Power And Resistance In Human Society Sociology Essay Example
Power And Resistance In Human Society Sociology Essay Example

Power And Resistance In Human Society Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 9 (2432 words)
  • Published: August 23, 2017
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'Wherever power exists, there is also opposition, and yet, this opposition is never separate from power itself' (Foucault, 1978: 95-96). In the study of human sciences, the relationship between opposition and power has always been a major concern. Power acknowledges the existence of opposition, and in turn, opposition validates the presence of power. However, before delving into the concept of opposition, it is important to understand that 'power is no longer viewed as a singular, constant force that originates from a specific social class or institution; instead, it is seen as a more delicate network of dominant forms' (Constable, 2007: 11).

Foucault ( 1978: 95-96 ) challenges the notion that power is always inhibitory. He argues that power can also have positive effects, such as producing pleasure, generating knowledge, providing goods, and creating discourses. Power does not only work negatively by denying, restrictin


g, forbidding, and suppressing (Abu-Lughod, 1990: 42). The focus of opposition studies has recently shifted from large-scale rebellions to less obvious forms of resistance, such as corruption and small-scale or local oppositions. These forms of resistance do not necessarily aim to overthrow the system and are not rooted in ideologies of liberation (Abu-Lughod, 1990: 41). Therefore, both concepts have proven to be more complex than originally thought, making them even more interesting and applicable to various situations in which individuals construct their lives within structures of power.


The term resistance has been used by scholars to describe a wide range of actions and behaviors across all aspects of human social life and different contexts.

Hollander and Einwohner (2004: 534) demonstrated how a wide range of actions and behaviors have been described as opposition. Consequently, their analysis

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revealed a lack of consensus regarding the definition of opposition (ibid: 234). Therefore, it is important to outline the various attributes that can fall within the concept of opposition. Firstly, the scale at which opposition occurs can vary significantly; acts of opposition can be individual or collective, and may be widespread or confined to specific localities.

The degrees of coordination differ in various situations, with some instances displaying a higher level of intentional collaboration among obstructionists compared to others. Additionally, the targets of opposition also vary, ranging from individuals to groups and from organizations to societal structures. Similarly, the methods and objectives of opposition are diverse, as it is primarily focused on achieving some form of change, although there are cases where opposition aims to impede alteration. Moreover, while opposition is commonly recognized as a political action, some authors propose that it can also be rooted in identity (ibid: 536-537).

Action and Resistance

After observing the extent of opposition fluctuation, Hollander and Einwohner ( ibid: 537 ) sought to explain the core elements of opposition using a common term. They found that action and resistance were two fundamental components present in discussions of opposition. They noted that resistance is not simply a characteristic of an individual or a state of being, but rather involves active behavior, whether verbal, cognitive, or psychological. Additionally, a sense of resistance is commonly associated with these discussions. By identifying these core elements, they were able to clarify the lines of disagreement. They realized that arguments about opposition primarily differed in their stance on two central issues: recognition and purpose ( ibid: 537 ).

Recognition and Purpose

Not all acts of opposition are equally visible. The variations in visibility become more apparent when contrasting "everyday" opposition with more overtly confrontational forms of political mobilization.

Sometimes opposition serves the purpose of being recognized, while other opposition is purposely concealed, so recognition depends on the intentions of those who resist (ibid: 540). According to Scott (1985) in his book on forms of everyday opposition among peasant workers, opposition does not necessarily need to be acknowledged and can remain relatively invisible to those in power. However, other scholars define opposition as necessarily seeking acknowledgment and even eliciting a reaction from others (Hollander; Einwohner, 2004: 541). The extent of acknowledgment also varies depending on two different groups of others who can identify an act as opposition, namely targets and observers. The first group consists of those to whom the act is directed, while the second group includes the general public, members of the media, and researchers (ibid: 542).

The authors Hollander and Einwohner question whether oppositional action needs to be visible to others and recognized as opposition. They also discuss whether the actor must be aware that they are defying some exercise of power in order for their action to be considered opposition. Hollander and Einwohner classify scholars into three different perspectives on this issue. The first group believes that the actor's conscious intention is crucial for behavior to be classified as opposition. The second group argues that measuring intention is challenging or even impossible, as opposition can arise both publicly and privately.

Peoples in these cases may be aware of subjugation and may intend to defy in some manner, but this will not be visible and therefore

impossible to measure. According to the last group of scholars, focusing on the intention of resistance may overlook important forms of opposition (ibid: 542).

Types of Resistance

Hollander and Einwohner (2004) did not want to define the truths and falsehoods among all possible meanings and contents of the term resistance. Therefore, they decided to examine different opinions to determine if it would be possible to describe different forms of resistance without judging what is right and what is not. They already noticed that all scholars seemed to agree that resistance implied "oppositional action of some sort."

The text argues that there are different types of opposition, and it is useful to think of them in terms of the actors' intention, the recognition of the target, and the recognition of the observers. While not all scholars may agree on what should be classified as opposition, it is important to emphasize the core elements. The first type, open opposition, includes social movements, revolutions, and individual acts of refusal. This type of opposition is visible and recognized by both targets and observers. It is also intended to be recognized as opposition. On the other hand, covert opposition refers to acts such as gossip and subtle corruption in the workplace. These acts are intentional but go unnoticed by their targets.

However, culturally aware perceivers recognize them as opposition. These two indicators of opposition are then followed by unintentional indicators of opposition. The first one is acknowledged as opposition by both perceivers and marks, but it is not intended as such. The second one consists of so-called 'self-defined marks', who may be the only ones to recognize certain behavior as opposition (target-defined opposition). Another

category includes externally-defined opposition, which refers to acts of opposition that are neither intended nor recognized as such by actors or their marks, but are labeled by third parties.

The last two forms of opposition are often overlooked by others. If someone is recognized by their action but not by others, it is called missed opposition. If an actor's intentional act goes unnoticed by both the intended target and observers, it is considered attempted opposition (ibid: 544-547).


Understanding how obstructionists, targets, and third parties interact is crucial in understanding opposition.

The concept of resistance is constructed by society, involving various groups such as obstructionists, marks, and perceivers (ibid: 548). There is often no consensus on whether certain behavior can be considered as resistance or not. What one person perceives as opposition, another may view as adjustment or even domination. This lack of agreement occurs not only between different participating groups but also within each group. Resistance encompasses a complex set of ideas and behaviors (Ortner, 1995: 175). Categorizing resistance and dominators fails to acknowledge the existence of multiple hierarchical systems and the simultaneous power and powerlessness individuals experience within them (Hollander; Einwohner, 2004: 548).

Deborah Reed-Danahay's (1993: 223) article discusses the concept of debrouillardise, a societal use common among Auvergnat husbandmans in rural France, and its connection to opposition. Reed-Danahay also draws on Kondo's (1990: 221) research in Japan, which emphasizes the intertwining of power and significance. According to Kondo, no one can be without power.

Everyday Resistance

The text then explores the possible forms of opposition among undocumented migrants and the need to focus on the specific forms they engage

in. It is clear that undocumented migrants cannot participate in open forms of opposition, such as demonstrations, as it could endanger their unstable situation.

It is unlikely that the opposition's target will recognize their actions as acts of opposition. This recognition will also vary depending on whether the actions are intended as opposition. Therefore, it is more likely that potential forms of opposition among undocumented migrants will be: hidden opposition, attempted opposition, and opposition defined by external sources. Scott's concept of everyday opposition particularly relates to the first two forms of opposition.

He explains that mundane forms of opposition differ from more dramatic public confrontations because they are intended to downplay or deny claims made by those in higher positions or to advance claims against them. While institutional politics involve formal, open, and systematic changes in the law, mundane opposition is informal, often hidden, and focused on immediate practical gains. Scott (1990: 32-33) identifies various forms of mundane opposition such as foot-dragging, deception, false conformity, and smuggling. He refers to these behaviors as "concealed transcripts" (Scott, 1990) that are not easily observable in official discourse but are controlled by elites (Reed-Danahay, 1993: 222).

The text discusses the concept of opposition and everyday practices in society. It mentions how there is a focus on official and public transcripts of civilization, which results in an underestimation of marginalized individuals. The author argues that it is important to consider unofficial transcripts to understand the various forms of opposition occurring in this social sphere. However, Reed-Danahay criticizes this perspective, claiming that the idea of opposition is simplistically portrayed as something that only exists in hidden transcripts of the weak, while conformity is

visible in the public transcripts of both the weak and the strong. Reed-Danahay believes that there is contradiction and ambiguity in any discourse, unlike Scott's belief that ideology is a consistent message.

