Archive for 2012-13 High School Topic

Transportation Infrastructure Continued (Fordism Part II)

Posted in camp, High School, lectures with tags , , , on April 20, 2012 by kevin kuswa

Hi all,

Some requests came through for the second part of the Fordism work, originally published on Shared Sacrifice in Feb. 2009.  This part of the essay starts to link questions of transportation to the history of fossil fuels, oil, globalization, and eventually connects back to how we express ourselves through rhetoric.  Hopefully this helps to add some additional layers to the high school resolution–Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.   Transportation design is not simply about the state operating through an apparatus of capture on mobility, it is also about the core of circulation and what that means.  Here’s the essay followed by the footnotes and the citations.  Enjoy.

A Brief Genealogy of Fordism in Two Parts

 

Part Two: How the Flow and Constriction of Oil Stretch Into Globalization

Kevin Kuswa, 2009

America’s domestic energy situation–and the extent of U.S. dependence on imports–could be just as important, if not more important, in shaping the future political configurations in the Persian Gulf–and our future welfare–than direct security policies…The United States is, in effect, the Saudi Arabia of consumption.  It uses almost a third of all the oil consumed in the world every day.

Yergin, 1980, p16

On March 22, 1980, Harvard’s Center for International Affairs hosted a Symposium on the Dependence Dilemma as part of the International Energy Seminar.  Daniel Yergin, the Chairman of the Symposium, opened with a brief history of the energy crisis and an assessment of some of the consequences and possible solutions.  Yergin’s comments speak to the importance of oil, but more importantly to the flow of oil from producer states and the multinational oil companies to the consumers in the United States.  Yergin provides an opening for part two of this brief genealogy of Fordism, particularly through his explanation of the transportation sector in the United States and its dependence on oil.  In 1980, The United States consumed about one third of its oil in the form of gasoline and Yergin stresses that the consumption of gasoline in the U.S. exceeds the consumption of all petroleum-based products by any other single country.  Explained in another way: “One of every nine barrels of oil used in the world every day is burned as gasoline on American highways” (Yergin, 1980, p16).  Even assuming the desire to change, the transportation sector is heavily dependent on oil and gas relative to the rest of the economy and resistant to change.  Yergin’s (1980, p16) statement shores up the connection between American mobility and the flow of fuel: “The U.S. runs on gasoline; liquid fuels are the hub of the complex of issues known as the energy problem; yet transportation is also the consumption area where it is most difficult to substitute non-oil fuels.”

1. Capturing energy

 

In the first part of this paper, we left Fordism in the midst of a transformation, a crisis in the American industrial position relative to the nation-state and the global economy.  The process of “capture,” whereby a given institution or machinic arrangement attaches itself to the operations of a similar entity in a parasitic way, occurs through the trajectories of Fordism and the globalization of oil.  During the 1970s, the threats that oil represented, particularly in relation to American mobility, forced business interests and the government to take new forms and pursue new policies.  Partially a ramification of the surging highway, over-dependence on oil created new pressures on the economy and the state.  Again borrowing from Yergin (1980, p25), it had become obvious that the mobility afforded by the highway machine was increasingly reliant on oil from outside the United States: “We are a society that depends on a high degree of mobility.  Our over-dependence on an international energy system that is crisis-prone and accident-prone could create a crisis of mobility in this country in the 1980s.  Our over-dependence itself is a profound pressure on that system and, indeed, constitutes a threat to American security.”   The context of this crisis in mobility warrants elaboration.  Yergin links the highway to the motions of energy, but how did the events of 1973 intersect the operations of Fordism and transportation?  In a word, the condition of dependency linked the highway as a means of circulation to the constriction of access to inexpensive fuel.[1] (1)  The tightening oil market was tied to the rapidly expanding consumption of the U.S. transportation sector, but the movements were multidirectional: changes in energy policies and prices led to the retrenchment and containment of the highway machine as well.  Despite signs of retrenchment, however, the very size and daily operation of the interstate system ensured a constant need for millions and millions of barrels of oil.  All told, these competing motions in relation to the events of 1973 marked a final phase in the maturation of Fordism in this country.

The topic of dependency signaled two related motions: retrenchment and saturation.  Retrenchment began early in the 70s as the maintenance of the machine took priority over extension and new construction.  Particularly for the interstate, very few new miles were added after 1956 and most of the originally planned mileage was constructed by 1973.  As the highway consolidated and retrenched, Fordism was also reaching an impasse and a crisis of agency.  The motion of economic expansion and market saturation associated with oil and gas consumption hit a roadblock on October 17, 1973 when six Gulf oil states announced an increase in oil prices and a reduction in production.  Led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, six members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instituted an embargo on oil exports to the United States.  Speaking of the October 17th embargo, Benjamin Shwadran (1974, p79) noted at the time that “the producing countries have become dominant and powerful over the companies.”

