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<nettime> Globalisation from Below: Migration, Sovereignty, Communicatio
McKenzie Wark on Wed, 16 Jan 2002 20:01:14 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Globalisation from Below: Migration, Sovereignty, Communication

Globalisation from Below:
Migration, Sovereignty, Communication

McKenzie Wark <mw35 {AT} nyu.edu>

For a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism, the disgraceful
treatment meted out to ‘boat people’ who arrive on Australian shores
speaks to an underlying problem in the constitution of the Australian
state. And indeed all states. As I will argue, the problem is not caused
just by an 'opportunist' Prime Minister exploiting insecurities in the
Australian electorate, as Guy Rundle and others have argued. While Rundle
is quite right to hold Australian Prime Minister John Howard's behaviour
up to a critical light, there is a much deeper problem, the problem that
the boat person, the asylum seeker, the refugee, poses to the very concept
of national sovereignty.

As Anthony Burke argues in his book In Fear of Security, the construction
of Australian statehood and nationhood is inextricably linked to the way
what it is outside its borders is conceived.  The construction of a
national history is also the construction of a space of internal
consistency, marked off from an outside. This outside then appears as that
which threatens internal consistency. We become the opposite of what we

We have an excellent emblem of the workings of power within the state in
Michel Foucault's Panopticon. But as Giorgio Agamben has recently pointed
out, this internalised power of discipline now appears quite secondary to
an externalising power of security.  To which one can only add: perhaps it
always was. One of Bentham's pamphlets was called 'The Panopticon or New
South Wales'. As every Australian knows, British power took the latter
route - - transportation, not the former, the Panopticon.

A much more profound understanding of the modern power of security, or
what I would call vectoral power, may be found in Bernard Smith's European
Vision and the South Pacific, where Smith brilliantly exposes the way in
which the British warship traversed and mapped the open space of the

Perhaps Australian anxiety about 'boat people' stems from the nagging
memory of the fact that most of us are descendents of boat people. For
most of us, our ancestors followed the vectoral line opened up by naval

It's a paradox of security that the mapping and navigating of the world
not only secures an imperial state's place in it, but it sets in motion
flows of information, people, goods and weapons that creates still new
spaces, which in turn undermine security and require still more vectoral
power. Thus, the technologies of vectoral power, from the 18th century
warship to the 21st century Raptor unmanned surveillance aircraft,
experience accelerated development.

Sovereignty, or the autonomy of a centre of power, rests on both security,
the externalising power, and discipline, the internalising power. But
these are times in which disciplinary regimes are breaking down, not least
because of the effectiveness of vectoral technologies in mapping routes of
movement and opening up territories.

The vectoral techniques that have their roots in the power of security are
breaking away from the security function, and becoming an autonomous
power. The same vectoral technologies that secure lines of movement for
imperial powers also undermine the integrity of their relations of
dominance in the world, setting loose unmanageable flows and demands for

I know that the free flows often characterised as 'neoliberalism' are a
taboo subject: denounce it first, ask questions later. But I tell you, we
haven't seen anything yet. The world will become much more vectoral if it
is to become any more just. The boat people are the symptom of an aporia
in left-liberal thinking on vectoral power.

Illegal migration is globalisation from below. If the 'overdeveloped'
world refuses to trade with the underdeveloped world on fair terms, to
forgive debt, to extend credit, to lift trade barriers against food and
basic manufactured goods, then there can only be an increase in the flow
of people seeking to get inside the barriers the overdeveloped world
erects to protect its interests. While sovereignty equals self interest,
there can be no security.

The 438 people rescued by the Tampa, their very presence in this stateless
state, was testament to the absence of effective international justice.
Trade between states, taking place as it is in the absence of justice, can
only produce injustice, which in turn produces flows of people who come to
exist outside the space of justice. The most telling human critique of
globalisation is not the black-clad protesters in Seattle or Genoa, it is
the still, silent bodies of the illegals, in ships, trucks or car boots,
passing through the borders. The placeless proletariat. The involuntary

Those 438 people, which the media for the most part rendered nameless are
a critique of the limits of sovereignty. Asylum seekers are in the
paradoxical position of being a standing critique of the failings of a
regime of sovereignty, and at the same time totally dependent on finding a
state that will accept their claims to refugee status.

