Impulse to Act: A New Anthropology of Resistance and Social Justice

Impulse to Act: A New Anthropology of Resistance and Social Justice

Impulse to Act: A New Anthropology of Resistance and Social Justice

Impulse to Act: A New Anthropology of Resistance and Social Justice


What drives people to take to the streets in protest? What is their connection to other activists and how does that change over time? How do seemingly spontaneous activist movements emerge, endure, and evolve, especially when they lack a leader and concrete agenda? How does one analyze a changing political movement immersed in contingency? Impulse to Act addresses these questions incisively, examining a wide range of activist movements from the December 2008 protests in Greece to the recent chto delat in Russia. Contributors in the first section of this volume highlight the affective dimensions of political movements, charting the various ways in which participants coalesce around and belong to collectives of resistance. The potent agency of movements is highlighted in the second section, where scholars show how the emerging actions and critiques of protesters help disrupt authoritative political structures. Responding to the demands of the field today, the novel approaches to protest movements in Impulse to Act offer new ways to reengage with the traditional cornerstones of political anthropology.


Othon Alexandrakis

In recent years the spread of conflict and war zones, the creep of neoliberalism and its economies of abandonment, the uncertainty of environmental change, and other ruinous trends and unsettling conditions have sparked responses of all description around the world. These responses regularly capture both headlines and the attention of academics, in part because they are often unexpected and intense, but also because they have—in recent years especially—varied considerably in form, content, and direction: whereas some scenes of unrest have appeared to be familiar (at least at first blush), many new formations of resistance have caused observers to question whether they were witnessing politics at all. These actions continue to push against engrained mythologies and orthodoxies of politics, to challenge us to question what we know about the political, and— critically—to challenge us to revisit how we know it.

This volume begins a conversation about rethinking resistance politics from the perspective of innovation in methodology. We will reconsider the political in terms of the challenge of new resistance actions, and related political forms, to ethnographic method. Affect and agency will be our two central concerns, as these recombine fieldwork and theory work in new ways and, together, highlight new analytical possibilities of political ethnography and engagement, and political ethnography as engagement.

What Is Really Happening, on the Ground?

The question of what is really happening, on the ground, marks an interdisciplinary contact zone. For one, this question locates as “witness” anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and other researchers who conduct ethnographic fieldwork—and especially long-term participant observation—in places where resistance actions defy expectations. This witnessing, Taussig (2011) explains, sees inside and outside, translates, but also has the power to up the provisional connection behind the question of what is really happening to a mode of participation itself. As Neni Panourgiá and Alex Khasnabish so clearly argue in this . . .

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