It is surely a reflection of the demand for the Latest on globalization and the nation-state from highly commodified theorists that this super-slender hardcover volume (with approx. 120 words per page) hit a sales rank consistently below 5,000 on Amazon.com for weeks prior to its release. The scandal is that neither Butler nor Spivak have an in-depth knowledge of globalization or nationalism, but their comments and sound-bytes will soon be the most widely cited on these topics. Their iconic status as all-purpose references is built on a simulacra of scholarship that depends on two factors: 1) an audience that is unwilling to do the in-depth reading to understand globalization but wants sound-bytes to stay current and relevant and 2) the license granted to some celebrity scholars to comment on subjects well beyond their expertise.
Butler comes up with the astonishing claim (p. 13) that hardly anyone writes about statelessness in the social sciences now (what has she been reading?!); and Spivak tops this with her declaration (p. 87) that "the European constitution is an economic document" (what happened to the articles on secularism, militarism, and human rights). In a revealing exchange, when Butler asks Spivak to clarify what she means by critical regionalism, Spivak careens from Evo Morales to East Asia to South Asia to Habermas, to undocumented workers in the United States, to Iran, to NATO, to Russia in 5 pages to make the wafer-thin conclusion: "It [critical regionalism] goes under and over nationalisms but keeps the abstract structures of something like a state." No other scholar would be allowed to hang an argument on this flimsy peg, but she can and does. Spivak dodges every call to define her terms or offer a sustained argument. Along the way, she tosses up terms like "critical regionalism" "sustainable exploitation" (when has exploitation not tried to be sustainable) which will soon be the buzzwords of the moment. Needless to say, there is a large body of work produced about the refigured regionalisms in Latin America, Asia, and Africa (often by scholars working in institutions in these regions) that makes Spivak seem superficial and glib. Indeed, the argument for regional human rights instruments has been made at least since the First World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, but of course this becomes citable only when it comes from a Spivak. The irony is that in humanities departments, it will be the Spivakisms that will circulate, while the other work will be strenuously ignored. To think that it was Spivak who first charged her interlocutors with "sanctioned ignorance."