Some asylum seekers demand access to CNN and the internet. It is the
vectoral flow of information around the world, along ever proliferating
vectors, that creates the possibility of seeking this leave of absence
from the space of the nation and the state. The overdeveloped world feels
free to advertise its charms -- and yet withholds access to the trade in
the very goods it advertises through its domination of the trade in

The Australian state takes a hard line against asylum seekers so as not to
encourage others to test their borders. But it is the rule of the border
in general that the refugee challenges. Every state seeks to secure itself
at the expense of other states. While the Australian government deserves
special condemnation for its callous disregard for suffering, it is not
the only state that stands accused by refugees of a foreclosure of
justice. It is the justice of national sovereignty in the abstract that
the body of the asylum seeker refutes in particular. The asylum seeker is
a force in revolt against the privileges sovereignty grants us.

Many who put themselves in the way of globalisation -- the so-called
anti-globalisation movement -- do so in the name of some local and
particular demand. These demands are not always just. Why should French
farmers have more rights to grow food for the French than Brazilian
farmers? Why should American steel workers have more rights to make steel
for Americans than Polish steel workers? But that is what the return to
protectionism that many anti- globalisation protesters demand would amount
to. A demand for more local and particular privileges.

The asylum seeker, who is outside the state, rather than the local
interest, inside the state, is the body that calls upon the absence of a
global justice, who calls for it. Those who seek refuge, who are rarely
accorded a voice, are nevertheless the bodies that confront the injustice
of the world with a total critique of it. They give up their particular
claim to sovereignty and cast themselves on the waters. Only when the
world is its own refuge will their limitless demand be met.

That may be a utopian demand, but the possibility of what Hardt and Negri
call "global constitutionalism" are now firmly on the horizon.  It is
evolving out of particular interests. Clearly, a global regime of trade is
far more strongly developed than a global regime of justice. Global trade
without global justice ends up being unfair trade, trade that tries to
strengthen the sovereignty of interests within some states at the expense
of others. Global justice without global trade merely secures the
interests of the overdeveloped world against the interests of the rest.
However, these limitations to global constitutionalism are precisely the
reasons to push further, to demand a global justice adequate to the
challenge posed to it by the figure of the asylum seeker.

In his famous work on postmodernism, Jameson calls it an "effacement of
the frontier".  It was the frontier between high and low culture that he
was referring to in that context. But as is clear from his writings, this
is not the only frontier that disappears in the shift from a modern to a
postmodern sensibility. The frontier between inside and outside, on which
sovereignty is founded, is also the faultline where it founders.

While theory works out the end game of modernist fables of inside and
outside, the boundary has already imploded. It's simply not helpful to
call it hybridity, when there's no way of assigning origins to any of the
elements in cultural formations in the first place. We no longer have
roots, we have aerials. Its not helpful to propose extension to the logic
of the Panopticon, when it is not the disciplinary apparatus of
internalising an external potential for observation that is the dominant
form of power. We no longer have origins, we have terminals.

Vectoral power, which is forever exceeding the limits of the
inside/outside boundary, has been the dominant form of sovereign power
from Botany Bay to Afghanistan. What those in the old world think of as
modern power, disciplinary power, was always a subsidiary institution
built on the back of the expansive and expanding vectoral power, of which
we in the antipodes are the direct product.

As September 11th makes chillingly clear, vectoral power has broken away
from its origins in regimes of security. Even counter-powers to an
emerging regime of global constitutionalism take a vectoral form. Even
totalising negativity has become globalised. This is the great paradox of
Osama Bin Laden -- how much his anti-western rhetoric appears to mimic
very western forms of anti-modern reaction, but couple it with vectoral

So what is the progressive position in all this? These are times when two
hypocritical positions face off against each other. The right wants to
open the borders to flows of goods, but close them to flows of people; the
left wants to open the borders to flows of people, but close them to flows
of goods. Both positions rest on attempts to secure an inside against an
outside, and both partake of curious new rhetorics to achieve it.