Everyday Practices

In line with Scott's concept of "everyday opposition," Michel de Certeau introduces the notion of "everyday practices." He distinguishes between "strategies" and "tactics" and explains why many daily practices are not strategic, but rather tactical in nature. A strategy entails specific force relationships that can be formed when an individual's will and power are isolated from their environment.

Schemes have their own place and serve as a starting point for generating relations with the outside. Tacticss, on the other hand, do not have their own place, so they cannot be singled out as a visible whole. Tacticss constantly manipulate events to turn them into opportunities. According to De Certeau (ibid: nineteen), "A tactic insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance". Everyday practices are a collection of 'ways of operating' characterized by 'victories of the 'weak' over the 'strong' and consisting of clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, 'hunter's cunning', tactics, polymorphic situations, etc' (De Certeau, 1984: nineteen). Tacticss create movement within the system.

The text demonstrates the potential of intelligence in acquiring power in the daily struggle, while also acknowledging the ambiguous relationship between schemes and power. Schemes utilize the tools of power for their own purposes and rely on the existing power structure to sustain themselves. De Certeau (1984: 18) argues that tactics and strategies are in competition within this power framework. Scott's

concept of everyday resistance, involving practices like deception and smuggling, aligns more closely with schemes than tactics.

While De Certeau's construct of ways of operating (or everyday patterns), like 'knowing how to acquire away with things', are more tactical in character, schemes aspire to sabotage the constructions of power and therefore are more concentrated with a impression of opposition. However, tactics not only aim to resist but also comprise an accommodating constituent.


Despite their differences, De Certeau and Scott are concerned with the same sort of behavior. Reed-Danahay (1993: 222) presupposes to utilize the construct of 'cunning' to mention to this behavior.

According to Detienne and Vernant (1978: 3-4 in Reed-Danahay: 1993: 222), their description of the Greek concept of mA“tis accurately captures the significance of craft. mA“tis combines genius, wisdom, premeditation, nuanced thinking, deceit, resourcefulness, vigilance, self-interest, various skills, and years of experience. It is employed in situations that are transient, shifting, confusing, and ambiguous, situations that do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation, or strict logic (1978: 3-4; quoted in Scott 1990: 164 in ibid: 222). Additionally, De Certeau (1984: nineteen) acknowledges the connection between mA“tis and his 'ways of operating'. Alongside craft, mA“tis refers to Goffman's notion of 'making do' in difficult situations and overcoming adversity (Reed-Danahay, 1993: 223).

According to Reed-Danahay, resistance is described as a mechanical metaphor of solid organic structures coming into contact, while cunning includes some fluidness in societal life, allowing for drama or manipulation. Debrouillardise, as discussed by Reed-Danahay, involves a more complex understanding of power and opposition. In her study of Lavialle, a fictionalized mountain valley in central France, she observes that the locals adopt a

stance of resistance towards agents threatening their cultural freedom. The concept of debrouillardise encompasses various forms of societal use and adjustment, including resistance, cunning, and the ability to navigate challenging situations.

Debrouillardise, a term used to describe mundane opposition, encompasses both "making out" and "making do" in everyday life. It can be seen as a way to take advantage of the current situation. This concept is associated with defensive positions and coping strategies. The ethnographic literature also includes examples of positive values linked to behaviors interpreted as mundane opposition when a specific term or vocabulary does not exist. Interestingly, individuals or groups may simultaneously resist power while supporting the structures that require opposition. Some writers refer to this complexity as adjustment.

According to various scholars (Sotirin and Gottfried, 1999; Weitz, 2001), different aspects of power and authority can be represented through individual activities. These aspects include ambiguity (Trethewey, 1997), complicity (Healey, 1999; Ortner, 1995), conformance (St. Martin and Gavey, 1996), or assimilation (Faith, 1994). These authors emphasize that individual activity can both oppose and adapt to these different facets of power and authority (Hollander et al., 2004: 549). However, it is important not to romanticize opposition too much, as Abu-Lughod suggests. Viewing opposition as a symbol of powerlessness in the face of dominant systems, while highlighting successful forms of resistance and neglecting to recognize adjustment, passiveness, or acquiescence (Constable, 2007: ???). It is only valuable if we can strike a balance between romanticizing opposition and portraying young migrants as passive victims.

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