EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Tactics as ethnographic and conceptual objects [Network of Ethnographic Theory]
Location U7-11
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Theodoros Kyriakides (University of Manchester) email
  • Patrick Laviolette (Tallinn University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Klāvs Sedlenieks ( Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte)
Discussant Giovanni da Col (SOAS)

Short Abstract

This panel explores tactics of alliance, relationality and visibility/invisibility through collective or individual perspectives. Contributions should consider the notion of tactics in conversation with anthropology's conceptual wealth - both classic themes and more recent theoretical developments.

Long Abstract

The global rise of social movements and grassroots communities suggests there is fertile ground in both ethnographically as well as theoretically examining the tactics by which such collectives gain political leverage and situate themselves in the becoming of their issues. This panel shall follow Roy Wagner's 'Coyote Anthropology' (Nebraska, 2010) in further engaging in the exploration of a subjectivity which is "aware of itself": Such an ethnographic and theoretical examination of tactics can illuminate the practices by which individuals understand, navigate, orientate and actively construct and re-create their subjectivities in the world. Traditionally associated with cunningness and deceit, a contemporary perspective can potentially reclaim the notion of tactics in the name of political connection and the urgency of alliance. At the same time, such a perspective might unveil that tactical thinking is not always looking for connection, but also disconnection from previous relations and associations. The panel invites contributions exploring tactics of alliance, relationality, visibility and invisibility on a collective and individual level. We especially welcome contributions which put the notion of tactics in conversation with anthropology's conceptual wealth -- classic concepts of witchcraft, the trickster, taboo, hospitality, bricolage, mana and gifting, as well as with more recent theoretical developments such as ontology, multi-species/post-human anthropology and the Anthropocene. We encourage submissions from various field sites and theoretical perspectives. This includes but is not restricted to tactical explorations of ethics, value, kinship, medical anthropology and STS.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Provocation: tactics as ethnographic and conceptual objects

Authors: Theodoros Kyriakides (University of Manchester)  email
Patrick Laviolette (Tallinn University)  email

Short Abstract

Although appearing sporadically in ethnographies and theoretical discussions, tactics have not been explicitly attended to by anthropologists. This panel aims to act as a platform for an anthropological exploration of tactics as ethnographic and conceptual objects.

Long Abstract

Although appearing sporadically in ethnographies and theoretical discussions, tactics have not been explicitly attended to by anthropologists. Our impression is that the notion of tactics has been underlying anthropological thought for long now - concealed in concepts and anthropological literature on agency, ethics, power, praxis, cunningness, reflexivity, and event - but never placed at the centre of ethnographic analysis. This panel aims to act as a platform for an anthropological exploration of tactics. An inquiry into tactics can address everyday practices and cognitive states of cunningness, trickery, urgency and dexterity which often evade philosophical accounts of the intellect. An anthropological account of tactics instead gestures to the contingent and violent nature of becoming, and the ability of social agents - individual or collective - to recruit, manage and incite wordly circumstance. This paper aims to act as a provocation to an anthropological theory of tactics. The paper visits the ethnographic archive to locate where the notion of tactics has been lying dormant yet potent, and to what other concepts within anthropology it can connect and be animated through.

The reciprocity of perspectives

Author: Roy Wagner (University of Virginia)  email

Short Abstract

As a tactic of cognitive self-awareness, the reciprocity of perspectives is not so much a subjective metric for inter-cultural comparison as it is an internalized property of the human constitution, made famous by Claude Lévi-Strauss as the canonic formula for myth.

Long Abstract

As a tactic of cognitive self-awareness, the reciprocity of perspectives is not so much a subjective metric for intercultural comparison as it is an internalized property of the human constitution, made famous by Claude Lévi-Strauss as the canonic formula for myth. Understood most conveniently as the double proportional comparison it serves as the syllogistic basis for Wittgenstein's philosophy, Godel's proof, Bateson's schismogenesis, quadratic equations and, derivatively, Einstein's relativity, Lacan's mirror reflection ego, and Tesla's electrical motor-generator complex, to name only a few. Instead of opposing the innate and the artificial to one another, it presupposes reciprocity between the two.

Tactic equivocations: reflections on the politics of intercultural encounters

Author: Francesca Mezzenzana (Collège de France)  email

Short Abstract

What happens when, during intercultural encounters, the “Other” consciously uses ‘equivocation' (sensu Viveiros de Castro 1998) as a means to pursue his own goals? I will explore this ‘tactic equivocation’ and its importance for the constitution of contemporary indigenous politics.

