Alcohol as a 'disease of the will' in Tamil Nadu: reframing the resistance and complicity debate
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses the example of the politics of alcohol in Tamil Nadu to offer a reframing the resistance and complicity debate that gestures towards a more nuanced understanding of the operative and relational nature of power.
Paper long abstract:
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu (India) and an engagement with anthropological and critical theory, this paper uses the example of the politics of alcohol to offer critical reflections on the debate around resistance and complicity. First, the paper will focus on how specific forms of governmentality in Gudalur produce discourse about the 'autological subject' (individual freedom) and 'genealogical society' (social constraint) which serve to reify the notion of alcoholism as a 'disease of the will' and thus invoke claims of individual agency (Povinelli 2011). Reflecting upon the present configurations of power and biopolitics — in their multiple forms — in Gudalur, the paper will call into question this notion of agency, and along with it the epistemological foundations on which the concepts of resistance and complicity rest upon. Rather than seeing power as a top down force that one can either resit or comply with, this paper offers a more complex understanding of the multiple ways that power works and is responded to in the context of alcohol addiction. In its attempt to understand processes of social and political change, this paper reframes the resistance and complicity debate as: What are the necessary conditions for alternative social projects to do more than merely endure a 'slow death' in late liberal society (Povinelli 2011; Berlant 2007)? Thus rather than thinking with the binary of resistance and complicity this paper calls for and gestures towards a more nuanced understanding of the operative and relational nature of power.
Resistance and complicity