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Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection [Kindle Edition]

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A wheel turns because of its encounter with the surface of the road; spinning in the air it goes nowhere. Rubbing two sticks together produces heat and light; one stick alone is just a stick. In both cases, it is friction that produces movement, action, effect. Challenging the widespread view that globalization invariably signifies a "clash" of cultures, anthropologist Anna Tsing here develops friction in its place as a metaphor for the diverse and conflicting social interactions that make up our contemporary world.

She focuses on one particular "zone of awkward engagement"--the rainforests of Indonesia--where in the 1980s and the 1990s capitalist interests increasingly reshaped the landscape not so much through corporate design as through awkward chains of legal and illegal entrepreneurs that wrested the land from previous claimants, creating resources for distant markets. In response, environmental movements arose to defend the rainforests and the communities of people who live in them. Not confined to a village, a province, or a nation, the social drama of the Indonesian rainforest includes local and national environmentalists, international science, North American investors, advocates for Brazilian rubber tappers, UN funding agencies, mountaineers, village elders, and urban students, among others--all combining in unpredictable, messy misunderstandings, but misunderstandings that sometimes work out.

Providing a portfolio of methods to study global interconnections, Tsing shows how curious and creative cultural differences are in the grip of worldly encounter, and how much is overlooked in contemporary theories of the global.

Editorial Reviews


Co-Winner of the 2005 Senior Book Prize, American Ethnological Association

"Friction is an original, nuanced, and elegant work of ethnography and a significant contribution to the areas of globalization; environment and natural resource wars; the politics of indigenous peoples, NGOs, and development; and the sociology of expert versus local knowledge."--Michael Goldman, American Journal of Sociology

"By providing generous anecdotes and personal reflections amid more complex, insightful political commentary and social theory, [Tsing] achieves a writing style that is both pleasurable and informative."--Laura L B Graham, Environment & Planning

From the Inside Flap

"Friction is not only an engrossing display of ethnographic reports on the destruction of Kalimantan forests and local attempts to resist it. The book also proposes a highly original perspective of the global thrust of capital. Anna Tsing is at best when she describes the way capital produces an expanding 'frontier culture': a dense and murky story of fragments and fluidity, of hurdles and clashes that disrupt the neo-liberal theater of clarity. For an Indonesian reader, her work is a gift; it hints at the feasibility of hope--or at least the mingling of despair and hope. For a thinking activist, it suggests a fresh theory of action. Introducing the notion of 'engaged universals,' it brings home the role of 'utopian critiques.'"--Goenawan Mohamad, author of Conversations with Difference

"Friction is a wonderful, moving, absolutely beautiful book. One of the most important books in anthropology to appear in the past decade, it defines a field rather than simply fitting into one. This is the first sustained ethnography by a major anthropologist of Indonesia to address the post-Soeharto period. For those of us now attempting to come to terms with a strange political landscape of instability, Tsing offers both illuminating insight and useful tools. Ethnographically rigorous, brilliantly perceptive, and passionately engaged, this is the kind of writing we would all like to be able to produce."--Mary Steedly, Harvard University, author of Hanging without a Rope

"Recently, many have written about a 'clash' of civilizations, ideas, knowledges, and cultural formations. Tsings brilliant innovation in this book is to talk in terms of 'collaboration' rather than conflict. One of the many enjoyable aspects of Friction is its continuation of the story Tsing introduced in her previous book, of the original and creative program of scholarship she is famously known for. This will be a much-discussed contribution to the anthropology of cosmopolitanism and transnational interconnection."--Celia Lowe, University of Washington

Product Details

  • File Size: 1432 KB
  • Print Length: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 23, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006ITP0UC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,544 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes! This is how it's done. February 8, 2010
By oxalis
I picked this up from the city library after a professor showed it to me, admitting she hadn't read it; what a good decision that was! I bought a copy a few weeks later. At this point, I've probably read 'Friction' three times, and once or twice a year I'll pull it off the shelf to graze through Tsing's accomplished prose and absolutely jam-packed observations.

