Becoming Modern: Capitalism, Agency, and the Left in Neoliberal Chile

Stephen B. Crofts Wiley

Ph.D. Candidate
Institute of Communications Research
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

copyright © 1997 by the author

February 15, 1997

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In Chile, a significant segment of the left has moved into the state and finds itself co-governing one of the most radically capitalist societies in Latin America. Beginning in the late 1980s, the Socialist Party (PS) and the Pro-Democracy Party (PPD)--including many former members of Salvador Allende's socialist Popular Unity government--joined forces with the centrist Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and various smaller center-left parties to form the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia. The Concertación defeated General Augusto Pinochet in a national plebiscite in 1988 and went on to win the presidency and a majority of lower-house congressional seats in 1989 and 1993. Today, Socialist Party and PPD members hold key positions in the Concertación government of President Eduardo Frei, including the ministries of Labor, Planning, Public Works, Foreign Relations, and Secretary-General of the Government. [1]

These segments of the Chilean left have explicitly accepted the liberal-democratic "rules of the game" and have agreed to work within the political and economic parameters of a fiscally conservative state in an export-oriented, open-market capitalist society. Like many other members of the European and Latin American left generally, the Chileans have argued that a pragmatic, pluralist turn is necessary in socialist strategy. They espouse a new respect for formal democracy, claiming that Chileans are tired of the ideological polarization, social conflict, and violence that characterized political struggles of the 1960s and 70s. While attempting to widen the spaces of debate about social policy, labor, the regulatory role of the state, and other contemporary issues, they accept the basic liberal argument that it is time for an "end of ideology"--of utopian discourses and revolutionary strategies. [2]

The Chilean context raises fundamental questions for the left in general and for cultural studies and postcolonial theory in particular. What should be the stance of the left toward modern forms of power--toward capitalism and the national state? What are the strategic possibilities and limitations of the national state as a site of political organization and struggle? And more broadly, how should political agency be conceptualized in the new context of triumphant of global capitalism and accelerating economic, technological, and political interdependence?

While the Chilean socialists are confronting these questions directly and pragmatically from the within the postcolonial state itself, many cosmopolitan intellectuals continue to take refuge in the apparent radicalism of theoretical critique, evading a commitment to a concrete politics of engagement with the central forms of modern power.[3] I argue that it is time to address these questions constructively, drawing on the conceptual resources of postcolonial theory and cultural studies not merely to deconstruct from an imagined space outside modernity, but to articulate a pragmatic, engaged project for the left. Central to such a project is the need to reconceptualize political agency and its relation to the state and the market.

In what follows, I use the contemporary Chilean context as a perspective from which to examine how the nation-state and its relations to global capitalism are constructed in two key discursive formations--in the dominant discourses of contemporary modernization theory that hegemonize current mainstream debates about development policy, and in the critical discourses of cultural studies and postcolonialism, which circulate in spaces that are relatively marginal to the policymaking process.[4] I then offer a critique of both of these stances and propose an alternative perspective based on the concept of "assembled agency." I end by returning to the Chilean context and posing a series of questions about the ways in which the nation-state is articulated as a cultural and political space, and about the ways in which political agency, and particularly left political agency, is constructed in that space.[5]

Becoming modern: the hegemonic formation
Development policy debates in and on Chile, most academic analyses, and all mainstream US media accounts comprise a dominant discursive formation grounded in the neoliberal concept of "modernization." [6] Consider the following account of Chile's recent economic success, from a January 1990 issue of The Boston Globe:

Good news has abounded in recent years in this sliver of a country. Stretched along the Pacific Ocean on an area roughly twice the size of California, Chile has become the Latin American jaguar, an economic powerhouse that in the past decade has recorded the world's fourth-fastest growth rate--behind only Asian tigers, Thailand, South Korea and China. . . . Chilean society is still haunted by the high price the country had to pay for its economic rebirth. [General Augusto] Pinochet shattered the country's long and proud democratic tradition and ruined its image abroad. Even so, most Chileans are united on what has brought them prosperity and peace and puts them ahead of the rest of the Latin pack. For a country that was polarized between the left and right from the late 1950s through the 1970s, Chilean society seems to have come to a consensus about the rules of the game. Chile works-- that's the motto the Chamber of Commerce uses to sell the country. And looking around it certainly seems to --from its first-rate telephone system to Santiago's spic and span subway to the ubiquitous automatic teller machines. [7]

