Fear of Small Numbers

An Essay on the Geography of Anger

Fear of Small Numbers

Public Planet Books

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Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: Published: May 2006

Author: Arjun Appadurai

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Sociology > Social Theory

The period since 1989 has been marked by the global endorsement of open markets, the free flow of finance capital and liberal ideas of constitutional rule, and the active expansion of human rights. Why, then, in this era of intense globalization, has there been a proliferation of violence, of ethnic cleansing on the one hand and extreme forms of political violence against civilian populations on the other?

Fear of Small Numbers is Arjun Appadurai’s answer to that question. A leading theorist of globalization, Appadurai turns his attention to the complex dynamics fueling large-scale, culturally motivated violence, from the genocides that racked Eastern Europe, Rwanda, and India in the early 1990s to the contemporary “war on terror.” Providing a conceptually innovative framework for understanding sources of global violence, he describes how the nation-state has grown ambivalent about minorities at the same time that minorities, because of global communication technologies and migration flows, increasingly see themselves as parts of powerful global majorities. By exacerbating the inequalities produced by globalization, the volatile, slippery relationship between majorities and minorities foments the desire to eradicate cultural difference.

Appadurai analyzes the darker side of globalization: suicide bombings; anti-Americanism; the surplus of rage manifest in televised beheadings; the clash of global ideologies; and the difficulties that flexible, cellular organizations such as Al-Qaeda present to centralized, “vertebrate” structures such as national governments. Powerful, provocative, and timely, Fear of Small Numbers is a thoughtful invitation to rethink what violence is in an age of globalization.


Fear of Small Numbers is an important and useful book. In six short and clearly written chapters, Appadurai offers a compelling explanation about the sources of global unrest, terrorism, and ethnic strife.” — Joe Galbo, Canadian Journal of Sociology

Fear of Small Numbers is an interesting yet challenging book to read. It offers a refreshingly complex interpretation of pressing current events.” — Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

Fear of Small Numbers makes engaging reading. . . . The book provides a fine introduction to the conjunction of globalization, violence, and identity politics. Not overburdened with jargon or scholarly references, the book is accessible to readers both within and outside of academia and to an undergraduate audience. It will interest anthropologists, political scientists, policymakers, and students of conflict resolution and globalization.” — Michelle Ruth Gamburd, American Anthropologist

Fear of Small Numbers will appeal to a sophisticated audience of professionals and college students, and the essay format makes it accessible to a general adult reading audience. . . . This book does stand out in the literature on globalization in developing and applying explanations for the behavior of key actors.” — Michael A. Morris, Perspectives on Political Science

“[P]owerful, well written and timely. Appadurai gives insights to the roots of globalization, a post 9/11 analysis of our global world and challenges a sleeping society to wake up in middle of a storm.” — Mona Lisa Safai, Altar Magazine

“The book does provide a plethora of ideas and considerable food for thought on the ‘un-rosy’ aspects of globalization. Further, as a first tentative exploration of such issues, the book may be interpreted as a novel direction in the important scholarship of Appadurai where he is more critically concerned with globalization. This alone also makes the book worth reading for all scholars engaged with (and less celebratory of) issues such as globalization, migration and violence.” — Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, PoLAR

“The shades of nuanced analysis, in the midst of grand visionary pronouncements, would be appealing to scholars concerned with the micro-politics of violence and conflict. Appadurai’s style of writing is prophetic yet persuasive, and his arguments come together to form an effective book that is substantially animated in its contents.” — Atreyee Sen, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“This ambitious project deserves praise, especially for the way in which it introduces the conceptual tools of vertebrate and cellular structures to capture important aspects of the rise in globalized violence and terror.” — Zsuzsanna Chappell, Political Studies Review

“A virtue of Appadurai’s book is its original account of the social psychology of ethnic conflict.” — Andrew A. G. Ross, Millennium

“Appadurai offers ‘sophisticated’ lay readers a tidy framework for making sense of countless news reports about mass murder, martyr-bombings and all the rest.” — Noel Castree, Progress in Human Geography

“Appadurai’s Fear of Small Numbers is an important contribution to the study of one of the most harmful aspects of modernity, violence against minorities. . . . “[It is] groundbreaking both for social theory and for political action. Even its questionable assertions inspire reflection on important issues. I highly recommend this book to all people interested in the fate of the contemporary world.” — Laura Pearl, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“Appadurai’s book is full of powerful insights both about globalization and about modern communal violence, especially in South Asia.” — Kwame Anthony Appiah, Common Knowledge

“Due to its provocative character, the 137 pages of Appadurai's essay make it an excellent starting point for generating ideas for term papers in classes on globalization, genocide, ethnocide, or terrorism. Appadurai's clear, stylish writing means that even lower division undergraduates should have little difficulty generating thoughtful theses from this rich text.” — Brien Hallett, Peace & Change

“The author of these brief, penetrating essays investigates globalization’s dark side and, most significantly, demonstrates that ‘small number’ minorities have become both victimized and victimizer.” — Karl Helicher, Foreword Reviews

“This is a small book with big ideas. . . . The ideas presented do provide a basis for rich research agendas into the 'newness' of globalisation, the crisis of the nation-state and the legitimacy of government, and the consequences of mediated violence not just for long-distance compassion but also for long-distance anger.” — Michael Humphrey, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

“Arjun Appadurai is already known as the author of striking new formulations which have greatly illuminated contemporary global developments, notably in Modernity at Large. In this new book, he tackles the most burning and perplexing problems of collective violence which beset us today. The book is alive with new and original ideas, essential food for thought not just for scholars, but for all concerned with these issues.” — Charles Taylor, author of Modern Social Imaginaries

“In this book, Appadurai follows up Modernity at Large with a look into the seamy side of globalization. Analyzing the growing inequalities and endemic violence of the past decade, he still sees signs of hope in less noticed trends of ‘globalization from below.’ These are important new thoughts from an influential thinker of our times.” — Partha Chatterjee, Director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Arjun Appadurai is the John Dewey Professor in the Social Sciences at The New School, where he is also Senior Advisor for Global Initiatives. His books include Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization and the collection Globalization, also published by Duke University Press. He is a cofounder of the journal Public Culture, founder of the nonprofit PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action, and Research) in Mumbai, cofounder and codirector of ING (Interdisciplinary Network on Globalization), and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as a consultant or advisor to a wide range of public and private organizations, including the Ford, Rockefeller, and MacArthur foundations; UNESCO; the World Bank; and the National Science Foundation.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

1. From Ethnocide to Ideocide 1

2. The Civilization of Clashes 15

3. Globalization and Violence 35

4. Fear of Small Numbers 49

5. Our Terrorists, Ourselves 87

6. Grassroots Globalization in the Era of Ideocide 115

Bibliography 139

Index 143
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3863-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3834-5
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