Introduction to New Left Review 45
Aselection of the most pressing political questions of the moment might include the following: should women wear headscarves? May we buy and sell our bodily organs? How can we control the weather? The questions sound almost frivolous, and they are certainly not matters on which the canonical texts and traditions of political theory give much purchase. (What is a conservative position on the hijab? A socialist view of organ harvesting? A liberal policy on climate change?) That such issues should simultaneously be among the most debated of our time suggests a fundamental transformation in the landscape of politics.
The change is the result of technological advances that have enhanced our ability to travel, communicate and modify ourselves and our environment, yet the specifically political challenge posed by these developments comes from their global reach, and their widely differing impact on diverse populations. A few years ago, the issues arising from this transformation were routinely subsumed under the rubric of globalization, which, for both its proponents and detractors, hinged on the relationship between the global and the local. Now, many are considered biopolitical in the sense that they are produced through interactions of political power with the private and the corporeal. Almost imperceptibly, globalization has become biopolitics, the pivot between the two 9/11 and the global state of emergency known as ‘the war on terror’.
The invitation to guest-edit a special issue of New Left Review offers the opportunity to explore the inter-relationships between these themes. Rather than allowing one to slide into the other, nlr 45 juxtaposes the two. Globalization and biopolitics need to be differentiated if we are to grasp the connections between them, and also to understand why the activism associated with the former has been transformed into the passivity characteristic of the latter.
Several of the articles that follow return to themes associated with globalization and its ambiguous import for human development. Though the ‘war on terror’ has had a devastating impact on participants and bystanders, for most people, as the sequence of articles by
Globalization collapses the distinction between public and private, and in the mutual interaction of nature and culture, private and public eventually dissolve as well.
Within the shadowy territory defined by the simultaneous interaction of public and private, nature and culture, new agents and forms of agency are becoming discernible.
If climate change is the paradigmatic issue of the new politics, it is also a reminder that life is coproduced with death.