Middle EastPolitics

Towards a Critical Arab Social Science, By Ghassan Hage

By Friday 19 April 2013 No Comments

2013-Ghassan-Hage 02Keynote presented to the inaugural conference of the Arab Council of Social Sciences, Beirut, March 2013

What does being a crit­ical social sci­ent­ist mean in the Arab world today? Or to ask the ques­tion dif­fer­ently: How can social sci­ent­ists think Arab soci­et­ies crit­ic­ally fol­low­ing or amidst the upheavals of the last few years? Such ques­tions do not demand pre­script­ive answers nor are such pre­script­ive answers pos­sible. Rather, they work to open up a space of reflec­tion that allows vari­ous social sci­ent­ists to be crit­ical in their own way in rela­tion to the par­tic­u­lar situ­ations they are ana­lys­ing. And it is to this space of reflec­tion that I want to con­trib­ute here.

Per­haps it is use­ful to begin by mak­ing clear that ‘crit­ical’ is not the same as ‘rad­ical’. Crit­ical is an intel­lec­tual qual­ity of thought while rad­ical is a polit­ical qual­ity. There can be and indeed his­tor­ic­ally there is a cer­tain affin­ity between crit­ical thought and rad­ical polit­ics. Non­ethe­less the two should not be con­fused. This is import­ant to stress in the highly politi­cised envir­on­ment cre­ated by the Arab upheavals where it is not only one side of polit­ics or another, but ‘polit­ics in gen­eral’ that works like a huge all-​consuming, col­on­iz­ing machine. To be a crit­ical social sci­ent­ist does not mean being non-​political but it involves the capa­city to artic­u­late a spe­cific­ally aca­demic polit­ics. That is, the abil­ity to carve a space that is free from what the French call la poli­tique politi­cienne, the polit­ics of those for whom polit­ics is a vocation.

The polit­ics of social sci­ent­ists is not ‘against’ this polit­ics but it refuses to be enslaved to it, refus­ing, for instance, to obey the nar­row friend/​enemy logic of such a polit­ics. A crit­ical social sci­ent­ist has to ask her­self: in what way is social sci­ence mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, offer­ing some­thing new, some­thing that make politi­cians hes­it­ate, and feel uncom­fort­able in the kind of truths they uphold, be they left or right, be they pro­fes­sional politi­cians or act­iv­ists.

This is where crit­ical and rad­ical can part. For a rad­ical social sci­ent­ist can eas­ily provide tools and jus­ti­fic­a­tions for a rad­ical polit­ics without mak­ing such polit­ics hes­it­ate and reflect on itself. In what fol­lows, I want to explore two intel­lec­tual tra­di­tions that have provided import­ant tools for think­ing such a crit­ical social sci­entific stand. I will call them soci­olo­gical and anthro­po­lo­gical. But this is not so much to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between dis­cip­lines as between crit­ical ana­lyt­ical moments. Indeed, both the thinkers I asso­ci­ate respect­ively with the anthro­po­lo­gical and the soci­olo­gical moment, Bruno Latour and Pierre Bour­dieu, are each known both as a soci­olo­gist and an anthropologist.

Bourdieu’s soci­ology is today the corner­stone of an import­ant crit­ical tra­di­tion that takes rela­tions of power and dom­in­a­tion in soci­ety as its object. For Bour­dieu modes of dom­in­a­tion always aim to reach a state of what he calls sym­bolic viol­ence. This is the point where those who are in power man­age to make their interest appear as if it is everybody’s interest. It is when this interest becomes the doxa, that is, when it becomes what is taken for gran­ted and goes without say­ing, akin to what Gram­sci called ‘com­mon sense’: such as when people state that it is nat­ural to be com­pet­it­ive and seek one’s own advant­age, or, it is nat­ural for men to dom­in­ate women, or that het­ero­sexu­al­ity is nat­ural com­pared to homo­sexu­al­ity, or that ‘Arabs like to be dom­in­ated by strong dic­tat­ors’. Crit­ical soci­ology comes to the scene aim­ing to show how what appears as ‘nat­ural’ or as ‘fatal­ity’ is born from within a pro­cess of dom­in­a­tion. This is what Bour­dieu calls the ‘de-​naturalising’ and ‘de-​fatalising’ func­tion of the social sciences.

Because mak­ing their interest appear as ‘nat­ural’ is part of the way the dom­in­ants dom­in­ate, a crit­ical soci­ology that uncov­ers these pro­cesses is by its very nature on the side of the dom­in­ated. How­ever, soci­ety is not made of one group of dom­in­ant people and a group of dom­in­ated ones. Among both those who are, in one spe­cific rela­tion, dom­in­ant and dom­in­ated there are also dom­in­ant and dom­in­ated. There are dom­in­ant and dom­in­ated, ad infin­itum, so to speak, and social sci­ent­ists should be pre­pared to keep on uncov­er­ing pro­cesses of dom­in­a­tion, ad infin­itum.

Unlike those who want to end dom­in­a­tion in the name of one group or another and there­fore sus­pend their cri­tique of dom­in­a­tion when it con­cerns the dom­in­a­tion of their own group, the crit­ical social sci­ent­ist never sus­pends her cri­tique of dom­in­a­tion. In order to be able to be such an end­less ‘crit­ical machine’ it is cru­cial for social sci­ent­ists to estab­lish their autonomy not just from the polit­ics of a par­tic­u­lar dom­in­ant group but their autonomy from polit­ics in gen­eral, from the media and from the state and, of course, from vari­ous eco­nomic interests as well. This is why, for Bour­dieu, such a crit­ical soci­ology is itself depend­ent on a reflex­ive soci­ology of social sci­ent­ists them­selves as a social group and their pos­i­tion within the power structures.

Pre­cisely to avoid homo­gen­iz­ing the dom­in­ant social forces in soci­ety, Bour­dieu slowly moved from a usage of the cat­egory ‘dom­in­ant’ to talk about the ‘field of power’ within par­tic­u­lar soci­et­ies. A field of power is a descrip­tion but also an invit­a­tion to see those in power as divided accord­ing to how much, but also what kind, of cap­ital they pos­sess (eco­nomic, social, cul­tural, etc…) and accord­ingly, enga­ging in vari­et­ies of struggles among them­selves for the dom­in­ant pos­i­tion in the field of power. To see dom­in­a­tion from this per­spect­ive is to avoid using easy and homo­gen­ising con­cepts as a sub­sti­tute for empir­ical research — one can­not avoid not­ing that ‘neo-​liberalism’ is used in this fash­ion today, oper­at­ing as a facile explan­at­ory prin­ciple of so many phenomena.

Bour­dieu pos­i­tions aca­dem­ics, and social sci­ent­ists spe­cific­ally, in the dom­in­ated space of the field of power. That is, by vir­tue of their pos­ses­sion of rel­at­ively high social and cul­tural cap­ital, social sci­ent­ists are part of the field of power of most soci­et­ies. But the fact that they pos­sess very little eco­nomic cap­ital, and the fact that eco­nomic cap­ital is a more val­or­ised cap­ital in the field of power, they end up being in a dom­in­ated pos­i­tion in this field.

This, he argues, has meant that while social sci­ent­ists can un-​reflexively pro­duce know­ledge that is com­pli­cit in the pro­cesses of social dom­in­a­tion, crit­ical social sci­ent­ists can also un-​reflexively develop an empathy with dom­in­ated groups through a pro­cess of struc­tural homo­logy: that is, trans­pos­ing their dom­in­ated status in the field of power into sym­pathy with those who are dom­in­ated by the field of power. The prob­lem, for Bour­dieu, is not so much the sym­pathy but the belief among, what he calls after Weber, ‘pro­letar­oid intel­lec­tu­als’ that the sym­pathy is a cri­terion of social sci­entific pro­fes­sion­al­ism. As he states on a num­ber of occa­sions: good polit­ics does not neces­sar­ily pro­duce good social sci­ence. Indeed, in a para­dox­ical way, social sci­ent­ists can optim­ise the polit­ical impact of their writ­ings by seek­ing autonomy from the polit­ical field.