Long Abstract

The term 'equivocation' has been famously coined by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (1998) to indicate the misunderstanding which emerges from the encounter between two different worlds. During such encounter, he argues, both parties seem to be talking about the same thing, when,in fact, this is not the case. The notion of equivocation has been taken up by other anthropologists as a means for reflecting upon the ontological presuppositions which inform anthropological work. In this paper I wish to address the concept of 'equivocation' from another angle: what happens when, during intercultural encounters, the "Other" is consciously using 'equivocation?' In what ways are our indigenous interlocutors cunningly using equivocation to pursue their own political ends? I explore the possibility of a 'tactic' equivocation through materials from my ethnographic work among the Runa, indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. I will suggest that Runa people, when dialoguing with powerful outsiders about 'the rights of Mother Nature', are well aware of the misunderstanding that is taking place but still do nothing to prevent it. On the contrary: they cunningly use such equivocations to pursue their own political ends. In so doing, something else happens: the space of tactic equivocation becomes a fertile terrain for indigenous subjects to re-imagine themselves and their relationship to their place, the 'living' forest.

"You need to know the rules of the game: we know this game"

Author: Barbara Götsch (Austrian Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of tactics in the way a French speaking team of NGO activists in urban Morocco lived social relations.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the role of tactics in the way a French speaking team of NGO activists in urban Morocco lived social relations. The team were a group of pedagogues who engaged in research, training and lobbying for the cause of children in the country. Talk about tactics formed part of creative as much as reflective moments of joint anticipatory reasoning that occurred whilst devising project proposals, planning for training sessions, and anticipating meetings with important stakeholders. To achieve their ends in a changing political landscape that was characterised by obscure tension between inertia and authoritarian ad-hoc decisions, team members had established a habit of self-consciously analysing their (shifting) position relative to other players in the arena. They constantly monitored or hypothesised about what others might think of them. In their personas of cosmopolitan experts, intercultural brokers, or simply 'people from the city' they adapted the framing of their cause and their own 'presentation of self' accordingly; whether their interlocutors be representatives of ministries, of royal foundations, or of their European funding agency, whether they be teachers, students, or 'common folks' in remote villages.

My discussion of tactics as part of how team members lived social relations on a day to day basis, shall be put in dialogue with earlier work on social relations in Morocco (Geertz, Geertz & Rosen 1979, Rosen 1984, 1995, Hammoudi 1997) on the one hand, and with recent interdisciplinary work on social cognition such as perspective taking and 'theory of mind' on the other.

From cocoa to oil palm: visibility strategy and development among the Baining

Author: Inna Yaneva-Toraman (The University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how notions of visibility and invisibility, and ‘covering’ among the Baining people of Papua New Guinea were essential in developing tactics to take back their customary land and draw wealth to the clan.

Long Abstract

Over the years numerous missionaries, researchers, and tourists have visited the Baining people of Papua New Guinea to take a glimpse of their breath taking fire dances and mysterious culture. And while their elaborate bark cloth masks made their way into countless museums, magazines, tourism brochures, and Air Niugini commercials, the Baining people continued to live on the margins of development, neglected by state and local governments.

In this paper I discuss the tactics developed by the Baining to take control over their land and draw wealth to the clan, by transforming themselves from cocoa growers to oil palm businessmen, and making themselves seen by the state (Street 2012). I argue that notions of visibility/invisibility among the Baining play significant role in these tactics and peoples’ understandings of development and wealth. First, I explore how making things ‘not-seen’ to become ‘seen’ and vice versa, occur in spaces that confer the boundaries between visibility and invisibility (e.g. bush, trap, creek, house), whereby various beings transform from one thing to another, and become manifest at a sensorial level. Second, I discuss the notion of ‘covering’ (karamapim) as a strategy of revelation and access to power, to show what it means to “cover the land with oil palm” and how by creating such space the Baining reveal and remove “illegal settlers,” draw wealth, and make themselves visible. By exploring various “tactics of visibility” and their role in making and cutting social relationships this paper offers insight into Melanesian strategies of (re)presentation and self-presentation.

Looking for leaders: tactics and agency in the 2015 South African student protests

Authors: Vito Laterza (University of Oslo)  email
Ayanda Manqoyi (University of Cape Town)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore the interplay of tactics and agency in the recent South African student protests, in dialogue with classic and contemporary anthropological concepts and theories.

Long Abstract

In October 2015, thousands of university students took to the streets across major South African cities to protest against increases in university fees. While the protests did not emerge in a vacuum, small groups who had started demonstrations a few weeks before had rapidly grown in numbers within days, with no central coordination or heavily structured leadership. The demands of protesters were complex and multi-faceted, and could not be easily subsumed under one common manifesto, but an anti-racist decolonisation agenda endorsed by smaller groups of activists gained prominence among the various competing voices.

Based on fieldwork and social media analysis, this paper will explore some of the tactics that protesters and small groups of activists have employed to gather momentum and keep the protests going, while refusing attempts at vertical integration and structured leadership - parallels will be made with Black Lives Matter and Occupy movements.

A key theme is the changing relationship between agency and tactics: if leaderless movements gain momentum by refusing to be "represented", both symbolically and organisationally, what kind of agency are we speaking of when crowds of protesters take to the streets? Who is protesting for what? Do tactics and methods then become the primary focus of ethnography, both empirically and conceptually?

The paper will also ask more general questions concerning the role of agency in classic and contemporary anthropological theory: are we witnessing events and social formations that eschew conventional understandings of agency? If so, how should anthropology reconfigure itself to understand these changes and engage with them?

"More than just tomatoes": tactical representations and passionate interests in Chicago's 61 St Community Garden

Author: Lindsay Harris (University of British Columbia)  email

Short Abstract

Through an ethnography of the relocation of Chicago’s 61st St. Community Garden, this paper explores the effectiveness of the gardeners’ tactical and rhetorical strategies in the struggle to articulate their understanding of the “true value” of the garden and lay claim to the contested space.

Long Abstract

Community gardens often occupy contested urban spaces that require gardeners to think tactically to make themselves visible. In the early twenty-first century, the 61st Street Community Garden in Chicago lived between the affluent neighbourhood of Hyde Park and the struggling neighbourhood of Woodlawn that had experienced rapid racial turnover and population decline in the mid-twentieth century. The landowner, the University of Chicago, gave notice in 2009 that the garden would need to relocate. This was a significant moment - an opportunity for ethnographers to explore how the gardeners had built tactical and rhetorical strategies in the struggle to articulate their understanding of the "true value" of the garden and lay claim to the contested space. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork following the University's notification, I will explore the value of the garden as "more than just tomatoes" following Gabriel Tarde's notion of value as inter-subjective passionate interests. I will also examine the gardeners' tactics through Latour's call for a kind of democracy that demands the expansive process of taking into account and putting into order all human and non-human actants. This paper argues that the tactics used to make the garden visible and articulate its value did not have the intended effect. They closed off, rather than opened, genuine democratic deliberation about its value. As part of the broader food culture movement, whose aim is to localize abstracted industrial food systems, these tactics ultimately elided actual particularities of local places through an abstracted rhetoric of nature, community and belonging.

Anthropologically blonde at the UN: methodological reflections of a conspicuous ethnographer

Author: Miia Halme-Tuomisaari (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

My paper explores tactics – including ‘liaisons’, exaggerated ‘transparency and ‘blondness’, negotiation and bargaining – for overcoming an intrinsic paradox of UN human rights bureaucracies: in the ideology of human rights everyone is a ‘somebody’, in practice the ethnographer is a ‘nobody’.

Long Abstract

In the ideology of human rights, by definition, 'everybody' is a ‘somebody’. Yet, in the fast-paced world of UN bureaucracy characterized by incessant flows of people and dignitaries the aspiring ethnographer quickly discovers that she is reduced into a ‘nobody’ – a person that no one remembers and few give the time of day to. Overcoming this paradox became a central methodological challenge in my fieldwork commenced in 2013 at the UN Human Rights Committee – the expert body monitoring compliance with the ICCPR and commonly viewed as the most ‘lawlike’ and ‘authoritative’ of all UN human rights treaty bodies.

The solution became a mixture of tactics that intended to transform me into a ‘somebody’ via ‘liaisons’ that created an ‘adhesive surface’ between my informants and myself. I embraced an existent category of UN bureaucracies, the intern, which departed from my actual professional and personal profile, yet allowed me to experiment with the position of an assistant in closed sessions and flirt with NGO advocacy. I accentuated expectations associated with a distinct habitus – blondness - both literally and figuratively, a role-play made explicit to my informants via exaggerated ‘transparency’ over my research. The ‘conspicuous ethnographer’ became a subjectivity that was "aware of itself’ and created a shared reflective space beyond deceit due to my informants’ analytical sophistication and their upper hand in our mutual power relations. Simultaneously this space was subject to negotiation and bargaining, making my liaisons occasionally ‘dangerous’.

