Political Violence and the Politics of Ethnography

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BOOK R E V I E W ESSAYS 831lowland forests of peninsular Malaysia (p. 98). Anotherhas been the reduction of some 19 indigenous groups,from autonomous forest dwellers and traders, to abso-lute destitution and dependence on a paternalistic andineffectual bureaucracy. The various Orang AsligroupsBatek, Semai, Temuan, and othershad forcenturies maintained effective adaptations based onvarying combinations of swidden horticulture, hunt-ing, foraging, agroforesty, trade, and wage labor. Thepostwar development boom and the systematic refusalof the Malaysian government to recognize any form ofindigenous land rights (even in areas it had reservedfor the Orang Asli) opened their lands to appropriationby loggers, industry, and colonization. Nearly half ofthe Orang Asli no longer live in the forest and have infact been actively and acutely impoverished by the de-velopment process.Richard Reed's illuminating account of theGuarani of eastern Paraguay since the beginning of the1970s is another case in point. The Guarani effectivelymaintained their own religious and cultural traditionsover 400 years of contact with colonial and nationalsocieties, in spite of missionary zeal and slavers' incur-sions. And, as in the Malaysian case, they elaborated asuccessful insertion into national and internationalmarkets, through their diversified agroforestry swid-dens as well as yerba mate collection and skin hunt-ing. Only with massive deforestation for ranching andagriculture since the 1970s (in part internationally fi-nanced), which laid low 30 percent of Paraguay's for-ests, have many Guarani groups been dispossessed oftheir lands and impoverished. Reed's point thatGuarani use of the forest has permitted them to guardtheir independence and gain adequate access to mar-kets while protecting the forest is a critical one. Hisown account of Guarani mixed subsistence and mar-ket production, however, belies the claim that theiragroforestry system is more profitable than the log-ging, cattle ranching, and commercial agriculture thathas replaced it. The point of the Guarani adaptation isthat the Guarani are not profit maximizers; they his-torically privileged their independence, a secure sub-sistence base, and access to a limited array of marketgoods over investing everything in surplus for the marketGuarani use of the forest is undoubtedly betterfrom an ecological perspective than unsustainable log-ging and agriculture in that it preserves the uncountedbut immense value of the forest. It is also no longernovel to note that the critical but diffuse services thatthe forest provides (preservation of biological diver-sity, soil conversation, climate regulation, sequestra-tion of carbon dioxide, and watershed protection), ifaccurately accounted for, would outweigh the benefitsof much of the development that destroys it. The valueof the forest is also broadly distributed, whereaspredatory development often concentrates wealth up-ward. In this sense Guarani land use, like the Brazilianrubber tappers' extractive reserves of which Reed pro-vides a useful comparative discussion (pp. 123-128),has a compelling ecological, economic, and social ra-tionale. His central point is well taken: guaranteeingland rights to local peoples who practice sustainableland uses, such as the Guarani or Amazonian rubbertappers, is critical to the prospects for sustainable andsocially equitable use of forest lands.Should the Ethnicity and Change series continuealong the lines of Dentan et alia's and Reed's ethnogra-phies of development, it will be an invaluable re-source, for students not only of anthropology but envi-ronmental studies, international relations, and a broaderaudience concerned with the global environment, hu-man rights, and development. Anthropology has muchto gain from joining the debates raging at the intersec-tion of these issues, and a good deal to contribute aswell. Political Violence and the Politics of EthnographyVERNE A. DUSENBERYHamline UniversityThe Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State andGuerrilla Violence. Joyce J. M. Pettigrew. Atlantic High-lands, NJ: Zed Books, 1995. 212 pp.Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with SikhMilitants. Cynthia Keppley Mahmood. Philadelphia: Uni-versity of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.314 pp.Political violencea troubling feature of whatJohn Comaroff has termed our contemporary "age ofrevolution"has become, in recent years, an urgentand increasingly fashionable subject of ethnographicinvestigation. As the hegemony of the modern nation-state system is challenged by post-Cold War globaliza-tion, the moral legitimation of the state and its controlover the exercise of force within its borders is fre-quently contested. In this context, contemporary iden-tity politics have taken an often violent turn.Although political violence is a global phenome-non and anthropologists have borne witness to it in allparts of the world, perhaps no region has in recent8 3 2 A M E R I C A N A N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 9 , N o . 