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Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics

Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism

Gavin Smith
Series: Dislocations
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics
    Book Description:

    Contemporary forms of capitalism and the state require close analytic attention to reveal the conditions of possibility for effective counter-politics. On the other hand the practice of collective politics needs to be studied through historical ethnography if we are to understand what might make people's actions effective. This book suggests a research agenda designed to maximize the political leverage of ordinary people faced with ever more remote states and technologies that make capitalism increasingly rapacious. Gavin Smith opens and closes this series of interlinked essays by proposing a concise framework for untangling what he calls "the society of capital" and subsequently a potentially controversial way of seeing its contemporary features. This book tackles the political conundrums of our times and asks what roles intellectuals might play therein.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-301-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-xii)
    Gavin Smith
  4. Introduction: Intellectuals, Historical Realism and Counter-politics
    (pp. 1-24)

    The title of this book takes some explaining – which I find annoying. I am not fond of titles that seem intentionally thought up to titillate through puzzlement.War and Peacedidn’t seem to me a misleading title for the novel, nor didThe Book of Laughter and Forgettingfor that matter. Looking back I supposePensées Sauvageswas a bit politically incorrect, but you had to forgive the author; it did after all capture in a nicely playful way what he was talking about. A book entitledIntellectuals and Politicswould seem fairly straightforward, but why the ‘counter-politics’? Wouldn’t ‘politics’...

  5. Part I: Intellectual Infrastructure

    • Chapter 1 Capital: Structural, Phenomenological, Financial
      (pp. 27-64)

      One reason I made the decision to get a degree in social anthropology was so that I could avoid doing any more economics. It went something like this. I had been in an investment bank on Wall Street and then in Montreal working in what today is rather cryptically called ‘the financial services sector’, when I became interested in initiatives poor people were making to change their lives – mostly in what we then called ‘the Third World’. I applied for a variety of jobs and found that I was always offered a desk job as some kind of economist (I...

  6. Part II: Scales of History and Politics

    • Chapter 2 The Scales of Ethnography: Periodizing Spatial Coherence in Early-Twentieth-Century Spain
      (pp. 67-85)

      Over the past decade, ‘ethnography’ has spread beyond its home in anthropology to become a popular form of research for the social sciences generally, the latter joining history where its attraction has been more long standing (Sider and Smith 1997).¹ There is no question that this recent popularity is the result of the limitations of macro accounts in capturing the complexity and heterogeneity of contemporary social formations as well as the sense that the causal force of global interlinkages anyway limits the value of ‘methodological nationalism’ (Beck 2002; Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). Yet, there remains a certain irony in...

    • Chapter 3 Popular Struggle, Intellectuals and Perspectives in Realist History: A Case from Late-Twentieth-Century Peru
      (pp. 86-123)

      Although we may be well past the postmodern era, interpretations of the popular movements scattered across the globe in the past couple of years do seem to remain ‘in an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place’. Pushed to ‘elaborate more clearly what they think the ideal relationship between scholarship and politics should be’ (Maskovsky 2013: 128), anthropologists need to be careful that they do not present the past as a savage, albeit noble, slot rather than in terms of careful historical specificity (Trouillot 2003). Yet, in the elusive pursuit of relevance, anthropologists have found...

    • Chapter 4 History’s Absent Presence in the Everyday Politics of Contemporary Rural Spain
      (pp. 124-149)

      In the last chapter I took a particular moment in the past and a particular place to explore the relationship between an instance of collective praxis and two slightly different intellectual projects that sought to understand it.¹ The hope is that despite the distance in time and place we can still learn something, both from that collective praxis and from the pluses and minuses of the respective interpretations. I now turn to a very different kind of political setting but I continue to reflect on the political implications of differing interpretations of what is happening here. We return again to...

    • Chapter 5 History as Possibilities: On the Threshold between Everyday Practice and Historical Praxis
      (pp. 150-174)

      In this chapter I revisit some of the ethnography I have presented in the previous two chapters but from a different perspective, one arising from a different purpose-at-hand. In the last chapter I made a distinction between formal culture and practical sense, contrasting the latter with the production of culture by professionals. Of course the different approaches to the writing of history discussed in Chapter 3 were instances of formal culture. And I spoke of how different interpretations provide alternate tools for political practice. But there was another striking difference in the two chapters. In the earlier chapter the role...

  7. Part III: Politics’ Edge

    • Chapter 6 Conditions of Possibility: Dominant Blocs and Changing Contours of the Hegemonic Field
      (pp. 177-213)

      In this chapter I move away from the ethnographic gaze and reverse the priority of the chapters in Part II. There I focused more on social practices and historical praxis. At various places I suggested that praxis has to arise out of a combination of popular mobilization and strategic action. Faced with the iniquities of capitalism and the complacent indifference to democracy of established politicians, we may deplore the relative lack of really mass demonstrations. Or, conversely, we may note how contemporary media channels make it hard for the establishment to remain silent when popular mobilization does occur. But in...

  8. Conclusion: Between Reflexivity and Engagement
    (pp. 214-224)

    Just before his death in 2000, Bill Roseberry wrote an essay in which he strove ‘to draw attention to the process of intellectual production itself’ (2002: 61). He suggested that there are a series of sociological factors that might be taken into account, such as the experience outside the academy that students brought to the academy, how this shaped their subsequent formation, and how such formation,as anthropologists, affected their politics. He chose to do this by looking at three 25-year generations in the United States since the Second World War. The third of these generations would be the one...

  9. References
    (pp. 225-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-242)