If the link had not been established by 1973, politics and economics were intertwined together at that point through motions of stability and security surrounding oil.  Dramatic fluctuations in the oil market translated into dramatic upheavals and conflict between states and cultures.  The on-going conflict between Israel and the Arab states in the region has been well-documented, a conflict that intensified in 1973 and helped to precipitate the oil crisis.  The geopolitical importance of the region did not emerge exclusively out of religious struggles for territory and recognition, but much of the region’s fragility can be attributed to cultural tensions between groups of people such as those between “the original communities of mandated Palestine—the Arabs and the Jews” (El-Ayouty, 1974, p78).  Cultural discord occurs on many planes, not least of which is territory itself and the resources that can be extracted from it.  Moreover, land becomes more valuable when it is scarce, as does the oil beneath the land (Manoharan, 1974; Chomsky, 1993, p59).

The huge quantity of available oil in the Gulf combined with the voracious energy demands of the U.S. and other industrialized countries to heighten the need for stability.  The desire for a certain form of stability, regardless of the intent, did not ensure its presence–it may have even contributed to more tension and a more precarious situation as the region became more and more militarized.  The importance of oil in the Gulf established a link between domestic energy practices in the United States and the state-sponsored push for political, military and economic security abroad.  Oil and its finite nature created and magnified a crisis in the smooth operation of global markets, industrial manufacturing, and the expectations of many consumers.  Russell Stone (1977, p.xiv) commented on the severe price hikes of the fall of 1973: “The ensuing worldwide fuel shortage, regardless of price, lasted approximately five months.  Its memory and impact will last much longer throughout the world.”  The memory of the crisis notwithstanding, that five month period designated a transformation in a series of axes: capitalism, modernity, the state, Fordism, and the highway machine.  The Cold War had firmly implemented its logics of global security, a global relationship that easily transferred itself and took on new dimensions through the struggles over oil and land in the “Middle East.”[2] (2)

The energy crisis and its global ramifications, in part, centered on the region called the Middle East and the formation of OPEC.  Even though OPEC is often blamed for the events of 1973, OPEC’s existence may have actually delayed the political conditions necessary for an effective embargo and price hike.  OPEC itself was founded in 1960, but the contemplation of an organized pricing strategy may have begun earlier.  In 1952, the Arab League Political Committee “discussed petroleum as a weapon in the struggle with Israel” (Peretz, 1977, p21).[3](3)  The deployment of the “oil weapon” did not materialize until months after the Six-Day war of 1967 when, in January of 1968, a group of oil-producing countries in the Gulf decided to suppress oil sales to artificially raise the price.  Following the Six-Day war between Israel and a number of Arab states in the region, the “Arab petroleum ministers” decided to form “a unique Arab organization distinct from OPEC to develop their collective international political power” (Peretz, 1977, p21).  During the months immediately following the Six-Day war, the new sub-organization of OPEC refrained from instituting an oil embargo, choosing instead to collect short-term revenues for rebuilding efforts.  The need for short-term revenue was satisfied quickly, for this new oil alliance, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), initiated the use of oil resources for political purposes in January of 1968.

Dr. Don Peretz, Professor of Political Science at SUNY-Binghamton, claims that the “political use of Arab oil” in 1968 was ineffective and may have contributed to lower revenues for the states involved.  The membership of OAPEC was not large enough at the time—missing “radical” nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Egypt until 1972—and the move was primarily an economic ploy by the conservative regimes governing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya to use anti-Israel sentiment in the aftermath of the Six Day war as an opportunity to increase the market value of oil.  The action in 1968 was not comprehensive enough to prevent consumers from locating alternative oil supplies in the United States, Venezuela, and Iran.  The Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani stated later that year that the oil embargo “hurt the Arabs themselves more than anyone else, and the only ones to gain any benefit from it were the non-Arab producers” (Mikdashi, 1972, p85).  The Oil Minister’s comments pointed to a series of opposing interests that had converged in the oil arena: the pro-Arab vs. pro-Israel forces, the oil producers vs. the oil consumers, the Arab oil states vs. the non-Arab oil states, and the radical vs. the conservative oil regimes.  The ideological struggles for influence and resources are far from exhaustive in a diagram of the circulation of oil.