Autonomy involves above all giv­ing primacy to a social sci­entific interest that is dis­tinct from polit­ical, medi­atic or eco­nomic interests. Given the depend­ency of social sci­ences on fund­ing from the state or from private sources this involves a struggle to insure that such fund­ing respects social sci­entific autonomy. A mark of demo­cratic insti­tu­tions is their capa­city to fund their own cri­tique and social sci­ent­ists have an interest in strug­gling to main­tain such demo­cratic ethos against the polit­ical and fin­an­cial forces who see fund­ing as a means of for­cing social sci­ent­ist to pri­or­it­ise cer­tain research over oth­ers, and need­less to say, against those who use fund­ing to affect the res­ult of social sci­entific inquiry.

But autonomy is not only struc­tural. It is also a cul­tural autonomy involving a struggle to pro­tect social sci­entific reason from polit­ical and medi­atic reason. It is for example to avoid modes of par­lia­ment­ary polit­ical argu­ment­a­tion that Jeremy Bentham describes in his little known Hand­book of Polit­ical Fal­la­cies (1824). First among those for Bentham are what he calls ‘fal­la­cies of author­ity (includ­ing laud­at­ory per­son­al­it­ies) the subject-​matter of which is author­ity in vari­ous shapes — and the imme­di­ate object, to repress, on the ground of the weight of such author­ity, all exer­cise of the reas­on­ing fac­ulty.’ The second are ‘fal­la­cies of danger (includ­ing vitu­per­at­ive per­son­al­it­ies) the subject-​matter of which is the sug­ges­tion of danger in vari­ous shapes — and the object, to repress alto­gether, on the ground of such danger, the dis­cus­sion pro­posed to be entered on.’ Bring­ing such modes of debat­ing into social sci­ence is in Bourdieu’s terms a weak­en­ing of the autonomy and spe­cificity of social sci­entific reason.

Autonomy also involves an autonomy of style. I have also often noted among Arab social sci­ent­ists a par­tic­u­larly male style of pro­ject­ing intel­lec­tual author­ity that involve a cer­tain way of ‘being ser­i­ous’ that belongs more to a pur­itan reli­gious field rather than the aca­demic field. Terry Eagleton’s cri­tique of this form of ser­i­ous­ness in his book After The­ory is of par­tic­u­lar rel­ev­ance here. As he put it: ‘The pur­itan mis­takes pleas­ure for frivolity because he mis­takes ser­i­ous­ness for solemnity’.

Let me now move to the second crit­ical tra­di­tion that I want to high­light and which has Bruno Latour’s latest work on mul­tiple modes of exist­ence as its most recent and import­ant mani­fest­a­tion. It is also developed in the import­ant work of the Brazilian anthro­po­lo­gist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Finally, one should note that it is also inspired by the philo­soph­ical lin­eages that lead to Gilles Deleuze. This tra­di­tion begins with a some­times impli­cit, some­times expli­cit, cri­tique of the ‘soci­olo­gical’ tra­di­tion delin­eated above. It argues that by being so centred, and even obsessed, with the demys­ti­fy­ing and unveil­ing of hid­den rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion and exploit­a­tion, the crit­ical soci­olo­gical tra­di­tion ends up giv­ing onto­lo­gical primacy to these rela­tions and the res­ist­ance they gen­er­ate. It can even go as far as con­sid­er­ing such rela­tions as the only social real­ity there is with everything else being sec­ond­ary, super­struc­tural, ideo­lo­gical or eph­em­eral.

Without ques­tion­ing the import­ance of such rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion, this second crit­ical tra­di­tion emphas­ises the import­ance of uncov­er­ing those other spaces that escape them: spaces that lie out­side power, out­side gov­ern­ment­al­ity, out­side res­ist­ance and even out­side mod­ern­ity. Along with the domain of insti­tu­tion­al­ised power marked by the social sci­entific quest for caus­al­ity, and there­fore for repe­ti­tion, for the fore­seen, the exist­ent and the actual, it aims to also uncover other real­it­ies marked by the unstruc­tured and the con­tin­gent, the unex­pec­ted and the unforseen, as well as the pos­sible and poten­tial. It sees those as mark­ing exist­ing real­it­ies that are non­ethe­less eclipsed by the dom­in­a­tion of the real­it­ies marked by power rela­tions. That is, along with see­ing pro­cesses of dom­in­a­tion in a par­tic­u­lar real­ity it also per­ceives pro­cesses of dom­in­a­tion whereby one real­ity dom­in­ates over other realities.

