Accepted paper:

Reflections on a 'thick' description of resistance


Jacqueline Urla (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Paper short abstract:

The ethnography of resistance was an important object of concern in the anthropology of the eighties. This paper recalls what scholars of the time thought ethnography could bring to the study of resistance, their debacles, and some of the analytical conundrums that continue to animate this field of study.

Paper long abstract:

For a generation of anthropologists, the publication of James Scott’s <i>Weapons of the Weak</i> was a provocation and a catalyst for the emergence of resistance as an object of ethnographic study. This now classic study of 'everyday' forms of peasant rebellion, together with the work of scholars in the Birmingham School tradition of cultural studies, served to make Gramscian conceptions of hegemony a much more prominent part of the anthropologist’s analytical toolkit for studying power, domination and resistance. Foucauldian analytics of power and subjectivity were simultaneously rapidly making headway in anthropology and this, together with greater reflexivity and feminist concerns became interwoven in the ethnographies of resistance that appeared in the subsequent two decades. This presentation seeks to map out this seminal moment in the ethnography of resistance, what scholars at the time thought ethnographic methods had to offer, as well as some of the major points of contention among its advocates. In Sherry Ortner’s masterful assessment of the state of the field, published in 1995, it was ironically the <i>lack</i> of ethnographic thickness that most bedeviled the field of resistance studies. I argue that thickness continues to be one of the most valuable contributions that anthropologists can make to resistance studies. I will discuss what thickness means and the challenges it poses drawing from my previous research on minority language activism in the Basque country and my current efforts at intimate ethnography of the memory movement in Spain.

panel Plenary B
Local resistance, disquiet, and anthropological uncertainty