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Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

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Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the cultural logics of human action and on economic and political processes within the Asia-Pacific, including the impact of these forces on women and family life. Explaining how intensified travel, communications, and mass media have created a transnational Chinese public, Aihwa Ong argues that previous studies have mistakenly viewed transnationality as necessarily detrimental to the nation-state and have ignored individual agency in the large-scale flow of people, images, and cultural forces across borders. She describes how political upheavals and global markets have induced Asian investors, in particular, to blend strategies of migration and of capital accumulation and how these transnational subjects have come to symbolize both the fluidity of capital and the tension between national and personal identities. Refuting claims about the end of the nation-state and about “the clash of civilizations,” Ong presents a clear account of the cultural logics of globalization and an incisive contribution to the anthropology of Asia-Pacific modernity and its links to global social change. This pioneering investigation of transnational cultural forms will appeal to those in anthropology, globalization studies, postcolonial studies, history, Asian studies, Marxist theory, and cultural studies.


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Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the Few recent phenomena have proved as emblematic of our era, and as little understood, as globalization. Are nation-states being transformed by globalization into a single globalized economy? Do global cultural forces herald a postnational millennium? Tying ethnography to structural analysis, Flexible Citizenship explores such questions with a focus on the links between the cultural logics of human action and on economic and political processes within the Asia-Pacific, including the impact of these forces on women and family life. Explaining how intensified travel, communications, and mass media have created a transnational Chinese public, Aihwa Ong argues that previous studies have mistakenly viewed transnationality as necessarily detrimental to the nation-state and have ignored individual agency in the large-scale flow of people, images, and cultural forces across borders. She describes how political upheavals and global markets have induced Asian investors, in particular, to blend strategies of migration and of capital accumulation and how these transnational subjects have come to symbolize both the fluidity of capital and the tension between national and personal identities. Refuting claims about the end of the nation-state and about “the clash of civilizations,” Ong presents a clear account of the cultural logics of globalization and an incisive contribution to the anthropology of Asia-Pacific modernity and its links to global social change. This pioneering investigation of transnational cultural forms will appeal to those in anthropology, globalization studies, postcolonial studies, history, Asian studies, Marxist theory, and cultural studies.

