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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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Transforming Participatory Science into Socioecological Praxis

Valuing Marginalized Environmental Knowledges in the Face of the Neoliberalization of Nature and Science

Brian J. Burke and Nik Heynen

Citizen science and sustainability science promise the more just and democratic production of environmental knowledge and politics. In this review, we evaluate these participatory traditions within the context of (a) our theorization of how the valuation and devaluation of nature, knowledge, and people help to produce socio-ecological hierarchies, the uneven distribution of harms and benefits, and inequitable engagement within environmental politics, and (b) our analysis of how neoliberalism is reworking science and environmental governance. We find that citizen and sustainability science often fall short of their transformative potential because they do not directly confront the production of environmental injustice and political exclusion, including the knowledge hierarchies that shape how the environment is understood and acted upon, by whom, and for what ends. To deepen participatory practice, we propose a heterodox ethicopolitical praxis based in Gramscian, feminist, and postcolonial theory and describe how we have pursued transformative praxis in southern Appalachia through the Coweeta Listening Project.

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Hegemony

Critical interpretations in anthropology and beyond

Gavin Smith

The popularity of the notion of hegemony in anthropology and cognate disciplines has waxed and waned. The self-censorship of Gramsci's most accessible writings (Selections from the prison notebooks) and the multi-layered nature of his thinking have led to a variety of understandings of the term. Easier to reflect on historically, after the events, than to use for analyses of the present, hegemony is both attractive to intellectuals insofar as it establishes their role in politics and yet prone to vagueness in its application to real life situations. For these reasons perhaps, the notion is now on the wane. Yet before we throw out the baby with the bath water, we need to reflect on precisely how it has been used in social analysis and praxis. This article takes a critical view of those people who have most influenced anthropologists in their understanding of the term and argues that the fetishization of 'culture' has probably done more to mystify the concept than anything else.

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“Small Acts”

The Perspective, Location and Agency of Theory in South African Cultural Studies

Ashraf Jamal

In an interview with David Attwell, recorded in 1993 at the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College New Hampshire, Homi Bhabha turns his liminal gaze to the fate of South Africa. His position, that of “an outsider … a bystander and consumer of the media” (Attwell 1993: 109), invokes a reading of the state of the nation and its cultural predicament which, nine years hence, remains compelling. What is particularly striking about the conversation, conducted at a geographical remove during a charged historical time when South Africa forges what will prove to be an on-going process of disinterring itself from a legacy of oppression, is Bhabha’s eschewal of a saving telos and his insistence on turning and returning to “the semiosis of the moment of transition” (1993: 104). For Bhabha this moment is not the Gramscian interregnum between two distinct states of governance. Rather, his conception subsumes the notion of two distinct states as well as Antonio Gramsci’s conception of the moment between as the emergent locus for a symptomatic morbidity. Here Bhabha diverges from the perception of those within South Africa for whom the interregnum has served as a prevailing trope, most notably Nadine Gordimer in The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places (1988: 262) and Michael Chapman in Southern African Literatures (1996: 327-331). Rather, between the renunciation of a past and the proleptic fulfilment of a future, Bhabha proffers a more enabling conception of the moment of transition; one which, having “overcome the given grounds of opposition … opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectation, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics” (Bhabha 1994: 25).