Book Review: The Defiance of Global Commitment by Brian Castellani

Review by Evelina Akimova 

Brian Castellani is Professor of Sociology (Durham University), Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry (Northeast Ohio Medical University) and co-editor of Routledge Complexity in Social Science.  Trained as a sociologist, clinical psychologist and methodologist, he has developed a new approach to modeling complex systems to address such public health issues as globalization and global civil society; community health and inequality; mental health and social policy, and infrastructure and grid reliability. The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology was published by Routledge in 2018. 

In The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology, Brian Castellani provides a deep socio-psychological analysis of the interconnected 21st century world. Against the background of rising interest in globalisation, this book explores how various societies are dealing with globalisation. In this review I discuss three major sections of the book: globalisation as a pursuit of happiness, globalism as an impossible promise, and repression and resistance in international relations. 

Before I begin, it should be noted that in this book the author puts into practice the suppositions of his 2009 book, The Sociology and Complexity Science: A New Field of Inquiry, where he anticipated a scholastic future dominated by sociology and complexity science. The Defiance of Global Commitment is further exemplification and analysis of these views on social theory. In the terms of Castellani & Hafferty (2009), that could be used here, it is the application of qualitative, historical, and numerical analyses of social systems. 

Increasing interconnectedness has been a consistent trend in recent international relations. Societies and nations with diverse backgrounds are inextricably connected to one another in complex ways. Castellani considers the coordination of rising interconnectedness as the pursuit of happiness, where neoliberal activities of deregulating capital markets, reducing state interference in the economy, disinvestment and denationalisation policy, elimination of price controls, and lowering trade barriers are the result of human instincts to seek fulfilment. The pleasure principle here is a Freudian concept, where globalisation can be treated as an episodic phenomenon yielding contentment and satisfaction of needs. 

Like Sigmund Freud who associated happiness with temporal specificity, this book considers the latest episode of global cooperation as short lived. The volume uses the Freudian argument to liken internationalisation to civilisation, in addition to Castellani’s interlacing of scholarly approaches including sociological critique, complexity science, and psychoanalytic theory. This provides an evocative picture of enablers and impediments to economic integration between countries. 

The author’s tripartite treatise presents discontent in globalisation as the suppressed drive, and therefore the inevitable aggression towards factions that are considered outsiders. The complex systems perspective establishes the significant association between inherent human virtue and global problems such as gendered human rights violations, racism, and LGBT issues, alongside many other fault lines in global society. 

While leaders have offered a promising future in addressing the challenges of the 21st century, Castellani considers the discontentment facing the hyper-connected globe as difficult to solve. In the long term, therefore, rising global interconnectedness and the continued luxuriant growth of the global economy does not look likely to remedy the widespread disgruntlement against globalisation. This attitudinal analysis is undertaken through Freudian notions on the violent conduct of human beings, with the darkness of the totality of the mind, conscious and unconscious and including its incongruous connections with others, manifesting itself in defiance against globalisation. Castellani observes that the deep instinct behind this defiance has contributed to nations and societies retracing their commitments at the global level. In summary, the contention surrounding globalisation is an emergent phenomenon that has arisen from psychological and sociological drivers. 

The Defiance of Global Commitment presents an aetiological account of contemporary aggression, dissent, provocation, and non-compliance in globalisation as a trilateral tension consisting of global aggression, the interests of an aggregate of non-governmental organisations and institutions, and nostalgic retreat. Freud’s theories highlight how the multiplex concept of social psychology functions in global relations. This is a convincing postulation that supposes that individuals and nation states are angry not out of a feeling that their status is threatened and overlooked, but because of attitudes arising from various socio-psychological factors. 

Worldwide incidences such as protectionism, populism and nationalism, far-right policies, climate change, global violence, and expansionism are thus the outcomes of a sophisticated social psychological reaction to internationalisation. They aren’t the result of policy shortfalls. The complex and intersecting social and psychological dimensions involved in these riotous instabilities facing the global system make it extremely difficult for policymakers to deal with. The conclusion that current political fixes are inadequate leads to Castellani’s proposal that there is a need for tracing back to the building blocks of the current problem. Therefore, the focus should be on neuroscience and anthropology, human psychology, as well as societal reactions to policy. 

Castellani’s book is a timely publication that recognises the need for an interdisciplinary perspective when analysing complex systems in society. This highly innovative and original piece of literature covers a broad range of challenges facing the globe and the current model of policy formulation. Castellani calls for a change from the current unipolar strategy to a comprehensive methodological evaluation, involving a series of more theoretical and philosophical approaches. He concludes that this critical dialogue is a futuristic approach in a number of social arenas and policy issues. 

All in all, this book is an uncompromising macroscope on interconnectedness. It provides an in-depth analysis of the activities that exemplify globalisation, not only in infinite detail, but across all space and time.   

Review by Evelina Akimova, University of Oxford. 

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