William I. Robinson: Latin America and Global Capitalism.

Author:Hesketh, Chris
Position:Book review
 
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William I. Robinson Latin America and Global Capitalism, John Hopkins University: Baltimore, 2008; 440 pp.: 080189039X 29 [pounds sterling] (hbk)

William Robinson's scholarship has, over the last decade or so, produced many important, ground-breaking research avenues (see inter alia Robinson, 1996, 2003, 2004). One such avenue has been his 'transnationalisation thesis', and this book, Latin America and Global Capitalism, provides an eloquent re-statement of this thesis that goes some way to addressing critiques that were made of his previous work (see Morton, 2007: 163-203). Robinson is thus one of a rare set of authors who, whether one agrees with them or not, has managed to create a new 'research paradigm' that others come to utilise as a tool of investigation. Such research paradigms undoubtedly have the potential to unsettle traditional ways of thinking, thereby provoking fresh debates and opening new areas for research. Therein lies their main strength. Robinson's attack on 'nation-state centrism' both within this book and in his previous work therefore offers an important corrective to the study of international relations. However, such paradigms also run the risk of turning into dogma--becoming methods of describing contemporary capitalism, rather than using intellectual efforts to form a sustained critique and/or search for alternatives. (1) Indeed, one of my concerns with this book is in its weighting of subject matter, since it is only towards the end of the book that a discussion of processes of resistance is reached, and even then the discussion is somewhat brief. This is a shame, since it is the novel forms of resistance that are emanating from Latin America that make it such an inspiring part of the world right now. Indeed, I would argue that this points to an aspect endemic to Robinson's analytical framework: first we have a power, then we have a counter-power (illustrative of this tendency is the comment, 'I will return to this resistance later. First, I will focus on the dominant classes' [p. 170]). Robinson is thus prone to focusing solely on singular, changing paradigms of dominance. This is what Holloway (2002: 78-80) refers to as 'hard fetishism'. This narrowing of vision can quickly lead to myopia, with a totalising discourse of transnational capitalism portrayed as enveloping all forms of social processes. The question of how these processes are negotiated and subverted in various contexts is therefore elided.

This book uses Latin America as a regional case study that acts as a window we can both look into and out of, in order to observe the larger structural changes that have taken place in the global political economy. The region-wide shift from import-substitution industrialisation (ISI) to neoliberalism is thus placed within the wider context of the transnationalisation of production and finance that took off" during the mid-1970s, and to which Latin America was not immune. Robinson's essential argument is that 'in the emerging global capitalist configuration, transnational or global space is coming to supplant national spaces' (p...

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