Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics

Thursday, 11 February 2016, 6:00pm , IWM library
Smith_Cover_300Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics proposes a research agenda designed from the outset to maximize the political leverage of ordinary people faced with ever more remote states and the technologies that make capitalism increasingly rapacious. Such an agenda, Smith argues, obliges us to re-think our methods and conceptual tools. Forms of capitalism and the state require close analytic attention to reveal the conditions of possibility for effective counter-politics. On the other hand the practice of such collective politics needs to be studied through the intricacy of historical ethnography if we are to understand the variety of possibilities that might make people’s actions effective. Movement across scales–historical scale and social scale–becomes both essential for the engaged intellectual and yet fraught with difficulty. Smith opens and closes this series of interlinked essays by proposing at first a concise framework for untangling what he calls ‘the society of capital’ and subsequently an undoubtedly controversial way of seeing its contemporary features. The core of the book is taken up with differing interpretations of political organization and praxis that build upon Smith’s work in Latin America and Europe and, taken together, make a case for a kind of social enquiry he terms historical realism. Bound to provoke debate this is a book essential for tackling the conundrums of our times and the roles intellectuals might play therein.

Gavin Smith will discuss some of the themes taken up in his recent book, Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism (Berghahn, 2014).

“Gavin Smith opens up his ethnographic research to different intellectual tangents that clearly help evolve-and very seriously-a cutting edge discussion between anthropology and the disciplines of history and geography, all through the lens of the politics of intellectual work. A paradigm of sensitive ethnographic work fused with broadly social/political theory, this book will pull in a lot of people looking to find their way out of a certain rabbit hole of recent academia.” – Neil Smith, Centre for Place Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Gavin Smith is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto.Relying on seeing the present as a moment in history and on focusing on the interfaces of differently scaled social relations Gavin Smith’s ethnographic work in South America and Western Europe has focused on the connection between the ways in which people make a livelihood and their forms of political expression. To this end his ethnographic work relies heavily on seeing the present as a moment in history and hence seeking to address that history as real not simply constructed, a perspective captured in the term historical realism. He has worked on large and small-scale agriculture and urban informal economies, as well as on recent forms of flexible labour organization and regional economies in Europe. His works include Livelihood and Resistance: Peasants and the Politics of Land in Peru (1989); Confronting the Present: Towards a Politically Engaged Anthropology (1999); [with Susana Narotzky], Immediate Struggles: People, Power and Place in Rural Spain (2006), and Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism (2014).


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