The circulation of oil and products had fully merged with the circulation of militarism and political influence, in no small part due to the consumptive tendencies set in motion by the growing highway infrastructure.  Reinforcing the breakdown of previously distinct arenas, Manoharan (1974, p83) noted that, “Oil itself is forged as a weapon to further political ends,” and The Economist (July 7, 1973) reported that the first concept to grasp about “the oil business is that it is more a political than an economic activity.”  Immediately preceding OPEC’s Oct. 17 announcement that an oil embargo had gone into effect, a few events took place which furthered the interplay between state-sponsored security and the energy market.  On October 6, 1973, as Israel prepared for Yom Kippur, President Sadat sent the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal and Syria attacked the Golan Heights in an attempt to win back land taken by Israel in the 1967 war.  Following Egypt’s raid on oil wells in the Sinai Peninsula and Israel’s attack on a Syrian oil refinery, Nixon contacted Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, to discuss the threat of war in the region (Manoharan, 1974, p76).  The United States and the Soviet Union attempted to broker peace through the United Nations, but their efforts were shallow and short-lived.  A cease-fire in one region precipitated the escalation of conflict in another.  By October 13th that year, Israel had surrendered to Egypt on the Sinai but the fighting between Israel and Syria over the Golan had re-ignited.  Meanwhile, Nixon began to lobby Congress for additional military aid to Israel.  The day after Nixon’s request, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria suspended all oil exports to the U.S. and many other nations soon followed suit.

Even before OPEC’s announcement, Iraq deployed oil as a weapon by nationalizing Exxon and Mobil on October 7th, not to mention cutting off pipelines to the Mediterranean and reducing the flow of oil by over one million barrels a day.  According to Manoharan (1974, p86), Kuwait, Qatar and several other countries followed the lead of Iraq and Saudi Arabia by cutting production by 10 percent.  Within a few months the overall flow of oil from the Gulf region was reduced by almost 15 percent.  On October 16th, foreshadowing OPEC’s announcement the following day, the posted price of oil from the Gulf went up 70 percent.  As these moves continued to constrict the supply of oil, the full impact reached the United States in the form of higher fuel prices, long gas lines, and rapid inflation across the economy.  The Petroleum Economist (January, 1974, p143) commented that, “Consumers of oil must certainly accept the fact that OPEC has now evolved into what is probably the toughest cartel the world has ever known” and that this cartel has “the power to restrict supplies and hold the consumer to ransom.”

To emphasize his claim that the U.S. had become hostage to “foreign oil,” Yergin offers a laundry-list of potential threats including drop-offs in domestic production, supply interruption, political alliances hostile to the United States, regime changes, and even Soviet collusion.  In sum, Yergin (1980, p18) proclaims: “This over-dependence puts the United States into a position where it could be drawn into the vortex of a crisis with little choice or little maneuverability.”  The vortex requires mapping, though, for the flow of oil involves many diverse channels.  To begin, who is being referred to when Yergin or someone like him talks about the “United States,” the American consumer,” or “our interests and security”?  What are these monolithic interests?  Is oil really a question of “us” vs. “them”?  Fordism takes on nationalistic tendencies in many ways during the second half of the century, not least of which was the dominance of the source of fuel over the highway infrastructure itself.

Milton Moskowitz, founder of Business & Society in 1968, asks the same questions in a short article published a few months after the October oil embargo.  Moskowitz claims to “have trouble these days with the pronoun ‘we’” in the context of the energy crisis.  Moskowitz’s (1974, p14) read on the depictions of the energy crisis at the time is that the “Arabs are clearly not part of ‘we’” because the crisis itself was “apparently touched off by the Arab world’s decision to play politics with the oil in the ground.”  And, in opposition to these Arabs, Moskowitz (1974, p140 senses a collective “we” on the other side of the crisis that includes “virtually everyone else—President Nixon, the home owner that heats with oil, Exxon, anyone who drives a car, British Petroleum, the ordinary investor, Texaco, the airlines….”  Moskowitz makes the point that the common interests contained in “we” are actually diverse and complex, made up of Texas drillers, domestic consumers, industrial producers, oil lobbyists, and so forth.  As Moskowitz (1974, p15) cynically remarks: “The energy crisis has affected a miraculous transformation….The oil industry program has become ‘our’ program.  What they want, ‘we’ must obviously want.  ‘We’ are all in the same boat, right?”

Taking Moskowitz’s critique of the all-purpose “we” into account, he helps to show how these exchanges are often personified, as are the interests of the corporations and the governments.  The Seven Sisters are but one example, the name given to the seven largest multinational oil companies.  Five of the companies started in the United States—Exxon, Texaco, Mobil, Gulf, and Standard Oil—and the other two from Europe—British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell.  All seven share sisterhood, though, because of their monopolistic control over the exploration, extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution of most of the world’s known oil reserves.  As multinational companies, their operations have diverged from the political interests of any individual government or set of consumers.  The personification of multinational corporations like the Seven Sisters leads back to the question concerning agency and interests.  Should individual consumers of oil, even American consumers, be considered a single entity?  What are the effects of dividing producer states into those who support the West and those who do not?  Does America have one set of interests in the energy crisis?

If certain companies have interests that are at odds with the governments they operate within, it becomes doubly important to scrutinize any representation of the energy crisis as an “us vs. them” scenario or a bipolar contest between those with oil and those who wish to purchase the oil.  Yergin relies on an oppositional frame, for instance, constituting “us” as a unified collection of reasonable Americans trying to maintain security for our energy needs.  Yergin reminded “us” that the two oil shocks that took place between 1973 and 1980 may have shattered our sense of invulnerability, but “we have hardly begun to take those steps that are so manifestly in our own interest, and indeed required in the name of elemental self-preservation” (Yergin, 1980, p25) such as pursuing conservation practices on a national level.  Representative Les Aspin (1974, p210), a democrat from Wisconsin, also depicted the crisis in such a bipolar way: “In the final analysis, Congress and the American people are left with only one choice if we are to solve the energy crisis: the excessive political power of the companies must be brought under control.”  Who does “we” refer to in Aspin’s remark?  What does the imaginary of this “we” do to frame the energy crisis in a certain way?  Indeed, who is having the oil crisis?  Who is hosting it?  And, most importantly, what are the effects of its deployment and exploitation?

2. Fordism and the State 

 

An important moment that becomes more pronounced during the events of 1973 involves the transformation from Fordism to globalization.  Because Fordism remained an industrial arrangement tied to the automobile as the basis for mass production, it reached an end-point (or transitional moment) as the post World War II military complex and federal control of highway funding combined to capture certain economic and military logics for the state.  Certainly a number of components of Fordism infiltrated other industries and managed to find a niche for themselves alongside the apparatus of the state.  The corporate quest for growing markets and a new manufacturing structure also intensified as labor and the production process became more integrated.  Many contradictory motions pushed corporate entities in diffuse and uncertain directions—a capitalism contingent on political maneuvering, state diplomacy, and a constantly shifting set of market parameters.  The Cold War and its ensuing global chess game for influence also fueled the expansion of the state and the reach of government institutions, whether those institutions exerted themselves in the name of democracy or communism.

By 1973, corporations are experiencing distinct transformations: they are breaking away from the state by creating new profit structures and diversifying across borders to take advantage of abundant labor and tax incentives wherever they may be located, and they are incorporating themselves into the state or subordinating their operations to the regulations and policies imposed by the state.  Barlett and Steele lay out both of these transformations in succinct fashion.  They talk about the expansion of the corporate scope by reducing the United States to one of the objects of the large energy conglomerates: “In this period, the United States became merely another customer of the American multinational oil companies which supply most of the free world’s oil” (Barlett & Steele, 1974, p332).  Barlett and Steele (1974, p333) also talk about the state’s use of the energy crisis to further political aims and attach themselves to business lobbies: “The Administration has consistently overdramatized the extent of the shortage and helped create much of the panic seen today at the gas pump.”  It was ultimately the war and the oil embargo of 1973 that catapulted both of these capturing motions to the forefront.  Once again, the motions of Fordism helped to generate a multi-dimensional effect.

The oil effects of the highway machine were analogous to the duality of the freedom of driving and the immobility (including mortality) of the car crash.  The crash on the oil front, however, was global and all-encompassing.  With vehicles and their passengers, the repetition and seriality of the car crash are its biggest threat—the inevitability of a certain percentage of accidents occurring on the highway each and every day.  With the oil crash, on the other hand, the regularity of price and supply shocks was not as significant as the sudden rupture in October of 1973.  As landmines are to an atomic bomb, so is the car crash to the oil crisis.  All four are crippling and destructive, but landmines and car accidents are insidious and relentless while atomic bombs and large oil shocks are quick and total.  The speed and scope of the energy crisis forced swift responses from the state and corporations.  Having captured militarism in the name of nationalism (and atomic weaponry), the state deployed its military to protect its security.  Having captured the state in the name of economic growth, corporate interests capitalized on the crisis by dodging taxation schemes and passing on higher prices to addicted consumers.

Clay Steinman and Robert Entman add contours to corporate lines of flight that have attached themselves to the flow of oil.  Steinman and Entman, political science scholars, published a short article in the January 26, 1974 edition of The Nation that outlines the oil hegemony of the multinational corporations entitled “The Sovereign State of Oil.”  Referencing the advent of joint ventures throughout the 1960s and 70s, Steinman and Entman (1974, p111) contend that joint ventures have allowed interlocking directorates, exchanges of information, production planning, “and perhaps a general forum in which a climate of unanimity with respect to such problems as scarcity, prices, political associations and other pertinent affairs can be developed.”  Calling these monolithic oil companies the “energy conglomerates,” Steinman and Entman (1974, p111), “have awesome power, whether it be the power to create shortages for their own private ends or the power to alleviate them through their own private efforts.”  A certain move foreshadowed and permitted the hegemony of the energy conglomerates: curtailing domestic refining efforts and aligning themselves with political interests and institutions responsible for energy policy.