30 review for Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

  1. 5 out of 5

    April

    Another book from my college days that I somehow own but don't recall reading at all. Was it for my thesis that I purchased this book or was it for a class that I took? I don't know. Its very academic writing didn't allow me to appreciate fully the concepts presented, and our world has shifted much more since it was written so that transnationality is common for so many people living in the U.S. and abroad nowadays. Globalization is the standard operating procedure now, people and families do wh Another book from my college days that I somehow own but don't recall reading at all. Was it for my thesis that I purchased this book or was it for a class that I took? I don't know. Its very academic writing didn't allow me to appreciate fully the concepts presented, and our world has shifted much more since it was written so that transnationality is common for so many people living in the U.S. and abroad nowadays. Globalization is the standard operating procedure now, people and families do what they need to do to make their money and live their comfortable and sometimes excessive lifestyles. The mighty dollar has priority over democracy. "However, these ethnographies of migration and identity making in America do not sufficiently deal with the ways in which the subjectivities of majority populations are also being reworked by neoliberalism in the United States. For instance, how are differentiated and competing notions of citizenship in the United States emerging within a dominant frame of American neoliberalism? Whereas the movements of capital have stimulated immigrant strategies of mobility, many poor Americans are unable to respond in quite the same way and are instead 'staying put' or 'being stuck' in place, especially in rundown ethnic ghettoes. What are the subjectivities associated with being stuck in particular U.S. contexts? Global capital and population flows have intensified the localization of resident minorities within the reconfigured political economy and have thus reinforced a citizenship patterning of whiteness and blackness in a more institutionalized sense than has been allowed for in studies of race. . . the 'out-of-placeness' represented by wealthy Asian immigrants in the American ethno-racial order induces a parallel sense of displacement among whites and blacks who have not benefited from globalization." pg. 9-10 "Thus, while mobility and flexibility have long been part of the repertoire of human behavior, under transnationality the new links between flexibility and the logics of displacement, on the one hand, and capital accumulation, on the other, have given new valence to such strategies of maneuvering and positioning. Flexibility, migration, and relocations, instead of being coerced or resisted, have become practices to strive for rather than stability." pg. 19 "But in many areas of the world, we must move beyond an analysis based on colonial nostalgia or colonial legacies to appreciate how economic and ideological modes of domination have been transformed in excolonial countries, as well as how those countries' positioning in relation to the global political economy has also been transformed." pg. 35 "These [Avon ladies] sales representatives, who earn more than the majority of their customers, display Avon products on their faces and nails and promise that a 'beautiful world' can be gained through working hard and making oneself over as a marketable product of Chinese capitalism. Here we see the delicate interweaving of female self-discipline, industrial regulation, and consumer manipulation that comes with global capitalism. Using ready-made images that target Asian consumers, corporations engender new needs and desires that socialize Chinese workers to the norms of mass consumption." pg. 40 "The enduring symbols of Chinese roots stress the indestructible nature of ancestral home and kinship ties, thus casting the ultramodern flexible relations of capital accumulation in the timeless and unchanging representation of Chinese culture." pg. 45 "But from the very beginning, the Deng regime was careful to define the Chinese modernity in a fixed territorial position vis-a-vis other nation-states in the world. Despite Deng's call for coastal cities to mimic Hong Kong, 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' represents an attempt to domesticate freewheeling capitalism through state control, and to drive home the idea that capitalism is ultimately intended to increase the power of the Chinese nation-state. The goal is to significantly raise China's overall standard of living over the course of one hundred years so that the country can escape its developing status and thus strengthen its position with respect to other countries. This aim resonates with the ideological discourses of the ASEAN nations and Taiwan and echoes the earlier message of Meiji Japan, which is that the state must take control of capitalism to strengthen the nation." pg. 58 "Observers have noted that the Singaporean state maintains power through orchestrating crises that become opportunities for the government to identify 'threats' to state security, to marginalize potentially dissenting groups, and to instill self-surveillance in a population induced to feel continually under siege." pg. 72 "Indeed, in a world of Western hegemony, Asian voices are unavoidably inflected by orientalist essentialisms that infiltrate all kinds of public exchanges about culture. I use the term self-orientalization in recognition of such predicaments, but also in recognition of the agency to maneuver and manipulate meanings within different power domains. Statements about Chinese modernity are an amalgam of indigenous ideas, Western concepts, and self-orientalizing representations by Asian leaders. Such formulations of modernity should not come as a surprise since the Asia Pacific region as a geopolitical entity was constructed by Euroamerican imperialism and capitalism." pg. 81 "Thus, while the 'global cultural economy' of people, products, and ideas may be characterized by disjunctures, regimes of consumption and credentialization are definitely hierarchized, with Europe and America setting the standards of international middle-class style." pg. 90 ". . .a scheme that locates Asian subjects as a 'good,' but subordinated, minority. In the commonsensical view of ethnic succession, recent arrivals from non-Western countries are expected to enter at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and wait their proper turn to reach middle-class status. Affluent Asian immigrants who arrive in the country already possessing the economic and social attributes associated with Americans occupying the top ranks of society thus confound the expectation of an orderly ethnic succession; they also call into question the proper location of minorities in the ethno-racial hierarchy. By locating themselves in white suburbs rather than in Chinatown, and by making a living not as restaurant workers but as Pacific Rim executives, well-to-do Asian newcomers breach the spatial and symbolic borders that have disciplined Asian Americans and kept them on the margins of the American nation. This 'out-of-placeness' of new Asian immigrants reinforces the public anxiety over the so-called thirdworldization of the American city, a term that suggests both economic and ethno-racial heterogeneity, over which white Americans are losing control." pg. 100 "By identifying Pacific Rim bodies with Pacific Rim capital, the concept of bridge builders gentrifies Asian American identity in both its local and its global aspects--in moral contrast to less-privileged minorities, with their dependence on the welfare state." pg. 134 "While other scholars of colonial and postcolonial societies have dealt with issues of class consciousness in relatively stable situations of class exploitation, Vincent's focus on the moving frontiers of capitalism vividly problematizes analytical linkages between capitalist mobility and the political (un)conscious of subaltern groups. Indirectly, her work on Teso poses the question, How does one account for political consciousness when the material links to capital are so attenuated as to seem invisible to the dominated? This question suggests the obverse, that is, What happens when the material relations of exploitation are keenly felt and yet are not symbolically linked to a politics of class identity? This is an especially important theme in the contemporary world, where so much of what we take to be reality is complexly mediated by the dynamic flows of images that make all systems of references highly fragmented, destabilized, and not directly connected to the structure of production." pg. 140 "Capital remains fundamental to our understanding of contemporary social life, and it is sensible to think of capital as highly sped-up, constantly mutating sets of material, technological, and discursive relations, of production and consumption, in which everything is reduced to an exchange value." pg. 140 "The Wall Street Journal celebrates the willingness of American neoliberalism to accept downsizing, privatization, and the loosening up of the labor laws, which creates tensions with the European powers, who are less willing to write off welfare policies. It appears that ideologically speaking, spreading markets and spreading democracy has come to mean practically the same thing for the Unites States." pg. 211 "American neoliberalism is an extreme realization of the priority of market principles, which are now invading all areas of social life and exposing citizens to levels of risk from which they have heretofore been partially protected. Its logic entails a sustained assault on democratic institutions, such as the welfare state and labor unions, that traditionally serve as countervailing powers vis-a-vis market forces; this produces, in effect, a 'politics of indifference.' This neoliberalism follows recent waves of corporate downsizing and restructuring that have thrown large numbers of working Americans into unemployment and poverty. Middle-class people who are not dependent on state employment free their government to pursue what Japanese officials have referred to as a 'slash-and-burn' system and French economist Jacques Attali calls 'market dictatorship.' Attali contrasts American neoliberalism with the French liberal tradition, which is also being undermined by globalization, noting that 'the frantic search for money to fund elections and the scale of the criminal economy are signs of the ascendancy of the market economy over democratic ethics.'" pg. 212 "To put the differences in East-West neoliberalism in a nutshell, then, American neoliberalism, by excessively privileging individual rights, undermines democratic principles of social equality, whereas the dominant Asian liberal strategy, by excessively privileging collectivist security, undermines democracy by limiting political expression. While the European model of pastoral care and the welfare state evolved in the context of intense class conflict, the Asian model of pastoral care aims not so much at defusing class conflict as at producing citizens with the human, social, and cultural capital that will allow them to thrive in a global economy. These are some of the many traditions of liberalism--different rationalities tied to economic growth that stress different 'vital' issues of culture and community--that reflect the respective histories, trajectories, and strategies of nation-states in the global economy." pg. 212 "In Southeast Asia, as in most Western countries receiving refugees, the prevailing practice was not to offer asylum but to emphasize state policies of control and deterrence, so that 'refugee law has become immigration law, emphasizing the protection of borders rather than the protection of persons.' By and large, the receiving countries refused to extend asylum to the refugees (ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotians) in ways that would have made them citizens. . . This selective reception of refugees was an expression of how sovereignty is shaped by a dominant ethnicity and by the nation-state's definition of its desired ethnic composition. Refugees and citizens of undesirable ethnicity are frequently given over to the regulatory power of supranational agencies." pg. 220

