are generally absent: (a) there has typically been no need for African autocrats or ruling elites to defend their countries, (b) they have been able to enrich themselves by exploiting natural resources rather than depending on taxes, of land or of movable goods or capital, (c) funding can (or could) be obtained easily enough through negotiations with outside agencies, with no need to turn to the public of the country, (d) deeply divisive factors, such as tribes, have impeded the establishment of a coherent middle-class, and (e) the potential middle-class has in fact been profiting from the arbitrage between official policies and the real economy.

What follows, or is implied here, is that a specifically African route has therefore come about, again a matter of economic factors: progress towards democracy, often out of turmoil, has typically been greater where there have been fewer natural resources, or foreign agencies have withdrawn funding, requiring the local elite to try to provide conditions in which the inflow of foreign capital would continue.

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Jagdish BHAGWATI, In Defence of Globalization, 2004.
Oxford University Press, 2004. 320 pp.
On the basis more of a wide range of evidence – including the author's own experience in his native India and his involvement for a number of decades in policy decisions – than of theoretical economic reasoning, the book takes a strong stand against the 'anti-globalizers', in particular some NGOs, and argues for the benign effects, in particular in the developing countries, of globalization in trade: the reduction of tariffs, the abolishment of trade-distorting subsidies, the easing of foreign direct investment (FDI), the establishment of free trade zones ('export processing zones', or EPZ), and so on. While the sometimes bellicose detractors of globalization, who it should be noted largely come from the rich rather than from the poor countries, may often be well-intentioned, their position on social issues such as child labour, women's rights, working conditions and the environment are easily abused as a cover for the protection of the interests of certain groups in the rich countries: this explains some of the utterances of the labour unions in rich countries, notably he US. The evidence very strongly suggests that free trade in goods is in fact an effective way to advance these causes, and that generally the resulting competition will lead to a 'race to the top' rather than the much-feared 'race to the bottom'.

While globalization therefore already has a "human face" [a term in general use that seems to me quite inappropriate, in that it suggests that the benefits are only apparent], the author is also specific (a) that his argument does not apply equally to the freeing of capital markets, as became clear in the east-Asian crisis of a few years ago; (b) that arrangements, to be funded by the rich countries, have to be made to protect the groups in the poor countries that will suffer in the transition; (c) that the optimal speed of freeing trade is not necessarily the maximal speed; (d) that there is a need for better governance in the poor countries, an area in which NGOs, being close to the ground but better able to raise issues than the individuals, have a major role to play; and (e) that while the effects of globalization are largely beneficial, there are ways to make them even more so. The author broadly approves of the present approach of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, and defends their record against certain complaints, but is very critical of the use of restrictions in trade to advance other agendas, such as the protection of intellectual property rights, or even human rights, warning that the benefits of trade for development will be reduced if it is allowed to be used as a means to protect the interests of certain groups in the rich countries.

[My copy left with a friend's friend in TZ.]

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Jared DIAMOND, Guns, Germs and Steel, 1997.
Vintage, 1998. 425 pp. + photographs + further readings + index.
Europeans have in modern times been overwhelmingly successful, in establishing colonies and settling in all parts of the globe, often replacing the local population, and imposing their kind of civilisation on peoples around the world. It is difficult to imagine that anyone who would read this book might believe that Europeans have been able to do this because they are genetically superior to other races. But it is against this view, which I believe no reader of the book would hold, that the author seems to be arguing throughout. Given that the proximate causes of the domination that Europeans were able to establish were the guns, germs and steel of the book's title – a point that is brought home by an account of how Pizzaro and his small band of Spaniards were able to defeat the forces of the whole Inca empire –, he investigates the ultimate causes: why was it the Europeans, of all the peoples on all the continents, that had the technology, the political and social organisation, the writing system, the diseases to which they but not people in other parts of the world had some resistance, and so on, that have enabled them in a short time to displace or impose themselves on everyone else?

In writing this "short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years," i.e. since the end of the last ice-age, a time when human beings had not yet spread to all continents, the author draws on evidence from various disciplines: archeology, anthropology, genetics, ethno-linguistics. The point that he makes again and again is that Eurasians, in certain areas at least, notably the Fertile Crescent region of south-western Asia, simply found themselves in a more fortunate natural environment: there were more species of plants that could be improved and cultivated, like grasses for grain; there were (more) large animals that were capable of being domesticated, suitable species on other continents having either died out or been killed off when humans first moved there; their continent has an east-west as opposed to a north-south axis and also fewer ecological barriers than the Americas or Africa, and so inventions could spread more easily to more people. Then, as hunter-gatherers changed into or were replaced by farmers, the land could support a larger population; and this greater number and higher density of people resulted in larger and more complex political units, increasing specialisation and hence faster progress, some immunity to deadly diseases that had been acquired from domestic animals with whom the farmers lived, and so on. It is not that there were no such developments in other parts of the world, but that more of them took place in Eurasia, and more quickly. The fact that in the end it was the West that established a world-wide influence rather than the East, which in 1450 was perhaps more advanced, is due to the fact that China was united, and that the court was able to decide for the whole country not to pursue certain developments.

