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The Mistakes That Make People

Reconceptualizing Power and Resistance in Rwanda

Will Rollason

Abstract

This article constitutes a critique of James C. Scott’s theory of everyday resistance and the use of these concepts in anthropology more generally. Its claim is that theories of power and resistance need to be analyzed in terms of local ideas about the nature of people in order to account for what happens in social life. This contention is based on ideas of personhood among motorcycle taxi drivers in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Central to these ideas are the ‘faults’ or ‘mistakes’ that people ‘have’, which form the basis of social relations founded on ‘patience’ or ‘forbearance’. Because of these relations, people typically do not take the form of bounded individuals who can act as resistant subjects in Scott’s terms. Thus, we require a reconceptualization of notions of power and resistance based on Rwandan understandings of the person.

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Life at a Tangent to Law

Regulations, ‘Mistakes’ and Personhood amongst Kigali’s Motari

Will Rollason

Abstract

This article concerns the relationship between motorcycle taxi drivers in Kigali and the legal frameworks that govern their business. While motorcyclists commonly subvert legal processes, or avoid complying with regulations, this should not be understood in terms of their ‘resistance’ to legal orders. To do so would imply that laws are imposed on their social lives from without; however, I show how illegalities help to structure social life by creating ‘mistakes’ that are the basis of social relations. I argue that motorcyclists do not confront legal orders in the idiom of resistance, but neither are they determined or shaped directly by legality. Rather, partially formed by breaches of rules, law is integral to their lives, shaping them indirectly or tangentially, according to the relationships and connections ‘mistakes’ with respect to law enable. Law regulates life not by encoding its rules, but by allowing certain kinds of relationships to form.