Posted 262 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: civilizing process, Civilization, murder, personal violence, social control, History, criminology, historical criminology, crime / 0 Comments
Yes we are. This is true when present-day Western society is compared with its recent past. But modern punitiveness is not simply a backlash; it is accompanied by a concern for crime victims that is more intense than ever before. When viewed over some six centuries, moreover, the standards of punishment have undergone important transformations. This is no less true for violence.
These questions refer to key themes of my new book, Violence and Punishment. Along the way, the book explores specific and general questions: Why did fights between Jews and Christians often take place on the Blue Bridge in Amsterdam? How did a yellow bulldog betray a killer who had hoped to remain undetected? What happened to a thief whom the citizens stopped by splitting his skull with an axe? Why did executioners activate the guillotine by cutting the rope that holds up the blade with a sword? What does the punishment of Adam and Eve reveal about the work and fears of our ancestors?
As the reader familiar with my work will expect, I am writing within the tradition established by Norbert Elias. The human stories of this book are firmly embedded in a theoretical framework that derives from Elias but also creatively expands on his effort. I am using the concept of civilizing processes of course, but also the theory of diminishing power differences between social groups and that of changes from one figuration to another. I expand on this theoretical framework by giving the theme of honor a central place in it. Finally, I am also commenting on the work of theorists such as Michel Foucault and Emile Durkheim.
The chapters of this book have been published before, but they have all been thoroughly revised and updated. More important, most of the essays were published originally in languages other than English or in an unofficial series. For Anglo-Saxon readers especially, they are in fact new. The reader will note the extraordinarily wide scope. One essay discusses murder and honor in Asia, concluding that long-term trajectories of violence offer a more promising base for intercontinental comparison than imaginary and static “civilizations.” Two essays trace their subject back to the beginnings of agrarian society, while ending squarely in the present.
Readers, I hope and expect, will enjoy the style and original ideas.
Pieter Spierenburg is professor of historical criminology at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
Posted 638 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Colonization, Russian empire, culture, literature, History / 0 Comments
Studying imperial Russia, scholars have produced two stories. One concerns a great country that competes successfully, though unevenly, with other European powers, produces brilliant literature, and stages unprecedented social experiments. The other story is one of economic backwardness, unbridled violence, misery, illiteracy, despair, and collapse. I subscribe to both of these at once.
But scholarship is not a dual carriageway; we need to find a way to coordinate the different stories that we believe in. My solution is a kind of Eisensteinian montage interwoven with an overarching principle, which in this book is internal colonization. I propose this concept as a metaphor or mechanism that makes the Russian Empire comparable to other colonial empires of the past. So, in this book, the two Russian stories combine into one: the story of internal colonization, in which the state colonized its people.
Before and during and after the imperial period, the Russian state was engaged in the colonization of foreign territories and it was also concerned with colonizing the heartlands. Peoples of the empire, including the Russians, developed anti-imperial, nationalist ideas in response. These directions of Russia’s colonization, internal and external, sometimes competed and sometimes were indistinguishable. Dialectic in standstill, as Walter Benjamin put it, but also an explosive mix that invites oxymoronic concepts such as internal colonization.
Incorporating different disciplines, voices, and periods is a risky task for a cultural historian. I take courage in the idea that high literature and culture in Russia played significant roles in the political process. Due to its paradoxical mechanism, internal colonization made culture politically relevant and power culturally productive. For an empire such as Russia’s, its culture was both an instrument of rule and a weapon of revolution. Culture was also a screen on which the endangered society saw itself – a unique organ of self-awareness, critical feedback, mourning, and warning.
Human grammar distinguishes between subject and object, while human history does not necessarily do so. Self-imposed tasks – self-discipline, internal control, colonization of one’s own kind – are inherently paradoxical. Languages, including scholarly ones, get into trouble when they confront these self-referential constructions. In the twenty-first century, scholars of globalization meet the same logical difficulties as the scholars of Russian imperial history met in the nineteenth century. Of course, I hope that the world of the future will be no more similar to imperial Russia than it will be to British India. But the experience and experiments of the Russian Empire can still teach us some lessons.
Alexander Etkind is director of Russian studies at King's College, Cambridge, and the author of Internal Colonization, out on 23 September.
Posted 1200 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Empathy, Civilization, History, climate change, economics, politics / 0 Comments
The anemic global economic recovery is beginning to stall. Unemployment is shooting up again. The housing market is threatened by a new wave of foreclosures. Tens of millions of Americans are teetering on the edge of survival. Public surveys show that people on Main Street are fast loosing trust in Wall Street and the workings of the market. What’s gone wrong?
The economists have a difficult time understanding the public reaction, in large part, because they believe the market is functioning as it should: that is, it is serving as a self regulating arena where individual material self interest can express itself under the guidance of an “invisible hand” that continually adjusts supply and demand and other market forces to ensure a proper functioning of commerce and trade. Recall, the words of Adam Smith, the great Scottish economist of the Enlightenment, who wrote in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations that
Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment to whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of society’s, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leaves him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society.