The book's arguments seem to me on the whole cogent: thus, the facts that the natives on other continents were quickly able to use European species of large animals once they had been introduced, like horses in the Americas, and that even in modern times we have not been able to domesticate (rather than just tame) additional large animals anywhere, together do show that the advantage of the Eurasians must have come from having better candidates for domestication. Some of the book's conclusions are supported by comparing related cases, differing in one significant factor, or by investigating small-scale versions of larger-scale developments. And it must be right to consider 'packages' of innovations, rather than individual steps. However, the contention that history can, and should, become an historical science, like astronomy, albeit not an experimental science like physics, seems to me plausible only if one restricts one's attention to the very early history, as this book does, or to certain limited aspects of more recent history. [– Read a short passage. –]

I did not always enjoy the book: there are many needless repetitions and too many lists; the author's personal anecdotes are somewhat patronising and, like the plates of 'typical' faces of different races, added nothing to the argument; I also rather resented finding myself associated with putative racist readers to whom the book seems to be addressed – I had already been sure that the explanation for the present-day dominance of Europeans and European civilisation is largely due to geographical accidents, and not to differences between races, (though I am still not convinced that cultural differences might not have played more of a role than the author admits.) At the same time there were many things, both details of evidence and whole arguments, that I found interesting and intriguing, notably many of the linguistic observations, and the story of how Africa became black.

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Erving GOFFMAN, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organisation of Experience, 1974.
Harper Colophon Books, 1974. 675 pp + index.
Re-reading this book, again, to finally write this abstract, I now suspect that my problems have not been all mine: they are partly that the subject matter is too large and the attempt to cover everything too ambitious for the (any?) author to be able to organise the mass of conceptual distinctions properly. A typographical reflection of this is that while sometimes the sections and subsections have titles, so that we can see how the material is structured, in most chapters they are only numbered – presumably because titles would have required the author to provide more of a structure. However, the book has again been enjoyable: although I had intended to (re-)read quickly, I found myself (re-)attracted by the many and often long footnotes, which extend a point or give another example.

Following the situational emphasis of the phenomenological psychologists (William James, Alfred Schutz, Harold Garfinkel,) the book discusses how we answer the question: "What is it that is going on here?" which can be asked either in confusion or doubt, or tacitly during occasions of usual certitude; possible answers being that the situation is 'real' (although what this means is one of the things that is discussed: we cannot assume that each situation has a privileged 'real' perspective,) or a dream, or make-believe like on stage, or an artifice intended to deceive, and so on. The discussion – as is typical in Goffman's work – is concerned with the structuring of individual experience rather than of society, and he admits (tongue in cheek?) that it therefore does not deal with the core matters of sociology, choosing instead to "let sleeping sentences lie." (Throughout the author is very suspicious of psychotherapy and its accounts.)

The first concept introduced is of the basic unit, a 'strip', which is a slice cut from the stream of an individual's ongoing experience; and a 'frame' then is the definition of the situation, depending of course on the perspective taken, which governs (social) events and the individual's subjective involvement in them. Also typically, Goffman's evidence (illustrations?) consists of newspaper cuttings, scenes from novels, biographies, events on the stage, everyday interactions, and so on, apparently collected unsystematically over time; but many of them featuring the 'shock' (Schutz) of having to change frame when the previous one has turned out to be inappropriate: like when a 'dupe' is undeceived. Not only strips of direct interaction are liable to changes of frame: written texts are too, as when the author of a novel suddenly addresses the reader directly, and in the introduction Goffman has some fun reflexively questioning the framing role of introductions (and of quotation,) and then recursively of the questioning of that role, etc.

The simplest situations, such as natural events and simple 'guided doings', are easy to understand in terms of a primary frame, though there are limiting cases, such as 'muffings' and acrobatics. Then there are two main categories of re-framings: (a) a 'keying' transposes the activity, the main examples being make-believe, contests, ceremonials, technical re-doings (as in rehearsals) and re-groundings, (when the motives of the performers are very different from what it is supposed to be;) (b) a second transformational vulnerability are 'fabrications', where some of the participants are induced to have false beliefs about what is going on. These transformations can be combined in all kinds of ways, giving rise to 'laminations', or layering, of the frame: thus there can be a rehearsal for a play about a deception, or a deceptive rehearsal of a play, and so on. And each frame comes with 'brackets', both spatial and temporal, like the curtain being raised on a play. Any activity, to be able to continue, requires some communication outside the frame, so we find a disattend channel, directional signals, an overlay channel and a concealment track (– all of which are of course open to 'abuse'.)

What is remarkable, as Goffman repeatedly points out, is our ability to keep track of what is going on, but there is a possibility not only of 'ordinary troubles' – ambiguity, framing errors, differing accounts by different parties, and so on –, but also of a deliberate 'breaking of frame', when a participant steps outside it, and this may be used to manufacture 'negative experience' for other participants. A deception, or just 'ordinary trouble', can end with a clearing of the frame, after which everyone involved will (should?) have the same understanding of what it is that has been going on. Discussion of the theatrical frame naturally lead to discussion of roles; and plays – no less than stories about spies – are the source of many of the examples.

Chapter 13, "The Frame Analysis of Talk", oddly separate it seems to me, argues that all of informal conversation consists of the participants re- or pre-playing strips, for the purpose of gaining sympathetic understanding.

