Resistance and the problem of - Ortner


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Resistance and the problem of - Ortner

  1. 1. Society for Comparative Studies in Society and HistoryResistance and the Problem of Ethnographic RefusalAuthor(s): Sherry B. OrtnerReviewed work(s):Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 173-193Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 06/11/2012 06:47Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Cambridge University Press and Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Comparative Studies in Society and History.
  2. 2. Resistance and the Problemof EthnographicRefusalSHERRY B. ORTNERUniversityof California, BerkeleyThis essay traces the effects of what I call ethnographic refusal on a series ofstudies surrounding subject of resistance. I argue that many of the most theinfluential studies of resistance are severely limited by the lack of an eth-nographicperspective. Resistance studies in turn are meant to stand in for agreat deal of interdisciplinary work being done these days within and acrossthe social sciences, history, literature,culturalstudies, and so forth. Ethnographyof course means many things. Minimally, however, it hasalways meant the attemptto understand anotherlife world using the self-asmuch of it as possible-as the instrumentof knowing. As is by now widelyknown, ethnographyhas come undera great deal of internalcriticism withinanthropologyover the past decade or so, but this minimal definition has notfor the most part been challenged. Classically, this kind of understanding been closely linked with field haswork, in which the whole self physically and in every other way enters thespace of the world the researcherseeks to understand.Yet implicit in much ofthe recent discussions of ethnographyis something I wish to make explicithere:thatthe ethnographic stance (as we may call it) is as much an intellectual(and moral) positionality, a constructive and interpretivemode, as it is abodily process in space and time. Thus, in a recent useful discussion of"ethnography the historicalimagination,"Johnand Jean Comaroffspend andrelatively little time on ethnography the sense of field work but a greatdeal inof time on ways of readinghistoricalsources ethnographically, that is, partlyas if they had been producedthroughfield work (1992). What, then, is the ethnographic stance, whetherbased in field work or not? 1 An earlier and very different version of this essay was written for "The Historic Turn"Conferenceorganizedby Terrence McDonaldfor the Programin the Comparative Study of SocialTransformations (CSST) at the University of Michigan. The extraordinarily high level of in-sightfulness and helpfulness of critical comments from my colleagues in CSST has by nowbecome almost routine, and I wish to thank them collectively here. In addition, for close anddetailed readings of the text, I wish to thank FrederickCooper, FernandoCoronil, NicholasDirks, Val Daniel, Geoff Eley, Ray Grew, Roger Rouse, William Sewell, Jr., Julie Skurski, AnnStoler, and the excellent readerswho reviewed the article for this journal. I have incorporatedmany of their suggestions and know that I have ignored some at my peril. Finally, for valuablecomments as well as for the heroic job of organizingthe conference, I wish especially to thankTerrenceMcDonald. $7.50 + .10 ? 1995Society Comparative of Society History0010-4175/95/1792-0396 for Study and 173
  3. 3. 174 SHERRY B. ORTNERIt is first and foremosta commitmentto whatGeertzhas called "thickness,"toproducing understandingthrough richness, texture, and detail, rather thanparsimony,refinement, and (in the sense used by mathematicians) elegance.The forms that ethnographicthickness have taken have of course changedover time. There was a time when thickness was perhapssynonymous withexhaustiveness, producing the almost unreadablydetailed descriptive eth-nography,often followed by the famous "AnotherPot from Old Oraibi"kindof journal article. Later, thickness came to be synonymouswith holism, theidea thatobject understudywas "a"highly integrated "culture" thatit was andpossible to describe the entire system or at least fully grasp the principlesunderlyingit. Holism in this sense has also been under attack for some time, and mostanthropologists today recognize both the hubrisof the holistic vision and theinnumerablegaps and fissures in all societies, including the so-called pre-moder societies thatwere imaginedto be more integratedand whole than wefragmentedmoders. Yet I would argue that thickness (with traces of bothexhaustiveness and holism) remains at the heart of the ethnographicstance.Nowadays, issues of thicknessfocus primarilyon issues of (relativelyexhaus-tive) contextualization.George Marcus, for example, examines the ways inwhich ethnographyin the local and usually bodily sense must be contex-tualized within the global processes of the world system (1986). And theComaroffs emphasize the need always to contextualize the data producedthroughfield work and archivalresearchwithin the forms of practice withinwhich they took shape: "If texts are to be more than literarytopoi, scatteredshards from which we presume worlds, they have to be anchored in theprocesses of their production, in the orbits of connection and influence thatgive them life and force"(1992:34). MarthaKaplanand JohnKelly also insiston a kind of density of contextualization,in their case by articulatingthecharacteristics the dialogic space within which a political history must be ofseen as unfolding (1994). If the ethnographicstance is founded centrallyon (among other things, ofcourse) a commitmentto thickness and if thickness has taken and still takesmany forms, what I am calling ethnographicrefusal involves a refusal ofthickness, a failureof holism or density which itself may take various forms.This study, then, is about some of the forms of ethnographic refusal, some ofits consequences, and some of its reasons, organized around the topic ofresistance. A few words first, then, about resistance.RESISTANCE AND DOMINATIONOnce upon a time, resistancewas a relatively unambiguouscategory,half ofthe seemingly simple binary,dominationversus resistance.Dominationwas arelativelyfixed and institutionalizedform of power;resistancewas essentiallyorganizedopposition to power institutionalized this way. This binarybegan in