The slowing down of domestic refining and the expansion of refining efforts outside the United States contributed to the dominance of the energy conglomerates as a whole.  American companies had already become multinational, allowing shifts to take place in response to U.S. regulations and trade policies.  Steinman and Entman (1974, p112) cite this flexibility as a source of power and resilience for the energy conglomerates: “The crisscross concentration of cooperative power in the oil industry seems undeniable.”  The point here, and the necessity of tracing this articulation of the sovereignty of oil, is that the motion of capture is never uni-directional.  The two poles of public and private (or statist and corporate) constantly work together.  The circulation that has arisen through the energy crisis revolves around the interactions between a regulatory government wielding a military for enforcement and the capital concentration inherent in the large oil companies.  From one angle, that presented by Steinman and Entman (1974, p114), the need for secure energy supplies (to fuel the highway machine, the economy, and the military in the United States) made Congress a mere foot soldier in the service of the oil companies:

 

 

“Thus the independent power that seems to have accrued in America to capital concentration and technological expertise may have rendered independent, regulatory government a civics-book illusion.  Congress holds hearings, but otherwise it seems ineffectual in the energy arena.  The Administration is closely allied with oil interests, and no previous administration could accurately be called anti-oil.  Judicial remedies seem unlikely.”

This motion encouraged the movement of refining operations outside of the United States to circumvent the embargo.  From the opposite angle, political pressures were responsible for state actions that defied and contained the free reign of the oil companies.

Positioning and posturing between Israel, the United States, the Soviet Union, the Palestinians, and the Arab countries adjacent to Israel put new spins on the circulation of oil.  The Palestinian quest for legitimacy gave the United States the opportunity to both express support for Israel and to broker negotiations between the two sides.  And, by 1974, the United States started to “mobilize all its resources to find alternatives to Middle East oil” (Shwadran, 1974, p81).  It took time to develop viable alternatives, but the United States purchased oil from many sources as well as having access to fairly large domestic wells.  The U.S. government aligned with corporate forces in the energy arena in a more concerted attempt to find new sources of oil as well as encouraging the expansion of coal-based generation for electricity and providing minor subsidies for energy sources other than fossil fuels (solar, geothermal).

From 1956 to 1973, the highway and Fordism rolled along while the government focused on construction of state-of-the-art roads at the expense of a flexible energy sector.  Even though the energy crisis had been forecast for years (Shwadran, 1974, p81), no directed state action was taken: “The United States government was perhaps lulled into inaction and false security by the international oil companies and by its own ideological unwillingness to interfere with private enterprise.”  Soon after 1973, Nixon tapped the Highway Trust Fund for mass transit and conservation became a national goal, exemplified by the speed limit reduction and the removal of daylight savings.  The events of 1956 and 1973 are merely guideposts, for the practice of genealogy does not obsess over origins and conclusions as much as it brings together certain events and arrangements.  As Foucault (1984, p81) writes, “Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people.”[4] (4)

3. From Fordism to globalization

Henry Ford’s purposes, desires and hopes relied on a new industrialized city that would bring workers to the factories and prime the economy for individual ownership of automobiles.  In 1908, the Model T had to cater to the demands of a rural population, but Ford secretly “looked forward to the demise of the family farm” (Flink, 1988, p114) and the fundamental principles of Fordism depended on a steady demand from the largest sector of the American population: the lower and middle classes in urban areas.  An ever-expanding assembly-line that emphasized uniformity and affordable production needed a broad-based market of consumers with disposable income.  In many ways, the circle completes itself as it struggles through energy supply to land back in the US, but with global tendencies—an ever-expanding structure of Empire.  The year 1973 marked the first major oil shock, the completion of over 80 percent of the Interstate (and the initiation of 16 percent more, leaving only a few hundred miles to be completed in the 1980s and 90s), the imposition of a 55-mph speed limit across the nation’s expressways, and the first diversion of funds from the Highway Trust Fund into intra-urban transit by Richard Nixon on August 13th (Flink, 1988, p372).  Nevertheless, Fordist market expansion carried with it new and intricate connections to the state: “Unlimited accommodation to mass personal automobility ended as government came to recognize automotive safety, pollution, and energy consumption as major social problems and consequently to regulate the automobile industry and to invest in mass transit” Flink (1988, p408).