[809 words]

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Erving GOFFMAN, Forms of Talk, 1981.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. 327 pp + references + index.
In the five papers in this volume, Goffman applies his characteristic form of ana­lysis to spoken interactions, concentrating in particular on the side of the speak­er. There are three main concepts the author wants us to consider: 'ritualization', i.e. the unintended yet formalised and expressive gestural co-occurrences of our speaking and listening; the idea of a 'participation framework' within which all speaking and listening takes place, which assigns a role to each person within range, and which is the appropriate context in which to analyse interactions; and 'embedding', which refers to our ability to speak words not our (current) own, to re-enact conversations and quote ourselves or others.

The first paper, "Replies and Responses", takes the standard way of analysing conversations, in terms of a question-answer pattern or, more generally, of adja­cency pairs, as its starting point, but then goes on to demonstrate, by considering numerous examples, that that pattern, or in fact any pattern, is not sufficient to cover the wide range of possible conversational interactions – "it's not merely that the lid cannot be closed; there is no box." (p. 74) This is not a very strong, or satisfying, conclusion, but that does not mean that the paper does not make many interesting and sometimes analytically useful observations on the way.

In "Response Cries", Goffman contrasts self-talk, which has linguistic structure but does not serve to communicate, and therefore can undermine the speaker's standing as a competent agent, with utterances such as "Eek!" Ostensibly such utterances are purely expressions of states and do not serve communication, but while they are not parts of conventional sustained talk, they are ritualized ges­tures with defined uses, so they are used to communicate but as part of social situations - which suggests that it is social situations rather than, more narrowly, conversations that are the appropriate context in which to analyse all utterances.

Taking the report of an event in Nixon's Oval Office as its starting point, "Footing" is about the alignments that we take to ourselves and others, in the first place in conversations, and how changes in our 'stance' are marked. Once again, the ca­nonical dyadic pattern of speaker/listener is found to be much too narrow: other ratified or non-ratified participants have to be included. Moreover, to understand changes in footing - such as, in particular, when one interaction is embedded in another – our analysis cannot restrict itself to utterances, nor even to simple conversational encounters, but must encompass whole stretches of activity in all the various social situations: lectures, games, coordinated task activities, etc.

"The Lecture" – first delivered as a lecture, allowing Goffman to make occasional reflexive observations – discusses one type of "face-to-face undertaking of the fo­cused kind", (others being games and theatre performances,) in terms such as 'footing' (e.g. parentheses, jokes) and 'noise' (e.g. photographers). What is charac­teristic of lectures is that 'animator' (using, in this case, 'fresh talk', rather than 'memorization' or 'aloud reading',) 'author' and 'principal' are the same person, in whom some authority is vested. While a lecture has a text (the delivery of) which ostensibly is the main focus of speaker and audience, it is also supposed to be a performance, at times even having ritualistic significance. Moreover, any lecture implicitly serves as an affirmation: that there is structure to the world which can be perceived and reported, and which it is reasonable to have a lecture about.

"Radio Talk", at 131 pages the longest of the essays, is a sometimes exhaustingly exhaustive "study of the ways of our errors". After a general discussion of competencies that we assume one another to have in ordinary, particularly verbal, interactions, and of our possible reactions and various kinds of remedies available to us when we have failed to display these competencies, the author – so as to direct our attention to critical features of everyday face-to-face talk – considers the particular case of TV and radio announcing, where in most cases the appearance is expected of flawless 'fresh talk' (as opposed to 'recitation' and 'aloud reading',) and of the announcer being animator, author and principal of his utterances. Goffman takes his characteristic approach of considering very many, often amusing, real-life examples of faults and trying to organise them somehow – but is suffering from the characteristic problem of many of his studies, that the categories and concepts seem rather ad hoc and so to lack in explanatory force.

The overall impression is of interesting general concepts struggling to contain particular cases and neat insights that in the end are too numerous and too varied. But this may be a statement about the nature of social interaction rather than a criticism of Goffman's approach.

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Goran HYDEN, "Governance and the Reconstitution of Political Order", 1999.
Richard Joseph (ed.), State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999. pp. 179-195.
The failures of the exclusively technical project- and programme-approaches to development of the 50s to 80s, and the consequent acceptance of the need for a political approach, as well as the limitation of comparative studies that focus solely on the state, often juxtaposed to society, warrant the introduction of the concept of 'governance'. While still liable to be used, in IMF- and World Bank publications (as well as by Mr Mugabe,) to avoid the word "politics," the term here refers to the politics of the rules (informal as well as formal) of the political game; governance approaches politics not at the levels of the state or the government, but at the intermediary level of the regime: a regime, like 'one-party democracy', tends to outlast governments, but a state can go through a succession of regimes.

This concept is used in – and clarified by – discussions of issues concerning Africa, where in the absence of an uncontested progress towards democracy it is more helpful to talk about "reconstituting the political order" than simply about "regime-transition."