  4. 4. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL 175to be refined (but not abolished)by questioningboth terms. On the one hand,Foucault (for example, 1978) drew attention to less institutionalized,morepervasive, and more everydayforms of power;on the otherhand, JamesScott(1985) drew attentionto less organized, more pervasive, and more everydayforms of resistance. With Scotts delineationof the notion of "everydayformsof resistance" (1985), in turn, the question of what is or is not resistancebecame much more complicated.2When a poor man steals from a rich man, isthis resistance or simply a survival strategy?The question runs through anentire collection of essays devoted to everydayforms of resistance(Scott andKerkvliet 1986), and differentauthorsattemptto answer it in differentways.Michael Adas, for example, constructsa typology of forms of everydayresis-tance, the better to help us place what we are seeing (1986). Brian Feganconcentrateson the questionof intention:If a relativelyconscious intentiontoresist is not present, the act is not one of resistance(1986). Still others (Stoler1986; Cooper 1992) suggest thatthe categoryitself is not very helpful and thatthe importantthing is to attend to a variety of transformative processes, inwhich things do get changed, regardlessof the intentionsof the actors or ofthe presence of very mixed intentions. In the long run I might agree with Stoler and Cooper, but for the momentIthink resistance, even at its most ambiguous, is a reasonablyuseful category,if only because it highlightsthe presence and play of power in most forms ofrelationshipand activity.Moreover,we are not requiredto decide once and forall whetherany given act fits into a fixed box called resistance. As Marxwellknew, the intentionalitiesof actorsevolve throughpraxis, and the meaningsofthe acts change, both for the actor and for the analyst. In fact, the ambiguityof resistanceand the subjectiveambivalenceof the acts for those who engagein them are among the things I wish to emphasize in this essay. In a relation-ship of power, the dominantoften has something to offer, and sometimes agreat deal (thoughalways of course at the price of continuingin power). Thesubordinatethus has many groundsfor ambivalenceabout resisting the rela-tionship. Moreover,thereis never a single, unitary,subordinate,if only in thesimple sense that subaltern groups are internally divided by age, gender,status, and other forms of difference and that occupants of differing subjectpositions will have different, even opposed, but still legitimate, perspectiveson the situation. (The question of whethereven a single person is "unitary"will be addressedlater in this article.) Both the psychological ambivalenceand the social complexityof resistancehave been noted by several, but not enough, observers.3 Brian Fegan talksabout being "constantlybaffled by the contradictoryways peasants talkedaboutthe tenancy system in general, or abouttheirown relationswith particu- 2 Scott was of course drawingon a wealth of earlier scholarship. 3 The notion of ambivalence has become central to colonial and post-colonial studies moregenerally and is wortha paperin itself. See for example W. Hanks(1986) and H. Bhabha(1985).
  5. 5. 176 SHERRY B. ORTNERlar landlords"(1986:92). Moreover, the peasants of Central Luzon whomFegan studied were psychologically uncomfortablewith both acts of resis-tance and acts of collaboration:Manymentalking me privately to about strategems use to survive, the they brokeoffto say theyfoundtheftfromthe landlord, working the landlord guards,arms for asdealing,etc. distasteful. whatelse coulda person But withchildren (1986:93) do? In a different vein, Christine Pelzer White says that "we must add aninventoryof everydayforms of peasantcollaboration to balance our list ofeveryday forms of peasant resistance: both exist, both are important"(1986:56). She goes on to presentexamples from post-revolutionary Vietnamof varying alliances between sectors with differentinterests, including "thestate and peasantry against the local elite . . . the peasants and the local eliteagainst the state . . . the state and individuals [mostly women] against [male]household heads" (1986:60). Closely relatedto questions of the psychological and socio-political com-plexity of resistance and non-resistance(and to the need for thick ethnogra-phy) is the question of authenticity.Authenticity is another highly prob-lematizedterm, insofaras it seems to presumea naive belief in culturalpurity,in untouchedcultures whose histories are uncontaminated those of their byneighbors or of the west. I make no such presumptions;nonetheless, theremust be a way to talk aboutwhat the Comaroffscall "theendogenoushistoric-ity of local worlds"(1992:27), in which the pieces of reality,however muchborrowedfrom or imposedby others, are woven togetherthroughthe logic ofa groups own locally and historicallyevolved bricolage. It is this that I willmean by authenticity the discussionsthatfollow, as I turnto a consideration inof some of the recent literatureon resistance. I should note here that the works to be discussed constitutea very selectedand partialset, and I make no claims to cover the entire literature.In this eraof interdisciplinarity, scholarlyexhaustivenessis more unattainable than ever,but, more important,the works are selected here either because they havebeen very influentialor because they illustratea fairly common problem orboth. In any event, the point of the discussion is to examine a number ofproblems in the resistanceliteraturearising from the stance of ethnographicrefusal. The discussion will be organized in terms of three forms of suchrefusal, which I will call sanitizingpolitics, thinningculture, and dissolvingactors.SANITIZING POLITICSIt may seem odd to startoff by criticizingstudiesof resistancefor not contain-ing enough politics. If there is one thing these studies examine, it is politics,front and center. Yet the discussion is usually limited to the politics of resis-tance, that is, to the relationshipbetween the dominantand the subordinate(see also Cooper 1992:4). If we are to recognize thatresistorsare doing more
  6. 6. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL I77than simply opposing domination, more than simply producing a virtuallymechanical re-action, then we must go the whole way. They have their ownpolitics-not just between chiefs and commonersor landlordsand peasantsbut within all the local categories of friction and tension: men and women,parentsand children, seniors and juniors; inheritanceconflicts among broth-ers; strugglesof succession and wars of conquestbetweenchiefs; strugglesforprimacy between religious sects; and on and on. It is the absence of analysis of these forms of internalconflict in manyresistance studies that gives them an air of romanticism,of which they areoften accused (for example, Abu-Lughod 1990). Let me take one example,from a fine book that I admire on many other counts: Inga ClendinnensAmbivalentConquests:Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan,1517-1570 (1987).Clendinnenrecognizes that there were Maya chiefs who had significant ad-vantages of materialresources, political power, and social precedence. Shealso recognizes that, in this sort of polity, chiefs had many obligationsin turnto their subjects, includingthe redistribution (some) wealth throughfeasts ofand hospitalityand the staging of ritualsfor the collective well-being. Yet thedegree to which she emphasizes the reciprocityover the asymmetryof therelationshipsystematicallyexcludes from the readersview a pictureof someof the serious exploitation and violence of the Mayan political economy.Chiefs engaged in "extravagant and casual taking" (1987:143), "were allo-cated the most favouredland for the makingof milpa"(1987:144), and "weregiven the lords shareof the game takenin a communalhunt [and]levied fromthe professionalhunters"(1987:144); their land was workedby war captives,and their domestic system was maintainedby "femaleslaves and concubines"(1987:144). Yet Clendinnenbalancesthe mentionof each of those instancesofsystematic exploitation with some mention of how much the chiefs gave inreturn, culminating in an account of a ritual to protect the villagers fromthreatenedcalamity:"Inthose experiences, when the life of the whole villagewas absorbed in the ritual process, men learnt that the differences betweenpriest, lord and commonerwere less importantthan their shareddependenceon the gods, and the fragility of the human order"(147). Clendinnengoes on to say (1987:47) that"thecost of all this (althoughit isfar from clear that the Maya regardedit as a cost) was war"which was wagedbetween chiefs of neighboringgroups. In war, "noblecaptives were killed forthe gods; the rest, men, women andchildren,were enslaved, and the men soldout of the country"(1987:148). What is wrong with this picture?In the firstplace, one presumesthat some Maya-the captives who were to be executed,and the men, women, and childrenwho were enslaved, not to mentionevery-one else in the society who had to live with the permanent possibility of suchviolence-"regarded it as a cost." In the second place, Clendinnennever putstogether the pieces of her account to show that the sense of "shareddepen-dence" of chiefs and commoners, insofar as it was successfully establishedat