But at the end of the day, neither position is coherent or consistent. It
makes no difference whether one discriminates against the passage of the
body of another across one's borders, or the passage of the efforts of his
or her labour. Both are discriminations, and both are, prima facie,
unjust. Thus the argument between right and left in Australia, as
elsewhere, comes down to an argument over the mode of discrimination that
secures interiority and sovereignty. Neither is a progressive position.

The debate is further muddled by the existence of a clearly more
reactionary position, one that would secure the borders and assert a
radically secured interiority against flows of both goods and bodies. By
pointing to a more reactionary position, both the right and left obscure
their compromises.

One can map these three positions as a diagram: two are progressive on one
count, and reactionary on the other; one is reactionary on both counts.
But where is the position that would count as progressive on both counts?
That is in favour of a just and open globalisation, of flows of people and
flows of the products of their labour?

Slavoj Zizek has called for the building of "transnational political
movements and institutions strong enough to constrain seriously the
unlimited rule of capital and to render visible and politically relevant
the fact that local fundamentalist resistances to the New World Order,
from Milosevic to Le Pen and the extreme right in Eruope, are part of it."  
But this doesn't go far enough to addressing the critique that the asylum
seeker poses to national sovereignty - - the total critique of a
privileging of the insider over the outsider -- a privileging of which the
trans- national anti-globalisation movement is not entirely innocent.

As Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, say: "perhaps the flows are not yet
deterritorialised enough, not decoded enough...". Perhaps one needs "to go
further". Globalisation as it exists may offend the reactionary left as
much as the reactionary right, but "the truth is that we haven't seen
anything yet."

What if we have not thought far enough down the road to what Deleuze and
Guattari call deterritorialisation? This is the call to which I would like
to answer, and that I think the body of the asylum seeker calls us. Where
can the asylum seeker actually find asylum? She or he cannot find it where
they seek it. It is surely better to be admitted to the country than to
languish in detention, but there is no guarantee of security even if one
gets inside the border. In the US, Arabs, even Sikhs, have been assaulted,
even killed, over the panicky need to police the interior of sovereignty.

It is right and necessary to draw attention to the racist dimension in
these attacks. But race, as left-liberals understand it, is no longer an
adequate category for understanding injustice, either within the space of
sovereignty, or without.

The deployment of race is changing. What the asylum seeker confronts
everywhere is what Balibar calls "racism without race". The global
constitution as it stands recognises states as sovereign, but no longer
associates the state with a nation as a one to one relationship.

One of the perverse developments in cultural practice around the world is
the rarity with which racism is now explicitly argued in terms of race.
Even racists have understood and adopted the social constructionist
critique of the essentialism of race. Now almost everyone is agreed that
differences are socially and culturally constructed -- even racists. The
difference now is between those who see differences as something that can
coexist, and those who don't.

Race is not the problem; sovereignty is the problem. Sovereignty purged of
its racist baggage, sovereignty with a culturalist, even multicultural
rhetoric, is still an obstacle to justice. This is a big problem for the
Australian left -- seeing through its complicity with sovereignty,
critiquing the form in which it understands multiculturalism, and thinking
instead of a global justice.

As Michel Feher argues, a striking characteristic of the (non) responses
to the Bosnian and Rwandan crises on the part of a would-be system of
global justice is the extent to which policies of inaction were justified
in culturalist terms.  Due to the supposedly intractable historical roots
of cultural differences in the Balkans, there's nothing one can do but sit
on one's hands. One simply takes at face value the claims and counter
claims of competing cultural groups, one acts as a 'peacekeeper' for a
non-existent peace, and by default lends support to the more aggressive
party, by virtue of treating the parties as equal -- but different.

The monstrous policies of NATO powers in the Balkans faced only a very
incoherent and inconsistent critique from the left. On the one hand, when
they failed to act, the western powers would be accused of neglecting
genocide. On the other hand, when they did act, they were accused of
acting like imperialists. There were exceptions, but all too often, what
one got was hardly a consistent critique of modern sovereignty.

The world won't wait for politics any more than it will wait for theory.
Whether one backs intervention -- let's say, in Afghanistan -- or opposes
it, either way, the "effacement of the frontier" proceeds apace. Either
there are interventions in oppressive states, thus challenging their
sovereignty; or there are flows of asylum seekers, thus challenging ours.