If rad­ical polit­ical thought is groun­ded in both an ‘anti’ and an ‘alter’ moment, that is, a desire to oppose exist­ing oppres­sion, dom­in­a­tion and exploit­a­tion and an equal desire to cre­ate some­thing bet­ter, it can be said that the first soci­olo­gical tra­di­tion is more rel­ev­ant to an ‘anti’ polit­ics while the second tra­di­tion provides ammuni­tion for an ‘alter’ polit­ics. It is in this sense that I feel that both tra­di­tions are of import­ance in speak­ing to Arab social sci­ent­ists as they find them­selves con­fron­ted with old colo­nial modes of dom­in­a­tions in Palestine, new regimes of cap­it­al­ist exploit­a­tion expand­ing through­out the region and new spaces of pos­sib­il­ity opened up by the pop­u­lar upheavals and trans­form­a­tions of the last few years. The two tra­di­tions offer an invit­a­tion for Arab social sci­ent­ists where the struggle for autonomy is an import­ant corner­stone of crit­ical know­ledge, and where speak­ing to the polit­ical involves not only an atten­tion to the spaces of dom­in­a­tion and res­ist­ance but an equally import­ant search for spaces that are out­side such cycles of power and where the pos­sib­il­ity of altern­at­ive social orders can be grounded.

Let me first give a quick example of how a social sci­ence com­mit­ted to uncov­er­ing power rela­tions and one com­mit­ted to uncov­er­ing other real­it­ies meet, the ana­lyt­ical ten­sions that this can pro­duce, but also the pos­sib­il­it­ies that open up when work­ing with both of them together. I will then move to another more polit­ical example to exem­plify the way they speak to the anti/​alter ima­gin­ar­ies of rad­ical politics.

Let us go to north­ern Lebanon and explore a routine social inter­ac­tion that one still encoun­ters in some of the vil­lages. In these vil­lages class divi­sion is delin­eated by fam­ily belong­ing. That is, there are rich fam­il­ies and poor fam­il­ies and the fam­il­ies that are rich and those that are poor have been the same since the Otto­man time. And the mem­bers of the poor fam­il­ies work, and usu­ally would have worked, for the mem­bers of the rich fam­il­ies as ser­vants, as agri­cul­tural laborers, as cattle mind­ers or drivers etc. also since Otto­man time. Des­pite this lifelong divi­sion, if you visit the vil­lage, you can still see mem­bers of the rich fam­ily sit­ting hav­ing a cof­fee with mem­bers of the poorer fam­il­ies work­ing for them.

I have seen this in one of the vil­lages where I’ve done field­work. I remem­ber clearly, for example, as I was walk­ing around the vil­lage, see­ing a man, Michel, from the rul­ing fam­ily, that I had been intro­duced to earlier in the week, sit­ting on the bal­cony in front of his house hav­ing a cof­fee with another man whom I had iden­ti­fied as his chauf­feur but whom I have not met before. When I said hello Michel got up and intro­duced me to his chauf­feur, a man called Jeryes, by say­ing: ‘This is Jeryes, he works here. He’s also from here (the vil­lage), his fam­ily lives down the road from here.’ And then he said: ‘Jeryes and I grew up together, we are like broth­ers and our fam­il­ies have been like one since any­one can remem­ber’. This might sound either odd, or arti­fi­cial, or even hypo­crit­ical to someone not versed in vil­lage cul­ture, espe­cially when you get to know that Jeryes is more than just a chauf­feur. He in fact is largely Michel’s ser­vant, doing everything and any­thing Michel wants him to do, whether around the house, the field or any­where else.

