Both Anthropology and Anarchism suggest the State is a disruptive process. This panel aims to explore the exigencies of resistance to, or avoidance of, the State throughout the world whether local, political, economic or cultural. Is such resistance Utopian, practical or delusional?
Anthropology has long studied 'stateless societies' and anarchists from Kropotkin onwards have used Anthropological evidence to suggest that the State is not a 'natural', but a disruptive, stumbling and repressive process, which can be avoided. Later Anthropologists such as Clastres and Scott have suggested that many societies, or parts of societies, organize themselves to resist or avoid the State and actively prevent the basis of its formation or power.
The ontological status of the State may also be fraught. Radcliffe-Brown wrote:
"The State... does not exist in the phenomenal world, it is a fiction of the philosophers. What does exist is an organization i.e. a collection of individual human beings connected by a complex system of relations… There is no such thing as the power of the State "
Given this, what are the bases for the appearance of State power? Do they exist outside of the State, in say corporations? Are States fictions, rhetorics, imaginings, networks or inertias? What is the basis for State knowledge - is it, as Graeber suggests, influenced by the power/ignorance nexus, as much as the power/knowledge nexus, and thus prone to stupidity and distortion? How does the State undermine its own authority and how does this mismatch between authority and knowledge work out? How do people and societies resist or avoid the State, whether this is local, political economic or cultural? Is such resistance Utopian, practical or delusional?
Papers are invited from any field in which these questions sound relevant.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Bakunin and paperwork
Mikail Bakunin has been characterised as advocating for the revolutionary destruction of documents. Through a discussion of the Nechayev affair, involving a friend of Bakunin, light can be shed on vernacular theories of state bureaucracy as material media, and the historical shadows they cast.
There is a phrase in Matthew Hull's magisterial Government of Paper (2012). The phrase is 'naïve Bakuninism'. Hull refers with it to a position Weber attributed to Mikail Bakunin. According to this position as described by Weber, destruction of material documents (the burning of files) is necessary to revolutionary emancipation along anarchist lines. Weber considered this idea naïve in that, he felt, bureaucratic forms of organization would continue even if the documentary records (of the administration of the state, population, credit and debt etc.) were destroyed, because the rationalised form of life is a habit or 'settled orientation' alongside the material infrastructure of the bureau.
Many people in different contexts could be said to have shared Bakunin's 'vernacular' media theory about the materiality of administration, given that the destruction of documents is widespread in times of crisis and unrest. Close readings of Bakunin, and of Weber, can also be conducted to show that Weber's attribution of naivety is in some sense misrepresentative. An appreciation of Bakunin's position on documents is important to an understanding of how the state has been conceptualised, not least because of the long shadow cast on radical political movements by the Marx-Bakunin dispute and Bakunin's subsequent expulsion from the International. One way into such appreciation is to consider the 'Nechayev affair', a notorious case involving an associate of Bakunin, where the use of and especially the orientation to documents highlights other vernacular theories, about texts and textuality, and about incompatible ideas regarding political violence.
Anarchic Principles and Exploratory, Autonomous Living Among Itinerant Boat Dwellers Known as Continuous Cruisers (CC'ers) on London's Waterways
The common property frontier of London's waterways are shared by CC'ers whose boat-self sufficiency uncouples them from the city infrastructure and statist systems. CC'ers dwell in 'watery regions of refuge' which offer illegibility to the state in a highly surveilled city (Scott, J. 2009, viv).
I interview CC'ers on Londons waterways who are required to move every two weeks by the Canal and River Trust. This itinerant group describe a 'subterranean world' (Ben) operating independently of statist systems making for more autonomous, self-directed lives.
Harold Barclay states that a 'group's curbing of domination is an epiphenomenon of material circumstances' (in Boehm, C. et al, 1993; p240). CC'ers' nomadic acts of dwelling and material conditions create boat-self sufficiency which uncouples them from city infrastructure and statist systems, eliciting anarchic principles. This is not the anarchy of riot and revolution, but embodied principles that evoke Proudhon who first used the term anarchism to describe 'cooperation without hierarchy or state rule' (in Scott, J., 2012; xii). I do not suggest that CC'ers identify as anarchists- but expand on informants' accounts revealing a particular freedom from the state. These anarchic principles are 'active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism' (Scott, J. 2012, xii).
Scott posits that egalitarianism centres around the material condition of a 'common property frontier' which equalises access to resources. Illegibility is threatened by 'enclosure of the commons and encroachment by the state' which forms inequality by fixing class structures and making land inheritable (2009; p277-278). Water is a common property frontier shared by CC'ers allowing them to occupy and withhold urban space from becoming otherwise claimed and monopolised. This echoes Castells description of citizens who anarchically reclaim urban space that landlords and bureaucrats once evicted them from (2012; p11).
Floating tomatoes and agri-anarchy on Myanmar’s Inle Lake
This paper looks at the Intha, a water dwelling ethnic group on Myanmar’s Inle Lake, and their practice of floating agriculture. It looks at this practice as a form of ‘agri-anarchy’ and follows the life of the tomato to explore the subversive social and environmental dimensions of ethnicity.
According to Scott (2009), anarchic resistance to state power can take many shapes, and can be found in seemingly mundane daily action. It can be subtle and operate through uncoordinated movements, feigned compliance, and small gains - techniques that peasants and subaltern groups commonly rely on to contest authority and assert their own in the absence of access to machineries of the state.
This paper will examine such techniques in the context of an ethnic group known as the Intha who dwell upon Myanmar’s Inle Lake, the country’s second largest lake and a popular tourist destination. Although the region is a unique contact zone for multiple different ethnic groups, the lake itself is strongly associated with the Intha who occupy the lake and who have managed to carve out a dominant position through effective control of the local economy. This has largely been achieved through their practice of floating agriculture, specifically, the growing and selling of tomatoes.
I will argue that the ‘unique’ agricultural practice of growing tomatoes on floating gardens in water is a form of ‘agri-anarchy’ in that it takes on a subversively symbolic meaning as a performance of ethnicity and claim of legitimacy over the territory as a ‘watery region of refuge’ (Scott, 2009), allowing for the mobilization of autonomy, self-determination and a collective resistance identity against the Myanmar state. Following the (floating) tomato as a subtle symbol of subversion in a contested region, provides insight into the ways in which ethnicity is constructed as resistance in Myanmar.
The convergence of power and energy in the fossil fuel State
The State represents established power and established systems of energy. When the system of energy needs changing, the State can seem more preoccupied with maintaining its destructive systems of order and power. The fight against fossil fuels in Australia makes this role of the State clear.
Organisations, such as States, gain power over others, because they allocate control over sources of power such as violence, wealth, resources, communication, social categories, and organization of energy supplies. The order associated with these sources of power may produce disorders which undermine the power relations they allocate. The system of order may produce disorder that undermines power and stability.
This paper looks at the inability of the Australian state to deal coherently with the ecological problems caused by its organization of resources, and the ways that Australians have started to try and fight against those allocations of resources. Polls consistently show popular support for renewable energy, and Australia has one of the highest uptakes of small solar power in the world, yet this has not translated into unambiguous political or State support for moving out of fossil fuels. The policies of the major parties look confused and contradictory at best.
To some extent this may be explained by the existential crisis brought about by climate change, but it is also brought about by challenge to the very functionality of the capitalist/neoliberal State in which relations between social power and energy have been forged, blurred and rendered conflictual.
Anarchist theory and practice, draws attention to the problems faced by such a State and may allows us to analyse its breakdown, in a non-oganised and confused response and counter response.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.