Although the language is usually more reserved and the attention to detailed policy issues and performance measures is obviously greater, a very similar form of modernization discourse dominates international academic and policy debates about development. These debates are cast in the language of the US social sciences and circulate in scholarly journals and books; university-sponsored conferences; in the various documents issued by international non-governmental organizations such as the Institute of the Americas, the World Bank, the IMF, UNCTAD, UN-ECLA (the UN Economic Commission for Latin America) , and the IDB; and in research institutes close to the Chilean policymaking process, such as CIEPLAN (Corporación de Investigaciones Económicas para Latinoamérica). Certain themes arouse disagreement and debate, but what is most striking is the general consensus in Latin American development debate produced by the hegemony of neoliberalism. Two fragments, the first from an Institute of the Americas conference and the second from a CIEPLAN conference, will serve as illustrative examples:

The foreign investor, once nationalized and almost declared obsolete, has become a critical player in Latin America's drive for modernization and renewed growth. And the debt- laden state enterprise, once portrayed as the Latin substitute for foreign equity investment, is being privatized virtually everywhere in Latin America. . . . Privatization and openness to foreign investment are fundamental parts of Latin America's new approach to economic growth, an approach that is bringing the region out of the stagnation in which the turgid inflexibilities of state capitalism left it mired. The new approach has also thrived on Latin America's disillusionment with big government and on the modern political philosophy of the region's leadership and people. . . .[8]

Clearly, we are betting on the open economy; we are betting on the process of modernization of the Chilean economy and on the most complete integration possible of the economy into the world markets. We are betting that the increases in productivity will be the motor of the modernization process [and] that the modernization process will rest, to a significant degree, on the ability of Chilean entrepreneurs to meet that challenge . . . . We are betting that our entrepreneurs will be able to insert themselves into much more sophisticated processes and phases in order to become competitive in the manufacturing sector. We are betting that we will be able to raise, for example, the productivity of small-scale agriculture in order to truly incorporate it into the export process; that we will permanently raise the workforce's ability to use new technologies; [and] that we will do all those things that create a modern economy in order to be successful in the world markets by the end of the 20th century . . . .[9]

As these examples illustrate, modernization discourse is structured by a narrative of progress which operates according to what Lawrence Grossberg has called "a temporalizing logic and a particular form of temporality" (Grossberg 1993). In other words, we are to understand modern life as a story of temporal progress along a linear path--progress which is defined in relation to the putative history of the Western European countries and the United States. Countries are treated as autonomous entities moving along parallel paths toward adoption of the political, economic, and cultural forms that allegedly characterize the North Atlantic societies. This is modernity as an animal race: Southeast Asian tigers in the lead, Chile-- the "Latin American jaguar"--close behind, followed by "the rest of the pack." The contenders are measured by their rate of economic growth, and investors are invited to bet on the outcome.

The form of this temporal progression is defined by the movement from one pole of a dichotomy to the other, a dichotomy based largely on the geopolitical and ideological conflicts of the Cold War. Modernization means moving from socialism ("the past") to capitalism ("the future"), from ideological conflict to pluralism and consensus, from the state as agent of development to the market as agent, from military rule to democracy, from isolation and protectionism to openness and global integration, from technological "backwardness" to technological sophistication, from inefficiency to efficiency. To the extent that a particular country abandons one side of the dichotomy and embraces the other, it is said to progress toward modernity.

Furthermore, because the path toward modernity is basically the same for everyone, countries that are "farther along" the road can serve as models for those just getting started. If "Chile works," other countries ought to treat it as a model and learn from its success. Thus the neoliberal discourse about Chile serves, in the international development debate and in the US press, especially, as an exemplary case to demonstrate the validity of this particular vision of modernity. In short, this is a discourse about modernity in which the players are individual countries moving along parallel paths toward a common goal, and that goal is defined by the political, economic, and cultural characteristics of the US and the western European countries. "Becoming modern" is becoming more and more like the US.