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    😲🤩🤩🙏💸💸🛬🌁㊗️‼️

  3. 5 out of 5

    Manu

    Why is the best political anlaysis written by anthropologists? Ong makes a valuable contribution to the debates on citizenship and globalization. Following from David Harvey's conceptualization of flexible accumulation, Ong contends that the current stage of capitalism is one where flexible accumulation goes hand-in-hand with the geographic mobility of elites. The impact this mobility has on national sovereignty and development strategies is significant, and political theorists would do well to Why is the best political anlaysis written by anthropologists? Ong makes a valuable contribution to the debates on citizenship and globalization. Following from David Harvey's conceptualization of flexible accumulation, Ong contends that the current stage of capitalism is one where flexible accumulation goes hand-in-hand with the geographic mobility of elites. The impact this mobility has on national sovereignty and development strategies is significant, and political theorists would do well to consider her insights. I would recommend reading this book in conjunction with Frictions by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    Ong has some really interesting ideas, but even though she claims to be taking a bottom-up approach, it seems rather top-down. I think her arguments would be more compelling if she zoomed in on some more specific communities or "everyday" life. It is important point that she is making about studying the "elite other" rather than just the lower class. She definitely points out a blind spot in most research.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anh Le

    Spoiler alert: only read this review if you have finished the book as it has been filtered through my analytical insights. More than a case study of diaspora and transnationalism, Aihwa Ong’s anthropological account of the overseas Chinese global elites pushes the field (overseas Chinese studies and anthropology of migration at large) to a new epistemological frontier. It highlights the significance of what was then known as “transnationalism as practice”—a methodological innovation that gained Spoiler alert: only read this review if you have finished the book as it has been filtered through my analytical insights. More than a case study of diaspora and transnationalism, Aihwa Ong’s anthropological account of the overseas Chinese global elites pushes the field (overseas Chinese studies and anthropology of migration at large) to a new epistemological frontier. It highlights the significance of what was then known as “transnationalism as practice”—a methodological innovation that gained currency in recent works on transnational capitalism in the Pacific Rim. True to the recent developments in diasporas and migration scholarship, Aihwa Ong situates the concept in the peculiar practices of overseas Chinese mobility and transnational capital mobilization, arguing for the cultural logics—familial regimes, fraternal capitalism, kinship network formations—that undergirded the making of Asian transnationalism, which arguably explains the shifting of core economic centers in the framework of globalization to East Asia and the Pacific. In this macro-narrative of global capital developments, Ong argues that the state, as opposed to the postulations of post-colonial theories, never retreated from the scene, but rather developed new strategies to cope with, adapt to, and participate in the process of managing an increasingly mobile populations and unprecedented flows of capital. Deploying Foucault’s concept of governmentality, Ong shows that the state invented new legal regimes and regulatory schemes—such as zones of graduated sovereignty or flexible citizenship—to reconcile the limitations of liberal governance (or the lack thereof) with the drive toward globalized capitals (most evidently, in the case of a socialist China and a quasi-capitalist infrastructure with autonomous regions free from the legal constraints imposed by the central government). As globalization became intensified and neoliberal economic policies (centered on the US as a global hegemon) gained popularity, the Asian states turned more and more creative toward the discursive structure of governance. For instance, it mobilized Confucian ideology and the familial “romance” of Chineseness to attract overseas Chinese investment in East Asia and to create networks of economic alliances in the Sinosphere (stretching from mainland China to Southeast Asia across the Pacific to North America, and other predominant ethnic Chinese enclaves elsewhere). Focusing on the interplay of state deployment of transnational strategies and the agencies of human actors—namely powerful economic elites with economic and political capitals—Ong provides a new outlook on the new regimes of power that shatter the binary of modernity and traditionalism (formerly cast by Western critical theorists as the East-West divide or the rationality of Western liberal governance vis-à-vis the spirituality of the Orient). Here in this anthropological account, empirical evidences show us that “modern” overseas Chinese merchants/businessmen rely on what Ong calls “fraternal tribal capitalism” and “regime of family” to create networks and accumulate capitals. Their responses to globalization were flexible and creative including developing offshore capital venues (purchasing and investing in properties in North America), initiating/maintaining access to social and political capital (sending offspring to American/English schools, using connections to establish political relationships), and practicing family-based business models cohered around the maintenance of kinship and intimacy (Confucian capitalism as Gary Hamilton describes it). The cultural logics of these transnational practices therefore operated from both levels of the individuals and the states as two interpenetrating forces that supported and allowed transnational capitalism to materialize in full force. Theorizations of citizenship or ethnic identities must therefore investigate critically the discursive juncture at which the Confucian ethos operated as a strategy for capital mobilization and the regime of family (also at the heart of this ethos) as a tool to build up capital and maintain diasporic networks. Viewed from an orientalist inflected theories such as Marx Weber’s dictum on the sociology of Confucianism as a religion or Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system theory, Asia lacked the enlightenment rationality, a Protestant ethics, laws and regulations, and therefore devoid of capitalist inclinations. Aihwa Ong has showed us otherwise: capitalist modernity, especially in the context of globalization and Asia’s shifting governmentalities, must be retheorized on its own terms, rather than from the oriental construction of what it lacks. In this sense, understanding overseas (diasporic) Chinese networks provides the strongest counter-argument to the hegemonic discourse of modernity as well as the totalizing effects of globalization.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Caressa Franklin

    Solid read, definitely outdated a bit, as is the nature of such studies. I wish there was a bit more in-depth ethnographic description, with more focus on a few specific individuals. But for the larger scale, it was perfect!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    This book is heavy, as in I need to read sentences aloud to understand them. Nominalizations and all that. I think I have a harder time with this kind of reading than others of my education level though. update: i'm on page 18 and it's getting easier to read. not sure if i'm just getting familiar with the book and the vocabulary and argument, if this part is speaking to me, or what.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin Higashi

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aanika

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Karpiak

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sanja Sreckovic

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Lee

  15. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  16. 4 out of 5

    Federico Fattori

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mahdis

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hibah Kamal-Grayson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jdolnick

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chakad

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris McKeever

  22. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  23. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  24. 5 out of 5

    J Y

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stacey Camp

  26. 5 out of 5

    Greg

  27. 4 out of 5

    Neha Vora

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ariana

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth Han Chen

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