The Devil Behind the Mirror: Globalization and Politics in the Dominican Republic
University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
Stephen Gregory's recent work, The Devil Behind the Mirror, closely examines globalization's tantalizing promise to the leaders of the world's developing nations—a pledge of deliverance from entrenched poverty and economic dependency and a dangling carrot of future rise to the shared status of other global economic elites. Indeed, he states that the book "examines the dissonance between what transnational capital promises and what it delivers… in the everyday lives of working people" (p. 3-4) while "turn[ing] attention to the nightmare face of globalization seldom addressed in the scholarly literature" (p. 6).
In this superb work of rich ethnographic fieldwork, conducted in the adjacent coastal towns of Boca Chica and Andrés, Gregory painstakingly chronicles the impact that transnational processes associated with globalization are having on the lives and livelihoods of people in the Dominican Republic, demonstrating how transnational flows of capital, culture, and people are mediated by contextually specific power relations, politics, and history. Specifically, he examines "how distinct economic, cultural, and social processes that have been associated with 'globalization' and neoliberal economic reforms have restructured the lives and livelihoods of people in the Dominican Republic" (p. 4). Once more, Gregory attempts to "tease out the contextually distinct and uneven manner in which transnational flows of capital, culture, and people were realized in a specific sociocultural and political context" (p. 4). Additionally, throughout the text Gregory paints an in-depth picture of the two coastal communities grappling with the demons of economic globalization and provides vivid accounts of how globalization can create great hopes and expectations in a nation and even among its citizenry and yet tends to greatly hurt the everyday people in poor countries. Additionally, the book's six chapters explore such key topics as the true nature of globalization, continuing urban development, the informal economy and the nature of such work, the media and the making of a telenova, gender differences and the unique sex tourism industry, and citizenship and the racism and discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. More specifically, in Chapter 1 Gregory presents a broad overview of the area's development since the turn of the 19th century and examines the impact of neoliberal economic reforms on the lives and livelihoods of current residents. In Chapter 2, he considers the socio-spatial order within the framework of international tourism by "investigating spatial discourses and practices through which that order was imagined, produced, and contested in Boca Chica" (p. 7). In Chapter 3, he emphasizes the bidirectional, inter-reactive relationships between transnational flows of media and place-based networks of power and meaning.
Furthermore, in Chapter 4, Gregory addresses the gendered networks of space, power, and labour through an in-depth examination of sex tourism in Boca Chica. In Chapter 5, he examines the complex and ambiguous relationship of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in Dominican politics. Finally, in Chapter 6, he presents an analysis of the contested approval process of a multinational corporation's plan to construct a deepwater "Megaport" and examines the process of spatial coordination, teasing out the disparate discourses and practices of transnational corporations' presence and influence in the Dominican Republic.
Gregory's work distinguishes itself from other related academic literature in the development, dependency, and other various globalization fields by attempting to simultaneously place detailed ethnographic case-studies into a larger macro-global economic context, acknowledging the role that global processes play in the lives of real people. It demonstrates the continuing, and indeed increasingly urgent, value of on-the-ground "thick" ethnographic research in the contemporary world.
My only critique of this important work is that Gregory attempts to link the events and people he observes to world systems theory, and it does not quite work. Firstly, he only gives world systems theory a cursory review. Secondly, he fails to acknowledge a large existing empirical literature that has already attempted, and continues, to examine, at a macro level, many of the processes that he has examined in these two individual cases in the Dominican.
However, the book is both very well written and accessible, as it provides ample readable descriptions of people and places within a sophisticated theoretical framework. Additionally, the subject-matter of the book will be of interest to individual readers across the globe, as the issues discussed within the text are very applicable to all national contexts—both core and periphery alike. Furthermore, this book is a fairly fast and entertaining read, intended for both intermediate and advanced academics, as well as various government officials, NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) leaders, and business policy practitioners interested in the impacts and implications of globalization.
Jonathan H. Westover
University of Utah