  7. 7. 178 SHERRY B. ORTNERall, was in large part a productof the displacementof exploitationand vio-lence from the chiefs own subjects to those of his neighbors. There seems a virtualtaboo on puttingthese pieces together, as if to givea full account of the Mayan political order, good and bad, would be togive some observersthe ammunitionfor saying that the Maya deserved whatthey got from the Spanish. But this concern is ungrounded.Nothing aboutMayan politics, however bloody and exploitative, would condone the loot-ing, killing, and culturaldestructionwrought by the Spanish. On the otherhand, a more thorough and critical account of pre-colonial Mayan politicswould presumably generate a different picture of the subsequent shape ofthe colonial history of the region, including the subsequentpatternsof re-sistance and non-resistance.At the very least, it would respect the ambiv-alent complexity of the Maya world as it existed both at that time and in thepresent.4 The most glaring arena of internal political complexity glossed over bymost of these studies is the arena of gender politics.5 This is a particularlyvexed question. Membersof subordinate groupswho want to call attentiontogender inequities in their own groups are subject to the accusationthat theyare underminingtheir own class or subalternsolidarity,not supportingtheirmen, and playing into the hands of the dominants. "First-world" feministscholars who do the same are subject to sharp attacks from "third-world"feminist scholarson the same grounds(see C. Mohanty1988). It seems elitistto call attentionto the oppressionof women within their own class or racialgroupor culture, when thatclass or racialgroupor cultureis being oppressedby anothergroup. These issues have come into sharpfocus in the debatessurrounding sati, orwidow burning, in colonial India (Spivak 1988; Jain, Misra, and Srivastava1987; Mani 1987). One of the ways in which the Britishjustified their owndominance was to point to what they consideredbarbaricpractices, such assati, and to claim that they were engaged in a civilizing mission that wouldsave Indian women from these practices. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak hasironically characterized this situationas one in which "white men are savingbrown women from brown men" (1988:296). Thus, analystswho might wantto investigatethe ways in which sati was partof a largerconfigurationof maledominancein nineteenth-century Indiansociety cannotdo so withoutseemingto subscribeto the discourse of the colonial administrators. The attemptstodeal with this particular of contradictions set have only multipliedthe contra-dictions. 4 A parallel to the monolithic portrayalof resistors is the monolithic portrayalof the domi-nants. This is beginning to be brokendown, as for example in Stoler (1989). 5 The absence of genderconsiderationsin generic resistancestudies, and some implicationsofthis absencehave been addressedparticularly OHanlon(1989). See also White (1986). But for byvaluable ethnographicstudies of gender resistance per se, see Abu-Lughod (1986) and Ong(1987).
  8. 8. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL 179 Overall, the lack of an adequatesense of priorand ongoing politics amongsubalternsmust inevitably contributeto an inadequateanalysis of resistanceitself. Many people do not get caughtup in resistancemovements, and this isnot simply an effect of fear (as Scott generally argues [1985, 1990]), naiveenthrallmentto the priests (as Friedrich argues about many of the non-resisting Mexican peasants [1985]), or narrowself-interest.Nor does it makecollaboratorsof all the non-participants. Moreover, individual acts of resis-tance, as well as large-scale resistance movements, are often themselvesconflicted, internallycontradictory, and affectively ambivalent, in large partdue to these internalpolitical complexities. The impulse to sanitize the internal politics of the dominated must beunderstood as fundamentallyromantic. As a partial antidote to this wide-spread tendency, it might be well to reintroducethe work of the so-calledstructural Marxistsin anthropology theirdescendants.Structural and Marxism(the Bloch 1975 readeris a good place to start;see also Meillassoux 1981 andTerray1972) took shape as a response to this romanticizingtendency withinthe field of anthropologyand as an attemptto understandnon-Westernandpre-capitalistforms of inequalityon the analogy with Marxsanalysis of classwithin capitalism. Tackling societies that would have been categorized asegalitarianprecisely because they lacked class or caste, structuralMarxistswere able to tease out the ways in which such things as the apparentbenevo-lent authorityof elders or the apparent altruismand solidarityof kin are oftengrounded in systematic patternsof exploitationand power. The structuralMarxistproject took shape at roughly the same time as didfeministanthropology.6 two togethermadeit difficultfor manyanthropolo- Thegists, myself included, to look at even the simplest society ever again withoutseeing a politics every bit as complex, and sometimesevery bit as oppressive,as those of capitalismand colonialism.7 Moreover,as anthropologists this ofpersuasionbegan taking the historic turn, it seemed impossible to understandthe histories of these societies, including (but not limited to) their historiesundercolonialism or capitalistpenetration,without understanding how thoseexternalforces interactedwith these internalpolitics. Sahlins account(1981)of the patterns accommodation resistancein play betweenHawaiiansand of andEuropeansin the eighteenthand nineteenthcenturies;some of Wolfs discus-sions in Europeand the People withoutHistory (1982); my own (1989) historyof Sherpa religious transformations,linking indigenous politics and culture 6 The beginningsof (Franco-British) structural Marxismin anthropologywere also contempo-rarywith the beginnings of British (Marxist)CulturalStudies. The impactof structural Marxismon anthropology,as well as the fact that the field was still miredin the split between materialismand idealism in that era, probablyaccounts in good part for the delay of the impact of CulturalStudies. See Ortner(1984) for a review of anthropological theoryfrom the nineteen sixties to theeighties. 7 Some importantearly feminist anthropologywas directly drawing on structuralMarxism.See especially Collier and Rosaldo (1981).
