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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.3 (2001) 299-323

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Geohistorical Maps Within, Against, and Beyond Empire

David Pedersen
University of Michigan


Empire By Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Genealogy... operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times.

—Michel Foucault, 1971

IN THE MIDDLE 1980S MICHAEL HARDT, A GRADUATE STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY of Washington, traveled to Paris to meet with Antonio Negri, a professor at the University of Padua who had fled Italy to avoid serving time in prison on the charge of abetting the activities of the Red Brigade during the 1970s. "I had read some of his work and liked it. It seemed to me at the time, as a graduate student in Seattle but heavily involved in the politics surrounding Nicaragua and El Salvador, as a model for combining my intellectual interests with my political interest," Hardt recalls. 1 Amidst Negri's semiclandestine exile to Parisian left-liberal intellectual circles, the two scholars developed a sense of friendship and shared political and [End Page 299] philosophical commitments. Hardt translated several of Negri's earlier writings from Italian into English and he also collaborated with other Italian public intellectuals to produce English versions of their work. 2 In 1994 Negri and Hardt published their first book together, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-form.

This past year, as Negri served out his sentence in Italy and Hardt served as a professor in the Literature Program at Duke University in the U.S. state of North Carolina, the two authors completed a second book, Empire. Despite the diminutive title, the book is an impressive and long study (an early manuscript version ran close to 1,000 pages) that draws upon a rich variety of materials across the humanities and social sciences. Empire pushes at twentieth-century disciplinary borders as it narrates the erosion of world geopolitical boundaries and the emergence of more fluid and relational social hierarchies at the edge of the third millennium.

Hardt and Negri argue that a singular system of global governance has emerged out of an earlier configuration of world political authority based on separate competing and coalescing imperial states and state systems. Through a novel method of analysis and logic of argumentation that is sensitive to the relationship between categories and their larger social content, the authors delineate the geohistorical contours and features of this new arrangement while also attempting to illuminate the imminent crisis and quality of constant confrontation that not only motivates its emergence, but also always threatens to deconstruct it, offering potentially radical alternatives.

The book maps the shift from an imperial world constructed through the idiom of national sovereignty to a world that is governed by a new constellation of transnational and trans-statal political controls, institutional functions, and regulatory mechanisms. According to the authors, in this transition, the concept and associated practices of "sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. The new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire" (xii).

Hardt and Negri use the term Empire not as a metaphor, but as a theoretically appropriate category for conceptualizing the distinct fluidity and lack of fixed boundaries in the contemporary world. "Imperialism was really [End Page 300] an extension of the sovereignty of the European nation-states beyond their own boundaries. Eventually nearly all the world's territories could be parceled out and the entire world map could be coded in European colors: red for British territory, blue for French, green for Portuguese, and so forth" (xii). Hardt and Negri call for the dispensing of such outdated imperial color-coded maps, since they no longer correspond in any way to their object.

In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open...


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