4 D E C E M B E R 1 9 9 7years experienced more incidents of political violencethan South Asia. Here, the legacies of colonialism andthe tenuous legitimacy of the postcolonial states, fedboth by internal contradictions and by external rival-ries, have created insecure states particularly suscepti-ble to collective violence. And this political violencehas in turn produced some powerful recent ethnogra-phies (by, among others, Veena Das, Peter van derVeer, S. J. Tambiah, Paul Brass, and Val Daniel) thatattempt to represent and interpret cultures of violenceon the Indian subcontinent.The two books considered here are ethnographicaccounts of the political violence that engulfed theIndian Punjab from 1978 to 1993. During this period,an initial appeal to the government of India for greaterautonomy for the Sikh-mpjority state of Punjab wasrebuffed only to feed a separatist movement for Khal-istan, an imagined sovereign Sikh homeland, whichgained significant popular support among Sikhs as aconsequence of state repression after 1984. Tens ofthousands were killed and many times more victimizedby political violence in Punjab and surrounding areasuntil massive state repression and disarray amongmilitants at least temporarily exhausted the movementin 1992-93. Pettigrew's book analyzes the violence andrecords, through audiotapes smuggled out of Punjab,the voices of one party to it, guerillas belonging to theKhalistan Commando Force (Zaffarwal). Mahmood'sbook represents accounts of the violence as articu-lated by Khalistani militants, from various guerrillafactions, now living in Canada and the United States.How and to what end one writes the ethnographyof political violence is the key issue raised, in theirdifferent ways, by both Pettigrew's and Mahmood'sbooks. James Clifford's observation that ethnogra-phers inevitably can tell only "partial truths"partialin the dual sense of incomplete and not without bi-aseshas become for some contemporary ethnogra-phers not simply reason to be wary of totalizing eth-nographies but license to revel in ethnographic partialityor what Mahmood calls "one-sidedness" (p. 268). In-deed, both of these authors deny "balance" as theirethnographic goal. Pettigrew explains her publicationof the interviews with KCF (Zaffarwal) guerrillas as"giving them prominence since their voices have notpreviously been heard at allw (p. vii) and goes on todefend their ideological commitments to "moralistic[Sikh] socialism" not only against "state terror" butalso against the "ghetto syndrome" of other Khalistanis(p. 76). Mahmood, for her part, explicitly calls intoquestion traditional "objectivist" standards of partici-pant-observation and writing, which, in dealing withpolitical violence, turn the ethnographer into "a merevoyeur of human suffering" (p. 263). Positioning her-self with a movement within the discipline toward an"engaged," "partisan," or "militant" ethnography that"speaks truth to power," she seeks "to create a spacein which their [i.e., Khalistani] voices coulH be heardwith dignity" (p. 24).What makes the partiality of these accounts sur-prising is that the subtitles of both books suggest con-siderably more pluralism and movement across posi-tionings than the ethnographies actually deliver Onemight, for instance, expect Pettigrew to representvoices of various agents of state violence as well asvoices from various guerrilla factions. Instead, we getinterviews with "a small number of ideologically com-mitted people who are members of the Khalistan Com-mando Force, Zaffarwal" (p. vii), a group whose ideologyPettigrew admires but who are not even representativeof the main guerrilla alliance. In Mahmood's case, de-spite the book's subtitle and her self-characterizationof her work as "dialogical rather than 'objective1 w eth-nography (p. 25), the text itself records little actualdialogue with Sikh militants. Rather, as Mahmood ad-mits, she is interested in serving as "an archivist orchronicler" (p. 97) providing a "translation" (pp. 3,211), conveying "a sense of the immediacy of the Sikhmilitant world" (p. 21). What actual dialogue turns upin the text mainly takes the form of Mahmood reaf-firming statements of her "interlocutors," a role sheherself likens to that of "psychotherapist" (p. 54) or"therapeutic echo" (p. 127). There will be few hardquestions or contested statements or disruptions ofthe dominant narrative in this "dialogue."Mahmood makes much of her commitments to"write the truth as I, in my best effort, understand it"(p. 14) and to "speak truth to power" (p. 211), but indeferring to others the "contextualization" of her work(p. x), in eschewing knowledge of the "concrete de-tails" of her interlocutors lives (p. 13), and in settlingfor "reaffirmation of what somebody said" (p. 54), shecan do little more than transcribe "how it felt to besomebody whose legs have been permanently crippledby torture or, alternately, somebody who set off abomb" (p. 13). Although she is critical of scholars forbeing "oblivious to the practical consequences of[their] work" (p. 14); she is surprisingly untroubled byher own complicity in the political agendas of her in-terlocutors. Thus, she acknowledges that what theywant from her is "good PR," and she is happy to oblige:"I write this book telling the truth as I see it with someconfidence that Khalistani Sikhs will respect and evenappreciate