  1. Thus, instead of importing Western-style democracy – in which freedom of choice matters less for the exercise of power than for the control of power, and democracy is more about checks and balances than about avenues of access to power and influence –, the different African perspective, arising out of a tradition of self-rule in small-scale societies where face-to-face contact still prevails, needs to be incorporated: representation is seen in the context of communal rather than individual competition, leading to clientelism and patronage.
  2. In a plural society, not only the relations between state and citizen matter, as in human rights issues, but also the relations between groups: the different practices of tribal politics in Kenya and 'colour-politics' in post-apartheid South Africa can here be contrasted. Sadly, such politics in Africa are still often characterised by a sense of justice based on mutual advantage, rather than on fairness.
  3. And given the absence of a tradition of justice as impartiality, the wisdom of supporting, or even requiring, multi-party elections is questionable: donor countries need to take up the challenge of first fostering a climate in which such elections can benefit society.
[ In the next essay, "Senegal's Enlarged Presidential Majority," pp. 197-216, Linda J. Beck evaluates a detailed historical account and concludes that that particular regime, which consists of the majority-government co-opting opposition members into the government, while sometimes aiding stability, is in fact a detour from rather than a deepening of democracy. The reasons that the ruling party (the PS) has offered EPM are clear: by dividing and silencing the opposition, it reinforces the status quo of dominant-party politics. The reason that the main opposition party (the PDS) has accepted, despite the fact that (a) its role in government is strictly limited and (b) it could pursue its objectives more effectively from outside the government, lies in the nature of politics in Senegal: owing to the pervasive clientelism, what an opposition party needs to offer the electorate are not policy alternatives or effective scrutiny of the government, but patronage in the form of paid jobs, public spending, and so on. Voters generally even assent to the pervasive corruption and exploitation of office, as these are seen as the source of the largesse from which they may benefit. The hope for Senegal lies in the growth of a non-government sector of the economy which will permit economic autonomy from the PS-state for both the opposition and the citizenry.

If one supposes, as Scott D. Taylor does in another essay, "Race, Class and Neopatrimonialism in Zimbabwe," pp. 239-266, that the constitution of an independent middle class, while not sufficient, and possibly not necessary, for the process of democratisation is at least conducive to it, then one can understand why the regime of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU(PF) have acted – contrary to their professed policy of indigenization – to prevent the development of such a class in their country, to the point even of allying themselves with the white settler minority, which can be kept politically inconsequential while also serving as the butt of party/government polemics. After explaining the absence of a middle-class with any group consciousness, (the existence of a small state-bourgeoisie notwithstanding,) the author provides cogent evidence for his indictment of the regime in the form of two sad case studies, which show a politics determined to preserve the status quo: the rise and fall of the Indigenous Business Development Centre (IBDC,) launched in 1990, and the notorious case of the communications company Econet. ]

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Inga-Britt KRAUSE, Therapy Across Culture, 1998.
Sage Publications, 1998. 175 pp + bibliography + index.
Having been trained as an anthropologist and worked as an ethnographer in Nepal and as a family therapist in London, the author discusses how psychotherapy, and especially systemic (i.e. family-) therapy, is possible when the therapist and the client(s) are of different cultural backgrounds.

It is noticeable that in all the clinical illustrations, the former is Western (i.e. European or American,) or at least Western-trained, the latter is non-Western, and the therapy takes place within a Western setting: but to what extent the whole discourse of such therapy is a Western discourse is not addressed, except in a few incidental comments about possession and native healers. Nor is the point made explicitly that, in all or nearly all the cases discussed, the problems that brought families into therapy had arisen because of their separation from their cultural environment, or could have been resolved there.

However, the discussion is based on a wide range of material, from the author's own experiences from her fieldwork and her own clinical cases, to a large number of references to the literature, especially concerning the relation between theory and praxis in anthropology and in therapy. Not all of that material seems necessary, such as the kinship- (or rather: genealogical) diagrams from patri- and matrilineal societies that the author adduces from the literature. But her descriptions of how family, kinship and other relationships are experienced by individuals – how they have a bearing on the individuals' lives, and how they need to be understood and dealt with for the ethnographer or the therapist to be able to get anywhere – are often illuminating and essential to her argument.

The book starts by examining some basic concepts, like that of culture, and putting the whole discussion into the context of anthropological thinking and how it has developed: how since early days, when anthropology was the attempt to scientifically describe, the emphasis has increasingly shifted to understanding, and how this requires the anthropologist reflecting on her own position and feelings. With that emphasis on understanding comes the tension between viewing things from the outside, from the observer's viewpoint, with the observer's values and meanings, and from the inside. This tension is of course also a characteristic of any relationship between a therapist and her client(s), but provided they share the same cultural background, it is often possible to disregard, at least up to a point, the differences in values and meanings.

Any kind of psychotherapy (or, similarly, any ethnographic study) has two aspects, though these will necessarily inform one another: one is a certain attitude and method, the other the resulting conception of the mind and the sets of conclusions in particular cases. Thus, in classical psychoanalysis, we have on the one hand the fact of the unconscious and the use of transference, and on the other we have a child's psychosexual development and the agencies of id, ego and superego. My main interest, when I picked up the book, was in the latter, in particular the question whether some of the concepts that are familiar from Western psychoanalysis, such as the Oedipus complex, have the same relevance for people who have grown up in a significantly different culture. But what in the end I found most interesting was the former: the author's discussion of methods and approaches, of what cross-cultural understanding requires and consists of, a process which is not limited to the work of certain therapists and ethnographers.

