The ethnographies presented in this article point to the ways in which members of oppressed communities imagine emancipation. Instead of analyzing emancipation as stemming from statist precepts of citizenship, I want to direct attention—along with other articles in this special section—to the “arcadian” spaces in which exploited, marginalized, and discriminated populations forge membership in the political community in contentious engagement with both state and society. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork with Musahar landless laborers in the Indian state of Bihar during the winter and spring of 2009–2010, with follow-up visits in September 2013 and July 2014. I focus on their engagement with two organizations, one a leftist political party and the other a cultural organization, to advance my claims. The ethnography reveals that, for the Musahar laborers, ideas of emancipation are anchored in reclamations of social equality rather than a telos of state-centered citizenship.
Thomas A. Reuter
Over the last century anthropological studies have served as a testimony to human cultural diversity, as well as highlighting the existential challenges we all share, but the discipline has failed to provide an undistorted mirror of this unity in diversity. Critics from postcolonial studies and within anthropology have argued that anthropological knowledge cannot be universal so long as representatives of only a few privileged nations participate in the process of its construction, and so long as there are significant power differentials among those who do participate. From the perspective of a performance theory of truth, there are two necessary conditions if we wish for anthropology to genuinely reflect the human condition. The first step is to improve global participation in the social production of anthropological knowledge by creating equality within the discipline. The second is to help create a more level playing field in the world at large by challenging abuses of power in contemporary societies. In this article I discuss recent efforts by international organizations in anthropology to satisfy some of these conditions.