Thoughts about “the Threshold”

abraham acostaAcosta’s proposal is aimed at breaking through the false dichotomies and the fallacies of the current practice of cultural Latin American Studies, most specifically, Mexican and Mexican-American studies. His objective consists in revealing that the terms and the forms of the debates resistant/hegemonic or oral/literal metaphoric/material etc… Are faulty and after a simple examination do not simply hold. His writing travels against the habit of understanding cultural practices from the Latin American continent as necessarily resistant, counterhegemonic and the like. His project is engaged in an unconcelamnet of false premises at the heart of these binary oppositions; he calls illiteracy those moments when the debate as supported on these logic structures holds no more and disintegrates. He helps us understand a bit more when he states “Illiteracy registers the heterogeneous, literally undefinable, nonassignable speech. It seeks to map out the unanticipated, irruptive effect that emerge from the illiterate suspension of the naturalized order.” (Acosta, 14) Thus he likes to flavor the unique taste of words and expressions that try to signify something like this: aclimatados, los que nunca llegaran, etc…  Using a deconstructive approach and a little of Ranciere and Agamben sparsely through the text, Acosta is able to critique without mercy some texts and critical investigations as they attempt to explain apparently oppositional things like the US Mexican border or Mexican academic discourse against Us based academic discourse of Latin America. He mentions (Acosta, 12) that he is after the semiological events that emerge at these thresholds in order to deconstruct the oppositionalities; although one is tempted to use the word “semiological” I failed to understand why he recurrs to the realm of signs and in adition never making any justification for it or discussing at least briefly Saussure or Barthes or other theorists of signs. He could have used “symptoms,” “manifestations,” or other language; I’m not so sure about the semiology of his method.

In clearing the discursive field he brings Latinamericanists who are critiqued based on their respective extrapolations and analyses: For him Doris Sommer’s Proceed with Caution is mistaken in its universalists/particularists approach; Beverly’s statement that after the pink tide theory of deconstruction and Subaltern are anachronistic and too theoretical is contrasted with Beasley-Murray’s claim that Latin American studies are not theoretical enough and deconstruction or subalternism are to be left behind by using a new way of understanding the region; namely thinking about masses as multitudes, an as behaviors as based on affect and habits.

Later he proposes the need for his intervention fitting right and square between all these contradictory voices and practices. He proceeds to analyze cases like the fate of Zapatismo, the nature of testimonio and the (according to him) flawed treatment of the US Mexican border from both sides of it.

In his afterword he reads the SB1070 debates as they emerged out of a racist and paranoiac legislature of Arizona as one opportunity to understand that difference inside the discriminated groups exists and it should never be even out or homogenized by saying Mexican American, or Mexicans, as if the community victim of racial targeting and discriminatory policies were homogeneously Mexican.

After spending time meditating on chapter 5 “Hinging on Exclusion and bare life” I became intrigued by his use of Agamben’s concepts and later disenchanted by what I consider a willing overlook of ideas or a defective part of the argument. I will write about that later on another post.

For now, Acosta’s reading of the debates and the underlining logic upon which these debates are built constitutes a valid and valuable intervention; one that reveals through methodical analysis the liminal areas where oppositions disintegrate and the axiomatic exclusion inclusion arrives at a what we could call a “stand still.”

Exit or Voice or Loyalty: Three thoughts on politics and culture

There is no need to repeat the basic definitions of these concepts.
But what I wanted to highlight was the differences between exit and voice; that is, to contrast the much more simple path of exit in relation to the energy-consuming, time-consuming and the high opportunity cost that the praxis of voice implies. Exit is presented contra Friedman’s narrowed-economist view, but nevertheless, it is although at times, “irresponsible and criminal” to exercise it represents an easy avenue in the process of making a decision in the face of discontent with a product or a party.

Sadly, in our world, not in Hirschman’s Cold War context, the exit choice comes up as a convenient way to save time, energies, and is presented everyday as a rational decision informed by common-sense consensus and the premises of saving (resources, etc…) The ideology of capital in its variants facilitates the idea of abandoning the non-competent product or the deficient organization as a rational, well informed choice.

