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Alterpolitics or alterotopies

A critique of nomadology with reference to West African Fulbe

Riccardo Ciavolella

This article offers a critique of how the anthropology of pastoral nomadic societies participates in the debate about alternative forms of political organization and emancipation. In the first part, I retrace the roots of the reciprocal and circular influence between anthropology and critical theory, focusing on Deleuze and Guattari's “nomadology” and their reliance on ethnographies of “primitive” and especially nomadic people. Attracted by the spatial autonomy and immanent forms of resistance of nomads, their work nourished the poststructuralist interpretation of power, which in turn influenced contemporary radical political anthropologists. In the second part, I reintroduce ethnographic evidence on pastoral nomads into the discussion. Relying on recent ethnographic evidence of the crisis of nomadism, especially in West Africa, I argue that we should be more prudent in considering interstitial spaces of freedom and resistances as strategies for structurally changing power and for emancipation.

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Gramsci in and beyond resistances

The search for an autonomous political initiative among a subaltern group in the Beninese savanna

Riccardo Ciavolella

Stemming from a Gramscian approach, this article engages with the anthropological debate about subaltern groups’ forms of resistance by using the case of marginalized Fulani groups of pastoral and nomadic origins in northwest Benin. Their experiences seemingly confirm contemporary theories on resistance, which emphasize subaltern people’s capacities to tactically circumvent exploitation and exclusion and to handle contradictions between different “moral economies.” Nevertheless, one should question the impact of small-scale reactions that remain on the infrapolitical level and the emancipatory role that political theories give to tactical forms of resistance of dispersed subjectivities while refusing collective strategies. Grounding Gramscian theories in ethnography, this article wonders about the possibilities and limits of margins to turn into the scene of an “autonomous political initiative” of a subaltern group.

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Aspiring to alterpolitics

Anthropology, radical theory, and social movements

Riccardo Ciavolella and Stefano Boni

This theme section inquires into the contribution of political anthropology to radical theories, social imagination, and practices underlying political “alternatives”, which we propose to call “alterpolitics”. The issue of an alternative to contemporary powers in globalization is a central topic in social movements and radical debates. This sense of possibility for political alternatives is associated with the desertion of the belief in “the end of history”: the current economic crisis and the decline of Western hegemony presumably announce a radical transformation of the neoliberal world, opening space to alternatives. Actually, the reconfiguration of twentieth-century capitalism is associated with a growing mistrust of political institutions, the crisis being “organic”, in the Gramscian sense (Gramsci 1975). Recent social movements and insurrections around the world—from the “colored revolutions” in Central Asia to the Spanish indignados, the US Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, uprisings in Bosnia—have raised the issue of alternatives as a reaction to the incapacity of capitalist political institutions—from electoral democracy to dictatorships—to deal with people’s problems and meet their aspirations for emancipation and a better future.