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Network Power is special for a number of reasons. It is a robust theory of networks and their power to influence and shape our choices that can be applied across multiple domains. We are drawn into dominate language networks, prevailing economic systems, hegemonic cultures, monetary regimes - often through choice and yet as if against our will. Grewal fleshes out the dynamics of network power and how it differs from legal power and sheer force. The presence of a network delimits our horizons of opportunity, thereby giving shape to the paths we might or might not take in life. In this sense, it controls our choices, which nevertheless remain our own.
In this masterful work, Grewal manages to develop what appears to be a completely new theoretical model. Perhaps it exists elsewhere, but in reading anywhere from a hundred to a couple of hundred serious non-fiction books a year, for the last couple of decades, I have not come across anything like this. After all this reading, giving such a compliment has become vanishingly rare. This book really challenged me to think afresh.
That it is so strikingly original and so widely applicable at the same time makes it a book deserving several readings. You should expect to give it some attention, for it is abstract enough to require serious attention. There is no light storytelling here or grabbing narrative. And there is really no need. The ideas stand on their own and continue to be freshly applied through to the end.
If you want to understand globalization on a profound level and contextualize the facts, I can think of no better place to start or finish your studies. If you have not yet heard of Grewal, perhaps it is because he is still very young. So much the better. If all goes well, we should expect to be hearing from him and about him for several decades to come.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This engaging book presents the remarkable positive potential of social networks in wielding power, but also exposes the darker side of such power as it inexorably moves to a collectively self-inflicted conformity that can constrain choice. As a Harvard doctoral student in political science (or "government" as people in the old yard like to call it), the author is clearly well-versed in all the theoretical literature on the topic. While the book is written in a fairly accessible narrative, occasionally some rather cerebral passages make their way as well that may put off a casual reader of globalization.
Grewal is particularly concerned about globalization in its darker context since he believes that "everything is being globalized except politics". He is referring to our tendency to move towards common norms on language, dress and other harmonizing influences of globalization.
Coming from a multi-ethnic family with roots in America and India, he is perhaps personally influenced by this constant challenge between positive conformity and cultural dilution.
Grewal gives examples of the historical dominance of the gold standard and the growing dominance of English as a language to make his point. He also considers other areas where network power has encountered difficulties such as the failure of global trade talks in 2008. He does not have much sympathy for the collapse of the Doha Round of trade talks because the network power generated by this kind of system would have required a "suppression of democratic politics at a national level".
However, Grewal is perhaps too sanguine about the triumph of national politics, given various other challenges that confront us on a planetary scale. Environmental governance necessitates making connections across intrinsic ecological networks that are endowed by nature and often influenced negatively by anarchic human behavior. This is where making as many connections between individuals and societies in a systems-oriented approach to politics is so vitally consequential.
Grewal clearly has a bright future ahead as a scholar, and his voice will assume more clarity in years to come -- for a first book this is a commendable achievement.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful