Empire (Hardt & Negri)

"Empire" (2000) by Hardt and Negri lines many shelves and sits on many recommended reading lists on the Left. I have written up a summary of their 2004 book, for anyone interested - that book is also easier reading for those not interested or well versed in Marxist literature / terminology. Empire presents a detailed history of the nation-state, imperialism and their vision for a transition to a new form of empire. It is heavy reading, and probably not suitable for undergraduates. The world has changed significantly since the penning of this book in the mid-90s, which is another reason to pick up more recent works. A few notes from the book:

  • "Globalization, of course, is not one thing, and the multiple processes that we recognize as globalization are not unified or univocal. Our political task, we will argue, is not simple to resist these processes but to reorganize them and redirect them toward new ends. The creative forces of the multitude that sustain Empire are also capable of autonomously constructing a counter-Empire, an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges." (p. xv)​
  • "We, by contrast, must denaturalize these concepts and ask what is a nation and how is it made, but also, what is a people and how is it made? Although "the people" is posed as the originary basis of the nation, the modern conception of the people is in fact a product of the nation-state, and survives only within its specific ideological context. Many contemporary analyses of nations and nationalism from a wide variety of perspectives go wrong precisely because they rely unquestioningly on the naturalness of the concept and identity of the people." (p. 102)​
  • "The perils of national liberation are even clearer when viewed externally, in terms of the world economic system in which the "liberated" nation finds itself. Indeed, the equation nationalism equals political and economic modernization, which has been heralded by leaders of numerous anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles from Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh to Nelson Mandela, really serves to mobilize popular forces and galvanize a social movement, but where does the movement lead and what interests does it serve? In most cases it involves a delegated struggle, in which the modernization project also establishes in power the new ruling group that is charged with carrying it out. The revolution is thus offered up, hand and feet bound, to the new bourgeoisie." (p. 132-133)​
  • "When we begin to consider the ideologies of corporate capital and the world market, it certainly appears that the postmodernist and postcolonialist theorists who advocate a politics of difference, fluidity, and hybridity in order to challenge the binaries and essentialism of modern sovereignty have been outflanked by the strategies of power. Power has evacuated the bastion of they are attacking and has circled around to their rear to join them in the assault in the name of difference. These theorists thus find themselves pushing against an open door." (p. 138)​
  • "Fundamentalism, however, is a poor and confused category that groups together widely disparate phenomena. In general, one might say that fundamentalisms, diverse though they may be, are linked by their being understood both from within and outside as anti-modernist movements, resurgences of primordial identities and values; they are conceived as a kind of historical backflow, a de-modernization. It is more accurate and more useful, however, to understand the various fundamentalism not as the re-creation of a premodern world, but rather as a powerful refusal of the contemporary historical passage in course." (p. 146-147)​
  • "Countries whose economic production is not presently at the level of the dominant countries are thus seen as developing countries, with the idea that if they continue on the path followed previously by the dominant countries and repeat their economic policies and strategies, they will eventually enjoy an analogous position or stage. The developmental view fails to recognize, however, that the economies of the so-called developed countries are defined not only be certain quantitative factors or by their internal structures, but also and more important by their dominant position in the global system." (p. 282)​
  • "Empire is characterized by the close proximity of extremely unequal populations, which creates a situation of permanent social danger and requires the powerful apparatuses of the society of control to ensure separation and guarantee the new management of social space." (p. 336-337)​
  • "Revolutionary political militancy today, on the contrary, must rediscover what has always been its proper form: not representational but constituent activity. Militancy today is a positive, constructive, and innovative activity. This is the form in which we and all those who revolt against the rule of capital recognize ourselves as militants today. Militants resist imperial command in a creative way." (p. 413)

The History of the Ethiopian Army

​Richard Pankhurst made innumerable contributions to the history of Ethiopia. I found an original copy of "An Introduction fo the History of the Ethiopian Army", published by the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, 101st Training Centre, in 1967. The Forward (of only 2 pages) by Colonel Aberra Wolde Mariam provide interesting insight into the thinking of the Ethiopian Military of the time, such as his comment that "no amount of technical skill and professional competence will win a war or achieve any worthwhile purpose unless it is coupled with that genuine pride and strong faith which alone is the driving force capable of stirring on to action despite insurmountable difficulties."

The book is 183 pages. A small portion (p. 3-17) covers the ancient and medieval times, followed be larger chapters on the army in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (p. 18-60) and the history of firearms (p. 61-147). A concluding chapter speaks about the effects of war (p. 148-183). The book contains a large number of endnotes for each chapter, which Pankhurst says are largely for the benefit of students and historians who want to pursue the matters discussed in greater detail. As Pankhurst books are known for, the book is detailed and offers an immense about of detail otherwise extremely difficult to locate.

A few notes from the text:

  • "Traditionally the soldiers did not constitute a separate section of the population, but were ordinary citizens mobilized by their rulers in time of need. Alvares, describing the set-up in the sixteenth century, noted that many lords, courtiers and even minor functionaries, such as trumpeteers, received grants of land in return for their service, while Almeida declared: "So that they should follow soldiering and continue to do so the Emperor grants them the lands on which they live and and which they enjoy in as much as they serve him. As soon as they fail him he gives the land to others"." (p. 7)​
  • "The institution of war, as we have seen, played an important role in the economic and social life of Ethiopia in traditional times. Fighting against internal or external enemies was a frequent occurrence and involved very large armies, often composed of fifty or a hundred thousand men with numerous camp followers. The fact that the soldiers were unpaid meant that they were obliged to requisition or loot whatever they required from the countries through which they passed, irrespective of whether the inhabitants were friends or foes." (p. 148)​
  • "The result, Pearce says, was that "the people... never know when their persons or property are safe, on which account they are obliged to repair to the habitations of their chief on holydays, some presenting bread, butter, honey, and corn, and others a goat, sheep, or fowls, to keep in favour, and to prevent him from sending his soldiers to live upon their premises." Though legal redress was often outside their power, perhaps for that very reason, the peasants showed great ingenuity in protecting themselves from the soldiers' rapacity. Peasantry and soldiery were in fact often engaged in a ceaseless battle of wits. "It is custom," Pearce relates, "for the inhabitants of the villages to have gudgauds, large pits under-ground, plastered within with cowdung and mud, and having the mouth very narrow, some of which are made to hold forty or fifty churns or corn, between three and four hundred English bushels." (p. 149)​
  • Wylde explained that they [soldiers] seemed to increase their demands in areas of better cultivation, particularly where irrigation was practised: "Very often," he says, "the soldiers when they are on the march and cannot procure supplies from the natives, break down the slight banks of the channels, and in a few minutes destroy the labour of perhaps many days. Knowing what will happen if they do not give supplies, the peasants are most easily imposed upon, and the soldiers, when going through a country that depends upon irrigation for summer crops, always demand more from the people than in other places"." (p. 170) 

Collective Choice and Social Welfare

​Amartya Sen has made significant contributions to economics, development studies and philosophy. His early work actually focused on collective choice, which was the the topic of his 1970 book "Collective Choice and Social Welfare" (re-printed with significant additions in 2017). In the 2017 Introduction, Sen outlines what social choice theory is and the broad array of questions it might be used to answer:

  • "Challenges of group choice can be extensive and exacting, particularly because of the divergent interests and concerns of its members. Social thinkers have speculated, for a very long time, on how the concerns of the members of a society can be reflected in one way or another in the decisions taken in a responsive society (even if it is not fully democratic)... Social choice theory is a very broad discipline, covering a variety of distinct questions, and it may be useful to note a few of them as illustrations of its subject matter. When would majority rule yield unambiguous and consistent decisions? How can we judge how well a society as a whole is doing in light of the disparate interests of its different members? How can we accommodate rights and liberties of persons while giving due recognition to the preferences of all? How do we measure aggregate poverty in view of the varying predicaments and miseries of the diverse people who make up the society? How do we evaluate public goods such as the natural environment, or epidemiological security?" (p. 1).

The original text and the additional chapters follow a unique style - a chapter of context (the philosophical discussion) followed by a chapter of economics (the math). As a non-economist, this made the book easier to pick up. The book cannot be neatly summarized, as each set of chapters covers different questions (there are 15 pairs of chapters, and two concluding chapters). Many economists (as scholars in other fields do as well) seek a universal theory, however, Sen acknowledges a relatively high degree of subjectivity that seems necessary for society choice theories. He writes:

  • "it is quite clear that an evaluation of the relative desirability of different systems will depend on the nature of the society. One way of interpreting the various 'impossibility' results is to say that there is no 'ideal' system of collective choice that works well in every society and for every configuration of individual preferences (as proposed by the use of the condition of 'unrestricted domain' employed in virtually all the impossibility theorems). Some choice procedures work very well for some types of choice and some sets of individuals preferences but not for others (see Chapters 5-7, 9 and 10), and naturally our evaluation of these procedures must depend on the type of society for which they may be considered. There is nothing outstandingly defeatist in this modest recognition." (p. 264)