What the economists fail to grasp is that commerce and trade, and indeed, all market relations, are only made possible by a very different kind of “invisible hand”—the one that establishes social trust among people. That social trust, in turn, is created by the extension of empathic sensibility to others. This is the process that creates human culture.
Sometimes referred to as the third sector, as if to suggest that it is of less relevance than the marketplace or government, in fact, the culture or civil society is the primary sector. It’s where people create the narratives that define their lives and the life of the society. These narratives serve as the cultural common ground that allows people to create emotional bonds of affection and trust, without which commerce and trade would be impossible.
While the empathic drive is faintly acknowledged by economists, it is relegated to a secondary level in human affairs − something one engages in within the family and among friends and neighbors, but which plays no appreciable role in the economic arena. Being open, vulnerable and sensitive to the plight of others is considered detrimental to commercial relations and a prescription for failure in the marketplace.
Yet the market requires a continuous infusion of social trust to function. Indeed, the market feeds off social trust and weakens or collapses if it is withdrawn. That’s why there are no examples in history in which markets preceded culture or exist in its absence. Markets are extensions of culture and never the reverse. They have always been and will always be secondary rather than primary institutions in the affairs of humanity because culture creates the empathic cloak of sociability that allows people to confidently engage each other in the marketplace.
Only recently, in the wake of the disastrous downturn of the global economy have some economists began to turn their attention to the role social trust plays in providing the foundation for commerce and trade.
The close ties between commercial and empathic bonds might seem a bit paradoxical, but the relationship is symbiotic. Sociologist Georg Simmel, in his landmark study on The Philosophy of Money, observed that coins are promissory notes based on the assumption of an established collective trust among anonymous parties that guarantees that at some future date the token passed in an earlier exchange will be honored by a third party in a subsequent exchange.
It’s instructive to note that when anthropologists study the history of exchange, they find that social exchange virtually always precedes commercial exchange. The Trobriand Islanders engaged in an elaborate social exchange of shells, often canoeing long distances between islands to pass the tokens back and forth as a way of cementing bonds of social trust. Commercial exchange in the Trobriand Islands was always preceded by social exchange, again confirming the ancient wisdom that cultural capital precedes commercial capital and that commerce is an extension of cultural relations and, therefore, not a primary institution in the affairs of humankind.
The relationship between empathic and commercial bonds is complicated and fragile. That’s because empathic extension is always a nonconditional gift, freely given, without consideration of reciprocity on behalf of the other, either in the moment or in the future. While commercial exchange would be impossible without empathic extension first establishing bonds of social trust, its utilitarian, instrumental, and exploitive nature can and often does deplete the social capital that makes its very operations possible. That’s exactly what’s occurring now in the United States and around the world in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown.
The populist revolt that is spreading to many countries represents a profound loss of trust in the global economy and is fueled by the sense that a small elite has rigged the game in favor of a few at the expense of the general well-being of society. But below the heat and light of the populist outcry is a deeper feeling of betrayal; that is, a feeling that our business leaders no longer empathize with the plight of their fellow citizens. It is this deep sense of abandonment that is perpetuating a decline in social trust and threatening to transform America, and other nations, into social chaos.
Still, economists shake their heads and continue to hope that governments can patch together a rational, quantifiable, utilitarian set of mechanisms to regulate a global economy and jumpstart the economic engine, only to throw up their hands in despair when world trade talks breakdown. A history lesson might be instructive to help world leaders and economists get to the nub of the problem.
At the beginning of the modern market economy, Europe found itself in the throes of a great struggle between a new commercial order and an old economic regime. New technologies were radically altering spatial and temporal realities. The old medieval social economy, based on controlling production, fixing prices, and excluding competition from the outside, was too provincial to accommodate the range of new technologies that were making possible greater exchange of goods and services between more people over longer distances.
What was missing was a new, more expansive, and agile political framework that could transcend the thousands of local municipalities and force the elimination of local tolls and tariffs and countless other statutes and codes that maintained an aging medieval economy. It was this need, says Karl Polanyi, “which forced the territorial state to the fore as the instrument of the ‘nationalization’ of the market and the creator of internal commerce.”
Although never intended, the emergence of the territorial nation state had a collateral effect that proved to be every bit as important as acclimating large populations of previously disparate people to national markets. Nationalism extended the empathic impulse to the new expansive borders of the nation itself.
Today, the new technologies of Third Industrial Revolution − distributed communications and distributed renewable energies − are taking us to a new biosphere economy. The human race is becoming technologically interdependent and interconnected. What is sorely missing, however, is a leap in human empathy, beyond national boundaries to biosphere boundaries. We need to create social trust on a global scale if we are to create a seamless, integrated, just, and sustainable planetary economy.
We can no longer afford to limit our notion of extended family to national boundaries, with Americans empathizing with fellow Americans, Chinese with Chinese, and the like. A truly global biosphere economy will require a global empathic embrace. We will need to think as a species − as homo empathicus − and prepare the groundwork for an empathic civilization imbedded in a shared biosphere.
Jeremy's new book, The Empathic Civilization is now available from polity.