Although the Chilean left has sought to widen the range of issues open for discussion, debate, and policymaking--to include concepts such as "equity" and "participation" in the definition of modernization--it has fundamentally restructured its political and moral discourse to conform with the dominant neoliberal vision.[10] Leading Concertación socialists have explicitly endorsed the open-market fiscal conservatism established under General Pinochet and have sought to "continue the process of modernization" of the state with further privatizations, tariff reductions, openness to foreign investment, and political decentralization. While they have emphasized the importance of education, health care, and labor rights, and have some success in securing modest funding increases for such reforms, these socialists do accept the fundamental tenets of neoliberalism--that the national economy should be oriented and structured by the demands of the global market, and that the primary role of the state is to facilitate that process. [11]

Furthermore, to the extent that they do retain their traditional concerns for equality and basic human rights, it is within the context of the temporal, nationalist discourse of modernization: more equitable distribution of wealth, greater equality of opportunity, and improved health and education are justified as aspects of "becoming modern." Gone are the critical, relational analyses of the place of the nation within the global economy developed in the 1960s by the dependencia theorists, and gone is the traditional socialist emphasis on the people--el pueblo--as the protagonist of change. Within the dominant neoliberal discourse of modernization, "socialism" has become a kinder, gentler capitalism.

Becoming marginal: the limits of critical theory
The national state is conceptualized rather differently in Marxist political economy, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies--intellectual discourses which I refer to collectively as a critical discursive formation. These approaches are explicitly critical of the dominant, neoliberal discourse. They focus, generally, on the ways in which the nation-state and discourses of modernization construct and maintain oppressive modern forms of power. In order to examine the basic contours of this discursive formation, I place a wide range of theoretical positions into a classificatory schema and briefly discuss the ways in which the space of the national is configured by each approach. I refer to these three approaches respectively as contextualist, globalist, and postcolonialist.

Contextualist discourses. The first of these formations is termed "contextualist" because accounts of the nation within it deny the possibility of theorizing outside one's context, which is usually defined as geographical and cultural location, and often as the nation itself (e.g. Carey 1988, Bennett 1992, Turner 1992, Ang and Stratton 1996, Morris 1992, Gibbons 1992). These accounts often explicitly criticize the "grand narratives" of "Eurocentric theory"--whether dominant, such as the modernization discourse, or critical, such as Marxist and postcolonialist discourses--as inadequate, inappropriate to the particular context, and imperialistic (Gibbons 1992, Morris 1992). They criticize the characteristic Eurocentric discourse of universal questions and universal answers--for example, critiques of "the nation" per se without reference to any specific context (Gibbons 1992).

Instead, they argue, cultural studies should be more context-specific, accepting radical difference, and engaging local contexts constructively, but without losing sight of the regional and global relations that intersect the specific context. The nation should not be seen as a primordial or essential identity, but it as a useful and perhaps necessary site of work and theory, in the double sense, of informing our conceptual categories (West 1991, Carey 1988) and being the primary site of politics (Bennett 1992, Carey 1988). In Morris's (1992) terms, it is "a difference to be constructed," a difference that is justifiable in the present global context of European and US cultural hegemony (Turner 1992, Morris 1992).

In terms of practice, these accounts are generally engaged and pragmatic, though they may differ radically in terms of epistemology and history. Bennett (1992), Carey (1988), Morris (1992), and Gibbons (1992), for example, share a commitment to engage in "the national" in concrete, practical ways, but Bennett is a Foucauldian (turning Foucault's archeology into an administrative project of national cultural policy), while Carey is an American pragmatist influenced by John Dewey and Clifford Geertz and calling for an engagement of cultural studies with the issues of national public debate. Morris is a Deleuzean feminist for whom the nation is a context articulated in the midst of various discursive, economic, and political flows. Gibbons' (1992) approach is historical, but he uses Derrida to criticize Eurocentric assumptions about nationality and analyzes the Irish resistance of the 18th and early 19th centuries in rhizomatic terms.