Sen also reflects on the underlying assumptions and tools used within economics, and how these (often not reflected upon) has significant implications in influencing the field:

  • "For well over a century welfare economics has been dominated by one particular approach: utilitarianism. It was initiated, in its modern form, by Jeremy Bentham (1789), and championed by such economists as Mill (1861), Sidgwick (1874), Edgeworth (1881), Marshall (1890) and Pigou (1920). Utilitarianism has been, in many ways, the 'official' theory of traditional welfare economics, and its tends to serve as the 'default programme' in mainstream welfare economic analysis: the theory that is implicitly summoned when no others are explicitly invoked. Utilitarianism combined what we have been calling 'consequentialism', 'welfarism' and 'sum-ranking'. It is a result-oriented (and in that sense, consequentialist) theory that concentrates only on utility consequences (which is the informational base identified by welfarism), and, in particular, focuses on the sum-total of utilities (which is the demand that sum-ranking makes)." (p. 341)

One of the new chapters links social choice theory to Sen's other work, such as his expounding on functioning and capabilities:

  • "A person's achieved life can be seen as a combination of 'functionings' (i.e. doings and beings), and, taken together, can be the basis for assessing that person's quality of life. The functionings on which human flourishing depends include such elementary things as being alive, being well-nourished and in good health, moving about freely, and so on. It can also include more complex functionings, such as having self-respect and respect of others, and taking part in the life of the community... A person's 'capability' is represented by the set of combinations of functionings from which the person can choose any one combination. Thus, the 'capability set' stands for the actual freedom of choice a person has over the alternative lives that he or she can lead." (p. 357)

All page numbers from the 2017 Penguin publication.​

Civil Resistance and Power Politics

​Over the last decade there have been quite a number of books published on non-violence action (under a wide range of terminologies: people power, poor people's movements, civil resistance, collective action, etc). A good number of these works start out with the premise that non-violence is the best / only way for political change to occur, and go about crafting arguments rooted largely in that value-based position. I would also suggest that some of these books have misrepresented successful mass movements as being a non-violent movement, to further an argument, when in fact the reality is far more complicated. Although it book me too long to get around to reading it, I was pleasantly surprised with "Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present" (2009), edited by Roberts and Ash. The book is a collection of case studies and is a valuable addition for anyone interested in learning about the diversity of experiences, tactics and outcomes of citizen action. Many of the chapters are not biased by a value-driven objective to advocate for non-violence, many engage with the violent - or threat of violent - action that were present within and alongside other non-violent movements. The book is a dense 400+ pages of cases and can be summarized, but I highlight a few points that stood out for me (particularly in relation to the existing works on the topic):

  • "A seemingly general commitment to the avoidance of violence is almost always in fact selective. The history of non-violent action is full of instances of very careful discrimination in judging the phenomenon that has been the subject of so much sweeping generalization - violence. Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King recognized some modest legitimate role for force." (p. 13)​
  • "South African mass resistance in the 1980s was far from strictly non-violent. Suspected African collaborators were killed, demonstrators often threw stones, and erected barricades, and in 1985 militant youths battled with some success to create no-go areas in the townships. Moreover, divisions between the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha movement resulted in serious inter-communal violence. Nevertheless, the South African struggle did overall provide an 'A to Z' of non-violent tactics." (p. 36-37)​
  • "The historical evidence of India's experience of non-violent civil resistance under the over-arching leadership of Mahatma Gandhi raises crucial issues about this mode of conducting conflict. Perhaps above all it shows that this is a political strategy and technique which, for its outcomes, depends greatly on the historical specificities - the nature of the opponent, the characteristics and beliefs of those who seek to use it, their relations with their clientele and with a wider domestic and international audience, and the encompassing ideological and political environment." (p. 56-57).​
  • "successful movements normally reflect a combination of favourable environmental changes and the creative efforts of activists to recognize, exploit, and indeed, expand the political opportunities afforded them by broader change processes" (p. 65)​
  • "The Iranian Revolution - like many others - 'came' from below rather than was 'made' from above. There were no statewide parties, no systematic networks, and no coordinated organizations mobilizing the mass protests, meetings, and strikes. On the contrary, the crowds were often assembled by ad hoc groups, grass-roots organizations, and, at most, informal networks: classmates in high schools, colleges, and seminaries; teenagers in the slums; guild members, shop assistants, and, occasionally, mosque preachers, in the city bazaars." (p. 177)​
  • "it is incorrect to undervalue the contribution of armed movements to Marco's downfall due to their end-game errors. If that radical pole had not existed Morcos might have been able to inflict greater physical harm on his more moderate political rivals. They may even have survived because Marcos turned his attention to the greater threat" (p. 192)

Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the practice and experience of civil resistance. The is the most comprehensive set of cases I am aware of, and one of the more nuanced books addressing the relationship between violence and non-violence within these movements. ​

Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom

​Taiaiake Alfred's "Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom" (2009) was recommended to me, as I sought out a book (or parts of a book) that might be used to introduce undergraduate students to ethical and justice issues of colonialism in Canada. In some ways, it is similar to Ngugi's work on decolonizing the mind, and in some ways it is similar to Smith's work on decolonizing methodologies, but it is also quite different. The author says that "Wasase is a book that speaks to the imperceptible way that European thought has polluted the minds of Native Americans resulting in cultural blanks. It speaks to reflection: reflection on that pollution. It speaks to revitalization: revitalization of the "Warrior's Way" which is the only way Native Americans will be able to find their way out of the colonizers quagmire" (p. 11).

At points, the book presents forceful challenges to Settler and colonial society, drawing on Memmi and Fanon. Taiaiake presents an "ethical and political vision, the real demonstration of our resolve to survive as Onkwehonwe [first people] and to do what we must to force the Settlers to acknowledge our existence and the integrity of our connection to the land" (p. 19). The way forward, the book outlines, is challenging because the "political and social institutions that govern us have been shaped and organized to serve white power and they conform to the interests of the stats founded on that objective. These state and Settler-serving institutions are useless to the cause of our survival" (p. 20). In a longer passage, the author writes:

  • ​"What it comes down to in confronting our imperial reality is that some of us what to reform colonial law and policy, to dull that monster's teeth so that we can't be ripped apart so easily. Some of us believe in reconciliation, forgetting that the monster has a genocidal appetite, a taste for our blood, and would sooner tear us apart than lick our hands. I think that the only thing that has changed since our ancestors first declared war on the invaders is that some of us have lost heart. Against history and against those who would submit to it, I am with the warriors who want to beat the beast into bloody submission and teach it to behave." (p. 37)

The passion and forcefulness of the opening pages is somehow softened as the book develops the ideas. For example, one might read the above passages as calling for violence as a means to achieve the objective, but that is generally opposed. The place of Settlers, one might assume, is better elsewhere, but that too is clarified: "When we say to the Settlers, "Give it back," are we talking about them giving up the country and moving away? No. Irredentism has never been the vision of our peoples. When we say "Give it back," we're talking about Settlers demonstrating respect for what we share - the land and its resources - and making things right by offering us the dignity and freedom we are due and returning our power and land enough for us to be self-sufficient." (p. 153). One wonders if the inclination to approaches that might be considered within the realm of reconciliation are forgetting the monster Taiaiake introduces readers to? 

On language and labels, Taiaiake explains that many "Onkwehonwe [first people] today embrace the label of "aboriginal," but this identity is a legal and social construction of the state, and it is disciplined by racialized violence and economic oppression to serve an agenda of silent surrender... The integrationist and unchallenging aboriginal vision is designed to lead us to oblivion, as individual successes in assimilating to the mainstream are celebrated, and our survival is redefined strictly in the terms of capitalist dogma and practical-minded individualist consumerism and complacency." (p. 23)​

The Violence of the Green Revolution

Vandana Shiva has long been one of the key actors and advocates promoting locally-driven and owned, agroecologically-oriented and opposing corporate control of the agricultural and food sector. Although it was not her first publication, this message gained a global audience with "The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics" (1989). With the benefit of hindsight, there are two aspects I see missing from the book, one is a lack of engagement with farmer agency (as if they have no role in corporate expansion, I've written on how farmers can refuse, for example) and limited critical reflection on diversity (it is essentially good, my research suggests we need some more nuance on this). That said, this is an excellent resource and, in particular, it is good to recognize the roots of position that is now widely held so we can recognize the thought leaders. Some points I found interesting:

  • After "two decades, the invisible ecological, political and cultural costs of the Green Revolution have become visible. At the political level, the Green Revolution has turned out to be conflict-producing instead of conflict reducing. At the material level, production of high yields of commercial grain have generated new scarcities at the ecosystem level, which in turn have generated new sources of conflict." (p. 15)​
  • "The knowledge and power nexus is inherent to the reductionist system because the mechanistic order, as a conceptual framework, was associated with a set of values based on power which were compatible with the needs of commercial capitalism. It generates inequalities and domination by the way knowledge is generated and structured, the way it is legitimized, and by the way in which such knowledge transforms nature and society." (p. 22-23)​
  • "The linkage between chemical fertilizers and dwarf varieties that were established through breeding programmes of CIMMYT and IRRI, created a major shift in how seeds were perceived and produced, and who controlled the production and use of seeds." (p. 62-63)​
  • "Unlike the traditional high yielding varieties which have co-evolved with local ecosystems, the Green Revolution HYV's have to be replaced frequently. Seeds, a renewable resource, are thus converted into a non-renewable resource, which each variety usable for only one or two years before it gets overtaken by pests. Obsolescence replaces sustainability." (p. 89)​
  • "The inequality generating effects of the Green Revolution were built into the strategy of 'building on the best' - the best endowed region and the best endowed farmers. The increase in resource intensity of inputs for Green Revolution agriculture implied the increase in capital intensity of farming which tended to generate new inequalities between those who could use the new technology profitably, and those for whom it turned into an instrument of dispossession." (p. 176-177)​
  • "Liberalisation has meant freedom for corporate giants to test, experiment and sell their products without constraint, without controls. This necessarily means destroying for citizens the right to freedom from hazards posed by the new technologies and products." (p. 209)​
  • The "US has accused countries of the Third World of engaging in 'unfair trading practice' if they fail to adopt US patent laws which allow monopoly rights in life form. Yet it is the US which has engaged in unfair practices related to the use of Third World genetic resources. It has freely taken the biological adversity of the Third World to spin millions of dollars worth of profits, none of which have been shared with Third World countries, the original owners of the germplasm. A wild tomato variety (Lycopresicon chomrelweskii) taken from Peru in 1962 has contributed $8 million a year to the American tomato processing industry by increasing the content of soluble solids. Yet none of these profits or benefits have been shared with Peru, the original source of the genetic material." (p. 260)

Page numbers are from the 2016 print of the University Press of Kentucky.


Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

​This is the question that drives the recent book by Leslie Crutchfield, "How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't" (2018). This book is about social movements in the US, or that are primarily US-led. It offers some interesting case studies, quite descriptive throughout. The author summarizes the objective as seeking to understand why "some changes occur, but others don't? What are the factors that drive successful social and environmental change campaigns, while others falter? This book examines the leadership approaches, campaign strategies, and ground-level tactics employed by a range of modern social change efforts peaking since the 1980s" (p. 3). The key lessons can be summarized in six points:

  • "Winning movements are fueled by energy that materializes from the bottom up." (p. 12)
  • Do "the yeoman's work of pushing for improvements at the state and local level, advocating town by town, racking up small wins and building momentum incrementally, rather than going for national change at the start." (p. 12)
  • "change public attitudes so people believe the changes they seek are fair and right" (p. 13)
  • Put your "egos and organizational identities to the side (if only temporarily) so disparate factions can come together around a common agenda" (p. 13)
  • "Businesses can affect major change by altering their employee policies; raising their influential voices in public debates; and leveraging their innovation capabilities, as well as their brands and customer loyalty, for causes" (p. 13)
  • "Instead of small handfuls of elites dictating to troops from the top down or an amorphous mob of activists genuflecting for change from the bottom up, the most effective movements find the balance between the "leaderless" and the "leader-led" extremes" (p. 14).

I found the book somewhat repetitive. Given two years had passed since "How Change Happens" (Duncan Green's version) was published, and all the hullabaloo around it, it is odd that the author does not even cite Green's book (same title, same topic). Many of the key concepts this book tried to introduce (e.g. complexity, systems) where already introduced in Green's book. Maybe more disappointing is that Crutchfield does not employ complexity or systems approaches consistently, but rather uses them narrowly and in a specific way. Other findings in this book are reflected in a range of existing books (which are also not cited), such as those on leadership, which includes books that are also specific to the US context. Two relevant omissions were McChrystal (2015) and Bond and Exley (2016). The lack of engagement with all this relevant literature is unfortunate, particularly given the research produced was done by a large team. If you are looking for a book on this topic, I would suggest Green's 'How Change Happens' before this one (unless you are seeking out the specific US case studies).​

