The plenary examines disquiet and discontent as expressions of indignation at increasingly visible discrepancies in the global economy and distribution of power. We appraise anthropology’s uncertain stance towards local resistance, the oversimplifications of top-down theorizing, the contradictions, complexity and dynamism of such resistance.
The idea of ‘resistance’ has captured the imagination of many generations of anthropologists, but the anthropological study of resistance has not yet developed into a recognizable sub-field with coherent approaches in conversation with each other. This plenary addresses this problem, seeking to problematize the anthropological study of resistance, and encourage anthropological dialogue about resistance, in a period marked by the emergence of an increasing number of resistance movements. Some of the analytical problems with studying resistance anthropologically have been identified before: the conceptual ambiguity of resistance, the contradictions between direct and indirect resistance, the limits of local agency, the neglect of culturally situated points of views by top down interpretations. The plenary will highlight those problems and stress the remarkable and unexpected advantages of approaching resistance from an ethnographic point of view. By prioritizing meaning, such an ‘ethnographic’ perspective can make a major contribution to the social theory of resistance, diverging significantly from the homogenizing accounts of journalists, economists and political commentators. A challenge for the anthropology of the 21st century is to evade oversimplification and account for local resistance - its contradictions, complexity and dynamism - in locally meaningful, but globally understandable, terms. We support our theoretical and methodological reflections with reference to resistance in Israel, Greece, Panama and the Basque Country.