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differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13.1 (2002) 45-76

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Failures of Domestication:
Speculations on Globality, Economy, and the Sex of Excess in Thailand

Rosalind C. Morris

What are we to make of the fact that, at the close of the twentieth century, the most pervasive discourse of political discontent was written in the idiom of corruption, and that of social crisis in the idiom of contagion? For, if there was a specter haunting the Euro-Americanized world 1 as the new millennium arrived, it was no longer communism (as Marx and Engels had prophesied a century and a half before) nor, it seemed, the mutual annihilation of geopolitical superpowers (as cold warriors had feared only fifty years earlier). Instead, the century of war, which was also the century of the nation-state's apotheosis, ended in the shadow of new and newly mobile forms of social and economic violence. From within the dominant discourses of the West, these forms of violence were construed not as symptoms of a contest between alternative laws and orders, much less opposition, but rather as modes of criminality, as departures from or failures to recognize a law and an order that had its normative center in the late capitalist West. The violence of the new moment was therefore of a peculiarly doubled nature; it was violence against the sovereignty of local subjects and it was violence against an internationalized regime that increasingly claimed exclusive sovereignty [End Page 45] for itself. Such doubleness concealed what it presumed, namely, that the goal of all historical development had itself become both unified and singular: an abstractly homogenized global space subject to one economic law, in which the presumption of equality would allow for the exercise of differential authority. Francis Fukuyama's euphoric proclamations of conservative victory assumed nearly axiomatic status even among those who were seeking destinations other than the terminus of history.

Some of the most powerful indices of this transformation can be found in the shifting lexicons of political-economic commentary. In this context, it is important to note that wherever the language of corruption and contagion came to dominate political discourse, it construed inequality and economic crisis in terms of failure. Indeed, in the millennial moment, "failure" came to displace "class" and "structural contradiction" as the orienting term of debate. Like "corruption" or "contagion," failure suggests the existence of a normative ideal that can be recognized and in relation to which acts can be adjudicated. But insofar as economic failure is typically read as the function of corruption and also as the origin of contagion, it suggests something else, namely that certain kinds of mobility and categorical instability are risks for neoliberalism. In 1997, when currency speculation and the collapse of the banking sector in Thailand were followed by currency devaluation and the rapid, sequential implosion of several Southeast Asian economies, a pattern of analysis emerged that quickly became paradigmatic. The more that capital and the theories of its operation become delocalized, the more that local regimes are held accountable for their place within the global organization of capital.

Under such circumstances, the chains of events by which economic crisis is said to spread in a region tend to be explained through recourse to a rhetoric of contagion; catastrophe is said to spread from one site to another, usually because of improper mechanisms ensuring the boundaries of the "local-as-nation." When the local regulatory apparatus fails to ensure that economic crisis is contained in and by the nation-state, it is invariably accused of being weak, and this weakness is said to permit a certain leakage, a movement of failure from one place to another. Moreover, it seems to propel that movement, to lie at its origin. The point to be noted here is that failure, like lack, signifies very differently than does "absence." Indeed, it doesn't signify so much as it seems to call for signification. To this extent, the economy that is failed seems to become the origin...


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pp. 45-76
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2004
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