Land Tenure in Eritrea (1966)

An earlier post highlighted the first land tenure survey in Ethiopia, this post presents "Land Tenure in Eritrea (Ethiopia)" (1966) by Ambaye Zekarias. This publication is part of a broader set of literature that emerged during the 1960s (see broader literature here, with historical studies being a particular strength). The forward of this particular book was written by the eminent historian Richard Pankhurst, who himself wrote a history of land tenure in the 1960sThis book is not a land survey of Eritrea, but a summary of the types of tenure, covering both the traditional systems and those introduced by colonial occupation. In addition to being a historical reference for the pre-land reform period, it provides a good reference of terminology for a unique context where colonial systems created parallel systems to the traditional ones.

The book opens with a statement rarely made about Ethiopia: "The purpose of this book is not land reform, there is no land problem in this region of Ethiopia. There is plentiful of land [sic], the systems of land tenure with proper with proper adjustments would be models worth supporting. Here every qualified member is entitled for arable land, thus land is extended to every individual." (p. iv). I would be interested to hear from Eritrean historians about this claim, and if accurate, more about the processes used to ensure equal access (in a region and time when that was not common) and for how long the land plenty existed.

I was hoping to make these older publications available on this website, but appears that the majority remain protected by copyright. I will continue to explore options about how I can improve access to these difficult to obtain publications.

Factfulness - Hans Rosling

​Hans Rosling passed away in 2017, but his "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things are Better than You Think" (2018) carries his legacy on. For those familiar with Hans and his work, this is a good summary of a career working to educate. For those unfamiliar with Hans, this is an excellent place to start. The book summarizes ten reasons we (everyone) tend to be wrong, or hold incorrect assumptions, drawing upon examples over the decades. This is an excellent introductory book for students interested in global health.

The book can't be simply summarized, as it covers a lot of ground, however, I would like to highlight one point Hans makes, which seems to be the foundation of a career that aimed to help us think about how to make better decisions:

  • "This is the cruel calculus of extreme poverty. It felt almost inhuman to look away from an individual dying child in front of me and toward hundreds of anonymous dying children I could not see. I remember the words of Ingegerd Rooth, who had been working as a missionary nurse in Congo and Tanzania before she became my mentor. She always took me, "In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used." Paying too much attention to the individual visible victim rather than to the numbers can lead us to spend all our resources on a fraction of the problem, and therefore save many fewer lives. This principle applies anywhere we are prioritizing scarce resources. It is hard for people to talk about resources when it comes to saving lives, or prolonging or improving them. Doing so is often taken for heartlessness. Yet so long as resources are not infinite - and they never are infinite - it is the most compassionate thing to do to use your brain and work out how to do the most good with what you have." (p. 127-128)

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

​Some of the strengths of feminist scholarship and feminist critique have become more widely utilized and adopted, often without recognition of their origins. Intersectionality and positionality are two examples of approaches of this sort. In many ways, Kamala Visweswaran's book "Fictions of Feminist Ethnography" (1994) is a reflection of the time period of its authoring – feminist critique and scholarship had been developing in the decade leading up to its publication. This series of essays engages with those works and with the author's own experiences in grappling with how these ideas might intersect with ethnographic research and ethnographic writing. The book is rich in references for anyone seeking a work that explores these questions within the broader literature (literally, as the title suggests, including works not normally included, from fiction to dairy).

Some notes:

  • "If we have learned anything about anthropology's encounter with colonialism, the question is not really whether anthropologists can represent people better, but whether we can be accountable to people's own struggles fir self-representation and self-determination." (p. 32)
  • "a feminist ethnography can consider how identities are multiple, contradictory, partial, and strategic. The underlying assumption is, of course, that the subject herself represents a constellation of conflicting social, linguistic, and political forces. Individual narratives can be seen as both expressive and ideological in nature. However, the category "experience" is utilized not to pin down the truth of any individual subject, but as a means of reading ideological contradictions. It could gauge the processes of subject constitution in the articulation of individual with master narratives." (p. 50)​
  • "those of us engaged in identifying ethnography may be moved by different sets of questions concerning power, domination, and representation; how we may ourselves be positioned (and not always by choice) in opposition to dominant discourses and structures of power. The oppositional sense of such ethnography shows that these questions are not only important, but indeed vital for reshaping the practice of anthropology, and point again to the double sense of "identifying ethnography." (p. 140)"
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