This is a very inter­est­ing situ­ation that to me puts in ten­sion the crit­ical soci­olo­gical and the crit­ical anthro­po­lo­gical dis­pos­i­tions of a social sci­ent­ist I have talked about above. This is because, from a crit­ical soci­olo­gical point of view, what is hap­pen­ing here might appear as quite obvi­ous: this per­son is using kin­ship cat­egor­ies to hide rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion. The crit­ical sociologist’s desire to demys­tify power rela­tions sur­faced imme­di­ately and he or she might say: ‘sure, “like brothers” indeed, ha ha, who does he think he is kid­ding? I can see through this lan­guage of broth­er­hood and recog­nise that under­neath it is a rela­tion of dom­in­a­tion. Nobody is going to fool me with any mumbo jumbo about broth­ers.’

A Marx­ist might even say: ‘here we have a situ­ation where kin­ship ter­min­o­logy oper­ates as an ideo­logy that mys­ti­fies the rela­tions of exploit­a­tion that exist between the mas­ter and his ser­vant.’ What’s more I learnt that in fact Jeryes’ grand­father was also the ser­vant of Michel’s grand­father. So one can cyn­ic­ally say: so much for ‘our fam­il­ies are like one fam­ily’… more mys­ti­fic­a­tion of rela­tions of power.

The crit­ical anthro­po­lo­gical side in me, how­ever, while agree­ing with the soci­olo­gical cri­tique at one level, wanted to also under­stand the sig­ni­fic­ance of this des­ig­na­tion ‘we are like broth­ers’ from the point of view of Jeryes, and here, some­thing else emerges. The first thing I noted after some time of know­ing Jeryes is that he is not at all mys­ti­fied by the lan­guage of broth­er­hood. He knows all too well that he is the ser­vant of a rich man and that his fam­ily is and has always been dom­in­ated by Michel’s fam­ily. Non­ethe­less, Jeryes also genu­inely appre­ci­ated that he and his rich mas­ter are ‘like broth­ers’. He enjoyed it when Michel said so and he said it on one occa­sion as well. Here I star­ted real­iz­ing that not­with­stand­ing the fact that Michel might well use kin­ship meta­phors to repro­duce the rela­tion of exploit­a­tion that he has with Jeryes, still, kin­ship meta­phors did more than that: they carved a space enjoyed by both Michael and Jeryes, where they related to each other pre­cisely as broth­ers. It was a space out­side the rela­tion of domination.

Often, the crit­ical soci­olo­gical gaze, because it invests so much in uncov­er­ing rela­tions of power, seem to be unable to see or even think the pos­sib­il­ity of other forms of rela­tion­al­ity and to think that what is a rela­tion of power can be noth­ing but a rela­tion of power. But a rela­tion between two people is far more com­plex and multi-​dimensional for it to be cap­tured by a single defin­i­tional mode, no mat­ter how import­ant that is. So per­haps, the rela­tion of power is the most import­ant dimen­sion of the rela­tion between Michel and Jeryes but it is non­ethe­less not the only dimen­sion. The lan­guage of kin­ship points to this other form of rela­tion­al­ity. In the lan­guage of the Lebanese vil­lage, the space carved by the lan­guage of meta­phoric kin­ship is often the space of honourability.

So, a crit­ical soci­olo­gical gaze will only see this space in terms of how it func­tions to repro­duce power rela­tions. To be sure, the space can and does func­tion to repro­duce power rela­tions. But if this is all what a social sci­ent­ist sees, she will be miss­ing an import­ant resource that people, and espe­cially sub­jug­ated people, have, to con­sti­tute them­selves as viable human beings out­side the rela­tions of dom­in­a­tions in which they are groun­ded. Say­ing that this space actu­ally helps repro­duce rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion could be true, but that does not mean that it is the only reason for it to exist. If one is writ­ing a his­tory of class rela­tions, espe­cially rela­tions of pat­ron­age, in the Lebanese vil­lages and sees noth­ing but rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion and instru­mental forms of exploit­a­tion, one misses another import­ant his­tory which is the his­tory of the decline of a space that is free from such instru­mental rela­tions and where people really did relate to each other like broth­ers and sis­ters. The crit­ical soci­olo­gical gaze that cap­tures rela­tions of exploit­a­tion is import­ant but the crit­ical anthro­po­lo­gical gaze that cap­tures the exist­ence of other spaces or real­it­ies is equally important.