Contextualist approaches all take the nation as the context of their work, but they approach it in different ways. Within the contextualist approach, we can identify three basic positions (although some theorists occupy more than one simultaneously). The first perspective is concerned with analyzing national media and their role in constituting or expressing national identity. They may characterize national media as "hegemonic," stressing the ideological character of communications, (e.g. Gitlin [1980] on hegemony; Morley [1992] and others' early work, at the Birmingham Centre, on the Nationwide audience) or as "cultural," focusing on the integrative effects of the media (e.g. Newcomb and Hirsch's notion of television as a national forum; Fiske and Hartley's concept of "bardic" television; Carey on American journalism as (failing to serve as) the space in which community is constructed, renewed, repaired, and reformed).

A second perspective within the contextualist approach argues that the nation (or national state) should be the focus of political engagement. Here, obviously, we would locate Bennett and others in the Australian policy position (Ian Hunter, Stuart Cunningham), but also the arguments of Morris (1992), Ang and Stratton (1996), Turner (1992), and others for whom Australian cultural studies can be seen as an anti-imperialist project. In this perspective, the nation is defined, largely, in institutional terms; intellectual practice is seen, in one way or another, as policy work--as engagement with the apparatuses of administration that govern the cultural practices of the nation, or as engagement with those practices directly.

The third perspective characterizes the nation as a context to be constructed and/or recognized. Here I would place Ang and Stratton's (1996) notion of Australia as a strategic discursive formation; Morris's (1992) "Australian Ordinary" as a cultural terrain worth fighting over; and Carey's (1988) argument that national societies have peculiar "idioms," making certain "foreign" theoretical and public languages inappropriate. Denzin's (1992) use of psychoanalytic/symbolic interactionist terms to analyze the American national imaginary as a "cinematic society" also shares this perspective.

These different forms of the contextualist approach also differ in terms of intellectual and political practice. Some emphasize critical analysis (e.g. Gitlin 1980), while others focus on policy and political intervention (e.g. Bennett 1992). In general, however, contextualist analyses of the nation are not focused on transnational or subnational processes (except as they are managed by the national); this is both their strength (because it allows for greater historical/geographical specificity) and their weakness (because it may over-estimate the significance of national, as opposed to transnational or subnational, processes). Many of the contextualist analyses are very sensitive to neocolonialist issues of cultural and political imperialism, but they are often less clear--or completely silent--about the relationship of national formations to capitalism. Those theorists who do undertake serious analyses of capitalism as a transnational phenomenon (e.g. Grossberg 1993) often do not adequately connect their arguments about global capitalism to their analyses of the national.

Globalist discourses. A second approach within the critical discursive formation can be described as "globalist." Characteristic of this formation is the discursive move to de-center the nation by placing it (and post-colonialist and contextualist discourses about it) in the context of an account of global processes. Ahmad (1992), for example, characterizes postcolonialist and "Third-Worldist" criticism as a romantic, disengaged, textualist ideology of globally mobile intellectuals whose national and institutional positions insulate them from the real struggles of neo-imperialism. Grossberg (1993), less stridently, argues that both national and post-colonial analyses are predicated on modernist assumptions about identity difference. Such analyses must be understood, instead, in relation to a new global organization of capitalism that is redefining space and place and making difference itself an expression of capital as money. Chen (1996), similarly, criticizes Ang and Stratton's (1996) use of the nation as an analytical and political category, arguing, with Schiller (1991), that it is "not yet the post-imperialist era"--in other words, we cannot base our analyses or our political projects on the nation because it is an inextricable element of unjust neocolonial relations of power. Appadurai (1990), on the other hand, calls for a completely new theory of identity based on the articulations of global flows of people, media, ideology, and capital--flows which are seen as a radical departure from older, slower, more limited movements.

Thus within the globalist formation, there is a good deal of disagreement about how the global context should be defined. For some, it is a radically new (postmodern) reconfiguration of the globe (Baudrillard, Appadurai 1990, Hall 1993--in certain moments). For others, it is better described as a process of reorganization (of capitalism, imperialism) in which older relations of power and inequality are largely re-inscribed (Harvey 1989, Chen 1996, James 1984, Wolf 1982). In other words, should we place the emphasis on the "post" or on the "modern"? Another type of globalist work shares the basic historical assumptions typical of this formation but focuses on more historically and geographically specific studies of the articulation of "national spaces." Here I would locate Morley (1992), Morley and Robins (1995), and Hay's (1993) recent work on Italian television and the reorganization of media spaces. These sorts of analyses vary according to the degree to which they attend to the articulations of the specific context to a more global narrative; they tend to acknowledge a general restructuring of culture/technology as a preface to the concrete account of a specific constructed national space.