Strategy and tactics in applied legal anthropology: redefining the "strategic essentialism" debate

Author: Jonas Bens (Van Vollenhoven Institute, Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

It is argued that the debate on ‘strategic essentialism’ in applied legal anthropology is misdirected. A critical examination of the term ‘strategic essentialism’ suggests that anthropologists should differentiate between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ in their engagement with the legal field.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists frequently engage in struggles for indigenous rights by giving expert testimony in court proceedings. Many of those anthropologists personally involved as expert witnesses express some form of ethical dilemma in this role. While the courts and with them the indigenous claimants seem to demand yes-or-no-statements on culture and ethnicity, mainstream anthropologists are used to deconstruct and criticize more 'essentialising' notions of these terms.

To find a way out of this dilemma applied anthropologists have mobilized the often-cited concept of 'strategic essentialism': anthropologists should assist indigenous rights movements with helpful testimony on culture and ethnicity despite some theoretical reservations - not to undermine their justified claims. Others have criticized such an approach of 'strategic essentialism' and called for a broader project: if 'the law' acts on the basis of essentialist concepts of culture and ethnicity, legal anthropology must engage with legal theory to de-essentialise legal thinking.

It is argued that, although both sides of the discussion have valid points, it is necessary to redefine the debate by critically examining the term 'strategic essentialism' itself. In the anthropological context 'essentialism' is often implicitly constructed as a 'practice of the others', while anthropology's own normativity is conveniently overlooked. Instead of arguing about 'strategic essentialism' it would be fruitful for anthropologists to differentiate between 'strategy' and 'tactics' in the engagement with the more powerful legal field. Inspiration can be drawn from Post-Marxist political theory.

Tactics as the invention of new possibilities of life: the experiences of young women care-leavers in Brazil

Author: Fernanda Rifiotis (IRIS - L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales/ Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina-UFSC)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyses the tactics of young women care-leavers in relation to welfare policies and health. These are the results of ethnography carried out between 2010 and 2013 in Brazil, in which the more traditional conception of tactics (as cunning / survival) is tensioned by the prospect of the invention of Roy Wagner (2010).

Long Abstract

The analysis is based on ethnography, carried out between 2010 and 2013 in the south-Brazil, on deinstitutionalization of young women care leavers. The experiences of these young women might be thought from the gaps left by the protection policies for children and adolescents after the institutional shutdown. In this perspective, the focus of analysis would fall on the tactics they undertake to circumvent the difficulties imposed by heeding, especially when they reach adulthood. However, much as the deinstitutionalization experiences of these young women are marked by «a kind of continuous improvisation» this dynamic seems to mean more than a simple "survival tactic" amid a context of instability. In this sense, I would like to propose another analytic key, which allows to understand the practices of these young people not just as simple survival tactics, as gimmicks front of the gaps left by the protection policies, but as tactics that allow constantly invent life, even in such emergency conditions where it would seem impossible. More than reiterate the idea that these young women are not expecting such policies, and therefore they mobilize to build their own integration, i sought think that such tactics are based on the analytical key of the invention (Wagner, 2010). One such way for the invention of new possibilities of life is related to the ways in which young women live the experience of motherhood and caring for children, given the tactics they establish with the care and health policies, the seeking the rights of children, sometimes subverting attempts to biopolitical controls.

Protection petitions as legal fiction: creating validity for choice marriages in North India

Author: Rama Srinivasan (Brown University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I track the high number of ‘protection petitions’ filed at a High Court in North India by couples who elope with and marry a partner of their choice. I analyse the tactical utilization of legal options by subjects who seek State validity for a marriage that has no community sanction.

Long Abstract

Choice in marital relations and its legal and social ramifications have become topics of considerable interest in north India. In the state of Haryana, in particular, marriages that are legally but not socially sanctioned have dominated public imagination under different political registers for at least a decade. In this paper, I will analyse the procedures underway at the Chandigarh-based Punjab and Haryana High Court and how these tactical moves make certain marriages based on choice possible. A majority of Haryanvis who elope and marry a spouse of their choice petition for the ‘protection of life and liberty’ from disapproving parents and relatives. My research revealed that the threat to physical harm in most of these cases were minimal and conversations in and around courts often centred on the validity of such marriages. The petitions set off a paper trail and dialogue that, I argue, rework dominant conceptions regarding marriage in State spaces as well as in the communities outside.

I juxtapose research data from the court alongside interviews conducted in both rural Haryana and Chandigarh to discuss how the circuitous process of protection petitions, in the absence of a viable legal mechanism, provides eloping couples a form of legal fiction, as it is known in legal spaces, to legitimise their decision. My research follows the connections Marilyn Strathern makes between the anthropology of kinship and exchange and legal anthropology, engaging, in particular, with ethical questions raised by what she calls 'fabrication of persons and things' in legal parlance.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.