Let me give another quick example which high­lights how this ques­tion of power — infused spaces/​other spaces can have a sig­ni­fic­ant rela­tion to the anti and alter dimen­sions of polit­ics men­tioned above. For social sci­ent­ists inter­ested in Palestinian social life and its sur­vival in the face of the scale and fero­city of Zion­ist col­on­iz­a­tion the ques­tion of res­ist­ance, what con­sti­tute acts of res­ist­ance and what con­sti­tute a cul­ture of res­ist­ance, is of utmost import­ance. This res­ist­ance has been detailed by many good social sci­ent­ists. But to what extent does the axis of ‘set­tler colo­ni­al­ism — res­it­ance to set­tler col­on­is­al­ism’ help us under­stand and provide crit­ical ammuni­tion for a Palestinian polit­ics. Once again, and with the vil­lage example above, there is often a slide from onto­lo­gical primacy to onto­lo­gical mono-​realism: from con­sid­er­ing colo­nial rela­tions of dom­in­a­tion and res­ist­ance to this dom­in­a­tion as the most import­ant Palestinian polit­ical real­ity to con­sid­er­ing them as the only polit­ical reality.

Res­ist­ance, import­ant as it is both for polit­ical reas­ons and for indi­vidual ques­tions of self-​worth, is a psy­cho­lo­gic­ally demand­ing pur­suit that can wear down people even when suc­cess­ful. A crit­ical anthro­po­lo­gical gaze will not only want to exam­ine the vari­ous forms and dimen­sions of the exist­ence of rela­tions of power and res­ist­ance, but also how people find it import­ant to shield them­selves from both dom­in­a­tion and res­ist­ance to dom­in­a­tion. Here the concept of resi­li­ence and the real­ity, the prac­tices and the cul­ture, that it can delin­eate, might be seen as import­ant. Resi­li­ence in phys­ics, such as when we speak of a resi­li­ent sub­stance, is defined in an inter­est­ing way.

The defin­i­tion speaks of the capa­city of a sub­stance to be sub­jec­ted to a deform­ing force without it being deformed by it. This seems to me a cru­cial dimen­sion of ‘prac­tices of resi­li­ence’. For no mat­ter what one thinks of the import­ance, sac­red­ness, etc… of res­ist­ance, one can­not deny that it entails dur­able dam­age to the people and the social fab­ric that are enga­ging in it. Indeed it could be said that this is the tra­gic dimen­sion of res­ist­ance. It is heroic, and it is indis­pens­able. A viable life is impossible to think without it and yet it dam­ages the viab­il­ity of life. One does not have to think res­ist­ance and resi­li­ence as oppos­ite. It can be per­haps use­fully seen as a dimen­sion of res­ist­ance by someone clas­si­fy­ing it from the out­side. Non­ethe­less, by the people exper­i­en­cing it, it needs to be care­fully dif­fer­en­ti­ated from res­ist­ance as a reality.

With the risk of over­sim­pli­fy­ing the mat­ter let me provide what I think would be a cla­ri­fy­ing example. In the house­hold of a recently deceased Palestinian male mar­tyr his widow has to make some choices in terms of how much to remem­ber him and to make her chil­dren remem­ber him which, of course, changes with time. Put­ting his photo on the wall is an act of remem­brance, but it is also a cel­eb­ra­tion of his res­ist­ance and an act of res­ist­ance in itself. There might even be a shrine for him in the house ensur­ing that the chil­dren always remem­ber the hero­ism of their father, inherit it, and par­ti­cip­ate in the cul­ture of res­ist­ance he has been part of. But, let us say that at night the wife decides to always read the chil­dren some rel­at­ively apolit­ical children’s books and tuck them good­night with a warm kiss that allows them to exper­i­ence a sense of exist­ence that is not sub­ject­ively gov­erned by the death of their father; a sense of exist­ence that is neither gov­erned by colo­ni­al­ism, nor gov­erned by res­ist­ance to colo­ni­al­ism. That is, she makes them exper­i­ence a form of nor­mal­ity that chil­dren who are not sub­jec­ted to colo­ni­al­ism and who have a mar­tyred father also exper­i­ence. This is what I would call an act of resi­li­ence. It goes without say­ing that it has a dimen­sion of res­ist­ance built into it. But, if all what the mother does is engage in prac­tices aimed at evad­ing the fact of col­on­iz­a­tion — assum­ing such total eva­sion is pos­sible — this would be seen as a form of treason by those who want to con­tinue to cel­eb­rate the mar­tyr of the father. Yet, it would be patho­lo­gical if a fam­ily is all con­sumed by cel­eb­rat­ing acts of res­ist­ance and does not give itself such spaces of normality.