U.S. dependence on oil combined with U.S. aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur War to encourage many of the Persian Gulf states to restrict and even prohibit the flow of oil to the U.S. (McShane, 1997, p136).  The 1970s and 80s balanced concerns over energy security and automobile safety with new machinic arrangements stretching into the 90s and beyond.[5] (5) Oil and gas became crucial commodities to the stability of global capitalism, fed by both the demand for more and more fossil fuels in the U.S. and the willingness of the American military machine to defend the corridors and pipelines of the market’s precious “black gold.”   The key transformation from Fordism to globalization is global production and consumption.

In addition to connecting the transportation sector in the United States to the inelasticity of the global oil market, Yergin also attaches the security of the U.S. and its foreign policy as a whole to over-dependence on imported oil.  Once more we borrow from Yergin (1980, p15) and an argument enmeshed in the knowledge formation between energy security and international relations:

“The United States finds itself increasingly challenged in the world today.  Its foreign policy is constrained, its influence and security position eroding, its economy vulnerable, its alliance relations under pressure.  Among the important reasons–perhaps even the most important–is the over-dependence on insecure imported oil.  The reverberations of this over-dependence are directly felt in American foreign policy and throughout the economic and political system.  Thus, there is a fundamental relation between America’s problems in the world, and how 140 million vehicles are used on the nation’s roads and highways.”

The turn that occurs here, and one that penetrates the subjects, places, and motions of the highway during this period, is conservation.  Cars become smaller and more fuel efficient as alternative modes of transportation become more attractive.  From Yergin’s quotation and the explicit link between the operation of cars in the United States and a global regime of security designed to protect the flow of oil, the issue of globalization attaches itself to circulation.  The circulation of energy resources, particularly the global nature of the oil market, resulted in an association between capitalism and the modernization of a global economy.  It is important to note that we have two notions of globalization at work here: the globalization of rhetoric and the globalization of capital and state-protected markets.  Although not intended by either use of the term, the two relate to one another in some interesting ways.

One sense of globalization refers to the expansion of rhetoric’s scope or object of analysis to a global or universal level.  Appearing as the counterpart to the trap of representation where rhetoric is limited to a descriptive or peripheral role in relation to a pre-conceived ideology, reality, or similar non-rhetorical structure; globalization marks rhetoric as all-encompassing and beyond explanatory or analytical value.  Positioned opposite to the quandary of representation and the dependence of rhetoric on that which it represents, the globalization of rhetoric gives such range to itself that it cannot account for its outside or the elements that might be external to a regime of signs.  In other words, the globalization turn accounts for the circulation of rhetoric in such a way that it becomes difficult to talk about elements that may produce specific manifestations of rhetoric or the effects of a given instance of rhetoric without simultaneously theorizing those elements and those effects as themselves examples of rhetoric.  Because rhetoric explains circulation and everything is circulating, it is argued, the analytical grip of rhetoric can assert itself regardless of the uniqueness of the machine or the object in question.

Gaonkar talks about the globalization of rhetoric in terms of the slow dissolution of the object of rhetorical criticism.  This occurs when all objects are distanced from the act of criticism in the same way, making the object peripheral to the process of interpretation and devaluing the distinct “performative dimensions” that circulate in tandem with the “materiality or everydayness of practical discourse” (Gaonkar, 1990, p308).  Despite various attempts to recover or rescue the object by returning to a “close” or “disciplined” reading of a given text, the tendency toward globalization in rhetoric has been sweeping.  Few theorists take on expansive objects, and even fewer theories will chart the specific ways that an object, machine, or even text moves in rhetorical and non-rhetorical ways.  For Gaonkar (1990, p308), the danger of such globalization is that the object will disintegrate into fragments, leaving only the hegemonic practices of interpretation: “The dissolution continues…as the object is globalized into a message fragment.”

In addition, the effects and residual products of the machine circulate through its regime of signs, but may not always manifest as subjectivities and may not be rooted exclusively in discursive formations.  A preference for specificity, once again, draws attention to the role of circulation in the debate over rhetoric’s globalization.  To avoid the use of circulation as a mechanism for the globalization of rhetoric, the movement of a given regime of signs should be mapped as circulating as well as penetrating.  Penetration expresses that motion is not always freely circulating and that the unwanted extension of markets may be distinct from an organic model of a circulatory system.  The channeling of capitalism may be relatively smooth and organic, yet its effects are wounding and insidiously penetrating: “A focus on circulation shows us the movement of people, things, ideas, or institutions, but it does not show us how this movement depends on defining tracks and grounds or scales and units of agency” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  The notion of exchange, central to communication as well as capitalism, links the process of circulation to the condition of globalization.  Tempering both circulation and globalization (and offering a solution to the globalization of rhetoric’s domain of objects) must be the association of constraint and limitation with circulation as well as the association of segregation and corporate oppression with globalization.

