Power and resistance: five perspectives


Calls for a revolution in public safety are growing. Minneapolis has pledged to dismantle its police force. New York is slashing its police funding. And yet more states are set to follow suit. Resistance in these instances can be read as the destruction of an existing system, the urge to build a fairer one, or a decision to courageously move into the unknown.

This week we’ve curated a selection of five books on resistance. They variously give a genealogy of the term and how its sculpted modern political culture; the impact of technology on human desire and protest; an ethnographical approach to ideological resistance; and, how internet censorship is subverting traditional resistance to create more powerful forms of rebellion.

1: The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power - Steve Fraser

“Fraser offers several explanations for the boldness of the post-Civil War wave of labor resistance, including, interestingly, the intellectual legacy of the abolition movement. The fight against slavery had loosened the tongues of capitalism’s critics, forging a radical critique of the market’s capacity for barbarism. With bonded labor now illegal, the target pivoted to factory “wage slavery.” This comparison sounds strange to contemporary ears, but as Fraser reminds us, for European peasants and artisans, as well as American homesteaders, the idea of selling one’s labor for money was profoundly alien.”

2: Stand out of our Light Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy - James Williams

”On an individual level, Williams argues that we must relearn to “want what we want to want.” At a collective level, too, we must redefine our societal and political goals to prevent us from drifting unmoored. In his view, the Chinese government and US president Donald Trump have in their own ways mastered the skills of “strategic distraction”.”

3: Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World - Srdja Popovic

“Popovic is willing to criticise where he thinks movements have got it wrong – the Russian protest movement for sticking to largely middle class concerns and failing to build bridges; Tiananmen square students for failing to accept and loudly celebrate early offers of climbdowns (as Gandhi did) and instead demanding ‘everything or nothing’ – they got the latter. What would Gandhi have done in Tiananmen Square? He thinks Occupy is a really badly chosen name, as it describes a tactic, not a strategy or vision – what would have happened if they had called themselves ‘the 99 per cent’?”

4:This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality - Peter Pomerantsev

“The link between disinformation and the rise of autocracy is clear. One theme that links the new age of populists is nostalgia, or as the philologist Svetlana Boym describes it, “restorative nostalgia”, which strives to rebuild lost homelands with “paranoiac determination”. “The last things desired by those who purvey these phantom, fabricated pasts,” Pomeranstev says, “are facts.” Conspiracy is a way to maintain control.”

5: Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance - Paul Farmer

”Weapons of the Weak is not just a political study, however; it is also an outstanding work of ethnography. Based on thorough research and careful, perceptive fieldwork, it manages to avoid some of the failings of traditional ethnography by its emphasis on the centrality of individual human beings in their particular situations. Whether or not it offers definitive answers to the questions it investigates, it certainly provides some solid ground to stand on in looking for them.”

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 11 Jun 2020 at 07:57 UTC