Postcolonialist discourses. The third major approach within the critical discursive formation is postcolonialist. This approach uses an implicit grand narrative of colonialism and neo-colonialism to criticize the Eurocentrism of both the dominant modernization discourse and the other approaches within the critical formation. Spivak (1988) and Young (1990), for example, take European Marxism to task for its complicity in the Hegelian dialectic of the same and the other, in which the modern self (reason, progress, etc.) is defined in negative relation to an other. Similarly, analyses of "the nation" tout court (e.g. Anderson 1983, Williams 1961) are criticized for failing to recognize the imperialist pre- conditions (political, economic, and discursive) of the European nation. Postcolonialist discourses can be organized into three genres, varying according to the extremism of their Derrideanism.

The first and most Derridean is the critique of Eurocentrism (Amin 1989, Said 1978, Spivak 1988, Young 1990, Chakrabarty 1992, Chatterjee 1986). These theorists are concerned primarily with deconstructing Eurocentric history while arguing, paradoxically, that all history is Eurocentric because of the implication of structures of knowledge (institutional and conceptual) in relations of colonialism and neo-colonialism. These accounts are generally suspect of the nation, seeing it as a Eurocentric category/political form that depends, necessarily, on an exclusionary logic of difference and thus marginalizes/silences the subaltern populations and voices it colonizes.

A second genre of postcolonialist discourse takes as its object various figures of hybridity that emerge in the interstices of colonial or neocolonial knowledge and power in the interaction of the dominant with the subaltern (e.g. Bhabha 1990, Minh-ha 1989, Anzaldúa 1987). This is a slightly more optimistic version of the critique of Eurocentrism, in the sense that it attempts to theorize an "other" space outside of Eurocentric power. The forms of alternative identity it upholds, however ("hybridity," "mimicry," "ambivalence," the "Third Space," etc.), are still defined, usually, as derivative of and resistant to nationalitarian forms of power and discourse.

A third genre that is connected to--if not fully within the epistemological terrain of--postcolonial discourse focuses on diasporic forms of identity (e.g. Gilroy 1992, Hall 1993, Appadurai 1990). These accounts are similar in some ways to the discourses of hybridity, but they make a more radical break with the Eurocentrism paradigm to theorize "the diaspora" as a positive category and an alternative to concepts deriving from European imperialism (the nation; local vs. global, etc.). Gilroy's (1992) concept of "the black Atlantic," for example, posits a regional (hemispheric) articulation of flows (of people, knowledge, music, etc.) that gave rise to a distinctive identity not explicable within the national or ethnic categories of modern European theory.

Both globalist and postcolonialist theorists use metanarratives of global capitalism, globalization of culture and communications (etc.), or "Eurocentrism" and neocolonialism to decenter the nation as a political and cultural formation and as a theoretical concept. Theorists of "globalization" (see, for example, the essays collected by Featherstone 1990) emphasize the reorganization of cultural, informational, demographic, and economic flows on a world scale and point out (often without much concrete analysis of specific contexts) that we can no longer assume the viability of the nation-state. For some, we are witnessing the dissolution of the nation-state and the "twilight of sovereignty," while others emphasize the reorganization of "the national" according to new cultural logics, new corporate media networks, and the formation of new media spaces (Hay 1993, Morley and Robins 1995; Grossberg 1992, at a more abstract level). The more traditionally Marxist narratives of globalization (Wolf 1982, Ahmad 1992, Chakrabarty 1992, Wallerstein 1974, Braudel 1988, Schiller 1991, Chen 1996) see these processes of reorganization as aspects of neoimperialism--a claim which is often taken as sufficient evidence, in itself, for dismissing the nation as a site of progressive or left politics. Postcolonialist views of the nation are even more resolutely pessimistic, characterizing the national as a form of Euro-American colonialism or neocolonialism whose very existence can eliminate the possibility of any politics in advance (except, in Chakrabarty's [1992] terms, a "politics of despair").

