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On Consciousness and Western units of analysis

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Primer text: Mounira Charrad: States and Women’s Rights.

This text is a springboard for some ideas on the utility of concepts like class (and others) outside of the environment they were developed in. Class based politics makes sense in Western Europe where a lot of politics was modeled on lines of State-Capital-Labor negotiations and movements. Hardcore Marxists would argue that any alternative political consciousness beyond class is false consciousness. Therefore any political activation of sect or group is simply counter-productive because it retards the activation of true class based politics, it is false consciousness. Whether it operates in service of bourgeois interests and capitalism is another relevant question.

I want to reject this and I know many others have and will. Weber provides status group, Bourdieu provides a field of relative hierarchy of groups as well, there are other ways to organize politics and analysis than class. One way is to take the relevant groups that have political consciousness and use them as conceptual foundations for analysis. So in Lebanon the sect or party stops becoming perverse and starts becoming a conceptual framework for sensemaking. The traditional groups of labor, business and state make no sense there. This is a call to extract concepts from the contextualized observation of the case rather than to bring them in preset such as class. This is not to deny that class is important but that it works as a sense-making framework in some situations more than others.

Charrad: “When I considered political developments in Tunisian and Maghribi history, however, the models used for predominantly class-based and capitalist societies did not seem to apply. Although classes certainly developed in the Maghrib, tribal kin groupings appeared to be a key variable differentiating the process of state formation and political outcomes in Maghribi countries. I became convinced that, even after capitalist economic arrangements had developed, kin-based social formations made an enduring imprint on Maghribi history. State-tribe relations and kinship as a key principle of social organization thus had to be brought to center stage in the analysis of state formation and state policy on family law and women’s rights in the Maghrib””

One problem that remains is a normative one, if belief that class based politics is more effective than another political consciousness (for which the case can be made, sectarianism as destructive, tribes as backward). But the point is that we must distinguish this from analysis and understanding.