LOOKING FOR SOVEREIGNTY IN THE FACE OF GLOBALIZATION
The fantasy of corporate globalization traditionally centers on a romantic vision of market-driven prosperity. This vision is undercut though by existing economic inequalities and continued socio-political domination. For this reason, the power of this fantasy emanates not from its realization but from its ongoing struggle to be realized. Present sacrifices and structural imbalances are justified in the name of future progress. Enemies are found and highlighted who must be perpetually fought in the name of achieving this capitalist utopia to come.
This fantastical element addresses a profound tension in the contemporary spread of capitalism globally. Namely, markets are championed as a force for individual liberty and collective self-determination. Yet, globalization is primarily portrayed as existing outside human control. The Finnish President Tarja Halonen (2003), stated this point explicitly:
It is people who are the objects of globalization and at the same time its subjects. What also follows logically from this is that globalization is not a law of nature, but rather a process set in train by people.
Consequently, questions emerge as to who and what exactly is the actual “subject” of globalization. Indeed, globalization is strategically legitimatized as “inevitable.” As such, it is a force of “subjection” even for those who may support it for ideological or material reasons. It enlists individuals into its beliefs and processes regardless of their wishes. It is economically necessary and people must simply accept its growing prevalence and hegemony.
This speaks to a broader theoretical distinction between “subjection” and “subjectivation.” Namely, it reflects the lack of and subsequent longing for a sense of selfhood and identity within regulative and disciplining social systems. Quoting Judith Butler (1997: 102), “how are we to understand not merely the disciplinary production of the subject but the disciplinary cultivation of an attachment to subjection?” For this reason, it is necessary to investigate not only the concrete ways an existing set of social relations dominates subjects, but also the identities that support these prevailing material regimes. Consequently:
[a] subject’s complicity in their subjectivation cannot be understood as being purely the effect of their positioning within discourse. Rather, their complicity has an affective dimension. Where a regime of power is able to incite that dimension, it has an increased capacity to become totalising in its effects. (Tie, 2004: 161)
Neoliberalism has, to this end, produced fantasies of the powerful individual. One who can seemingly transgress and shape entrenched social norms and values at will. It is no surprise then that popular culture increasingly celebrates the anti-hero - whether in its most nihilistic forms (e.g. Tony Soprano, Walter White) or those who “break the rules” in the quixotic pursuit of justice (e.g. Jimmy McNulty, Rustin Cohle). Such veneration is borne out of a concrete subjection to social systems demanding individuals be “self-disciplined,” a regime over which they appear to have little control or ability to substantially alter.
However, it also is witnessed in the renewed investment individuals place in national or business leaders to “solve the problems” of the economy, even amidst being told repeatedly that marketization and globalization are “naturalized laws” beyond the reach of human interference. Rhodes and Bloom (2012), similarly, link the post-bureaucracy characterizing much of contemporary capitalism to an enhanced desire for a “competent” and just sovereign manger. They point to the growing appeal of a “fantasy of hierarchy” in which individuals long for the spiritual power of a wise leader to rule over them. This fantasy is especially appealing in the present age marked by the lack of sovereign agency in a world defined by depersonalized economic and organizational processes. The ideal political leader or manager, in this regard, represents the possibility of regaining this sense of lost sovereign power.
Both the anti-hero and ideal “leader” reflect a desire to experience personal autonomy, to exhibit a sense of power in a cultural context otherwise defined by powerlessness and subjection. Related specifically to globalization, the forced march of marketization produces similar longings for greater sovereignty. Here the perceived lack of agency in controlling our economic present and future creates an acute desire for collective self-determination. Significantly, globalization engenders in its wake a need to influence and drive forward this process, not simply be driven by it. In theoretical terms, individuals and groups wish to not only be “subjected to” but also be active “subjects of” corporate globalization. Thus, in the midst of an international capitalism that appears to be a “force of nature” and immune to human control, the desire for sovereignty and the power to shape such globalization grows even more intense.