Arguing that the term comes to mean many things, Tsing (2000, p331) states: “globalization came to mean an endorsement of international free trade and the outlawing of protected or public domestic economies.”  As a conduit for globalization, then, Fordism expanded through the promise of unrestricted mobility and free access, paving over local “highway markets” and toll-ways in favor of a national (global) machine.  Anna Tsing talks about globalization in terms of planetary interconnections, linkages that can further exploitation and inequality as well as linkages that can open up possibilities of globalist wishes and fantasies.  For Tsing (2000, p331), the process of invoking the global turn “is to call attention to the speed and density of interconnections among people and places.”  For example, it is important to note how people and places were shaped and influenced by the aftermath of Fordism as a manufacturing process that united with a specific form of social organization programmed by the state and the state’s military needs.  It is also crucial to mark the flow of energy resources as a corollary to the flow of goods and services led by American consumers and the highway machine—a process in place across the world by the end of the 1970s.

Circulation itself must share the stage with temporality and spatiality.[6] (6) McKenzie Wark helps to tie together the motions of globalization by defining our terrain as the “place where we sleep, work, or hang-out” (1994, p1).  Similar to Morse’s (1990) idea of distraction and “distractedness” as an ontology for everyday life, Wark traces various forms of circulation in the directed movement of people, places, ideas, institutions, and forces.  The drive-ins, quickie marts, truck-stops, and other roadside hang-outs are only one plane of the terrain.  Those places are now being forced to share terrain with the flow and timing of images:

“We live every day in another terrain, equally familiar: the terrain created by the television, the telephone, the telecommunications networks crisscrossing the globe…This virtual geography is no more or less ‘real.”  It is a different kind of perception, of things not bounded by rules of proximity, of “being there.” (Wark, 1994, p1)”

First, the separation is only partial, for any light of flight (site of virtual experience) must be grounded or located.  Second, the virtual is limited by access and the restriction of particular flows (energy, transport, etc.).  As with Fordism and the highway machine, the motion of freely circulating people or products is always mediating by competing motions of state security and economic exchange.

Providing a transition, the motion of circulation creates interconnections and “interconnection is everything in the new globalisms” (Tsing, 2000, p336).  Rhetoric assists in the meeting points on either end of circulation, in both coercive and liberating ways.  Thus, we can map the ways that globalization itself enters modes of circulation.  The motions of globalization, for Tsing (2000, p336), are rhetorical because “global rhetoric” relies on circulation in the same way capitalism relies on penetration: “the way powerful institutions and ideas spread geographically and come to have an influence in distant places.”  This means that Fordism can uniquely point to the boundaries of rhetoric’s circulation by diagramming the object of a flow as well as the social conditions “that allow or encourage that flow” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  Certainly by linking globalization and circulation, we can add the angle of penetration, not to mention the critique of “the use of the rhetoric of circulation as a ruling image for global interconnections” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  If we do want to trace Fordism to the globalization of rhetoric and the globalization of capital, the arresting and releasing sides of circulation fashion a middle-ground that must be negotiated.  Movement and the energy required to fulfill that movement are both irresistible magnets for the apparati of state control and capital expansion, both linked to each other through this brief genealogy of Fordism through globalization.


[1] (1) Dependency, in this context, references the extreme reliance on external sources for oil, effectively making the U.S. dependent on other nations for energy resources.  The other trajectory of dependency, making it a multi-faceted trope, is the reliance of “lesser developed” or developing countries on the industrialized or developed countries for capital, equipment, and many consumer goods.  These relations of dependency between the “West and Arab oil-producing countries” allowed the industrialized states “to have control over the nature of the dependent countries’ policies, to the extent that the dependent country cannot regulate its political actors or develop legitimate political institutions capable of making independent domestic and international policies” (Raoof, 1977, p212).

[2]   (2) The narrative of struggle and colonialism is not endemic to oil.  The phrase “middle east” designates a Western cartography of imperialism that must be associated with the history of the region.  American naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan adopted the phrase “Middle East” in 1902 to designate the territory between Arabia and India (B. Lewis, 1966, p9).  Fromkin (1989, p18) contends that the wartime negotiations conducted during 1922 were the origins of “frontier drawing” in the Middle East.  This cluster of events includes the Allenby Declaration defining limited independence for Egypt, the Churchill White Paper laying the groundwork for Israel and Jordan, the British treaties establishing the status of Iraq, the French Mandate for Lebanon and Syria, and Russian rule over Moslem Central Asia.

Labeling these struggles for control “the Great Game,” Fromkin (1989, p16) conceives of the Middle East as “the entire arena in which Britain, from the Napoleonic Wars onward, fought to shield the road to India from the onslaughts” of other colonial powers.  During the period of parcelization, when European states found it necessary to re-draw the borders of the region, Sir Mark Sykes, a self-proclaimed expert on the “Problem of the Near East,” spent a good deal of time “making public speeches in which he gave currency to the new descriptive phrase, ‘the Middle East’” (Fromkin, 1989, p224).  In sum, one of Fromkin’s subtitles, “The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East,” details the history of European colonialism surrounding the so-called Middle East and the ways many of those territories were shaped by Britain, France, and Russia in competition for influence.

