Critical Realism and the Social Science of Marxian Economics

JCA co-editor Richard Westra has a new paper available with the Review of Radical Political Economics. Available for free download, “Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism and the Social Science of Marxian Economics,” comes with an abstract that states:

This article supports claims that critical realism philosophy of science, as refounded in the hands of Roy Bhaskar, offers valuable knowledge enhancing insight into the advancement of Marx’s research program. However, it maintains that key principles set out by Bhaskar have not been adequately assimilated by those working with critical realism in the field of Marxist studies. When they are properly considered, they point to the necessity of reconstructing Marx’s corpus on a divergent basis from the conventional form it has assumed since the codification of “Marxism” by Karl Kautsky in the late nineteenth century as an overarching theory of history or historical materialism, wherein Marx’s economic studies in Capital are portrayed as but a sub-theory. The article summarily breaks down three cardinal scientific principles elaborated by Bhaskar, which carry the most vital implications for Marxism. These are the bringing of ontology “back in” to theory construction, the robust case made for social science as a capital-S science, and the specification of retroduction as strategy for scientific discovery. It then explores the principles with regard to three abiding and interrelated questions of the Marxist research program: first is the very condition of intelligibility of economic theory; second is the question of the raison d’être for the dialectical architecture of Capital; third is the social scientific implications of the cognitive sequence in Marxism. In this endeavor the article introduces work in the Uno-Sekine tradition of Japanese Marxism. It shows how Uno’s reconstruction of Marxism is closely supported by Bhaskar’s fundamental criteria for science in a way that serves to strengthen Marx’s own scientific claims for his work.

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Issue 5 for 2018 published

Issue number 5 for Volume 48 (2018) of the journal has gone to print and is available electronically at the publisher’s site. This number of the journal is a special issue. It also features one additional research article and two book reviews.

The special issue, titled Party-State Governance and Rule in Laos, is edited by Simon Creak of the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Keith Barney of the Resources Environment and Development Group, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

This special includes the following articles:Free download

Conceptualising Party-State Governance and Rule in Laos by Simon Creak and Keith Barney

Legitimation of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party: Socialism, Chintanakan Mai (New Thinking) and Reform by Norihiko Yamada

Party, State and the Control of Information in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Secrecy, Falsification and Denial by Ian G. Baird

Abolishing Illiteracy and Upgrading Culture: Adult Education and Revolutionary Hegemony in Socialist Laos by Simon Creak

Translating the State: Ethnic Language Radio in the Lao PDR by Nathan Badenoch

Structural Injustice, Slow Violence? The Political Ecology of a “Best Practice” Hydropower Dam in Lao PDR by David J.H. Blake & Keith Barney

The additional research article is:

Social Media and the Successful Anti-Mining Campaign in Bangka, Indonesia by Kristina Großmann

The book reviews are:

Buddhism, Politics and Political Thought in Myanmar reviewed by Ashley South

Bangladeshi Migration to Singapore: A Process-Oriented Approach reviewed by Mathew Mathews

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Councillors and Voters in India

Tanya Jakimow of the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia has a new article at JCA, titled “The ‘Servants’ of Dehradun: A Changing Relationship between Municipal Councillors and Voters in India” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1527388).

The abstract for the articles states:

The “typical” municipal councillor in India is usually portrayed in the literature as a political entrepreneur in a clientelistic relationship with voters, providing privileged access to the state in return for electoral support. This article arose out of a lack of familiarity with this portrait and the municipal councillors (known locally as Parshads) of Dehradun. Ethnographic research and the co-construction of in-depth profiles with women Parshads revealed key differences in the ways that they get things done, the types of work they do and the ways that voters make demands. The term naukrani, meaning servant, is proposed to capture these dimensions of their everyday work, and to draw attention to the way Parshads are positioned in relation to an increasingly assertive electorate. It is argued that this positioning of naukrani is revelatory of a particular democratic logic in Dehradun and emergent political subjectivities, particularly among the middle class. By examining naukrani as an imposed positioning, rather than a strategic political identity, the limitations of politicians’ self-authorship are suggested. A focus on women Parshads hints at the gendered nature of this positioning and the implicit masculine bias in conventional understandings of political actors’ role in urban governance.

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Social Media, Politics and the Urban-Rural Divide

Caroline Hughes

A new article at the publishers’ website, is a product of research co-operation between Caroline Hughes of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the USA and Netra Eng of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The resulting article is titled “Facebook, Contestation and Poor People’s Politics: Spanning the Urban–Rural Divide in Cambodia?” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1520910). The abstract for the article states:

Netra Eng

Rural internet use, although still limited, is growing, raising the question of how rural people are using social media politically. As a vehicle of communication that permits the rapid transmission of information, images and text across space and connections between dispersed networks of individuals, does technological advance in rural areas presage significant political transformations? This article investigates this question in the light of a poor result for the Cambodian People’s Party in the 2013 elections, and the subsequent banning of the main opposition party, before the 2018 elections. Expanding internet use in rural areas has linked relatively quiescent rural Cambodians for the first time to networks of information about militant urban movements of the poor. Rural Cambodians are responding to this opportunity through strategies of quiet encroachment in cyberspace. This has had real effects on the nature of the relationship between the dominant party and the rural population and suggests the declining utility of the election-winning strategy used by the party since 1993. However, the extent of this virtual information revolution is limited, since neither the urban nor rural poor are mapping out new online political strategies, agendas or identities that can push Cambodia’s sclerotic politics in new directions.