While reading his example on note 7 of Chapter 3 “Voice” I was struck by how dated some examples and dynamics of the little equation work. In that note Hirschman notices that a external diseconomy might be a liability to the firm and as an example he uses the case of “pollution, littering of beaches with beer cans and so forth.” He argues that in this case “the voice of the non-consumer, on whom the diseconomies are inflicted could become a valuable adjunct to the competitive mechanism.” From there it was a matter of following the reasoning one more step and remembering how that “diseconomy” has become another tool in the Public Relations (PR) arsenal of firms and organizations (mostly private for-profit firms). Without doubt, these firms have become more sophisticated than 50 or 40 years ago and have learnt to capitalize from these negative byproducts of their production. One has only to recall how these companies have enhanced their PR image by promoting “campaigns.” Green campaigns, clean-beach campaigns, safety – campaigns, public space campaigns etc…

By using the tools of “promoting a clean public” spaces, companies that have traditionally been associated with pollution and littering practices have been able to turn the tables and project a more favorable image. Namely, the image of an organization that “cares for the environment.” As a result that are seen at least in the public realm as good companies that care about the right practices. This is an example of how companies have been able to identify issues brought up by consumers or “non-consumers” and capitalize out of these problems. The problem is far from resolved: the “caring for the environment” functions in this case at least as “caring for the image” in so far as that principle (image) is directly related to “caring for the environment.” If that company was really caring for the environment it would turn its energies onto itself and examine its own practices of extraction, processing and (hidden) pollution as they represent the larger portion of the damage that is caused due to its operation. The, “littering problem” although obnoxious and (moderately damaging to nature) represents just a small part of the total environmental destruction caused by the company when processing the raw materials to produce the product. Why is it then addressed as a priority by the firm? In my view, because it is the most visible and possibly the more damaging one to the image and the performance (sales) of the firm.

Changing gears, I was reminded of Laclau’s dichotomy between two opposing poles: management (in the form of neoclassical economics) and politics (in the form of populism) while reading the reference to Friedman. Why? Because Hirschman performs a similar gesture when he says that “exit” is closer to the economist view of the world and “voice” to the political scientist’s field. Although part of Hirschman’s agenda is the task of problematize these two as opposing poles and explore the interstices, it is interesting to observe how both authors separate the spheres of politics from economy and present them as clearly different bodies. Through different topics and in distinct fields I believe both state something like “politics is muddier but better” Let’s go back to Hirschman’s words when talking about Friedman in page 17

“The decision to voice one’s views and efforts to make them prevail are contemptuously referred to by Friedman as a resort to ‘cumbrous political channels.’ But what else is the political, and indeed the democratic, process than the digging, the use, and hopefully the slow improvement of these very channels?”

The scary idea of Exit (from the firm point of view) tends to work better in the private business.
The idea of Voice (where Exit is almost impossible, state, some pol. organization, church, family) works better in the scheme
Loyalty is good because: it gives the org time to improve and also bc it implies “disloyalty” p 82
the willingness to develop and use the voice is reduced by exit, but the ability to use it with effect is increased by it. Loyalty doesn’t matter much in the case of a “silent” exit from a market product, but in the context of other organizations (church, family, nation) it is a useful tool from the organization’s point of view to manipulate the articulation of voice and to release pressure. My question now centers on the relative inversion of this pattern today, whereas brand-loyalty has been analyzed and perfected by all technical and statistical means, loyalty to organizations (church, family, nation) is eroding rapidly. Why is this the case? And should we work hard to reverse it?
Not only are these forms of association diminishing but new forms, let’s say “cultural forms” are arising rapidly (some would say as an epiphenomenon of late capitalism), namely the attractiveness and success of religious “crusades.” From movements in England and Germany to be able to assert their cultural expression (in a religious form, i.e., dressing codes and segregation in some spaces) to ISIS and other similar faith-based responses to the neoliberal cultural order. I say “cultural forms” because these “reactions” are not exclusively religious based but can appear in different contexts under relatively similar operative logics but with different agendas: for example while we can say that nation and church are declining these new forms of association culturally-expressed or more politically-articulated run the entire gamut of colors and flavors. From the Bolivarian idea of Latinamerica as one nation with common interests against the capitalists up north (as proposed by Chavez), to the Neo-tsarists or Russia who want to return to a nationalist and glorious past in reaction to the liberal economic and political changes that Russia has undergone since 1989. These supranational ideas can be understood as grassroots imaginaries of a society in disequilibrium, in a theist void and in a sort of cultural and political transition that manifests itself in disorganized development and disorganized or even awkward reaction to that development.


“Exit by staying inside and use of clear voice.”
When reading the short paragraph about boycott I was reminded of the famous United Farm Workers (UFW) boycotts led by Cesar Chavez in the late 60’s and early 70’s and their later success. In that case, the boycott was not only inside the factory or the management areas but it was supported by most of the consumers in an effort to change the rules and the behavior of the grape producing companies of California. Consumers where the grape was sold refused to buy it or bought it and -in showing solidarity- discarded it publicly. Thus the boycott became a two folded tool that allowed to put pressure on the organization both from the outside and the inside and forced them to reconsider their operative rules. The question for us today: is boycott still a usable strategy? under what conditions will it materialize and obtain the inertia necessary for (1) visibility, (2) credibility and (3) relative success?