A Case for Rethinking Resistance
John gledhIll
This book explores what the notion of “resistance” can contribute to schol-
arly understandings of the history and contemporary social and political
life of Latin America’s two largest countries, Brazil and Mexico. Our case
studies aim to contribute to broader theoretical debates at the interface
between history and the social sciences. This introduction reviews debates
about the usefulness of resistance from the perspective of an anthropolo-
gist. Alan Knight closes the book with a historian’s overview of the broader
implications of our findings.
At first sight, our theme might seem anachronistic. Although “resis-
tance studies” became an academic boom industry in the 1980s (D. Moore
1998, 348), the next decade brought a wave of critiques. Some critics, such
as Sherry Ortner (1995), remained sympathetic to the idea that resistance
studies possessed a worthwhile object of analysis but called for that analy-
sis to become more theoretically nuanced and more grounded in ethnog-
raphy. Others, however, argued that misplaced moral fervor had driven an-
thropology toward an obsession with resistance that, by trying to explain
everything, ended up explaining nothing (M. Brown 1996; Sahlins 2002).
Given such critiques, one anthropologist, Robert Fletcher, confessed to
thinking twice about including “resistance” in the title of his paper, for
fear of alienating potential readers. Yet he went on to argue that “rethink-
ing” could “resurrect a troubled but significant field of research.” “Fun-
damentally,” he insisted, “studies of resistance are concerned with the
struggle for equality, the fight to end exploitation and achieve a more just
and humane society” (Fletcher 2001, 44).
It also seems important that “resisting” is often what our research sub-
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