The ideal of non-coherence in the World Bank’s social capital reforms
A textual analysis of “gratuitous complexity”
University of the West of England / Middlesex University
This paper presents an analysis of a World Bank document representing a version of the new “Social Capital” approach of International Financial Institutions (IFIs). This stance involves a rhetorical reorientation away from a much criticized unilateral approach to the poor indebted countries and to a more bi-lateral and participatory attitude. Analysis suggests that this “post-ideological” posture is reflected in the text in the form of a copious rhetoric of “complex differentiation”. This consists of characterizing the world in the abstract terms of multiple independent factors which work against any more coherent picture of the historical process and its contradictions. While such formal elements appear to be conditional on and anchored in concrete content, they are shown in fact to reflect the negation of such content (and thus coherence). In this way, an apparently limitless proliferation of free-floating isolated elements substitutes for faithful representation of the underlying social cleavages. The implications of the analysis for contrasting conceptualizations of abstraction in texts, as well as for the notion of utopian discourse, are critically discussed.
Keywords: abstraction, gratuitous complexity, utopian discourse, Social Capital, form-content division
In: Journal of Language and Politics 9:1. 2010 iv, 174 pp. (pp. 50–73)