ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P21)
Resistance and complicity
Location Room 11
Date and Start Time 15 April, 2015 at 11:15
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Sebastien Bachelet (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh) email

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Short Abstract

Can resistance also be complicit? This panel seeks to answer this question and similar ones by exploring the conceptual and empirical ambiguities between the notions of resistance, complicity and cooperation in anthropology.

Long Abstract

Drawing on the vivid debates on the popular anthropological notion of resistance (from Scott to Ortner and beyond), this panel seeks to explore the ambiguous interstices between resistance and complicity.

Does resistance include and possibly conceal instances of connivance? Can complicity ever actually be the basis of resistance as in the case of former perpetrators of violence who repent and speak out against theirs and others' actions? When does compromise become acceptable for those who resist? What role do defections and collaborations play in either undermining or supporting resistance? How does the fear of potential traitors and collaborators affect resistance movements? How do such different workings of power interrelate and alter one another?

In this panel, we further interrogate the notion of resistance by examining processes of resistance where conflicts, compromises and complicities are entangled. We invite papers that critically discuss "resistance" and its epistemological contours together with other workings of power, such as complicity and compromise, both theoretically and ethnographically.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Between cooperation and resistance - mobile street vendors in Hanoi

Author: Lisa Barthelmes (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Germany)  email

Short Abstract

In my paper I will show that mobile street vendors in Hanoi employ a range of strategies and tactics that range from subtle acts of resistance to covert forms of cooperation when dealing with local policemen.

Long Abstract

In this paper I critically examine the concept of 'everyday resistance' as a conceptual tool to analyse state-society relations in Vietnam by presenting the ethnographic example of mobile street vendors. Despite various bans and hostile state policies since the 1990s, mobile street vendors continue to exist in large numbers on Hanoi's streets. Scholars have been mainly conceptualizing this phenomenon as resistance both in the Vietnam context and elsewhere. Even though 'everyday resistance' offers a promising framework, I argue that acts of resistance only constitute one aspect of how street vendors deal with the local state and that a more thorough analysis is needed if we want to fully understand socio-political processes on the streets of Hanoi. For example, street vendors try to establish informal networks with local officers. These strategies of cooperation show that complicity may exist next to more resistive acts. However, the classical framework of 'everyday resistance' leaves little room for contradictory beliefs or mixed emotions, let alone seemingly paradoxical behaviour on the side of the 'subordinates'. In my example I will show that mobile street vendors' interactions with the local state consist of different strategies and tactics that range from evasion techniques and moral claims to complicity. I argue that it is necessary to take into account the ambiguity of resistance and the subjective ambivalence of such acts when talking about state-society relations on the ground.

Mitigating Complicity: Advising the security apparatus in the name of peace

Author: Eyal Ziggy Clyne (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on fieldwork among academic experts on Middle East in Israel, I discuss the mitigation of those of them who work with/for the security apparatus, and engage with both emic and etic approaches to their common assertion that such complicity is public intellectualism and a contribution to peace.

Long Abstract

My paper discusses the mitigation of complicity in conditions of Israeli cultural militarism. Drawing on some of my recent fieldwork on 'studying-up' the academic field of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Israel, a number of my informants were/are working with/for the Israeli military intelligence, and/or military government over Palestinians, and/or advise to the Ministries of Security or Foreign Affairs, PMO, Parliament, etc. Their work is often explained in positivist terms, as well as public intellectualism, benefiting their society, and contributing to peace. Looking at ethnographic interviews, and analyzing their academic work, as well as public contributions, I suggest to consider Bourdieu's approach of the ways in which academics play part in a broader political game, and ask whether one can simultaneously be part of the mechanism of control and its contestant. Another discussion which might echo in my discussion is the degree to which academic work benefits a greater good, or is (merely?) justifying/rationalising elitist practices.

