Back to International Political Economy

November 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

The class discussion following my lecture this week for my students at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) has got me thinking hard about my studies in International Political Economy (IPE) before I left Warwick University to begin my PhD in Social Anthropology at SOAS. I am thinking about the possibilities for moving my research back towards the direction I was pursuing before (see ref 1, below), but moving back in that direction carrying with me the ideas, frameworks, approaches, theories etc. I have picked up during my training as an anthropologist. This post comprises some initial thoughts/notes/reflections around this topic.

The campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

My IIS students asked me for case studies of instances in which – to use the terminology of the Occupy Movement – the 99% have successfully held the 1% to account. As I revisited the texts I first encountered during my MA in Politics at Warwick, I re-encountered the story of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Here’s a snippet from an article in the Financial Times, followed by some references to useful journalistic and academic writings on the story:

There is a memorable scene in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the outlaw heroes are hounded for days by a bunch of armed men on horseback. After failing to shake off their mysterious pursuers, one of the hunted men asks despairingly: “Who are these guys?”

Similar fear and bewilderment have seized governments of industrialised countries as they struggle to draft rules for the treatment of foreign investment. To their consternation, their efforts have been ambushed by a horde of vigilantes whose motives and methods are only dimly understood in most national capitals.

This week the horde claimed its first success and some think it could fundamentally alter the way international economic agreements are negotiated.

The target of their attacks was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) being negotiated at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the attackers a loose coalition of non-government organisations (NGOs) from across the political spectrum. They included trade unions, environmental and human rights lobbyists and pressure groups opposed to globalisation.

The opponents’ decisive weapon is the internet. Operating from around the world via web sites, they have condemned the proposed agreement as a secret conspiracy to ensure global domination by multinational companies, and mobilised an international movement of grass-roots resistance. (de Jonquieres, Guy (1998) “Network Guerrillas” Financial Times Thursday April 30 1998)

Drohan, Madelaine (1998) “Grassroots groups used their own globalization to derail deal” The Globe and Mail Wednesday April 29 1998

Mabey, Nick (1999) “Defending the Legacy of Rio: the Civil Society Campaign against the MAI”, in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. 60-61

Mayne, Ruth and Sol Picciotto (1999) “Preface” in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. vii

O’Brien, Robert (1999) “NGOs, Global Civil Society and Global Economic Regulation” in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. 257-272

Absence of Actor-Network Theory.

Looking through the second edition of the IPE textbook Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics (O’Brien and Williams, 2007, ref 2 below), and Global Politics as if People Mattered (Tétreault and Lipschutz 2009, ref 3 below), I’m struck by the absence of references to Actor-Network Theory and Bruno Latour. I know this doesn’t mean there aren’t scholars out there using these approaches; it’s just that reading some of the comments on the back of Tétreault and Lipschutz’s book I immediately think of Latour’s argument in Reassembling the Social (ref 4 below):

This book teaches readers that global politics is not something ‘out there’; rather, it is something shaping their own lives in the most personal ways and is something which they, too, are responsible for shaping. (Mary K. Meyer McAleese, Eckerd College)

Maybe the advantage of Tétreault and Lipschutz’s book is that it is more accessible than Latour…?


1. Donegan, Brendan (2006) “Governmental regionalism: Power/knowledge and neoliberal regional integration in Asia and Latin America.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 35 (1): 23-51.

2. O’Brien, Robert and Marc Williams (2007) Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics 2nd edition. London: Macmillan 

3. Tétreault, Mary Ann and Ronnie D. Lipschutz (2009) Global Politics as if People Mattered 2nd edition. Lanham: Rowham & Littlefield

4. Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory Oxford: Oxford University Press


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