As I said above, whether one wants to call resi­li­ence a dif­fer­ent dimen­sion of res­ist­ance or some­thing other than res­ist­ance is not as import­ant from an ana­lyt­ical point of view as it is from the polit­ical point of view of those who are enga­ging in res­ist­ance and who might worry about the co-​opting poten­tial that is present in acts of resi­li­ence. What is cru­cial for a crit­ical social sci­ent­ist is that it is an other space to the space of colo­nial dom­in­a­tion and act­ive res­ist­ance to dom­in­a­tion. It is not a space gov­erned by a fore­ground­ing of the col­on­iz­ing power that one needs to res­ist against. One can call resi­li­ence a space of heroic nor­mal­ity. By vir­tue of this, it is a space far more suit­able for ground­ing an ‘alter-​politics’: a polit­ics con­cerned with the insti­tu­tion­al­iz­a­tion of some kind of post-​resistance nor­mal­ity. Res­ist­ance, on the other hand, is by defin­i­tion haunted by what it is try­ing to res­ist and as such is the ground of an ‘anti-​politics’. And as always, it is cru­cial never to think the anti– and alter-​, res­ist­ance and resi­li­ence in terms of either/​or but rather how to think both together. It is to such a task that a crit­ical social sci­ent­ist moved by both a crit­ical soci­olo­gical and a crit­ical anthro­po­lo­gical ethos can offer some contribution.

Let me con­clude by rais­ing another import­ant dimen­sion of the ‘anthro­po­lo­gical’ or ‘cul­tural’ cri­tique of the social sci­ences. It has to do with ques­tions of mode of writ­ing as opposed to what one writes about. This cri­tique has also its philo­soph­ical inspir­a­tion in the work of Der­rida but it is also inspired from a long tra­di­tion of fem­in­ist social sci­ences. The issue here is the social sci­ences’ modes of detail­ing and clas­si­fy­ing real­ity, and their emphasis on what their lan­guage refers to as ‘the cap­tur­ing of real­ity’. This kind of lan­guage makes them com­pli­cit with the dom­in­ant pat­ri­archal forms of dom­in­a­tion asso­ci­ated with tam­ing, domest­ic­at­ing, con­trolling and exploit­ing oth­er­ness.

The search for other real­it­ies where such rela­tion does not pre­vail also invites us to think of a mode of writ­ing that is not about cap­ture, a writ­ing with people rather than writ­ing about people. Once again, this is not a ques­tion of either/​or. It is dif­fi­cult to ima­gine a mode of sci­entific know­ledge that is not com­pli­cit with the logic of domest­ic­a­tion. Yet such know­ledge can be at least tempered with a desire not to reveal and unveil, which often makes some­thing open for gov­ern­mental cap­ture even when it isn’t already so. A ‘writ­ing with’ is a writ­ing that is ‘with’ people in the same way one wishes someone: ‘may God be with you’. It is a with-​ness that acts as a pro­pelling force in peoples’ lives some­thing that even the best crit­ical social sci­ence, whether soci­olo­gic­ally or anthro­po­lo­gic­ally inspired, fails to do.

Ghas­san Hage is Future Gen­er­a­tion Pro­fessor of Anthro­polgy and Social The­ory at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne. He is the author of, amongst oth­ers, White Nation (1998) and Against Para­noid Nation­al­ism (2003).

@The Arab Council for the Social Sciences

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.