  9. 9. I80 SHERRY B. ORTNERwith larger regional (Nepal state and British Raj) dynamics; Richard Foxs(1985) study of the evolutionof Sikh identityundercolonialism-all of theseshow thatan understanding political authenticity, the peoples own forms of ofof inequalityand asymmetry,is not only not incompatiblewith an understand-ing of resistancebut is in fact indispensableto such an understanding.THINNING CULTUREJustas subalterns mustbe seen as havingan authentic,andnot merelyreactive,politics, so they must be seen as havingan authentic,and not merely reactive,culture.The cultureconceptin anthropology has, like ethnography,come underheavy attackin recentyears, partlyfor assumptionsof timelessness, homoge-neity,uncontestedsharedness,andthe like thatwerehistoricallyembeddedin itand in anthropological practicemore generally.Yet those assumptionsare notby any means intrinsicto the concept, which can be (re-)mobilizedin powerfulways withoutthem. Indeeda radicalreconceptualization culture, including ofboth the historicization politicizationof the concept, has been going on for andat least the last decadeor so in anthropology; the attacksuponits traditional andform areby now very muchin the way of beatinga deadhorse(see Dirks, Eley,and Ortner1994). In any event, like JamesClifford,one of the majorfigures inthe attack on the concept of culture, I do not see how we can do without it(1988:10). The only alternativeto recognizing that subalternshave a certainprior and ongoing cultural authenticity,according to subalterns, is to viewsubaltern responsesto dominationas ad hoc andincoherent,springingnot fromtheirown senses of order,justice, meaning, andthe like butonly from some setof ideas called into being by the situationof dominationitself. Culturalthinningis characteristic some of the most influentialstudies of ofresistance currentlyon the scene.8 Some of the problemswith this tendencymay be brought into focus through a consideration of the way in whichreligion is (or is not) handled in some of these studies. I do not mean tosuggest by this that religion is equivalent to all of culture. Nonetheless,religion is always a rich repositoryof culturalbeliefs and values and often hasclose affinities with resistance movements as well. I will thus look at thetreatmentof religion in a numberof resistance studies before turningto thequestion of culturemore generally. In one of the foundingtexts of the SubalternStudies school of history, forexample, Ranajit Guha emphasizes the importanceof recognizing and notdisparagingthe religious bases of tribaland peasantrebellions (1988). Indeedthis is one of the centralthreadsof SubalternStudies writings, a majorpartofits effortto recognize the authenticculturaluniverseof subalterns,from which 8 The work of the British CulturalStudies scholars is seemingly a major exception to thispoint. I would argue if I had time, however, that for much of the work in this field, the treatmentof both culture and ethnographyis also "thin"(Willis 1977 is a majorexception). In any event,my focus in this section is on influential work that is much more obviously problematicwithrespect to the thickness of culture.
  10. 10. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL I8Itheir acts of resistancegrew. Yet the degree to which the treatmentof religionin these studies is actually cultural, that is, is actually an effort to illuminatethe conceptual and affective configurationswithin which the peasants areoperating, is generally minimal.9Rather,the peasantis endowed with some-thing called "religiosity,"a kind of diffuse consciousness that is never furtherexplored as a set of ideas, practices, and feelings built into the religiousuniverse the peasant inhabits. Guhaandothersin his grouparejoustingwith some MarxistIndianhistorianswho share with bourgeois modernization theoristsa view of religion as back-ward. The SubalternStudies writers, in contrast,want to respect and validatepeasantreligiosity as an authenticdimensionof subaltern culture,out of whichan authentically oppositionalpolitics could be andwas constructed.YetGuhasown notionof peasantreligiositystill bearsthe tracesof Marxshostilitytowardreligion, defining "religious consciousness . . . as a massive demonstration ofself-estrangement" (1988:78). Moreover,insteadof exploringand interpretingthis religiosityof the rebelsin any substantive way, he makesa particular textualmove to avoid this, relegating to an appendixextracts of the peasants ownaccounts of the religious visions that inspiredtheir rebellion. A similarcasualnessaboutreligion, while paying it lip service, is evident inJames Scotts Weaponsof the Weak(1985). The point can be seen again notonly in what Scott says and does not say but in the very shape of his text.There is no general discussion of the religious landscapeof the villagers, andthe discussion of religious movements in his area, many of which had sig-nificant political dimensions, is confined to a few pages toward the end(1985:332-5). During Scotts field work a number of rumors of religio-political propheciescirculatedin his area, as well as a "flying letter"contain-ing similar prophecies. Like Guhas rebels testimonies, this letter is repro-duced, unanalyzed, in an appendix. The fact that "rarelya month goes bywithouta newspaperaccountof the prosecutionof a religious teacheraccusedof propagating false doctrines . . ." is also relegated to a footnote (1985:335). But culturalthinning, as noted above, need not be confined to marginaliz-ing religious factors, nor is it practiced only by non-anthropologists(likeGuha and Scott). In his landmarkwork, Europe and the People withoutHistory (1982), Eric Wolf devotes a scant five pages at the end of the book tothe question of culture, largely in orderto dismiss it. And in his superbstudyof the Sikh wars against the British (1985), RichardFox similarly,and muchmore extensively, argues against the idea that culture informs, shapes, andunderpinsresistance at least as much as it emerges situationallyfrom it. There are a numberof differentthings going on here. In part, Wolf and Fox(and perhaps some of the others) are writing from a sixties-style materialist 9 Of course the SubalternStudies school is complex, and a varietyof tendenciesappearwithinit. Shahid Amins "Gandhias Mahatma"(1988) is more fully culturalthan many of the otherwritings, as is GyanendraPandeys "PeasantRevolt and IndianNationalism"(1988).
