Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Privatization in China

While reading some of the articles on Generating Capitalism, I would continuously read articles that made little to no sense to me at all. The authors would drone on using text that could only be understood by individuals fluent in "economics." However, I finally read an article that I could easily understand, and one that interested me a lot. This article discussed the differences between a company being private and public in China.

When we think of privatization in the United States, we think of companies that have no ties to the government and are not ran by the government. They are completely ran by individuals that are out for their own interests, or are supposed to be seeking the interests of their clients. This is not so in China, and purportedly in other cultures throughout the world. In China, the privatization of a company does not mean that they are completely independent of the government. In fact, they still have close ties to the government and have bureaus or departments that oversee the company. Yet the owners of these companies don't seem to mind this as much as we would here in the US. This shows a major difference between our cultures and our economies because US business owners don't want government oversight but Chinese business owners don't find it bothersome.

Another point that drove home to me was the fact that individuals who buy stock in the company, don't really have a say in the running of the company. In effect, they only own part of the company on the side, but don't have voting rights for the way that the company acts. This is different in the way American stocks are sometimes used. If an individual owns a large portion of a company's stock, they would have voting rights and a say in how the company is ran because the company fears losing money (the stock) if they upset a stockholder. The use of stock in the US as a way of keeping people happy contrasts greatly to the Chinese stock, but it seems that both cultures are relatively happy with their arrangements.

Overall, this article did teach me to not think that all economic terms used in the US are universal. It is easy to see that these terms can be used in a variety of ways depending on the cultural implications for each individual country.

Salvage as Capital

In Salvage Accumulation Anna Tsing starts by asking how it is that "capitalism is at once so generative, flexible, and creative, and, simultaneously, so effective at doing certain things, such as making rich people richer." This question made me think of the early days of capitalism when supply chains offered capitalists the opportunity to take advantage of work done outside the "factory" and "translate" non-capitalist processes into profit. The spice trade was one such instance where a "salvage" good was traded as capital and used to make even more capital in the form of actual wealth. Even factories, as Tsing notes, were basically using "salvage" capital to create real wealth for labor "could not be made by capitalists." Agriculture and other natural resources are examples of non capitalistic processes turned into capital but what separates these from capitalist processes. If you think in terms of one definition that capitalism is making money from money then a woman's assumed knowledge of sewing or mushrooms picked in the American Northwest are certainly not capitalist processes. The women and pickers do not seek to create value with their actions, nor does the dinosaur that dies and becomes coal but the rich individual who seeks to become richer will take these processes and quickly convert them into value to become richer. How capitalism can be both "generative, flexible, and creative, and, simultaneously, so effective at doing certain things, such as [make] rich people richer" is because the generatively, flexibility, and creativity of capitalism only cater to those who have the means of turning"salvage" into capital. The factory worker and the sewer can only create "salvage" and have no way of converting it without previously converting the "salvage" of others for in capitalism it takes money to make money. 

Digesting Neo-Liberalism and Capitalism

            Truth be told, I had some difficulty in following the introduction to the readings for today. I felt somewhat lost in ascertaining what the true "focus” was. This may have been in part the writing style. However, what was clear, was the level of “totality” with which the authors wish to examine the issues, though I found it written in a bit of a convoluted manner. The two pieces I selected to read, in no particular order other than their titles caught my eye and sounded interesting, were “Your Family and Friends are Collateral: Micro finance and the Social”, as well as the “Tales of Physics and Cosmographies of Capitalism”.
            I was particularly curious about the title of the first piece by Caroline Shuster. I couldn’t really fathom what she meant by family and friends as “collateral”. I was familiar with the concept of collateral, similar to what she describes for conventional debt, and the class had briefly touched on the idea of individuals having nothing with which to establish credit for loans. However, I had never head of loans, even small ones of $100 being lent to groups, such as the ones described. In some ways, it almost seemed like an ingenious solution, and allowed for women’s empowerment. However, I agree with the author that, this commoditization of even social ties and family members seems incredibly dangerous, and clearly puts the organizer of the loan in a precarious situation. My question to the class for this piece is if they believe that such a system could work in the United States, or is it a system which could be easily taken advantage of?
Concerning the second piece by Mai Zhan, I once again found myself struggling to extrapolate the focus of the writing. I feel that it may be a critique about the western interpretation of capitalism being applied to everything, and in this case, China’s capitalistic economy. I did like, and find rather clever, the analogy to the ambiguous zodiac. In this case, I would appreciate a class discussion to clarify, which is an ironic request, what the author was truly getting at. 

Exploration of Gens

    “Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism” explores how the ancient Roman concept of Gens influences our modern understanding and application of gender, class, and capitalism. The authors chose a feminist school of thought to approach capitalism because feminism challenges representation of normalcy in the economic domain. They explore how the economy and capitalism is taken for granted as it as viewed as an inherent truth of the universe:
“The economic is repeatedly and relentlessly imagined as a singular logic that is derived from a pre-made domain and expresses itself in historical and cultural realities. That “the economy” is an accepted and relatively bounded focus of study demonstrates the taken-for-grantedness of such already made worlds, characterized by practices and standardizing logics that are assumed to cohere in them.”