[3] (3) Another restriction on petroleum took place as a result of the 1956 Suez war when Great Britain and France suffered severe hardship.  The shut-off of petroleum was not a deliberate embargo by particular Arab countries as much as it was a consequence resulting from the damage done to the Suez canal during the course of the conflict.

[4] (4) “Ideal significations and indefinite teleologies” are the tools of the nation-state–companions of an obsessive search for origins that loses value as a critique.  As part of a critical reading of Nietzsche’s discussion of origin (Ursprung), Foucault (1984, p81) urges a rethinking of the linear model of history:

“From the vantage point of an absolute distance, free from the restraints of positive knowledge, the origin makes possible a field of knowledge whose function is to recover it, but always in a false recognition due to the excesses of its own speech.  The origin lies at a place of inevitable loss, the point where the truth of things corresponded to a truthful discourse, the site of a fleeting articulation that discourse has obscured and finally lost.”

[5] (5) Meanwhile, commuters and suburbanites moved further into the flows of globalization and the instantaneous circulation of data while populating edge cities, gated communities, and gentrified urban condominiums.

[6] (6) A number of authors align with Virilio in his distinction between spatial and temporal discourses (E. Hall, 1982; Castells, 1991; Wark, 1994; Soja, 1996).

Transportation Infrastructure

Posted in camp, High School, topic with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by kevin kuswa

More on the high school topic to follow, an interesting choice given the space exploration topic because exploring and developing could be seen as increasing investment in transportation infrastructure, particularly with a broad interpretation of “in the United States” as “initiated in the U.S.”

Here is the wording and the brief overview provided by the NFL:

2012-13 NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL POLICY DEBATE TOPIC
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States
Over the last ten years, there have been a series of significant transportation infrastructure failures indicating the nation’s once world-class infrastructure is falling apart and other nation’s are pulling ahead of the United States. Transportation infrastructure policy featured prominently in President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address and is likely to be a main component of his re-election campaign. This topic offers debaters a rare opportunity to consider how government and policy affect the physical structures of daily life; at the same time as the public at-large considers these investments. The national policy debate topic has only discussed transportation policy once, in 1939-40, and the national topic has never considered “infrastructure.” Proponents of increasing investment in transportation infrastructure argue there is a substantial need to invest in transportation infrastructure and that infrastructure is central to a modern economy, the United States’ leadership position in the world, the security of our nation and a high quality of life. Opponents argue that government spending in this area is unnecessary and further complicates fiscal policy. Examples of affirmative cases include direct investment in high-speed rail, highways, bridges, airports and seaports. Other affirmatives might propose new federal structures to finance transportation infrastructure projects. Negative positions could focus on the economic consequences of additional spending, the effectiveness of various transportation solutions, the political implications of infrastructure investment and critiques of economic development.

…This is a helpful overview, to be sure, laying out the main controversy and justifying debate in this area.  The main issue for the affirmative will be finding the resources to substantially increase investment and the main issue for the negative will challenging the large impact claims made by most affirmatives.  A few angles/approaches to keep in mind at the outset involve scope, reach, and history.  The scope of the topic will involve definitions of transportation and infrastructure and how narrow or broad that phrase becomes–everything from “only the material/physical condition of roads, bridges and runways” to “all aspects of human movement.”  The latter implicates areas such as the mobility of particular groups, real time data exchange, military readiness, the internet, circulation of goods and services, and mass communication.  The reach of the topic will center on infrastructure–will we limit debates to the blueprints or expand our discussion to include future possibilities (oceans, space, other scientific explorations)?  And, perhaps, most telling, where have humans been and where are they going?  Do we maintain or can we build?  How have we “progressed” from human power, to animal power, to steam power, to fossil fuels, and now beyond?  Should this include urban planning or is it about travel–the movement to and through our current conception of the City? The long-term history of transportation, not just in the U.S. (destiny, expansion, colonization), but throughout time will shed light (pave the way) toward a more complete view of the topic.  One example–just a sliver of the iceberg, is here: http://www.thebhc.org/publications/BEHprint/v024n1/p0072-p0087.pdf.  Transportation means progress and life, but also clash, accidents, and destruction.  Infrastructure needs propping up, but to what ends?  A quick little story to ask more of these questions can be found here:  http://www.creators.com/liberal/david-sirota.html.  Be creative with this topic because transportation is nothing if not the imagination of change and the human capacity for expanding circulation.  Ambulate your arguments! Enjoy and frequent puttingthekindebate for further updates.