Either way, social forces are emerging that push against the limits of
sovereignty. Two kinds of social forces are abstracting themselves from
local and contingent ties, and may have an interest in a new global
justice. One does not do so entirely by choice. The asylum seeker runs out
of options, and while he or she chooses flight, it is hardly against the
background of a wealth of choices. Nevertheless, the asylum seeker is a
social force that challenges the form of the nation state. The asylum
seeker is an objective challenge to sovereignty, a vectoral challenge.
Nothing depends on the asylum seeker's identity, only on his or her

There is another social force that breaks out of the bounds of national
sovereignty, but unlike Negri and Hardt I don't see it as a resurgent
mobilisation of the labouring and multiple masses. Marxists always say
that the concept of class will make a comeback -- and for once I agree.
But in much of the 'overdeveloped' world, the labour movement cut a deal
with capital within a protected national market. While the envelope of the
nation appeared relatively secure, people worried instead about the
envelopes of communal or self identity. The cultural politics of racism
without race emerges out of the shelter of an historic compromise between
labour and capital, which lasted from the 40s to the 70s.

With the class compromise secured, other differences became points of
antagonism. But in the 80s and 90s, class is back on the agenda, partly
because of the success capital has enjoyed in breaking out of its national
compacts, and decamping to the newly industrialising world. But also in
part because of new developments, as yet barely understood.

Deleuze and Guattari once argued that "it is capitalism that is at the end
of history, it is capitalism that results from a long history of
contingencies and accidents, and that brings on this end..."  But there is
a tension in their historical thinking between the notion of capital as
the end of history, and the possibility of the world becoming still more

I would argue that the abstraction of the world is a process without end,
but one that has taken a significant leap beyond the abstraction of
capital already. First land, then moveable property, then information have
formed the basis of regime of commodity production and accumulation.

Let's not forget that in much of the underdeveloped world, accumulation
based on land as property is still going on. Its conflict with the
overdeveloped world accounts for two of the great global struggles of our
time. Agricultural accumulation seeks to open the markets of the
overdeveloped world, against the stubborn resistance of the
state-protected farmers in Europe, America and Japan.

The other great movement for land based accumulation is resource based.
Here the overdeveloped world acts to secure its interests at the expense
of the sovereignty of the underdeveloped world. One great exception is the
OPEC cartel, which succeeded in securing a rent from a partial resource
monopoly, but at the expense of the arrested development of the commodity
economy of the oil- dependent states.

Accumulation based on capital as property is -- curiously -- migrating out
of the overdeveloped world, into the newly developed world. If you buy a
car or a computer, chances are a lot of it was made in Korea or Taiwan. If
you buy sneakers or a sweater, chances are it was made in Indonesia or
China. The brand name might say Honda or Nike or Sony or Apple, but
increasingly the wealth of these corporations is invested in the
intellectual property it commands -- its trademarks, patents and
copyrights, not in the making of things, which is of so little strategic
importance to these companies that it can be contracted out elsewhere.

So what does the accumulation of wealth in the overdeveloped world
increasingly rest on? Not land or capital as property, but information.
And not just on intellectual property, but on the capacity to realise its
value, in other words on communication vectors, on a vectoral power
breaking free from regimes of security.

But media vectors have gone beyond troubling the boundaries of self and
community, and now trouble national boundaries just as much. The
proliferation of ever faster, cheaper, more flexible media vectors with a
more and more global reach makes possible the colonisation of more
extensive spaces by commodity relations. The national space, and the
national compromise between labour and capital comes undone. So too as the
international space, as a space governed by rival national sovereignties.

This shifts the anxiety toward one of two options. Either towards a
resurgent nationalism, or towards a resurgent class awareness. Either one
fends off one's anxiety about the permeable borders of the nation,
community, and self by hardening the national boundary against the other.
Or one follows the vectoral line that traverses self, community and nation
and discovers the class interest that potentially forms along it. One
either demands more boundary, or one starts to question who owns and
controls the vectors that both traverse and incite the boundary.

This is the problem that bedevils the 'anti- globalisation' movement
which, even on the left, falls into anxiety about borders rather than
seeking a New Deal for the vectoralisation of space, one that abandons the
dialectic of inside and outside and takes up instead an embracing of the
vector. An open world with plural forms of ownership, not just private
ownership, in which justice and well being has a place alongside profit
and 'productivity'.