I am of the opinion that societal structures arise from material conditions rather than idealism. Assuming this to be the case, how did capitalism come to be synonymous with environmental destruction, racism and sexism?
    The authors argue that capitalism employs conversion devices in order to achieve the global scale:
“We also argue that formal models emerge from diverse lifeworlds and are not simply manifestations of singular core logics. Instead, they are generated by particular social and historical experiences, and, through laborious translation and conversion work, they often become “global.” In so doing, they mediate objects that come to appear abstracted and cut off from their origins. The key power of these models in contemporary capitalism comes from their ability to erase particularity and sever objects, people, and resources from their contexts (Tsing forthcoming; Bear 2013).”

I find this to be a super interesting concept. According to this idea, conversion devices indirectly disconnect commodities from their origins, thus exploiting women, the impoverished, and workers in newly-industrial nations. If conversion devices were not employed and consumers had better knowledge of the origins of their commodities, might they consume differently?

Valuing Nature

In the beginning, I found the “Everglades Restoration: Worth Every Penny” ad to be quite hilarious, given that at least the United States government knows what it takes to convince its people to nature has value.

“It is one thing to quantify recreational value but quite another to tackle spiritual value.

Initially, I thought my stance on this article difficult to pinpoint due to my love of sustaining nature but growing up in a stable and understanding the difficulties of livestock. Both sides in this are just sticking up for their passions and beliefs, which makes it all the harder to find the right solution. I think the Northern Everglades Dispersed Water Management Program offers a wonderful alterative to the issue as it helps everyone involved to make better choices. By proposing government and nonprofit payments to farmers who dedicate their land to water retention and filtration, the program is preserving the cattle industry while removing tons of Everglades-destroying phosphorus. I admire this act quite a bit as it’s thinking long term solutions rather than what to do here and now.

I did find it helpful when the author included the same question I was thinking: “why would growers take land out of production—a cultural scandal—in return for money from the same state agencies and environmental nonprofits they often oppose?” It was quickly followed by a probably answer: it allows farmers to keep hold of their land when the rest of their kin isn’t quite keen on obtaining it yet. This prevents selling it prior to a change in mind and at least keeping it in the family for a longer period of time.

Thus, ESV gives options and thought to a typically capitalistic process. It has wildlife in mind but also conserving ranches: “The task is to trace those generative forces (like kinship) that make nature’s valuation—in cultural and economic terms—palatable and possible in contemporary capitalism.” I enjoyed the article overall!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Possession in Malaysian Factories

This article touched on many aspects of factories that are known throughout the world. The most well-known fact is that the workers are mostly from villages that need the money, but they are still paid very little for the work that they do. This is extremely relevant for this article because the author notes that the female Malay workers do their best to maintain some type of independence from their male supervisors. This could sometimes result in their possessions, which would trickle down into other workers and inevitably halt production within the factory.

Another huge fact within the text is that it isn't entirely clear the cause of the possessions. It could be that the women actually feel they are being possessed because of societal norms within their own villages, or it could also be because of the work environment itself. When it comes to their societal norms, one could include the fact that their everyday lives are affecting their work lives and this leads to their being possessed, or it could be uncleanliness associated with toilets, the floors, and sometimes even the menstruation cycle itself. But another force of these possessions could be the work environment. Many of the workers are hunched over a microscope for hours on end (about 8 hours per day), dealing with very sensitive materials, breathing in fumes from the chips, cleaning solutions, etc. and these could all cause thoughts of possession and pain in various parts of the body. Even knowing this, the supervisors don't care about their worker's health and continues to push them to do more work. They bring in a bomoh to exorcise any spirits within the factory to entice the workers to continue producing for the factory, which leads to an increase in fume inhalation and possibly more possessions and other complications.

All in all, the main point in this article is the fact that the Malay women are forced to continue working no matter the circumstances. If they are feeling ill, they are taken to a doctor and then brought back to the factory to continue working. If they are having a possessed moment, they are exorcised and brought back to work. If they are having troubles at home, they are to continue working as if nothing matters. This shows the affect that capitalism, especially international capitalism, has on the female Malay factory workers.

The Production of Possession

 This article illustrates the juxtaposition of industrialization and religion. In the article author Aihwa Ong gives her ethnographic take on the cases of spirit possession occurring in internationally owned and operated factories in Malaysia. She explains how spirit possession was traditionally an affliction of married and middle age women and how this is now changing and young, unmarried women are the majority of victims of spirit possession and attack. In this post I will examine this change. The author gives the explanation of how women are more susceptible to spirit possession when they are in stages of life transition. This is when the women exemplify the biggest risk to their community and social norms. For example, when a woman gives birth for the first time or goes through a divorce. The women now being affected also represent a period of transition though a larger one than their own life cycles and events. The young, unmarried women whom are working in factories represent a transition of labor and the society built around it. No longer are these women in the home instead they are occupying new, untraditional roles as wage laborers. As such, these women still represent a risk to the established society and culture of which they are members. I am curious to know why this spirit possession occurs at times of risk to the community. I would have thought that the spirit possession would occur under the monotony of a subservient position that had been long lasting. If  my previous assumptions were right and the authors point of spirit possession being the way of breaking the public transcript would these activities not take place in people who have lived and anticipate a subservient monotonous life? Why is spirit possession in Malaysian society an event of transition?