  11. 11. I82 SHERRY B. ORTNERposition. Sixties-style materialism(in anthropologyat least) was opposed togiving cultureany sort of active role in the social and historicalprocess, otherthan mystifyingthe real (thatis, material)causes of formationsand events. Atthe same time, however, Wolfs and Foxs positions converge with later, andnot necessarily materialist, criticisms of the culture concept (for example,Clifford and Marcus 1986) as homogenizing, de-historicizing, and reifyingthe boundariesof specific groups or communities. Coming from a different direction, Raymond Williams (1977) and otherBirminghamCulturalStudies scholars(for example, Hall and Jefferson1976)were actuallyrevitalizingthe cultureconcept. Williams specifically wantedtoovercome the split between materialism idealismand to focus on the ways andin which structuresof exploitationand dominationare simultaneouslymate-rial and cultural. His approachto this was throughGramscis notion of he-gemony, which Williams defined as something very close to the classic an-thropologicalconcept of culturebut more politicized, more saturated with therelations of power, domination, and inequalitywithin which it takes shape.This was healthy for the culture concept and for an anthropologythat hadmoved significantlybeyond the oppositionsof the sixties. But it raisedthe oldspecter of "mystification" and "false consciousness." If dominationoperatesin part culturally,through ideas and-in Williams phrase-"structures offeeling," then people may accept and buy into their own domination,and thepossibility of resistance may be undermined.Moreover, as James Scott ar-gued, analysts who emphasize hegemony in this relatively deep, culturallyinternalized,sense are likely to fail to uncover those "hiddentranscripts" ofresistanceand those non-obviousacts and momentsof resistancethat do takeplace (Scott 1985, 1990). In fact, of course, in any situationof power there is a mixtureof culturaldynamics. To some extent, and for a varietyof good and bad reasons, peopleoften do accept the representations which underwritetheir own domination.At the same time they also preservealternative "authentic" traditionsof beliefand value which allow them to see through those representations.PaulWilliss now classic book, Learningto Labour(1977) is particularly valuablein addressingthis mixtureof hegemony and authenticityinvolved in relation-ships of power. Williss discussion of the ways in which the subcultureof theworking-classlads embodies both "penetrations" the dominantcultureand oflimitations on those penetrations-limitations deriving from the lads ownsubculturalperspectives on gender-is highly illuminating. Some recentwork by MarthaKaplan and John D. Kelly (1994) similarly underscoresthecultural complexity of power and resistance. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtinand, less explicitly, on MarshallSahlins, Kaplanand Kelly frame their studyof colonial Fiji as a study of contendingdiscourses within a dialogic space.Setting aside, for the most part, the category of resistance, they insist on thethickness of the culturalprocess in play in colonial "zones of transcourse"
  12. 12. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL I83(1994:129), where "multiple grammarsoperate through contingently cate-gorized people" (1994:127). The result is a complex but illuminatingpictureof shifting loyalties, shifting alliances, and above all shifting categories, asBritish, native Fijians, and Fiji Indianscontendedfor power, resources, andlegitimacy (see also Kaplan 1990; Kelly and Kaplan 1992; Orlove 1991;Turner1991 and n.d.). Indeed, a large alternativetraditionof resistancestudies shows clearly thatculturalrichnessdoes not underminethe possibility of seeing and understand-ing resistance.Quite the contrary:This traditionallows us to understand betterboth resistanceand its limits. Many of the greatclassics of social history-forexample, E. P. ThompsonsTheMakingof the English Working Class (1966)and Eugene Genoveses Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976)-are great precisely be-cause they are culturallyrich, providingdeep insight not only into the fact ofresistance but into its forms, moments, and absences. Otheroutstandingex-amples of the genre include Clendinnens Ambivalent Conquest (despite itsweakness on Maya politics discussed above); William H. Sewell, Jr.s Workand Revolutionin France (1980); and Jean ComaroffsBody of Power, Spiritof Resistance (1985).DISSOLVING SUBJECTSThe questionof the relationshipof the individualpersonor subjectto domina-tion carries the resistanceproblematicto the level of consciousness, subjec-tivity, intentionality,and identity.This questionhas taken a particular form indebates surrounding,once again, the SubalternStudies school of historians.Ishould say here that I do not launch so much criticism against the SubalternStudies historiansbecause they are, in Guhas term, "terrible."On the con-trary,I find myself returning theirwork because much of it is insightfuland toprovocative and also because it is situatedat thatintersectionof anthropology,history,and literarystudies thatso many of us find ourselvesoccupying, oftenawkwardly,in contemporaryscholarly work.10 In any event, GayatriChakravorty Spivak has taken the SubalternStudiesschool to task for creatinga monolithiccategoryof subaltern who is presumedto have a unitaryidentity and consciousness (1988a, 1988b). Given my argu-ments about the internal complexity of subaltern politics and culture madeabove, I would certainly agree with this point. Yet Spivak and others whodeploy a certainbrandof poststructuralist (primarily Derridean)analysis go tothe opposite extreme, dissolving the subject entirely into a set of "subjecteffects" that have virtually no coherence. Since these writers are still con-cernedwith subalternity some sense, they themselves wind up in incoherent inpositions with respect to resistance. 10 The same is trueof otherpost-colonialhistoriographies (Africanstudies, for example), but Iam less familiarwith their literatures.Indiananthropologyand historytouch upon my own long-term researchin Nepal.
