mercoledì 16 novembre 2011

The politics of the governed: informal politics

“The notion of an internal autonomy of consciousness defines the way we think of coercion. It obliges us to imagine the exercise of power as an external process that can coerce the behaviour of the body without necessarily penetrating and controlling the mind” (Mitchell 1990).
Through the analysis of James Scott’s book ‘Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance’, Mitchell explores the weaknesses of the dualism structure vs practice and presents an alternative approach.
“I argue that both the contradiction and the resulting exclusions are caused by the need to understand resistance in terms of the problematic distinction between power as a material force and power at the level of consciousness or culture” (Mitchell 1990).
‘Weapons of the weak’: a fieldwork in Sadaka, Malaysia: peasants are constrained in their behaviours, domination operates at the level of ideology. (Pierre Bourdieu on Kabyle): redistribution is constitutive of political authority in a pre-capitalist society and is presented as moral relation.
A euphemized domination: the dependence of the rich on the labour of the poor required to cultivate their loyalty. Symbolic violence (James Scott) or Invisible form of violence (Pierre Bourdieu) determines a double reality: distinction between a public acquiescence and private autonomy. Hegemony (Antonio Gramsci): non violent form of control (consent given by exploited to their exploitation): a rational choice or a practical choice.
The limit of Scott’s book is a misconception of hegemony that implies some consensual acceptance: poor retain an internal autonomy. The Scott five explanations: isolating nature of the changes, complexity of class conflict, obstacle to resistance, fear of repression, day to day imperative to earn money. Furthermore, the reproduction of kinship relations and the cooperation between state security and landowners.
According to Mitchell, Scott presents culture as a signifier: structure is the effect introduced by modern mechanism of power to form modern system of domination. Power is essentially material, seeks to extend itself and work more economically by producing effects that are cultural and ideological; power coerces and places limits on people options rather than creating truth and subjects.
Mitchel uses Michel Foucault to support is counterargument: “a time when words were not yet detached from things”. Now is not the case, villagers are subjects to powers whose source seems removed from their own world. Power as a system of demand: pay rents in advance, less peasants escape the control of landowners and authorities, formation of a state culture as a mean to control.
Power is a reproduction of the two-dimensional reality (structure vs practice).
Egyptian case 1 (PVO) and 2 (majlis urfiyya):
“Individual strategies to accumulate savings, provide an education for a child, or migrate abroad, when repeated thousands of times, influence the macro allocation and distribution of scarce resources and public goods, as well as political and economic phenomenon in the nation. Everyday decisions add up incrementally to create the boundaries and interests of the political and economic order” (Singerman 1995).
Micro level influence macro level: informal institutions, serving popular interests, are important as collective institutions; men and woman forge collective institutions.
Informal sector in an authoritarian state: charitable, voluntary associations, workplaces, households, markets, school, health clinics. Gamal Abdel Nasser/Anwar al-Sadat/Hosni Mubarak used elections, political parties, professional groups, bureaucracy to control and co-opt the informal sector (comparison with el pueblo in Latin America). Sha’b (people): informal networks engaged in collective life, reproducing the family ties (e.g. bread riots).
Diane Singerman (Jews and unmarried) started her fieldwork in 1985 in Cairo hara (alley of Fatemid heritage). She visited 23 different neighbourhoods (Sayeda Zeinab, Gamaleya, Bab Shareya): coexistence of homes, commercial areas, formal and informal sectors. She was living with an Egyptian woman and was incorporated in the life of the quarter. She was indirectly in connection with 350 people.
’84-’85: subsidies 18% of public expenditures (politics as consumption). Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO): method to distribute goods and services. MP also chairman of a PVO. Examples: father asked for the hospitalization of his son; woman asked for a job; control on sectarian risks. (Religious PVO).
“Informal networks provide an organizational grid for the sha’b which facilitates their political participation. Just as lawyers, engineers, the managerial bourgeoisie, importers, or labor unions are organized in Egypt, the sha’b are also organized and their interests and political preferences shape micro and macro political dynamics” (Singerman 1995).
Majlis urfiyya (customary councils): alternative mean of regulation (police corrupted and improvised). Hajj (a man of good) not just a symbolic attribute but a recognised mediator (e.g. baltagi actions, sexual transgressions).
Elders and rising notability. The politics of notables: now they come from lower strata compared to the Ottoman Empire (Hurani 1981). They are below merchants and entrepreneurs: they work in sector expanded with the liberalization (Sonbol 2000). The state co-opts them to avoid the rise of independent leaders. When they are Islamists their mediation represents a challenge to state authorities.
The state is not a coherent entity at level of local institutions (e.g. Boulaq: vendors of the market, collapse of a school, public electricity-corruption).
Question may be raised as how to politicize this informal sector with references to the Egyptian revolts. Islamist movements can enforce the political mobilization more than leftist and liberal movements. Discuss
Giuseppe Acconcia

Bourdieu, Pierre in Mitchell, Timothy. “Everyday Metaphors of Power”, Theory and Society 19:5 (1990) 545-577.
Foucault, Michel. “The order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences”, London: Routledge, 2001, chapter 2.
Hurani, Albert in Ismail, Salwa. Political life in Cairo’s new Quarters: Encountering the Everyday State, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, Chapter 2.
Ismail, Salwa. Political life in Cairo’s new Quarters: Encountering the Everyday State, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, Chapter 2.
Mitchell, Timothy. “Everyday Metaphors of Power”, Theory and Society 19:5 (1990) 545-577.
Scott, James C. “Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance”, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Singerman, Diane. Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics and network in Urban Quarters of Cairo , Princeton University Press 1995, Introduction, chapter 5 and Conclusion.
Sonbol, Amira in Ismail, Salwa. Political life in Cairo’s new Quarters: Encountering the Everyday State, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, Chapter 2.

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