Originally published in 2014, Gavin Smith's Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism felt like a jolt of adrenaline for politically engaged scholarship, in anthropology and beyond. One of the book's core provocations was methodological: it asked how exactly, in a pragmatic sort of way, we might do intellectual work that is not only politically effective (i.e. that gives additional “leverage” to collective struggle) but also works with, not against, the unique forms of intervention open to members of our profession. Its answer was deliciously heretical. Smith suggested the most politically valuable contributions of intellectual work might not come from the orthodox methods we tend to adopt when we commit ourselves to joining political struggles, such as aligning ourselves with the collective movements we support and offering them an audience and theoretical lens for their voices of dissent. The importance of ground-level solidarity work cannot be overstated. But allowing such alliances and their immediate challenges to shape the scope of our intellectual practice may confuse the kinds of practical knowledge necessary for one mode of activist struggle with that necessary for, and made possible by, another.
Christopher Krupa is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His research interests include racial capitalism, postcolonial primitive accumulation, the state and state proxies, violence, and historical ethnography. Email: email@example.com