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Land Dispossession and Everyday Politics in India

The recent book by Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Land Dispossession and Everyday Politics in Rural Eastern India is reviewed for JCA by Sirpa Tenhunen of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki in Finland.

Published by Anthem Press, Nielsen’s book, it is an exploration an “unprecedentedly powerful anti-land acquisition movement” that opposed “Tata Motors’ plan to set up a car factory in a fertile farming area in Singur in the eastern part of India, in the state of West Bengal…”. It led to Tata abandoning its plans and also “stimulated a change in India’s land acquisition policies and laws.” In West Bengal, the movement also “helped bring down the three-decades-long rule of the Left Front government, which had launched the land acquisition policy in the state.” Later, in 2016, India’s Supreme Court returned the land to the farmers.

Tenhunen considers:

Nielsen’s book fills a gap in our understanding of contemporary popular politics in India, providing a subtle understanding of the on-the-ground dynamics by analysing popular politics at the interface between development policy, legal regimes and everyday life-worlds in Singur. Nielsen strongly questions dichotomous perceptions of popular politics represented by such conceptual pairs as subaltern versus elite politics, hidden versus public transcripts and civil versus political society.

This work illustrates how the movement “offered a political forum in which social relations of power and authority could be reworked, new leaders could emerge, old ones be replaced, and political office and influence won even at highest state level.” The book provides a “rich account of the internal dynamics and politics of a social movement revealing its ambivalences and ambiguities.”

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Political Economy of China’s “Near-Abroad”

Shahar Hameiri

The Development-Insecurity Nexus in China’s Near-Abroad: Rethinking Cross-Border Economic Integration in an Era of State Transformation” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1502802) is a new article available at the publisher’s website.

Lee Jones

It is authored by Shahar Hameiri of the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland in Australia, Lee Jones of the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London in England and Zou Yizheng of the Institute for China’s Overseas Interests, Shenzhen University in China.

The abstract for the paper states:

Zou Yisheng

Surprisingly, perhaps, China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative expresses a familiar mix of the security–development nexus and liberal interdependence thesis: Chinese leaders expect economic development and integration will stabilise and secure neighbouring states and improve inter-state relations. However, drawing on the record of China’s intensive economic interaction with Myanmar, we argue that the opposite outcome may occur, for two reasons. First, capitalist development is inherently conflict-prone. Second, moreover, China’s cross-border economic relations today are shaped by state transformation – the fragmentation, decentralisation and internationalisation of party-state apparatuses. Accordingly, economic relations often emerge not from coherent national strategies, but from the uncoordinated, even contradictory, activities of various state and non-state agencies at multiple scales, which may exacerbate capitalist development’s conflictual aspects and undermine official policy goals. In the Sino-Myanmar case, the lead Chinese actors creating and managing cross-border economic engagements are sub-national agencies and enterprises based in, or operating through, Yunnan province. The rapacious form of development they have pursued has exacerbated insecurity, helped to reignite ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s borderlands, and plunged bilateral relations into crisis. Consequently, the Chinese government has had to change its policy and intervene in Myanmar’s domestic affairs to promote peace negotiations.

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Performance mega-churches in Southeast Asia

In a new review, just published at the publishers’ site for JCA, Graeme Lang reviews Pentecostal Megachurches in Southeast Asia: Negotiating Class, Consumption, and the Nation.

Published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, this collection is edited Terence Chong, who has published in JCA several times. His most recent article was “Filling the Moral Void: The Christian Right in Singapore,” in 2011.

There has been a rapid expansion of mega-churches in some parts of the region. Marked by entertainment “lively stage performances and ecstatic worship punctuated by ‘speaking in tongues’.” As Lang notes, these “churches still represent only small minorities in each of these societies, but their growth, and the size of some of these churches, pose questions for our understanding of religions in Southeast Asia.” In essence, why are some segments of the population attracted by such pop-culture performance religion.

Lang thinks the collection offers some useful insights:

For example, the frequent adoption by megachurch preachers of the so-called “prosperity gospel” – that fervent Christian faith would be associated with economic success – appealed to both lower-class members seeking upward mobility during the early growth of some of these churches, and later to new-middle-class members seeking affirmation and religious justifications for their achievements. The low barriers to membership, with little or no Biblical knowledge required except the embrace of the church’s slogans and salvation formulas, was another source of appeal.

The reviewer also sees some gaps in the book. He’d have liked an overview chapter and he also wanted some comparisons with North America and South Korea, where similar developments of performance churches. Even so, he feels the book is “rich in historical and ethnographic detail and should be useful for scholars and students seeking to learn more about these varieties of Christian religiosity in Southeast Asian cities.”

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