What is required is a shared space, between therapist and client (or, similarly, between ethnographer and informant,) which can be created by the therapist making the attempt to work within the cultural assumptions of the client while trying to become clearer about her own. The client's assumptions are usually not open to her introspection, just as the therapist will not be fully aware of the corresponding assumptions on her own part, concerning for instance what constitutes a family and what role one's kin have to play. To fill this gap and create the shared space, cultures, both the client's and the therapist's, must be understood as forms of human action, and as such they become open to practical questions that can and should be asked. This is also the way the author suggests we need to understand emotions, rituals and taboos: not abstractly, as having some meaning, but as ways of doing things. While the book offers many insights, both theoretical and practical, I found those chapters most intriguing and rewarding to read in which these concepts, central to both therapy and ethnography, are discussed at the intersection of the two fields. [– Read some passages, mostly from early in the book. –]

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Steven D. LEVITT, Stephen J. DUBNER, Freakonomics, 2005.
Penguin Books, 2006. 207 pp + notes + index.
While finding many of the stories told in this much-hyped book interesting and entertaining, the presentation of the material was annoying from the start. The authors, one an economist, who apparently is a bit of a maverick, the other a journalist, met when the latter was writing a feature about the former for The NY Times Magazine, and so each chapter of the book starts with an adulating passage from that article. In fact the writing throughout is not far above newspaper sensationalism – as though the authors did not trust their points to be interesting enough, or their readers to come with sufficient interest: "So if sumo wrestlers, schoolteachers, and day-care parents all cheat, are we to assume that mankind is innately and universally corrupt? And if so, how corrupt? The answer may lie in ... [sic] bagels" (p. 45) – although the often-cited situation of parents picking up their children late from day-care more often after a small fine has been introduced seems to me hardly to qualify as a case of cheating. In fact, the book's reasoning is not always as 'tight' as it should have been: "And if a teacher were to survey this newly incentivized landscape and consider somehow inflating her students' scores, she just might be persuaded by one final incentive: teacher cheating is rarely looked for, hardly ever detected, and just about never punished" (p. 27) – but the absence of a disincentive is of course not itself an incentive.

The book seems to me to be not so much about economics as about systems of incentives and disincentives, which may be moral, or social, or economic/financial, and about the often unintended consequences they can have; and in particular about how they may suggest, or encourage, or even reward, cheating or other forms of undesirable behaviour. And about how a clever economist can discover what is happening 'under the surface of everydaylife' if he only is provided with the necessary data. To their credit, though, the authors are consistently careful to distinguish questions of causation from the correlations they find.

The main stories told in the six chapters concern:

  1. match-rigging by sumo-wrestlers when at the end of a tournament they are in danger of moving down the ranking, and cheating by teachers in the Chicago school system on their students' high-stake tests, to 'improve' their own performance;
  2. efforts made, or often not made, by real-estate agents when selling property, and the rises and falls of the Ku Klux Klan;
  3. the distribution of costs and benefits on the supply side of crack dealing, and the incentives to get involved even if the majority of those involved cannot even afford to move out from their mother's home;
  4. the causes of the very significant reduction in the crime rate throughout the US in the 1990ies, the main one of which – contrary to what has been claimed by various politicians for various crime-fighting policies – is the legalisation of abortions 20 years before, resulting in fewer children being born who would have a high propensity to commit crimes;
  5. the role of parents in their children's upbringing, where it turns out that the outcome depends hardly at all on what they (try to) do – though this, while not a cause, is an indicator – and rather more on who they are, both genetically and in socio-economic terms;
  6. the role of names chosen by parents, in particular black and white, and high- and low-income white parents, in the eventual success of their children, where again the names are found to be indicators rather than causes, but a certain (not surprising) trend is discovered.
It indicates something about this rather disappointing book, and about the readership the authors expect, that at the very end, in the brief "Epilogue: Two Paths to Harvard", (which makes the point that statistical data do not allow us to make predictions about individual cases,) they seem to be expecting us to recognise the name of one Ted Kaczynski, (who here is contrasted with one of their 'heroes', Roland G. Fryer.)

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Philip McMICHAEL, Development and Social Change: a Global Perspective, 1996.
Pine Forge Press, 1996. 258 pp + endnotes + references + glossary/index.
Starting off in the manner of an undergraduate textbook, inviting the reader to consider their own involvement as consumer in the global economy, the tone of this text becomes rather more strident in its denunciation of the effects on disadvantaged groups, which in developing countries include most of the population, of the historical progression it traces: from the 'Development Project' of the late 1940s to the early 1970s – arising out of the decline of colonialism, as part of the new, post-war world order – to the 'Globalization Project' since the 1980s. The arguments are illustrated with case studies ("Agribusiness Brings You the World Steer") and simple diagrams ("The New International Division of Labor"), and there are textboxes ("Why Three Industrial Revolutions?") to answer clarifying questions. Throughout the text statistical data are quoted, but the impression one gets – which might be wrong – is that it is mostly the extreme cases that are presented, to support a point, and that we are not given the overall picture. One indication of the tendency of the text is that one section is headed "The Comparative Advantage Axiom", although subsequently it is also referred to as a "theorem".

The Development Project came about in the wake of the profoundly disorganising effects that colonialism had had on many societies. Like the newly-formed UN, it viewed the world as made up of nation states, of which the less-developed, newly-independent ones would, with the help of the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank,) pursue a course of state-managed economic growth, similar to the one of the developed countries in the previous century, using policies such as industrialisation by means of import-substitution, agrarian reform favouring agro-industrialisation, and Keynesian state initiatives to improve infra-structure. This development was underpinned by imports of food from the First World; the dependence on these imports led to social changes in Third World countries, further dividing their societies, and with the competition from cheap imported foods many of these countries became unable to supply even for their own basic needs.