But we need a new concept of class to grasp vectoralisation. Marxists
still think only of the force of production, steel and concrete, as being
material. The forces of communication -- media vectors -- are also
material. And like the forces of production, they and their products can
be turned into property -- intellectual property. If commodification
starts with the enclosure of land, continues with the accumulation of
capital goods as private property, its next phase grows out of
intellectual property.

The commodification of information, which begins to accelerate with the
invention of the telegraph, has two dimensions, a technical and a legal
one, both form the basis of a new regime of accumulation, and, arguably, a
new kind of ruling class. No longer a pastoralist ruling class, extracting
rent from landed property, no longer a capitalist class, extracting
profits from fungible things as property, but what I would call a
vectoralist class, whose accumulation of wealth is based on ownership and
control of information.

If the asylum seekers are globalisation from below, then the vectoral
class is most definitely globalisation from above. With its rise to power
within the ruling block, the ruling block as a whole frees itself in an
unprecedented way from all local and contingent constraints. The vectoral
ruling interest provides the means for other branches of the ruling class
to extract themselves from national compacts with subordinate classes. It
is not quite, as Ghassan Hage says, the capital becomes transcendental,
rather it is that a vectoral class-power transcends the limits of capital,
abstracting commodification still further.

Pop open the back of your television, and you will find components from
Ireland, Nigeria, Indonesia or Peru. Pop open a television of the same
make made a year later, and the same components may be from Hungary and
China. The sourcing of components may be based on nothing more than
fluctuating exchange rates, or slight variations in the spot markets for
capacitors. Either way, it's the technologies and services of the vectoral
class that create the imaginary 'global' space within which these
components are traded.

Australians as a whole have done pretty well out of this vectoralisation
of the globe. In the 19th century, the country grew rich as an
agricultural exporter, in the 20th, as a mineral exporter. In this
dependent part of the world, the pastoral class long dominated the ruling
block. In the late 20th century, Australia experienced a crisis in its
relation to the world. Its security appeared to be threatened by the
declining terms of trade in its primary commodity exports.

Ironically, just as the proliferation of peripheral states which faced the
world as primary producers undermined Australia's trade with the world;
the proliferation of peripheral states that faced the world as secondary
producers is restoring the terms of trade. Manufactured goods are now also
falling in price. The falling prices for Australian primary exports is
offset by declines in falling prices for manufactured imports.

However, both primary and secondary producers in the peripheral world
confront the overdeveloped world of Europe-USA-Japan which secure their
internal class compromises at the expense of peripheral states. Peripheral
states also confront a new global ruling class, which uses its monopoly
over intellectual property as a form of imperial leverage. And the
peripheral world also confronts what one might call the undevelopable
world -- those states now left out of all pretense of incorporation in a
vectoral space of trade and security.

Part of the challenge for the left-liberal position is to put the illegals
in the context of these three linked developments, to prevent the collapse
of the issues of globalisation into the demand for a new disciplinary
response for the illegals, who are just an element of this larger pattern
of development. Punishing the bodies who are globalisation from below does
nothing to address the inequities posed by globalisation from above. But
ultimately, the refuge-seeker poses just as much of a challenge to
left-liberal discourses that have not thought through their investments in

Notes: 1.  Guy Rundle, 'The Opportunist', Quarterly Essay, No 3, 2001

2.  Anthony Burke, In Fear of Security, Pluto Press Australia, Sydney,

3.  Giorgio Agamben, 'On Security and Terror', 0/Yes: Make World Festival,
October 2001, p2

4. Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, Oxford University
Press, Melbourne, 1961

5. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press,
Cambrdige, 2000, p7

6. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism, Verso, London, 1991, p2

7. Slavoj Zizek, 'Against the Double Blackmail', The Nation, 24th may
1999, p22

8.  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, pp239-240

9. Michel Feher, Powerless By Design, Duke University Press, Durham, 2000

10. Anti-Oedipus, p153

11. Ghassan Hage, 'The Shrinking Society', 0/Yes: Make World Festival,
October 2001, p12

[This paper was originally given at the Nation/States conference,
University of Adelaide. Thanks to Catherine Driscoll for the invitation.]


                   ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

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