  13. 13. I84 SHERRY B. ORTNER Let me say again that in some ways I am sympatheticwith what they aretrying to do, which is to introducecomplexity, ambiguity,and contradictioninto our view of the subject in ways that I have arguedabove must be donewith politics and culture(and indeed resistance).Yet the particular poststruc-turalist move they make toward accomplishingthis goal paradoxicallyde-stroys the object (the subject) who should be enriched, ratherthan impov-erished, by this act of introducingcomplexity. This final form of ethnographic refusalmay be illustrated examiningan byarticle entitled, "Shahbano," on a famous Indian court case (Pathak andRajan 1989). The authors, who acknowledge their debt to Spivaks work,addressthe case of a MuslimIndianwomancalled Shahbano,who went to civilcourt to sue for supportfrom her husbandafter a divorce. Althoughthe courtawarded her the supportwhich she sought, the decision set off a nationalcontroversyof majorproportions becausethe courtsaward(and indeed Shah-banos decision to bringthe case to a civil courtin the firstplace) controvertedlocal Islamic divorce law. In the wake of the controversy,Shahbanowrote anopen letter to the courtrejectingthe awardand expressingher solidaritywithher co-Muslims. The authorsargument aboutthe case runsas follows. The courtsaward,aswell as the larger legal framework within which it was made, operatedthrougha discourseof protectionfor personswho are seen to be weak. But "tobe framed by a certain kind of discourse is to be objectified as the other,representedwithout the characteristicfeatures of the subject, sensibilityand/or volition" (Pathak and Rajan 1989:563). Within the context of suchdiscursive subjectification,the appropriate notion of resistanceis simply the"refusalof subjectification,"(1989:571) the refusal to occupy the categorybeing foisted upon one. Shahbanosshifting position on her own case-firstseeking, then rejecting,the award-represented such a refusalof subjectifica-tion, the only one open to her, given her situation. "To live with what shecannot control, the female subalternsubject here responds with a discon-tinuous and apparentlycontradictorysubjectivity"(1989:572). But "her ap-parent inconstancy or changeability must be interpretedas her refusal tooccupy the subject position [of being protected]offered to her" (1989:572). Basically I agree with the authors argumentthat every moment in thedeveloping situationshiftedto the foreground differentaspectof Shahbanos amultiplex identity as a woman, as poor, as a Muslim. Indeed, it does notrequiresophisticatedtheorizingto recognize thatevery social being has a lifeof such multiplicityand thatevery social contextcreatessuch shiftingbetweenforegroundand background.I also agree (althoughthe authorsnever quite putit this way) that, for certainkinds of compoundedpowerlessness(female andpoor and of minoritystatus),"therefusalof subjectification" may be the onlystrategy available to the subject. Yet there are several problems with theinterpretation need to be teased out. that
  14. 14. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL 185 First, returningto an earlierdiscussion in this essay, there is an inadequateanalysis of the internalpolitics of the subalterngroup-in this case, of thegender and ethnic politics of the Muslim communitysurrounding Shahbano.The authorsmake it clearthatthis is disallowed, for it would align anyone whomade such an argumentwith the generaldiscourse of protectionand with thespecific politics of the Hinducourtvis-a-vis the minorityMuslims:Transform-ing Spivaksaphorism cited earlier,the situationis one in which"Hindumen aresaving Muslim women from Muslim men" (Pathakand Rajan 1989:566), andany authorwho addressesMuslimgenderpolitics moves intothe same position. Yet one cannot help but feel a nagging suspicion about the on-the-groundpolitics surrounding Shahbanosopen letterrejectingthe courts awardin thenameof Muslim solidarity.Is the "refusalto occupy the subjectpositionofferedto her"(1989:572) an adequateaccount of what happenedhere, or might weimagine some rathermore immediatelylived experience of intense personalpressures from significant social others-kin, friends, neighbors, male andfemale-who put pressureon Shahbanoin the name of their own agendas torenouncea monetaryawardthat she desperatelyneeded and had been seekingfor ten years?Mightone not say that"herrefusalto occupy the subjectpositionofferedto her"-the only kind of agency or formof resistanceaccordedher bythe authors-is the real effect in view here, that is, the (analytic)by-product,rather thanthe form, of heragency?In my reading,Shahbano was attempting tobe an agent, to pursue a coherent agenda, and rathercreatively at that. Theshifting quality of her case is not to be found in her shifting identity(whetheressentializedas subaltern consciousnessor seen as strategic)but in the fact thatshe is at the low end of every form of power in the system and is being quiteactively pushed aroundby other, more powerful, agents. This readingbrings us to the second problemwith the discussion, and hereagain we must turntextual analysis againstthe authorsown text. The wholepoint of the poststructuralist move is to de-essentializethe subject, to get awayfrom the ideological constructof "thatunified and freely choosing individualwho is the normativemale subject of Westernbourgeois liberalism"(Pathakand Rajan1989:572). And indeedthe freely choosing individualis an ideologi-cal construct,in multiplesenses-because the personis culturally(and social-ly, historically,politically, and so forth)constructed; because few people havethe power to freely choose very much; and so forth. The question here,however, is how to get aroundthis ideological constructand yet retain somesense of humanagency, the capacityof social beings to interpretand morallyevaluate their situationand to formulateprojects and try to enact them. The authorsof "Shahbano"realize that this is a problem:"Where, in allthese discursive displacements,is Shahbanothe woman?"(Pathakand Rajan1989:565). But they specifically refuse to attendto her as a person, subject,agent, or any other form of intentionalizedbeing with her own hopes, fears,desires, projects. They have only two models for such attending-