Alcohol as a 'disease of the will' in Tamil Nadu: reframing the resistance and complicity debate

Author: Ned Dostaler (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper uses the example of the politics of alcohol in Tamil Nadu to offer a reframing the resistance and complicity debate that gestures towards a more nuanced understanding of the operative and relational nature of power.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu (India) and an engagement with anthropological and critical theory, this paper uses the example of the politics of alcohol to offer critical reflections on the debate around resistance and complicity. First, the paper will focus on how specific forms of governmentality in Gudalur produce discourse about the 'autological subject' (individual freedom) and 'genealogical society' (social constraint) which serve to reify the notion of alcoholism as a 'disease of the will' and thus invoke claims of individual agency (Povinelli 2011). Reflecting upon the present configurations of power and biopolitics — in their multiple forms — in Gudalur, the paper will call into question this notion of agency, and along with it the epistemological foundations on which the concepts of resistance and complicity rest upon. Rather than seeing power as a top down force that one can either resit or comply with, this paper offers a more complex understanding of the multiple ways that power works and is responded to in the context of alcohol addiction. In its attempt to understand processes of social and political change, this paper reframes the resistance and complicity debate as: What are the necessary conditions for alternative social projects to do more than merely endure a 'slow death' in late liberal society (Povinelli 2011; Berlant 2007)? Thus rather than thinking with the binary of resistance and complicity this paper calls for and gestures towards a more nuanced understanding of the operative and relational nature of power.

Parachuting in: class and internal colonialism in Moscow's anti-Putin protests

Author: Anna Grigoryeva (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Building on Ortner's analysis of the "hidden life of class" and Etkind's of Russian internal colonialism, this paper uses ethnography of Moscow political activists' missions to provincial towns to show how this resistance project was complicit in but also sometimes challenged class and colonial inequality.

Long Abstract

In 2012 Moscow, activists of the movement for fair elections would go on what they called 'desant' - 'parachuting-in' or 'landing' missions to support protest in provincial towns. This paper uses ethnography of such missions to reveal how class and internal colonialism structured the movement's project of resistance. Both media and academic commentators consistently apply the label 'middle-class' to the participants and the demands of Russia's 2012 protest movement for fair elections. This label was not accepted by the movement's activists themselves. For the activists class represented a conceptual minefield akin to, though drastically historically distinct from, that described by Ortner in the US context. I follow Ortner's steps to retrace the "hidden life of class" as well as of internal colonialism (Etkind) in protestors' use of the ideas of Westernisation, 'culturedness' and 'normality' as rubrics of inequality that made sense of their democratising project through the construction and use of a provincial, working-class Other to be educated and/or confronted. Engaged in a project of resisting autocratic political structures, they were at the same time grappling with, being complicit in, or using class and colonial inequalities. The paper will show how the contested conceptual baggages of 'cultured Moscow' and 'uncultured province' left space also to create narratives and alliances that challenged these structures of inequality.

I resist by complying with the conditions they set for me, right? The odd case of compliance turned into resistance.

Author: Ines Hasselberg (University of Minho)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among foreign-national offenders facing deportation from the UK, this paper discusses whether compliance can be conceptualised as a strategy of resistance to a set of policies that research participants did not consider legitimate.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses whether compliance can be perceived as a strategy of resistance. To equate compliance to resistance is counter-intuitive. Resistance is generally equated precisely with non-compliance: with disobedience, defiance and contestation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among foreign-national offenders facing deportation from the UK, I show how compliance is perceived as a form of resistance to a set of policies that research participants did not consider legitimate. Policies of surveillance and control in the context of deportation are illegitimate in the eyes of foreign-national offenders, because they are seen as strategies to render their lives impossible to the point of acquiescence in leaving the country. By not giving into the pressure to leave, and enduring the 'limbo' that is placed on their lives, they resist both their deportation and the state's will to deport them. Furthermore, in complying with difficult conditions and heavy restrictions that the Home Office places upon them, they feel they are directly defying the Home Office while at the same time resisting the notion that their deportation is in the best interest of the public good. Labelling people's action as 'resistance' raises important questions. In the case in hand, are migrants resisting the dominant power, deportation policies, or simply their own deportation? And can such forms of action, in this instance compliance, be considered resistance in the first place? Drawing difference sets of literature on resistance, legitimacy and compliance these questions are discussed and given consideration.

Reconciling 'quiet' lives with public protest? An examination of the Glasgow Bajuni campaign's communicative strategies.

Author: Emma Hill (Heriot Watt University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores ways in which the Glasgow Bajuni campaign seeks to publicly protest the disputed nationality cases of its asylum seeker members, whilst trying to reconcile its actions with its members’ privately-minded, ‘quiet’ culture. It looks at notions of ‘public’, ‘hybridity’ and language to do so.

