EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet
Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012
Local resistance, disquiet, and anthropological uncertainty
Location B2 Henri Lefebvre theatre
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 09:00
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.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
Reflections on a 'thick' description of resistance
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.
For a generation of anthropologists, the publication of James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak 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 lack 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.
Local discontent and the meaningfulness of resistance: challenging homogeneity through complexity
This plenary paper criticizes approaches to the study of resistance that homogenize the resisting imagined-and-undifferentiated subject. It puts forward an alternative approach that focuses on the meaningfulness and complexity of local discontent, drawing examples from protest in Greece and Panama.
Conventional images of local resistance involve protesters on the road, placards, slogans, road blockages, attacks by the police, tear gas, and wounded bystanders. Journalistic reportage captures the structural opposition of such confrontations, the tension, the drama, the causality of the protest as this is articulated on the surface. Many of us feel that we understand the protesters - the homogenized, imagined protester: the protester as a familiar and undifferentiated image; a photograph on facebook, a virtual potential friend. This illusion of familiarity sets obstacles to the anthropological study of resistance: little is known about local meaningfulness, and less about the discontent that fuels and engenders resistance.
This plenary paper attempts to move beyond the homogenized perception of resistance or its articulated justification, and addresses the complexity and meaningfulness of local discontent - indignation, infuriation, an embodied sense of injustice - that inspires resistance. I argue that anthropology can contribute in revolutionizing the study of resistance by addressing its complexity, meaningfulness and local specificity; and I offer timely examples of resistance and discontent - from Greece and Panama - that prioritize meaning over structure.
When resistance goes to town
Is ‘resistance’, a term embedded in colonial rural contexts, applicable to choreographies of protest and repression now unfolding in contemporary urban protests?
Resistance, emphasizing grass-root response to coercive systemic power, was introduced to anthropology by scholars seeking to theorize colonial rural contexts. Analysis of contemporary global protest, which is of course predominantly urban, could benefit from this theoretical perspective. But two related issues emerge. One: is the coherence implicitly attributed by ‘resistance’ to power and the institutions that embody it as valid for the dynamic choreography of protest and repression in contemporary ‘Rebel Cities’ as it may have been for other contexts? Two: Given the diversity of causes and affiliations that characterize contemporary protests, and the empowerment this diversity facilitates, how can ethnographic studies of the local manifestations of the struggle help? Could our inherent attention to nuanced particularities undermine the strategic essentialism that seems to be required for this struggle to bear fruit?
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.