While the institutions and social relations of modernity are being reorganized on a world scale, the critical discourses of cultural studies and postcolonial theory continue to be grounded in outdated assumptions about those relations. Most importantly, perhaps, we persist in arguing about abstractions such as "the state" and "the nation," as if these were questions of political philosophy that could be settled, ahead of time, in theory. The recent debate about "Australian cultural studies" (see Cultural Studies 6[3]), for example, has been cast in terms of such abstract, universalistic questions: can we take "the nation" as a site of analysis and politics, or is it necessarily complicit with global relations of imperialism? "The nation" cannot be evaluated or understood in the abstract, both because all nations are constituted relationally, as complex articulations within larger (and smaller) organizations, and because the effects, limitations, and possibilities of particular national formations are determined historically and are always undergoing change (Ahmad 1992). We cannot formulate answers to questions about "the nation" ahead of time; we cannot even formulate appropriate questions about the nation in the abstract. Cultural studies and postcolonial theory must instead take a context-specific approach to the nation.

The critical discourse also rests on deep-seated modernist assumptions about capitalism and international politics. We still understand capitalism, in many cases, as imperialism, and international politics as neocolonialism; our analyses still rest on images of "the core" and "the periphery" which ignore the proliferation of cores and peripheries, the emergence of regionalisms, the growing importance of cities, etc. (see, e.g., Grossberg 1993; Ang and Stratton 1996). I do not want to argue that "older" forms of economic and political power have been subsumed by the global village (or Frederick's [1993] "global civil society" of NGOs, etc.), but we must analyze--again, in historically and geographically specific contexts--the ways in which these relations are being transformed.

Finally, cultural studies and postcolonial theory offer inadequate conceptualizations of political agency. Within the critical discursive formation, agency is generally conflated with one or another abstract analytical concept--the state, capitalism, Eurocentric modernity, neoimperialism, the subaltern, new social movements, or the working classes. This is a form of reification in which the analyst's concepts themselves are endowed with historical agency; the fact that they are abstractions is forgotten.

Conclusions: assembled agency and the national as articulated context
The dominant discursive formation constructs "Chile" as a discrete temporalized space within a larger distribution of spaces and temporalities: it is conceptualized as a national agent seeking to become modern by approaching the ideal modern national form--capitalist, liberal, democratic--that is the United States. The discourse of the Chilean left also moves within this dominant formation, seeking to humanize the modernization process and moderate its destructive tendencies. The critical discourses discussed here--cultural studies and postcolonial theory--decenter the nation by placing it within narratives of globalization and neocolonialism, but they fail to question many of the modernist assumptions of their own discourse.[12] Debates about the nation within cultural studies and postcolonial theory remain centered on questions of epistemology and the politics of intellectual work, often reducing intellectual practice to what Ahmad (1992) has called a "politics of reading." This is largely a deconstructive posture which serves an important critical purpose but does not take up the more urgent task of constructing alternative forms of agency. Finally, contextualist approaches to the nation-state often do reject the modernist, abstract grand narratives of neocolonialism and global capitalism and succeed in producing more concrete analyses of particular national contexts, but much of this work is still defined by the confines of particular national spaces, setting up "the national" as a subaltern identity to be constructed in the face of external power or internal divisiveness. These approaches, too, ultimately, take dominant categories of analysis for granted, working within a modernist discourse of capitalist globalization and national agency.

I want to argue, following Grossberg (1992; 1993), that Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) anti-modern spatial-materialist philosophy is a useful tool for developing new categories with which to understand present-day processes of political, economic, and cultural reorganization. [13] A Deleuzean approach would conceptualize the national as a context that is constructed, as Grossberg (1993) and Morris (1992) have suggested, in the midst of transnational flows. The nation-state is not a discrete, pre-existing actor that engages the global; it is a space that is articulated in the global according to specific and identifiable logics, by specific and identifiable agents.[14] The national is a particular organization of spaces and practices that is constantly being constructed and reconstructed as a variety of agents struggle over its shape. The question of the significance of the national state (and its relation to global capital) for the Latin American left is not one that can be settled in advance, in the realm of theory. Instead, we must look at the concrete processes through which the national state is articulated in the new global context in order to see what agents are shaping it and with what effects.

