Adom Getachew, Deborah Chasman & Joshua Cohen, ed.

Imagining Global Futures

The MIT Press, 2022

215 pages


Reviewed by Nanjun Zhou

If the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have died down by the end of 2022, the ensuing year is no less debilitated by another chain of crises – the food shortage in African countries, Afghanistan, Syria, and in other parts of the Global South; the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraineand the ever more severe consequences of the climate change. Given the crises-like, permanent conditions imposed by the neocolonial capitalist system, individuals should, as Imagining Global Futures suggests, imagine themselves again as communities, the smallest unit of any collective action, and practice small-scale acts of survival, care, and solidarity, that can bring the plural futures that are meaningful to their own and shared communities closer.

In response to “The Global Present” marred by what looks like a permanent crisis, Imagining Global Futures, a Boston Review volume, seeks to offer inspirations for both thought and action, giving examples of insurgencies from around the globe against authoritarian/patriarchal regimes, local engagements in mutual care, innovative ways of living (together), and critical reflections on border violence, limitations of nation-states, neocolonialism, climate crisis, social movements from across the globe. A collection of essays by academics, journalists, writers, and activists from different disciplines and background, while also featuring the creative works by inspiring figures such as Caio Kaufman, a Brazilian American poet, and Sascha Stronach, an author, editor, and poet based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. With its interdisciplinary approach, the Boston Reviewvolume, Imagining Global Futures, draws on and is informed by Black radicalism, leftist thinking, gender and queer studies, regional studies, in addition to benefiting from the experts in the fields of law, geography, economics, political science, and history. The transdisciplinary collaboration not only brings together the expertise in different fields, but also exposes and fills the gaps in the capacities of individual disciplines in formulating meaningful questions that resonate with a wider audience. 

Given the wide range of issues the volume covers, a recurrent group of concepts – borders, nation states, indigeneity, and postcolonialism – are mentioned in a majority of the essays; however, the concepts find a central place, one way or the other, in essays such as “A World Without Borders” by Harsha Walia; “Escape from the Closed Loop” by Eli Friedman; “Beyond the Nation-State” by Ash Bâli and Omar Dajani; and “Freedom Dreaming” by Robin D. G. Kelley.

Drawing on the experience from the Partition of India and, Walia incisively ties together the idea of a modern nation-state; the construction and enhancement of borders; the talk of “border crisis,” the outsourcing and extension of borders to other countries, e.g. by Europe to the African countries, as well as all other kinds of practices that limit and delimit the mobility of people, e.g., the varied distinctions made to allow only “good” and “worthy” migrants inside the borders. With nuanced and wide-ranging examples of violence related to borders from across the world, the essay highlights borders as vestiges of a colonial past and the maintenance of a (neo)colonial present. 

Borders serve the current capitalist world order, by not only reinforcing the old unequal economic and political relations from the colonial past but also by generating new ones. “Law-sanctioned” exploitation of migrant workers from Third-World countries is one such example. Rather than a call for more humanitarian border policies, Walia calls for a world without borders, citing Nicholas De Geneva to substantiate her stance: “If there were no borders, there would be no migration – only mobility” and directs the reader’s attention to the hundreds and thousands of solidarity/rescue missions and campaigns to abolish borders that instill hope. 

In a similar vein, though the essay “Escape from the Closed Loop” by Eli Friedman apparently talks about the acts of resistance (or survival) by common Chinese people against the biopolitics during the COVD-19 pandemic, it, in fact, is also about borders within the same country, i.e., about how the household registration system (hukou) dictates the distribution of “social citizenship, such as the access to state subsidized health care, education, pensions, and housing” which is given to those born with a city hukou.

Bâli and Dajani point to other pitfalls linked to the idea of nation-states, i.e., the difficulty of applying the model of a modern nation state with a single, dominant ethnicity and language to regions like Iran and Turkey and across the Middle East in which multiple ethnicities and languages coexist. Most significantly, they point out that the nationalist nation-building movements as a postcolonial reaction to colonialism in such regions have in fact taken on “colonialism’s disfiguring impact,” substituting old, rather decentralized modes of governance with the nation-state model that centralizes one single national identity and remains “a Western political technology ill-suited to the region.” Moreover, the two Professors of Law provide two examples of political experimentation outside the nation-state model: the first in the Kurdish provinces of Syria known as Rojava, in which Öclan’s model of democratic confederalism about “greater autonomy, cultural rights, and the decentralization of political power within existing states” has been flourishing since 2011 till now, and the second as a confederal solution proposed by “A Land for All” (ALFA), a bi-national group in support of building an Israeli-Palestinian confederation in which freedom of movement and residence can be possible. 

Kelley’s essay, just as Walia’s, touches on postcolonialism (decolonization) and indigeneity simultaneously, exposing the hypocrisy of enforcing border controls and economic oppression on stolen lands. Leaning on his earlier thought about using the reflections on histories of social movements as resources for the future (as reflected on in his 2002 book Freedom Dreams: The black Radical Imagination), Kelley shares with readers his recent thoughts on resources for future actions, which include but are not limited to “Queer and Trans Liberation,” “Mutual Aid,” “Disability Justice,” “Decolonization and Indigenous Thought.” These ideas echo, for example, Berg’s call for the solidarity between the left and the sex-workers against a US law that undermines the latter’s security and autonomy; Inouye’s discussion of a new trend of voluntary efforts of unionization by the American college graduates as “salts”; Gabor and Sylla’s proposal and discussion of the history of the idea of a pan-African Green Hydrogen project; Patel’s solutions to the lack of energy and food security and self-sufficiency faced by the Global South; and Nothias’s strategies to combat digital colonialism. Finally, “Mutual Aid” synergizes the ideas depicted by Erakat, Khatami and Simone, who bring into focus the efforts of people who relentlessly seek to show care and support and help preserve the hopes for a future within the limits posed on them by laws, state violence, and capitalism through their day-to-day struggle. The ideas and struggles contribute to defying the categories as defined by the global North, such as the idea of property, and the Klinger’s “can-do” approach as she talks about rare-earth mining in Sweden and the transition to renewable energy.This anthology points towards an imagination of futures that is deeply anchored in the present, by bringing a global scope and transforming facts and knowledge into actions of inspiration and care. It will be of interest to scholars of a large variety of fields including border studies, global affairs, Black studies, Latinx studies, American studies, Middle Eastern studies, Asian studies, energy studies, and food studies.