  15. 15. I86 SHERRY B. ORTNERpsychological perspectivesthat attemptto tap her "inner being," or a per-spective that assumes "individualizedand individualistic" heroic resistors-and they reject both (1989:570). Instead, their strategy is to focus on themechanicalinteractionof a varietyof disembodiedforces: "multipleintersec-tions of power, discursive displacements, discontinuous identities refusingsubjectification, the split legal subject" (1989:577). Thus, despite certaindisclaimers at the end of the article, Shahbanoas subject (or agent? or per-son?) quite literally disappears. The irrelevanceof her understandingsandintentions(not to mentionher social universe, her history,and so forth)to thisanalytic project is starklybroughthome by the authorsown textual strategyof refusing to reproduceand interprettwo press interviews that Shahbanogave, one to a newspaperand anotheron nationaltelevision. The authorssay,"Wehave not privileged these as sources of her subjectivity"(1989:570). Infact they have not even presentedthem. The de(con)struction the subjectin this way cannotbe the only answerto ofthe reified and romanticizedsubject of many resistancestudies. On the con-trary, the answer to the reified and romanticizedsubject must be an actorunderstood as more fully socially and culturally constructed from top tobottom. The breaks and splits and incoherenciesof consciousness, no lessthan the integrationsand coherencies, are equally products of cultural andhistorical formation. One could question, indeed, whetherthe splits and soforth should be viewed as incoherencies or simply as alternativeforms ofcoherence; not to do so implies that they are a form of damage. Of courseoppressionis damaging, yet the ability of social beings to weave alternative,and sometimes brilliantlycreative, forms of coherenceacross the damages isone of the hearteningaspects of humansubjectivity(see also Coopers [1992]critique of Fanon). A similar point may be made with respect to agency.Agency is not an entity that exists apartfrom culturalconstruction(nor is it aqualityone has only when one is whole, or when one is an individual).Everyculture, every subculture,every historicalmoment, constructsits own formsof agency, its own modes of enactingthe process of reflectingon the self andthe world and of acting simultaneouslywithin and upon what one finds there.To understandwhere Shahbanoor any other figure in a resistance drama iscoming from, one must explore the particularities all these constructions, ofas both culturaland historicalproducts,and as personalcreationsbuilding onthose precipitatesof cultureand history. A brilliant example of this alternativeperspective may be seen in AshisNandys The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of the Self under Colonialism(1983). Nandybegins by exploringthe homology between sexual andpoliticaldominanceas this took shapein the contextof Britishcolonialismin India. Hethen goes on to considerIndianliteraryeffortsto reactagainstcolonialismthat inwere in fact highly hegemonized, works thatwere "grounded reinterpreted ofsacredtexts but in realitydependenton core values [particularly hypermas-culinity]borrowedfromthe colonialworldview andthenlegitimizedaccording
  16. 16. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL 187to existing conceptsof sacredness" (1983:22). Butthe book primarily examinesindividualliterary,religious, and political figures who sought "to createa newpolitical awarenesswhich would combinea criticalawarenessof Hinduismandcolonialism with culturaland individualauthenticity" (1983:27). Nandyis par-ticularlyinterestedin the ways in which Gandhiandothermajorvoices of anti-colonialism mobilized (andpartlyreordered) Indiancategoriesof masculinity,femininity,and androgynyin formulating bothresistanceto colonialismand analternative vision of society. Again and again he views these oppositionalfigures, even when severely victimized in their personallives (see especiallythe discussion of Sri Aurobindo),as drawingupon culturalresourcesto trans-form their own victimhood and articulatenew models of self and society. l Nandy then comes back to the ordinaryperson who does not write novels,launchnew religious systems, or lead movementsof nationalresistance.In thiscontexthe seems to come close to the positionof the authorsof" Shahbano,"for he argues(in a morepsychological language)thatculturaland psychologi-cal survivalmay requirethe kindof fragmented shiftingself thatShahbano andseemed to display (1983:107). Yet Nandys discussion has a differenttone.Partly this comes from his earlier exploration of broad cultural patterns,showing that the boundariesbetween such things as self and other, masculineand feminine, and myth and history, are both differently configured anddifferentlyvalued in variousstrandsof Indianthought.The shifting subjectinturn is both drawing on and protectingthese alternativeculturalframes, asopposed to making a seemingly ad hoc response to an immediatesituationofdomination. And, second, Nandys subjects paradoxicallyretain a kind ofcoherentagency in their very inconstancy:"these personalityfailuresof theIndiancould be anotherform of developed vigilance, or sharpenedinstinctorfaster reaction to man-made suffering. They come . . . from a certain talent forand faith in life" (1983:110). Thus, Nandys subjects, whether prominentpublic figures or common men and women, retainpowerfulvoices throughouthis book, while Shahbanorepresentationally disappears. Finally, however, it must be emphasized that the question of adequate ofrepresentation subjectsin the attemptto understand resistanceis not purelyamatter of providing better portraitsof subjects in and of themselves. Theimportanceof subjects(whetherindividualactorsor social entities) lies not somuch in who they are and how they areput togetheras in the projectsthattheyconstructandenact. For it is in the formulation enactmentof those projects andthat they both become and transformwho they are, and that they sustain ortransformtheir social and culturaluniverse.TEXTUAL RESISTANCERunning through all these works, despite in some cases deep theoreticaldifferencesbetween them, is a kind of bizarrerefusal to know and speak and 1 For anotherstrong work on Gandhisculturalgenius, see Fox (1989).
  17. 17. I88 SHERRY B. ORTNERwrite of the lived worlds inhabitedby those who resist (or do not, as the casemay be). Of the works discussed at length in this essay, Clendinnengoes togreaterlengths thanthe othersto portraythe pre-colonialMaya world in somedepth and complexity, yet in the end she chooses to pull her punches andsmooth over what the material has told her. Scott, Guha, and Pathak andRajan, on the other hand, quite literally refuse to deal with the materialthatwould allow entry into the political and culturalworlds of those they discuss.The "flying letters"of Scotts peasants, the testimonies of Guhas peasantsvisions, the press interviews of Shahbanoare texts that can be read in therichest sense to yield an understanding both the meanings and the mysti- offications on which people are operating.Whatmight emerge is somethinglikewhat we see in CarloGinzburgsNight Battles (1985): an extraordinarily richand complicated world of beliefs, practices, and petty politics whose stancetoward the encroachmentof Christianityand the Inquisition in the MiddleAges is confused and unheroicyet also poignantlystubborn "authentic"- anda very Nandy-esquestory. There are no doubt many reasons for this interpretiverefusal. But one issurely to be found in the so-called crisis of representationin the humansciences. When EdwardSaid says in effect that the discourse of Orientalismrendersit virtuallyimpossible to know anythingreal aboutthe Orient(1979);when GayatriSpivak tells us that "the subalterncannotspeak"(1988a); whenJames Cliffordinforms us that all ethnographiesare "fictions"(1986:7); andwhen of course in some sense all of these things are true-then the effect is apowerful inhibitionon the practiceof ethnography broadlydefined:the effort-ful practice, despite all that, of seeking to understand other peoples in othertimes and places, especially those people who are not in dominantpositions. The ethnographic stanceholds thatethnography neverimpossible. This is isthe case because people not only resist