According to such an approach, "Chile" would not be understood as a particular national society competing with other nation-states in the international market; nor would it be conceptualized as a neocolonial form of domination whose purpose is to reproduce, in the periphery, the Eurocentric forms of power and knowledge that uphold global capitalist relations. Rather, "Chile" is an articulated context--the production of a temporalized space in the wider context of regional, hemispheric, and global flows of capital, commodities, people, and discourse. This context is not coextensive with the administrative boundaries of the country; it is dispersed through the transnational circuits of capital, the demographic flows of populations, and the global movements of discourse. These various flows are all articulated, in one way or another, to the physical territory controlled (at least nominally) by the Chilean government and military. But that territory is itself defined, organized, and struggled over within the spaces of those broader flows.

To understand the ways in which "Chile" is constructed as a particular context today, we will have to look, for example, at changes in the availability of international investment and lending capital; at the organizational and ideological crises of the European left; at the emergence of a new hegemonic discourse within international and US academic and policymaking networks; at the forced movement of Chilean intellectuals to exile in other national spaces, and then back to Chile under new circumstances; and at many other fundamentally transnational articulations of discourse, capital, and people.

And, just as the space of the national must be reconceptualized as a transnationally articulated context, the political agents who successfully organize and reorganize that context must be understood as transnational assemblages of agency. Agency should not be conflated with the analytical abstractions of modern social theory--"capitalism," "the state," "the proletariat," "socialism"--but instead analyzed as concrete articulations of practices and discourse whose shape, logics, scope, scale, and effects can only be determined experimentally, as it were, through the engagement of theory with praxis. I want to argue that a more adequate concept of agency could be developed within cultural studies and postcolonial theory by rereading Gramsci's (1971) theory of the "historical bloc" from the perspective of a Deleuzean monist, materialist, anti-modern ontology. That is, agency would be understood as completely immanent to history, as emergent and in need of ongoing construction, and as contingent upon the specific material and discursive conditions, the social relations, and the technological possibilities of a given historical context. [15]

The key assemblage of agency in the Chilean context of the late 1980s and early 90s was the Concertación, but the Concertación itself must be understood as a transnational assemblage. The Concertación's successful 1988 plebiscite campaign, for example, was organized, in part, by a segment of Chilean left intellectuals whose foreign education, extended experience in exile, and intimate connections to European socialist parties made them members of a truly cosmopolitan intellectual class. The work of the Concertación was funded by US and European foundations and governments, and its campaign against Pinochet employed US media consultants to design of a new discourse of national identity. The new policymakers in the past two Concertación governmens have been professional economists educated, in large part, in the United States. And, as discussed above, the modernization discourse that makes sense of the economic and social restructuring of Chile is part of a global discursive formation that organizes development debate, lending decisions, and economic news for foreign investors. In short, the primary assemblage of agency shaping the new Chilean context--the Concertación--is an articulated coalition of forces--what Gramsci (1971) called a "historical bloc"--but it is a fundamentally transnational articulation.

In conclusion, I want to propose a new perspective for future work on political agency, capitalism, and the left in Latin America. Rather than debating, in abstract terms, the "nature" of the national state in late capitalism, cultural studies and postcolonial theory should begin with specific contexts of struggle and seek to map the logics according to which those contexts are being articulated (Grossberg 1992). Instead of arguing, in the abstract, over the historical significance of "new social movements" and "the continuing importance of class" (for example), we should begin with specific transformations of contexts and seek to map the assemblages of agency that are carrying out those transformations. To build a new left project for the new transnational context, we must first extricate our analytical discourses from the hegemonic discursive formations of modernity. Then we can begin, as did Marx, to make theory that can change things.


1. The ideological renovation of the Chilean left has been discussed in Cuevas Farren (1993), Oppenheim (1993), and Puryear (1994), for example.. On the plebiscite and the transition to democracy, see, for example, Drake and Jaksic (1993), Muñoz (1990), and Wiley (1993). These processes will not be analyzed in the present paper, whose purpose, rather, is to reflect on the theoretical and political questions raised by the Chilean context and on the usefulness of the conceptual tools cultural studies and postcolonial theory for addressing those questions.