So the Development Project set in motion a global dynamic, resulting in a global, rather than national, division of labour and rural-urban exchange. In view of the success of the newly industrialising countries (South Korea, Taiwan, etc) "development" was re-defined as "participation in the world market" (for which the GATT provided the framework); contrary to general belief, though, the advance of these export-oriented NICs was due to the flexible form of state-capitalism they adopted and not to the liberal open-market polices that became the prescription for less-developed countries. – As the divergence of growth-patterns within the Third World increased, and countries scrambled for investment, when credit dried up in the 1980s, the Development Project unraveled: debt-rescheduling was conditional on privatisation of state agencies and projects and on deep cuts in national infra-structure spending, and it concentrated financial power in the hands of multilateral agencies.

Thus the debt-crisis, precipitated by the 'oil-shock', marked the onset of the Globalization Project, characterised by growing faith in the authority of the market, organised by multilateral financial institutions (again including the IMF) and transnational corporations and banks, and an undermining of the authority of the state, in favour of a global managerialism, so that the role of the state is increasingly to implement policies, such as structural adjustment and austerity measures that have deep social effects, decided by agencies that have no democratic validation. While the Development Project had proposed social integration through national economic growth under individual state supervision, the Globalization Project offers new forms of authority and discipline according to the laws of the market. Particular consequences are a global labour surplus, leading to a 'race to the bottom', informalisation of employment, and a legitimacy crisis of state institutions, all of which are exemplified in the many export processing zones.

Although the Globalization Project has powerful support, institutionalised in the WTO for instance, in particular since it is the more advantaged social groups (which are not only in the First World, nor include all of it) that benefit from it, alternative social responses to globalization have grown into increasingly influential movements, of which four examples are briefly described: fundamentalism, environmentalism, feminism and cosmopolitan localism. The need for a broad political renewal is clear; the opportunity for it may lie, paradoxically, in the weakening of the nation state by the Globalization Project. – Thus the book concludes with a vague hope, an appeal, but regrettably without proposing concrete policies or discussing opportunities, such as the role increasingly played by NGOs.

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Martin MEREDITH, The State of Africa: a History of Fifty Years of Independence, 2006.
The Free Press, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2006. 688 pp + 3 maps + 58 photographs + chapter notes + bibliography + index.
History can be written in different ways, although the two approaches are of course not mutually exclusive: whereas 'lumpers' understand the past in terms of large-scale, often economic or ideological trends and general patterns, 'splitters' tend to concentrate on the roles of particular individuals and events in shaping developments. This book, covering roughly that part of the history of Africa that coincides with my own lifetime, largely falls into the second category: in 35 chapters with titles like "Heart of Darkness" and "The Graves are Not Yet Full," it tells the story of specific persons and events (many of which, like Patrice Lumumba and the conflict in Biafra, it almost feels like I have grown up with, although until quite recently I certainly did not understand much of what I heard or read in the news,) in roughly chronological order, weaving in anecdotes and quotes, drawing biographical and character sketches, and even showing photographs of some of the main protagonists. Figures are occasionally used, for effect: "Though white farmers [in Kenya, as the Mau Mau rose up] often lived in fear of attack, after four years only thirty-two whites had been killed, less than the number who died in traffic accidents in Nairobi during the same period."

Of course, the story of that "benighted continent" (as one African friend of mine has called the place where he is from, although he was referring only to sub-Saharan Africa, whereas this book also covers the north of the continent) is for the most part a sad one, and becomes ever more depressing as the book approaches our time, and we see the atrocities becoming no smaller and the greed and selfishness becoming no less, and we have to accept that on the whole very little has been learnt from the past. But it would be a mistake to view the book as just a chronicle of the many bad, sometimes merely mistaken or misguided but often morally wrong, decisions that have been taken by certain individuals at certain points; it would be too hopeful, it seems to me, to conclude that if only certain things had gone – or rather, in most cases: had been done – a bit differently, then better outcomes would have been possible. The very consistency with which things have gone or been done badly suggests that the outcomes are not just due to those particular causes but reflects something about an underlying situation: if one mistake had been avoided, another would have been waiting just around the corner – in fact, a lot of possible mistakes may well not have been made. So the onslaught of details canot but paint a large-scale picture, of the grim state of Africa; perhaps no historian can completely avoid being a 'lumper' as well ...

The book, while not enjoyable to read, is clear and well-written (not unlike King Lear, I am afraid, and no less overwhelming a tragedy) though it may somewhat suffer from journalism's bias towards bad news, because it makes 'better news'; the journalistic device of commenting by means of a quick point one quickly gets used to, as when a harrowing description of Samuel Doe taking power in Liberia concludes with a one-sentence paragraph: "Thus the old order ended."

The question remains what it is that is, or has gone, wrong. It is not one the book tries to address: even to ask the question one needs to be a 'lumper' rather than a 'splitter'. But I feel the need to attempt an answer, more so after having read The State of Africa, an answer that goes beyond just stating that "power corrupts." My starting point, based on my own, very happy experiences there, is that however depressing the recent history of Africa may be, the people of that continent, individually, are no more selfish or evil or lazy than those of any other continent. So what protects us from ourselves in other parts of the world, most of the time, is not our individual morality – which is simply not strong enough, no more than is that of the Africans – but a different kind of system that effectively checks our social behaviour, especially, but not only, that of our leaders. It is that kind of effective system that has not, largely presumably for historical reasons (including, notably, colonialism,) had a chance to develop in Africa. It is the lack of such a system – which even in the West we have not had long and can still not fully trust: which is why poor countries continue to be callously used as pawns in our power politics, as when France apparently kept supporting the Hutu genocidaires in Rwanda – that allows a family doctor like Kamuzu Banda from the UK to return home to Malawi and become a tyrant authorising even the torture of his fellow-citizens, or turns educated, well-intentioned idealists into ruthless dictators, syphoning off millions of dollars into their personal bank accounts, inducing large-scale famines to stifle political opposition, and so on. Not a cheerful answer.