Long Abstract

The Bajuni campaign is a campaign run by a small group of asylum seekers in Glasgow who have had their asylum applications refused on the grounds of disputed (Somali) nationality. The disputed nationality decision has left the Bajuni destitute and in limbo: refused asylum because the Home Office does not believe they are Somali, but unable to be 'returned' because they have no proven country of origin. The Bajuni group have reluctantly taken up the responsibility of campaigning in a last-ditch attempt to make their situation publicly 'visible' to apply pressure on Home Office practices. However, this heightened visibility has come with its own difficulties - both because it goes against the Bajuni's quiet cultural preferences, and because it attracts the 'wrong' type of attention from the Home Office.

This paper examines the ways in which the Bajuni campaign has attempted to reconcile their cultural preference to remain a 'quiet', closed group with their need to publicly protest their treatment by the Home Office. Drawing on fieldwork, and making use of Squires (2002) theory of subaltern counterpublics, it explores the ways in which the Bajuni's habitual 'satellite' dynamic both challenges and is challenged by the campaign's need to go public. Having identified this tension, the paper will then critique notions of hybridity to explore ways in which the Bajuni use their campaign to simultaneously placate and appeal to their 'satellite' public, whilst making their wider public protest. The paper identifies the Bajuni's language-use as the site of this public/private cultural negotiation.

A story of layers of resistance played out in the Peruvian Amazon

Author: Chantelle Murtagh (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

I wish to examine the micro level politics or different layers of resistance with specific reference to how the local context in the Madre de Dios region of Peru is leading some indigenous leaders to consider negotiation with the petrol company to be part of that resistance.

Long Abstract

The story of indigenous peoples struggling for state recognition of ancestral lands and control of these lands against the backdrop of oil exploration demonstrates at a macro level resistance to a dominant system. This resistance is played out in very visible ways through marches, media campaigns and strategic alliances. I wish to further examine the situation in terms of the different layers of resistance, or the micro level politics which makes up this resistance (Ortner, 1995: 177, 179) and how the local context leads indigenous leaders to consider negotiation with the petrol company to be part of that resistance. In an attempt to "shift perspective" (Abu-Lughod, 1990), I will draw on my fieldwork carried out in the Madre de Dios region of Peru in order to highlight what these different "forms of resistance indicate about the forms of power that they are up against" (ibid: 47). I hope to show that resistance has to be understood as multi-layered in order to take into account the different actors, both indigenous and non-indigenous, involved in the various forms of domination in place. I will make specific reference to the role of indigenous leaders in articulating and responding to the demands of their communities. Ultimately, I attempt to understand how resistance can also involve accepting state-designated oil projects on their land.

Fighting the Discourse from Within: Epistemological Resistance to Multinational Mining in Peru

Author: Noah Walker-Crawford (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Universalistic knowledge can be the basis of domination and a tool for resistance. Anti-mining activists in Peru appear complicit in dominant discourses when they negotiate resistance in dominant terms, but they do this to draw international resonance and propagate alternative forms of development.

Long Abstract

Scientific environmental and economic knowledge can be a tool of domination, but can also be appropriated to form the basis for resistance. While multinational mining companies draw on universalistic approaches to apprehend the environments they exploit in the Peruvian region of Cajamarca, local activists have resisted these efforts by drawing on some of the 'dominant' conceptions (e.g. 'sustainable development'), particularly in an effort to draw attention to their cause in the lead-up to the 2014 UN Climate Summit in Lima. Local articulations of resistance can be seen as situated knowledge practices that emerge in tension with dominant forms of knowledge within webs of power relations (cf. Haraway 1988). They seek legitimacy by drawing on dominant concepts and using them for their own ends. While it may appear that these activists become complicit in the power relations through which mining and ensuing environmental destruction are implemented, closer analysis shows that such situated knowledges can become forms of epistemological resistance that call into question the knowledge practices on which dominant relations of power rely. While their use of terms such as 'sustainable development' may give the appearance of complicity with dominant structures, activists buy into the discourses on their own terms to attain international recognition and formulate alternative models of development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.