Click here to load reader

UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository) Of citizens and ordinary · PDF file UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository) ... people from the Zoqaq al-Blat project to engage the population,

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository) Of citizens and ordinary · PDF file UvA-DARE (Digital...

  • UvA-DARE is a service provided by the library of the University of Amsterdam (

    UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository)

    Of citizens and ordinary men: Political subjectivity and contestations of sectarianism in reconstruction-era Beirut

    Boekelo, M.

    Link to publication

    Citation for published version (APA): Boekelo, M. (2016). Of citizens and ordinary men: Political subjectivity and contestations of sectarianism in reconstruction-era Beirut.

    General rights It is not permitted to download or to forward/distribute the text or part of it without the consent of the author(s) and/or copyright holder(s), other than for strictly personal, individual use, unless the work is under an open content license (like Creative Commons).

    Disclaimer/Complaints regulations If you believe that digital publication of certain material infringes any of your rights or (privacy) interests, please let the Library know, stating your reasons. In case of a legitimate complaint, the Library will make the material inaccessible and/or remove it from the website. Please Ask the Library:, or a letter to: Library of the University of Amsterdam, Secretariat, Singel 425, 1012 WP Amsterdam, The Netherlands. You will be contacted as soon as possible.

    Download date: 23 Aug 2020

  • 207


    Chapter 6:

    Political subjectivity in the interstices of theory

    The discussion in the preceding chapter of the ideological complex of civil society has primarily drawn attention to the differences between ‘civil society’ and the discursive space of the neighbourhood of Khandaq. I’ve also drawn attention to how people from each world perceive the other as different. You will recall form the previous chapter Abu Zalem’s alienation from the cultural and political elite of the coun- try, who value all the wrong things and honour all the wrong people. from the Introduction you will remember how difficult it was for the people from the Zoqaq al-Blat project to engage the population, not in the least because of their ideas of ‘sectarian society’. Yet it is significant that even though people from both sides express a sense of difference and distance, those differences are of a greater concern for civil society folks. the lack they perceive among the people constitutes the very essence of what it means to be ‘in’ civil society: it is one of the prime obstacles to the progress that society needs and which ‘civil society’ struggles for. Interestingly, social scientific theories of citizenship resonate with ‘civil society’s conception of the order of social things. these theories identify or presume, on one side, a citizenship that Lebanese civil society also works towards and to a certain extent enacts (i.e. a space for individuals, informed, who engage in advocacy and enlist media platforms to further their cause): a citizenship akin to the ideal typical citizen of ideal typical liberal democracies. on the other side, there is a citizenship for people who are actually deprived of the socio-cultural and legal preconditions for that kind of engagement with others and with state and politics, and who find other ways of making do. In this chapter I question and qual- ify the usefulness of that opposition in understanding the differences between Khandaq and ‘civil society’. At the end of the chapter, I show how an examination of political subjectivity may do more justice to these differences. Let me first review various influential authors who have con-

  • 208


    templated the nature of such distinctive forms of citizenship, in the con- text of post-colonial states. While these authors are not all explicitly in conversation with each other (though some are), there are genealogical links tying them together. the most ground-breaking work was done in the ‘subaltern studies’ group. the south-Asian scholars that made up this group in the early 1980s had taken to explore the position of Gramsci’s “subaltern classes” – the oppressed, the subordinate, the downtrodden – on the Asian subconti- nent, in all its relational complexity. In other words, their project was pre- cisely about bringing into empirical and theoretical focus those people marginal to the central order, and thus the people who most likely would qualify as being a different kind of citizen. on the basis of these explora- tion some of the first outlines of a theory of differential insertions into state-projects were formulated. James scott’s work is a second influen- tial account, and one tied loosely to the subaltern school. he brings in a more traditional political scientific account of marginality, whereas much of the focus of the subaltern studies was on knowledge production and identity. the union of these two approaches constituted a rough frame- work in which others followed. the basic premise of all this work is that there are spheres of society, social activities or populations that fall out- side of the grasp or purview of the state (we can see the continuities here with simone here and why he would be attracted to Deleuze-Guattari154). from that position of relative invisibility (holston 1998, Boeck 2014) or marginality (subaltern studies, simone 2010), the question is how they do encounter the state (primarily, and ‘society’ as the body of other citizens, secondarily). In order to address that question, these scholars tend to work with a dual conception of citizenship. Qualifications of, let’s call it, the marginal kind of citizenship range from ones more in line with more conventional political theory, such as “informal” citizenship (singerman 1995), to more exciting ones like holston’s (1998; 2008) “insurgent” citizenship, to differ- ent qualifications of a special political logic at play, such as chatterjee’s (2002) “political society” or simone’s (2010) “anticipatory politics”. these forms are juxtaposed to a citizenship we think we are familiar with in democratic, constitutional states. the duality can be explicit (as in singerman, who distances her approach from those who stare blind- ly on formal definition of citizenship and politics; or in chatterjee, who

    154 Of course, Foucault was central to the Subaltern project (though not to Scott’s), so post- structuralism was always in some way part of this body of work and the step to Deleuze is not entirely out of the ordinary.

  • 209


    opposes political society to the more well-known civil kind of society) or implicit to varying degrees. still the ‘other side’ is always present as the conceptual and theoretical background against which the author is build- ing her argument. As we will see, one of the crucial points of differentiation tends to be the non-ideological nature of marginalized citizenship155. thus, if we look at the formulation of what scott called “informal, covert” “everyday resis- tance” in his influential Weapons of the Weak:

    to require of lower-class resistance that it somehow be “principled” or “selfless” is not only utopian and a slander on the moral status of fundamental needs; it is, more fundamentally, a misconstruction of the basis of class struggle, which, first and foremost, a struggle over the appropriation of work, production, property, and taxes. “Bread-and- butter” issues are the essence of lower-class politics. consumption, from this perspective, is both the goal and the result of resistance and counterresistance. It is precisely the fusion of self-interest and resis- tance that is the vital force animating the resistance of peasants and proletarians. When a peasant hides part of his crop to avoid paying taxes, he is both filling his stomach and depriving the state of grain. (scott 1985: 296)

    scott is calling here for an extension of our understanding of politics, beyond the “direct, symbolic confrontation with authority” (id.: xiv), like addressing the state ‘as a matter of principle’, within the political field. Instead we should look for the fusion of “self-interest and resistance”, by means of informal networks in everyday settings and actions. ‘Popular politics’ is therefore presented rather straightforwardly as calculation; whatever role political consciousness, ideology or ideals may play in this game, it is downplayed156. of the aforementioned authors, chatterjee takes the distinction between the principled kind and the strategic kind of politics and citizenship to its most explicit levels. he takes up the subaltern and scottean differ- entiation in order to make an intervention in a different though related theoretical debate: that on the nature of civil society. the result of that cross-fertilization is also fruitful for us, as it clarifies the stakes and con- sequences of working with the distinction. Below I therefore discuss his work more extensively.

    155 with the possible exception of Holston’s work, to whom I shall return. 156 Downplayed to the status of what Scott called a ‘moral economy’ in his earlier work.

  • 210


    Civil vs. political society: the logic of rights and the logic of alliance In chatterjee’s work on ‘political society’, his principle bone of contention is with theorists of ‘civil society’. his bone concerns an often formulated point of critique brought up against civil society theorists, which is that the intension of the concept often does not seem to corresp