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They the People: Problems of after-globalization

November 11, 2009

by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

You have asked for current thinking about different concepts and forms of political collectivity.* If I were speaking as an academic, I would, I suppose, look once again at the implications of ‘multitudes’, as conceived by our colleagues and allies Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. Speaking as an activist, however, I am obliged to say that the bold and indeed brave and intriguing notion of the multitude does not quite match up yet to the practical fact of the transformation of Antonio Gramsci’s Modern Prince into what is too easily called international civil society. I will speak about the world’s ‘people’ as constructed by this haphazardly put together episteme, ‘international’ by default.

The developmental logic of the expression ‘international civil society’ might be taken to run as follows: first step, ‘social’ as opposed to ‘political’ – in other words, movement as opposed to party; second step, non-governmental, effective social engagement as opposed to party politics; third step, a management-style decision not to use the negative (‘non’-governmental), but to invent a positive, not-state-therefore-civil-society. The crucial political-theoretical fact that the emergence of ‘civil society’ presupposed a certain type of social contract, which linked it to the production of an urbanity in a controlling relationship with a specific state, is completely ignored here. The importance of the bürgerliche Gesellschaft to the bourgeois state is therefore precisely forgotten, as the possibility of the welfare state as accountable is closed off more and more in the interest of a globalization that alter-globalization must accept in order to come into existence. This potted possible history is always in my mind as I use the expression ‘international civil society’. more

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