political domination;they resist, oranyway evade, textual dominationas well. The notion that colonial or aca-demic texts are able completely to distortor exclude the voices and perspec-tives of those being writtenabout seems to me to endow these texts with fargreaterpower than they have. Many things shape these texts, including, dareone say it, the point of view of those being writtenabout. Nor does one needto resortto variousforms of textualexperimentation allow this to happen- toit is happeningall the time. Of course thereis variationin the degree to whichdifferentauthorsand differentformsof writingallow this process to show, andit is certainlyworthwhileto reflect, as Cliffordand others have done, on theways in which this process can be enhanced. But it seems to me grotesquetoinsist on the notion thatthe text is shapedby everythingbut the lived realityofthe people whom the text claims to represent. Take the case of a moder female suicide discussed in Spivaks famousessay, the one that concludes with the statementthat "the subalterncannotspeak"(1988a:308). It is perhapsmore difficultfor any voice to breakthrough
  18. 18. RESISTANCE AND ETHNOGRAPHIC REFUSAL I89Spivaks theorizing than through the most typifying ethnography;yet eventhis dead young woman, who spoke to no one abouther intentionsand left nonote before her death, forces Spivak to at least try to articulate, in quite a"realist"and "objectivist"fashion, the truthof the suicide from the womanspoint of view:Thesuicidewas a puzzlesince,as Bhuvaneswari menstruating thetime,it was was atclearlynot a case of illicitpregnancy. Nearlya decadelater,it was discovered thatshe was a member one of the manygroupsinvolvedin the armedstrugglefor ofIndianindependence. had finallybeenentrusted She with a politicalassassination.Unableto confront taskandyet awareof the practical the needfor trust,she killedherself. Bhuvaneswari knownthather deathwouldbe diagnosed the outcomeof had asillegitimatepassion. She had therefore waitedfor the onset of menstruation. . .Bhuvaneswari Bhaduris suicideis an unemphatic, hoc, subaltern ad of rewriting thesocialtextof sati-suicide (1988a:307-8).With this discussion, it seems to me, Spivakundermines own position (see heralso Coronil 1992). Combininga bit of homely interpretation the text of the ofwomans body (the fact that she was menstruating)with a bit of objectivehistory (the womans participation a radicalpolitical group),Spivak arrives inat what any good ethnography provides:an understanding both of the meaningand the politics of the meaning of an event. Anotherangle on the problemof ethnographic refusal may be gained fromconsidering the implicationsof the fiction metaphor.Reverberating with ordi-nary language, the fiction metaphorimplies (though this is not exactly whatCliffordmeant)thatethnographies false, made up, and more generallyare areproducts of a literaryimaginationthathas no obligationto engage with reality.Yet the obligation to engage with reality seems to me precisely the differencebetween the novelists task and the ethnographers the historians). The (oranthropologistand the historian are charged with representingthe lives ofpeople who areliving or once lived, andas we attemptto pushthese people intothe molds of ourtexts, they pushback. The final text is a productof ourpushingand theirpushingback, and no text, howeverdominant,lacks the tracesof thiscounterforce. Indeed, if the line between fiction and ethnographyis being blurred, theblurringhas had at least as much impact on fiction as on ethnography.Thenovelists standard disclaimer-"any resemblanceto personsliving or dead iscoincidental"-is less and less invoked12or less and less accepted. The re-sponse to Salman Rushdies Satanic Verses(1989) shows in particularly dra-matic form thatthe novelist can no longerpretendthat, in contrastto ethnogra-phy or history,thereis nobodyon the otherside of his or hertext northatfictioncan escape resistance.3 12 See for example the quite different disclaimer in Don deLillos fictionalization of theKennedy assassination,Libra (1989). 13 I am indebted to Nick Dirks for pushing me on this point.
  19. 19. I90 SHERRY B. ORTNER Finally, absolutefictionalityand absolutesilencing are impossible not onlybecause those being writtenabout force themselves into the authorsaccountbut also because there is always a multiplicityof accounts. The point seemssimple, yet it seems to get lost in the discussionsjust considered.It is strangeinthis era of the theoreticaldeath of the authorto find theoristslike Spivak andCliffordactingas if texts were wholly self-contained,as if every text one wrotehad to embody (or could conceivablyembody) in itself all the voices out there,or as if every text one readhad boundaries beyondwhich one were not allowedto look. On the contrary, bothwritingandreadingone entersa corpusof texts inin which, in reality, a single representation misrepresentation omission or ornever goes unchallenged.Ourjob, in both readingand writing, is precisely torefuse to be limitedby a single text or by any existing definitionof what shouldcount as the corpus, and to play the texts (which may include, but never belimitedto, our own field notes) off againstone anotherin an endless process ofcoaxing up images of the real.CONCLUSIONSThe point of this essay can be statedvery simply: Resistance studies are thinbecause they are ethnographically thin: thin on the internalpolitics of domi-nated groups, thin on the cultural richness of those groups, thin on thesubjectivity-the intentions,desires, fears, projects-of the actorsengaged inthese dramas.Ethnographic thinnessin turnderivesfromseveralsources(otherthansheerbad ethnography, course, which is always a possibility). The first ofis the failure of nerve surrounding questions of the internalpolitics of domi-nated groups and of the culturalauthenticityof those groups, which I haveraised periodically throughoutthis essay. The second is the set of issuessurrounding crisis of representation-the possibility of truthfulportrayals theof others (or Others)and the capacityof the subaltern be heard-which has tojust been addressed.Takentogether,the two sets of issues convergeto producea kind of ethnographicblack hole. Filling in the black hole would certainly deepen and enrich resistancestudies, but there is more to it than that. It would, or should, reveal theambivalences and ambiguities of resistance itself. These ambivalences andambiguities, in turn, emerge from the intricate webs of articulationsanddisarticulationsthat always exist between dominantand dominated. For thepolitics of external dominationand the politics within a subordinatedgroupmay link up with, as well as repel, one another;the cultures of dominantgroups and of subalternsmay speak to, even while speaking against, oneanother14; and, as Nandyso eloquentlyargues, subordinated selves may retainoppositionalauthenticityand agency by drawingon aspects of the dominantcultureto criticize their own world as well as the situationof domination.In 14 Nandy (1983) and Comaroff(1985) make a point of discussingthe ways in which subalternsmay effectively draw on, and take advantageof, some of the latent oppositionalcategories andideologies of Westernculture.
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