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Vance PACKARD, The Hidden Persuaders, 1957.
Longmans, Green & Co., 1957.
Most of what this book reports on, and to a small extent discusses, has by now become quite commonplace, so it is not surprising that it has been allowed to go out of print. However, in the mid-1950ies, the application of motivational research to the public's buying patterns – and even voting patterns – and the depth-approach to advertising were still new, and this was probably the first book for the non-specialist about the developments that were beginning. Much of the book consists of anecdotes, narrated uncritically even admiringly, about particular probes and advertising campaigns, and about some of the 'gurus' of the new field, notably one Dr. Ernest Dichter, and the agencies they founded or worked for. How dated the book is by now becomes clear when it talks of the cigarette industry being "thrown into its tizzy by the now famous cancer scare," and from the way television is still a relatively new medium; that the book is almost exclusively based on what was going on in the US presumably reflects the faster pace of those developments in that country.

The starting point was that around the middle of the century, many companies (and perhaps even the US economy) had come to depend on ever-increasing sales of consumer products, the different brands of which – different beers, or detergents, or policies – were often hardly distinguishable; and that it had slowly become clear that when it came to selling goods, appealing to potential customers' rational judgment was often not effective enough, or even turned out to be counter-productive. The traditional statistical testing, or 'nose-counting', could not promise the answers that the marketers needed. At this point, a small army, it seems, of more or less serious social scientists were employed to use various new techniques, such as psychoanalysis and 'depth interviews' and word association trials, to understand better the unconscious significance of products, and to help design packaging and marketing strategies which would take into account the irrational and impulsive side of the decisions of potential buyers.

In some cases it was just a matter of correcting unfortunate connotations in the public mind, of the product or previous advertisements; but more often the advertisers sought to directly affect people's feelings about a product or a company, or how a product made people feel, or even to create the 'desire' for a product in the first place. On one strategy, for instance, what one sells to a housewife is not a detergent, but happiness for her family; and her husband doesn't buy a new car, he buys into a higher status. (As I said, nowadays these ideas are of course quite hackneyed ...) Moreover, this new depth-approach came to be advocated not only for a company's P.R., to increase sales of its products, but also in what used to be called H.R., to improve the motivation and productivity of the company's employees.

For most of the book, the author just tells wonderful, sometimes perhaps exaggerated, often entertaining little stories, of the great successes and very occasional failures of this kind of marketing, and of the packaging which reduces almost everything to a 'product'. In the process some aspects of our hidden needs and unconscious thinking are indeed brought out. Unfortunately the accounts always remain vague, and the book does not provide even one detailed case-study, nor does the validity of the claims get questioned that are made by the author's informants and in the articles he cites. And it is only in the last chapters, when he turns to the manipulation of children, to the spread of these techniques of persuasion in politics, and to possible long-term trends and over-all effects, that he seems to also worry about the morality of what he has been describing.

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Steven PINKER, The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature, 2002.
Allen Lane, 2002. 434 pp. + appendix + notes + references + index.
In this major work, Pinker aims to set the record straight on the traditional and, he argues, ideologically determined view that the human mind has no innate tendencies and capacities, so that all our mental functioning would be due to experiences after birth. In philosophy, this standard view has been called 'the blank slate', and it has tended to go together with the ideas of 'the noble savage' and of 'the ghost in the machine'.

The contrary scientific evidence, much of it based on studies of identical and non-identical twins, children of different parents brought up in the same families, and siblings brought up in different families, has been getting stronger for some time, and is by now quite conclusive: that about 50% of the variation of human behaviour within a group, at least after childhood, is due to our genes. This position has met with a lot of hostility from many 'right-thinking' people, who have felt that if true, it would make it impossible to ever change society for the better and would threaten our ability to make moral judgements: what has underlain these denials have been the fears of inequality, of imperfectibility, of determinism and of nihilism. But these fears, Pinker explains, are not based on valid arguments: those who require, on ideological grounds, that the inheritance factor must be 0% then seem unable to distinguish between that factor being 100%, which would indeed mean that all behaviour was genetically determined, and it being 50%. Pinker recounts, not without scorn and even anger, a number of cases when scientists who have been critical, as the evidence against it has become stronger, of the standard view have been hounded and denounced by the 'right-thinkers'.

But Pinker does more than put forward the current scientific view and defend it against wrong-headed attacks. He also makes a start on developing a moral approach that is consistent with this new view, and that does not depend on unfounded, albeit more comfortable, assumptions about human nature, about the past of our species, and about our minds. It is only when we accept where we come from that we can decide where to go, so many of the arguments in the book appeal to how our species has evolved: given the circumstances at the time, what combinations of genes would be such as to give their owners an advantage in passing on their genes to the next generation? Even if the evolutionary advantage is only 1%, those genes will be selected for. And some of the characteristics that at first sight might seem disadvantageous turn out to be such that they would be selected for: it is obvious that care for one's offspring has an advantage, but less obvious that the capacity for friendship and anger do.

