Review of Anna Tsing's Friction

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Friction discloses the particularities of different collaborations that disrupt or develop processes of economic transformations that reflect on landscapes, and at the same time accentuates the role that imagination plays in recreating the wild as fields of profiteering. The title is so well chosen, that I can't even begin to write about how significant the idea of 'friction' should be in understanding the creation of new enclosures. Friction does justice to a real account (not just a romanticized version) of the huge amounts of complexities in winning and losing battles for environmental justice. The strange bedfellows, the political opportunities (expected or unexpected), that have to be seized with perfect timing, what's at stake ecologically, culturally, and financially. It exposes some Western myths of "What is the environment," “What it means to preserve it" and for whom, and establishes the mountainous regions of Indonesia in question as not simply a part of nature, but a social sphere. Friction has a compellingly simple but important premise: universals - like capitalism, modernity, environmentalism, and feminism don't travel abstractly as mere ideologies. Rather, they travel through people, through institutions, through stories, and through cultures. And along the way, the friction of travel, the friction of encounter with others, the friction of translation of universals by localities, changes those actually lived universals. It is not a new insight, but it is worth repeating since our tendency is to treat the travel of ideas, ideologies, and universals as frictionless, smooth, un-bumpy, and easily transparent in translation. Tsing's task is not merely to say this but to show it. She tells the story of how environmentalism travels in this frictional manner. The setting is Kalimantan, Indonesia in the 1990s. Tsing hangs out with the indigenous people who live the forests; she hangs out with many individuals from different institutional bodies. And her...
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