what I have done" (p. 22). And she can beconfident, having revised the manuscript in responseto her interlocutors' comments and suggestions on ear-lier drafts (p. 13).Presented as an act of "speaking truth to power*and as a morally virtuous (particularly feminist) suspi-cion of claims of "academic freedom and scientificBOOK REVIEW ESSAYS 833hegemony" (p. 235), Mahmood goes on to develop acritique of "deconstructive analyses" and "objectivisthistories" unwilling to "engaged in dialogue with peo-ple who refuse to play the conversation game our wayw(p. 241). To that end, she adopts the argument of herinterlocutors that Harjot Oberoi's award-winning bookon 19th-century Sikh identity, The Construction ofReligious Boundaries (University of Chicago Press,1994), is subversive in so far as it undermines Khalis-tanis' "resistive identity" at a moment when the Indianstate is denying them a separate political identity (pp.235-251). The problems with Mahmood's discussion ofOberois' book are worthy of a separate review, butnote that Mahmood replicates much of her interlocu-tors' misrepresentation of Oberoi's argument (see J. S.Mann et al., The Invasion of Religious Boundaries,Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching Society, 1995), in-cluding imputing to Oberoirather than to the Sana-tan Sikhs of whom he is writingthe view of "Hindu-ism as a large inn, with the Sikhs as one wingw (p. 238;cf. Oberoi 1994:396). It is one thing to represent one'sinterlocutors' positions in the name of giving themvoice, but, following Richard Handler, do we nothonor our interlocutors more by engaging them in sub-stantive dialogue about truth claims rather than un-critically reproducing their assertions? Or is accuratecitation an unfair imposition of "ourn conversationalrules?What makes Mahmood's partiality problematic isthe assumption that readers in fact bring to the textwhat she takes to be the hegemonic representations ofthe violence in Punjab or of Sikh history, such as inter-ested accounts put out by Indian authorities and acomplicit Western media and academy. This is con-temporary salvage anthropology: recovering the subor-dinate voices of repressed groups as a political act.But in fact the power differentials are neither as greatas in the heyday of colonialism and Orientalism nor asabsolute as Mahmood would have them. KhalistaniSikhs, especially those in the diaspora, have not onlyweapons but also lawyers, printing presses, fax ma-chines, and public information offices through whichthey contest the state and other perceived enemies:Hindus, non-Khalistani Sikhs, Khalistanis of other po-litical factions, or scholars deemed insufficiently sen-sitive. What does it mean to "speak truth to power"when one's interlocutors already have the power tospeak their version of the truth? The dialogue that al-ready exists beyond her text thus far provides scantsupport for Mahmood's belief that her interlocutorsare "ready to recognize other interpretations of truth"(p. 249). And I, for one, am hard pressed to discern asatisfactory "compromise framework" for "radical in-terlocution" (p. 248) in the example of Mahmood'sown ethnography.In the end, Pettigrew, who in some ways is evenmore romantic about the particular guerrilla factionwhose voices she represents than is Mahmood, at leastprovides enough contextualization and concrete detailto allow the reader to see the violence in Punjab forthe tragedy it was. Mahmood never gets us beyond theromance of violent resistance and her heroic champi-oning of subordinated voices. One ought indeed tohear the voices of Sikh militants represented in thesebooks so as to put a human face on those otherwisedismissed as "terrorists" and "fundamentalists," but for"context" and "content" of the violence one needs toread these books in conjunction with the more "bal-anced" accounts produced by human rights organiza-tions (such as Amnesty International and HumanRights Watch) and other scholars (such as Das, Tam-biah, and Oberoi). Critical humanism demands noless. Other Anthropological Traditions: JapanEMIKO OHNUKI-TIERNEYUniversity of Wisconsin, MadisonKegare no minzokushi: Sabetsu no bunkateki yoin (An-thropology of impurity: Cultural bases of social discrimi-nation). Noboru Miyata. Tokyo: Jinmon Shoin. 1996.In the past, a familiar approach in anthropologywas to use "natives" only as informants. Interpreta-tions and analyses of them came from outsiders: trav-elers, missionaries, and scholars. Even at that timePaul Radin and Marcel Griaule made serious efforts tounderstand "native intellectual traditions." Anthro-pologists are now increasingly, and successfully,studying peoples with long literate traditions. Not onlymust we use to their full potential the massive archivalrecords left by the people of the host society, but wemust also fully understand the native intellectual tradi-tion (s) and publications by native scholars.Anthropology in Japan is rich in diversity. We see,however, two major approaches, both called min-zokugaku, but with different characters for zoku. Oneis sociocultural anthropology, whose founding owes agreat deal to various Western anthropological tradi-tions and whose practitioners often receive training in


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