Dark Matter: Toward a Political Economy of Indigenous Rights and Aspirational Politics

A talk by Professor Mark Goodale, Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Lausanne

22.04.2015 | Katrine Terkelsen

Dato fre 08 maj
Tid 13:15 15:00
Sted 1483-251, Nobelparken, Aarhus University

The basic argument is that anthropologists of indigenous rights and aspirational politics should consider a reorientation of analytical assumptions in light of the collective body of research on the implementation of indigenous rights in different parts of the world over the last 25 years. The evidence indicates that indigenous rights mobilization is being shaped by what I’m calling “state-capital resource assemblages” in ways that rationalize the continuing commodification of land in the Global South and the entry of indigenous people and peasants into national capitalist labor markets. After outlining the structure of the talk, I briefly examine the history of indigenous rights politics and its relationship to policies of national development. I argue that the use of international law to regulate and shape indigeneity as a form of labor was not an aberration. Rather, the relationship between indigenous rights and the promotion of forms of labor and land ownership that were consistent with the logic of capitalism was hardwired into international law from the beginning. Following this, I turn to three case studies on land rights conflicts in Southeast Asia. I examine these three ethnographies for signs of what I am calling the “dark matter”: the ineluctable, constant, and veiled presence of transnational (primarily extractive) capital working not against, but with, the cause of indigenous and peasant political mobilization. I then return to the question of intellectual history and examine the influence of James Scott’s seminal study of the way peasants in rural Malaysia created “weapons of the weak” out of everyday forms of social life. I argue that Scott’s focus on local political economies was never meant to exclude a critical account of the way the state and capital come to form networks—political, legal, and, as always economic—that create downward pressure on local communities. When resistance to this pressure is absorbed into national legislation officially intended to protect indigenous and peasant communities and even advance their interests, the possibilities for creative resistance are radically altered. To conclude, I bring the preceding intellectual histories and discussion of the three case studies together to argue for the development of an ethnographic political economy of indigenous rights and aspirational politics that reflects an analytical shift from what Scott called the “symbolic balance of power” to questions of redistribution, state-capital interdependence, and the cooptation of indigenous rights mobilization as a new form of accumulation.

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