One of the issues he discusses, under the heading of "Hot Buttons", is human violence. According to the 'right-thinking' people, violence is an outcome of our upbringing, and as such was supposedly not present in earlier societies; in order to counteract violence it should therefore be enough to protect children from encountering it. However, the peacefulness of earlier societies has turned out to be an anthropological myth, and all our attempts to fight violence seem to have failed. However, if instead we accept that violence, which clearly would have had an evolutionary advantage, is innate and will be triggered in certain situations, and if we gain an understanding of the situations in which it usually is not triggered, such as inside a family, then we may be able to devise ways to reduce violence: by, for instance, extending the range of people who we in our society are willing to accept as 'family'. This conclusion does not seem all that surprising, if we consider history and compare societies. In fact throughout the book one finds oneself again and again returned to common sense notions and values which a certain orthodoxy has tried to deny.

Some of the conclusions are quite striking and somehow liberating: it does make sense, for instance, that contrary to the common belief, parents have an effect on their children only through their genes and hardly at all by their educational efforts, (which is not to deny that bad parenting can do a lot of harm;) and that in societies of mostly 'cooperators' occasional 'psychopathy' is also selected for. The thinking in the book is not all new of course, ideas started by The Selfish Gene, 1976, by Richard Dawkins, lie behind many arguments. But Pinker has managed to present a coherent, open-ended position in line with the scientific evidence, the implications of which for my own thinking I have been continuing to mull over since finishing the book. His clear writing, the wide range of sources and the often entertaining examples make the book very enjoyable, and his carefulness when interpreting evidence and with the logic of arguments – sometimes requiring an understanding of basic statistics and logic – makes it a very satisfying read.

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Martin WOLF, Why Globalization Works, 2004.
Yale University Press, 2004. 320 pp + notes + references + index.
As the title suggests, this book sets out to convince – and it is a very convincing work, as well as being a thrill to read. The author, who is Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator at the FT, makes his case in three parts.

He first locates his position in the present, often heated and even violent, debate about globalization and describes the historical development that has led to the political and economic situation of the world today. One of the striking points is that this development is not inexorable and might actually go into reverse world-wide, as it did during the first half of the 20th century. And do the anti-globalizers, he asks, really think that the US would be better off, in any sense, if it broke up into 51 separate countries?

He then explains why in his view there is not enough of globalization rather than too much of it. While greater globalization would benefit all, the reason that the author feels as strongly as he clearly does is that it is the less-developed nations and the poor people in the world who are most held back by not being able to participate in the global economy and are suffering the most. The evidence that countries that have encouraged FDI and have opened themselves to world markets have seen much greater improvements – i.e. development in a wide sense: both political and economic, an increase both in personal freedoms and in general welfare – than those that have protected their industries and agriculture is by now overwhelming.

He then shows that the different kinds of opponents of globalization, in particular the 'New Millennium Collectivists' as he calls one group, are (largely) wrong. In each of five chapters – with the (somewhat sarcastically) alliterative titles "Incensed about Inequality", "Traumatized by Trade", "Cowed by Corporations", "Sad about the State" and "Fearful of Finance" – the author starts by making explicit in a few statements the main criticisms made by the anti-globalizers, and proceeds to carefully demolish them. He puts forward – in a lucid manner that is easy to follow and a pleasure to read – arguments from economic theory, but the conclusions always return to practical issues and are backed up by clearly presented statistical evidence. Here one of the striking points is the great significance, in various areas, of development in China.

And he reveals the many fallacies in the thinking of the anti-globalizers: how they fail to understand the mechanism of comparative advantage; how they misconceive trade as a zero-sum game instead of realising that generally it is a win-win situation; how they wrongly compare the relations between countries to relations between competing companies; how they even confuse, in their outrage that some transnational corporations are "more powerful" than many states, total value-added with total sales; and so on.

At times one can feel impatience, even frustration perhaps, in the author's tone: this is partly because many well-intentioned but perhaps naive people in rich countries support a cause that actually worsens the lives of those they think they are helping; but even more because in many cases – such as the campaigns against sweatshops and for high environmental standards in Third World companies – the apparent defence of the welfare of the poor is a cover for protecting the interests of the rich:

If the people of high-income countries wish to accelerate the end of child labour, it would help if aid funded the education of poor children, while providing compensation to parents for the incomes they have lost. But imposing export sanctions on countries is a way of penalizing them for their poverty while taking away the best ladder out of it. At best it is foolish. At worst it is gross hypocrisy. The test of whether all this talk means anything is whether high-income countries are prepared to put their money where their moralistic mouth is. [p. 188]
The tone here is not untypical: what I esteem about this book is that it is no less moral than well-reasoned, against those who would take the high-ground by, for instance, smashing MacDonalds outlets because "we have lost our freedom to brands!"

The author is careful, though, to recognize the valid points made by anti-globalizers – though some are valid precisely because globalization, for instance of labour markets, has not gone far enough. Thus, he does agree that the working of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO has at times been counterproductive, and that in certain areas, especially financial markets, there is a case to be made for transitional arrangements for less developed countries. (For some reason the book's generally clear argument seems to get bogged down in an overly detailed discussion of the Asian financial crisis of the late 90s: perhaps it was still too close.) But we should, the author concludes, learn from past mistakes, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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