2. Articulations of the "social liberal" position can be found, for example, in Muñoz (1990) and Cuevas Farren (1993).

3. On the retreat of cosmopolitan intellectuals into the "textual radicalism" of post-structuralism, see Ahmad (1992). Bennett (1992) makes a similar argument, criticizing the "charismatic closure" by which many cultural studies theorists legitimate their critical posture. He calls instead, for a turn to policy.

4. My understanding of a discursive formation draws on Grossberg (1993) and Deleuze and Guattari (1987), who read Foucault from the ontological standpoint of a "monism of multiplicities." That is, discourse is not an ideological or cultural superstructure that can be analyzed in relation to a material base, but rather the expressive dimension of a material assemblage, the functional regularity imposed--always incompletely--on material flows. While this approach shares Foucault's ontological monism, it sees the productive workings of power/knowledge as less complete and less monolithic. Instead of focusing on the omnipresence of "the dominant," it emphasizes the breaks, fissures, and escapes--in short, the multiplicities--that continually allow lines of flight and the formation of alternative assemblages.

5. This paper represents my preliminary efforts to outline a new conceptual approach to the problem of political agency, the nation-state, and global capitalism. Pending further research, it is based on a broad, and rather cursory, survey of recent debates and political developments. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

6. "Modernization theory" dominated Latin American development discourse in the 1950s and 60s and then came under harsh critique by the theorists of dependencia. Contemporary modernization discourse revives many of the original concepts. Mark Berger's recent study (1995) reviews the earlier critiques of modernization theory and offers an excellent account of the ongoing hegemony of US liberalism in Latin American studies generally.

7. Diego Ribadeneira, "A jewel in an economic rough: Revitalized Chile looks to join NAFTA. "The Boston Globe, January 1995 (exact date available on request).

8. Paul Boeker (1991), "Introduction," Latin America's Turnaround: Privatization, Foreign Investment, and Growth published by the International Center for Economic Growth. The Findings of the Second International Conference on Privatization, held in 1991 and sponsored by the Institute. Boeker was then President of the Institute of the Americas. The conference and the book were funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the US Agency for International Development, the School of International Relations at the University of California-San Diego, Bell Atlantic International, and Solar Turbines, Inc., among others. Full reference available on request.

9. Alejandro Foxley (1990), CIEPLAN conference on the political and economic policy of the first elected government in Chile after the transition to quasi-democracy. (Full reference available on request.) Foxley was Minister of Finance in the Aylwin government. CIEPLAN is a non-governmental economic research institute in Chile, and it supplied many key policymakers and cabinet members to the first two elected governments. The conference was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC).

10. For a sharp, if occasionally shrill, critique of the renovation of Chilean socialism, see Petras (1997). For a celebratory account of the left intellectuals' role in the transition to democracy, see Puryear (1994).

11. The position of the Concertación socialists on a range of political, economic, and cultural issues is laid out in Chile, Sociedad y Transición.

12. A similar point is made by Christopher Gibbins in his contribution to this conference: Calligraphy and Dialogics: Moroccan Writings' Islamic Intertextualities.

13. For a more extensive discussion of Deleuze and Guattari's project and a critique of Grossberg's use of Deleuzean concepts to redefine cultural studies, see my unpublished manuscript, "Three or four plateaus: Cultural studies and the detour through Deleuzean philosophy."

14. For a more detailed discussion of the concept of assembled agency, see the above-mentioned essay, "Three or four plateaus...."

15. Houston Wood's discussion of the Nation of Hawaii is a good example of a Deleuzean analysis of nationality as a rhizomatically-constructed collectivity. See his paper, Hawaiians in Cyberspace, in this conference.


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Carchidi | Wood | Gibbins | Guneratne | Gupta

By short titles:
Come into My Web | Hawaiians in Cyberspace | Calligraphy and Dialogics | Virtual Spaces | Internet & English

Abstracts of other papers (by short titles):
Come into My Web | Hawaiians in Cyberspace | Calligraphy and Dialogics | Virtual Spaces | Internet & English

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