[Reader-list] Problematizing Definitions, exploitation and 'toil'

solomon benjamin sollybenj at yahoo.co.in
Thu Dec 22 14:27:09 IST 2005

Spurred by this interesting discussion, I join
reflecting on two recent events. First, in the recent
past, encountering (After Santos) a world famous NGO
in India's most famous metro! Second, a meet with the
author and a quick read of a very interesting chapter
"Can the Subaltern Accumulate Capital" Chapter 5 in
'Fraterrnal capital' by Sharad Chari (Permanant Black
2004). Both of these link to what Anant and Prem focus
on, and particulary, the point of "Proxy" and
'Portrait'. From Chari, the difference between 'toil'
and 'exploitation'. 

With this, I want to return to Zainab's peice. This is
not just in the people she talks to, but their
location in metro context of intense contestation --
in economy, in good locations, and access to basic
services. Such contestations are shaped not just of
"urbanization" but rather big bucks of the World bank,
and some of the largest private gloablly connected
capital. Located in this, are the Proxy and Potrait --
a role now well funded within NGO circles who are
close partners to big capital from being commentators
on the side lines. And their location bang in the
middle of such contestations is their ability to paint
a picture of how people live and espicially work. The
brochures set in the donor targeted glossy, potrait a
"page 3 imaginary" of a future life style statement
/advertisment! No problem if the mills get shaped into
malls, we have it all there. And paralleled is the
'proxy' -- where one gains the ability to speak for
the masses.

Here I point to not just to the NGOs promoting INDIA's
new Lifestyle Statements, but also to those who
perhaps equally distanced from the hidden voices,
trudge a path of exploitation, and in doing so, remove
contest of any substance.    

It's here that in Chari's chapter 3 & 5 (and the book
is highly recommended!) that we find 'toil' (rather
than 'exploitation') as a useful way to unmask both
'proxy and potraiture'. Chari traces in a wonderfully
deatiled way the organization and dynamic of work and
in doing so, reveals a politics that sharply counters
that of those who choose to speak on behalf of the
masses and to hide away the complex locational
contests which they assist and reward from the global
big bucks.   And this is not just in India's most
famous metro. It's got a parallel in it's other
silicon valley (a read on the water privatization in
Bangalore in the recent issue of Down to Earth:
Here we have another globally aspiring NGO that is
responsible for 'structured civil society
participation'. I am sure Anant could pose similar
examples from what he has termed as a 'contractor's
city' now also on the global way. 
With all this, Prems' list of useful questions find a
distinctly important urban context.

--- Prem Chandavarkar <prem at cnt-semac.com> wrote:

> Let me - like Anant - stick my neck out in "the
> presence of a whole 
> bunch of cultural studies folks".
> Was just reading Gayathri Spivak's essay "Can The
> Subaltern Speak". 
> Spivak examines philosophical production, such as
> Foucault, Deleuze and 
> the Subaltern Studies Group, who seek to unmask the
> workings of power in 
> order to reveal voices that are typically not heard.
>  While such 
> analyses often start from a critique of
> essentialism, they tend to posit 
> other essences through the construction of
> monolithic and anonymous 
> presences such as "the workers' struggle" or "the
> history of the 
> subaltern".  And because these essences are
> monolithic and anonymous, 
> they involve the erasure of individual identity. 
> Therefore any attempts 
> to speak for the subaltern eventually construct
> representations that 
> erase their identity.  It does not matter whether
> this comes from the 
> activist philosopher or from the organic
> intellectual who has risen from 
> the subaltern ranks.  The organic intellectual
> destroys his/her status 
> as a subaltern by attempting to represent the
> subaltern.
> Spivak draws a distinction between two forms of
> representation.
> 1. Proxy - the attempt to speak for, as in politics
> 2. Portrait - the attempt to speak of, as in
> philosophy
> It is important to distinguish between these two
> forms.  While proxy may 
> appear to be more genuine since it demands
> engagement (speaking 'to' the 
> subaltern, and not just speaking 'of'), it should be
> realised that the 
> myths and beliefs constructed through portraiture
> affect the basis on 
> which choices of proxy are made.
> All this ties back to the point Anant made - when
> Zainab interacts with 
> the woman and child some meaning is produced, but
> when she reports it to 
> this discussion group the woman and child are
> excluded and we now are 
> aware of two different languages operating, and
> immediately wonder which 
> one is more authentic.
> So returning to the question "what constitutes
> culture?" - we must first 
> ask if the question is worthwhile.  To ask the
> question at all implies a 
> belief that it is answerable, which in turn involves
> an assumption that 
> culture has already occurred in an observable
> fashion.  This assumption 
> immediately pushes culture into the past (it does
> not matter whether 
> this is the immediate past of yesterday, or the
> remote past of history). 
>    And culture is most alive when it is in the
> present, when it is 
> actually experienced.
> So rather than asking 'what is culture' it is more
> worthwhile to ask:
> 1. What is the basis on which claims to define
> culture operate, 
> intersect and compete?
> 2. What are the politics, myths, beliefs,
> genealogies and spatial 
> practices that underpin the construction of such
> claims?
> 3. What are the traces we leave in space that
> eventually accrue into 
> memories and symbols?
> 4. What are the conversations and intersections that
> take place between 
> tacit experiences and explicit definitions of
> culture?
> 5. (Most important to us) What is the complicity of
> the intellectual in 
> all of these processes?
> 6. How can we individually use such critique to
> construct our own 
> ideology and ethics?
> Prem
> anant m wrote:
> > hm. i hope i am not making an ass of myself in the
> > presence of a whole bunch of cultural studies
> folks. 
> > i think it is better to think of a geneology of
> > culture rather than define it. to my reckoning,
> the
> > first loaded use of the word culture was made by
> > mathew arnold.
> > some time in the second half of the 19th century.
> this
> > was just before the time colonial anthropologists
> were
> > seriously beginning to wonder if they had it all
> > worked out. for arnold, culture was high culture
> all
> > that is 'beautiful and intelligent' and he was
> > strongly opposed to the plebian and the ordinary.
> and
> > you must read his dismissive references to the
> irish!
> > education therefore had to be in the hands of the
> > cultured and not democratized. 
> > later on a whole range of marxist critics led by
> > raymond williams turned it on its head and argued
> that
> > culture is really the ordinary. this was a way of
> > challenging the ways in which high culture
> reproduces
> > power relations.
> > raymond williams and his work notwithstanding,
> culture
> > remained largely the domain of anthropologists
> first
> > the structuralists strauss and then bodley and
> geertz
> > types whose primary means of getting at culture
> was
> > via ethnography where one places oneself firmly in
> the
> > lifeworlds of those whose culture is being studied
> and
> > then withdraws to the library to reflect on the
> > ensembles of meanings and practices that are not
> one's
> > own. hence ideas like primitives, savages and
> noble
> > savages and then the ultimate 'thick
> descriptionists
> > and so on. 
> > Here is the cross that the scholar bears: she/he
> at
> > the moment of the ethnographic encounter and
> actually
> > coproduces meaning with an interlocutor but when
> she
> > or he withdraws to write about it for a diffferent
> > audience, she or he produces the culture of the
> > 'other' for the consumption of scholarly kin. 
> > thus in your interaction with the woman whose
> child
> > you thought was being treated cruelly (at least at
> > firsy anyway) she and you together coproduced
> > meaning.but when you report it to us, the woman
> > remains outside of this conversation and it is her
> > culture versus our culture that we end up talking
> > about. 
> > well, that was an attempt at a rough and ready
> > geneology of culture. i have no idea what
> culturality
> > means. others please add or delete. 
> > anant
> > 
> > --- zainab at xtdnet.nl wrote:
> > 
> > 
> >>I am still interested in understanding the
> 'general
> >>meaning' of the term
> >>culture? What constitutes culture? And what
> >>constitutes acts of
> >>culturality?
> >>Cheers,
> >>Zee
> >>
> >>
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 		
> >
> > Yahoo! Exclusive Xmas Game, help Santa with his
> celebrity party -
> http://santas-christmas-party.yahoo.net/
> > _______________________________________________
> > Urbanstudygroup mailing list
> > Urban Study Group: Reading the South Asian City
> > 
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