'Friction' deals with conflict in the rainforest of Indonesia, but that is a superficial description of a book that reads like a hero-less political thriller set in a multitudinous, global carnival of atrocity, adaptation, and survival. Tsing includes a large cast here: indigenous, rainforest communities, black market loggers, hikers, special forces units, environmentalists, multinationals, NGOs, political parties, and so on. Remarkably, none of these groups are left out as the book comes together. Rather, the reader is treated to a smooth description of the connections that are threaded between all of them, however insignificant they may have first appeared.

I am not sure that Tsing's concept of friction (the cultural co-formation occurring in global economy) is really original or functional enough to merit its role as title. It's an old concept that has worn different clothes (eg, 'creative destruction'). However, this is just a quibble, as Tsing also forwards a range of theoretical propositions that succeed in elaborating both her research subjects and a tentative sense of hope. Trees are social networks, 'universals' are promiscuous jet-setters, and utopias are valid rallying cries in apocalyptic landscapes of environmental devastation.

Tsing should be, and has been, praised for her restrained prose, which allows events to convey their moral impact without subjecting the reader to a sermon.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, Original, Important, Useful, Timely December 29, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is quite an astonishing book, absorbing, original. Although isolated from the literatures of predatory capitalism, moral natural green economics, and collective intelligence and social network wealth creation, I fix that with some links at the end of this review.

This is a very original and valuable work that merits a full reading and massive replication across millions of localities.

Here are my most important fly-leaf notes.

+ An original view at the conflicts and collaborations between predatory business practices (often combining bribery to obtain local armed force) and indigenous rights and natural resource claims.

+ Proposes a new form of global respect for cultural diversity and ethnic indigenous rights and innovative possibilities. Clearly appreciates E. O. Wilson's 1996 declaration of the importance of diversity as an engine and catalyst for human progress and prosperity.

+ Charming and stimulating discussion of how the forest is a social network above a natural network.

+ Author describes the ethnographic method as one that seeks out the odd couplings, the odd connections instead of seeking to create global generalizations.

+ Culturally-rooted odd connections are a source of cultural production.

+ Cultural and political delimitation is more successful and more sustainable than global camapaigns that demand generalizations applied to all localities, and fail to reflect nuances and differentiation (e.g. good coal emissions versus bad coal emissions).

+ Trenchant discussion and definitions of prosperity (disparities between fortunes for the few and scarcity for the many); knowledge (unequally distributed); and freedom (more for the few and less for the many).
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, eye-opening, public-minded anthropology October 23, 2007
By Aristo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was surprised to see no review of this book, so I had to write one. It has many interesting facets, but at its core is a vivid and sometimes heart-breaking portrayal of the true face of "globalization" - not the shining abstraction of Thomas Friedman's dreams but a capricious force that scrapes over landscapes, natural environments, and the societies that live in them and often leaves them devastated in the name of progress.

I rarely use the word beautiful to describe an ethnography, but this is one such case.I really think this book deserves a wider public outside anthropology; Tsing's insightful observations on the sad fate of Kalimantan should be a lesson to all those who think unfettered free markets and the global economy are the route to salvation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new view of lookng at the Global Community November 29, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent author. College students in traditional age bracket found it difficult reading because it has some heady thought lines and she writes from a different perspective than many anthropologists. Suggest reading this interesting case study on Indonesia's native people on the former island of Borneo, now Kalimantan Indonesia, and their cultural, economic, and social struggles as the outside world invaded their forrest homeland to mine it for natural resources. Government corruption, abusive soldiers, student activists, and international environmental organizations all are included in the storyline.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Useful September 15, 2011
This is a fascinating and useful book. It certainly changed how I think about globalization, about environmentalism, and about the usefulness of anthropology for the study of large-scale processes. The long introduction is more than worth the price of the book. I say the book is useful because I found applications all around me for Tsing's conceptual framework. The concepts she applied to her work in the forests of Indonesia applied easily to my work in the media beehive of Manhattan.
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