Skip to content
March 23, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

State action can be create social change–Martin and Pierce 2013

Statism is inevitable—innovative engagement can redirect power for emancipation

Martin and Pierce ’13 Deborah G. Martin, Joseph Pierce, “Reconceptualizing Resistance: Residuals of the State and Democratic Radical Pluralism,” Antipode, Vol. 45, Issue 1, pp. 61-79, January 2013, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2012.00980.x

The state offers a complex set of power structures against and with which resistance struggles (Holloway 2005; Scott 1988; Tormey 2004). Indeed, Holloway (2005) sees the state as so entrenched in power relations such that any resistance in or through the state is irrevocably bound up in its power logic. We acknowledge state power as always present, but not necessarily as monolithic.2 Despite—or perhaps because of— the power relations inherent in state frameworks, it is in part through laws and state regulations that activists can achieve reworked economic relations such as worker ownership, community banks, or cooperative housing (DeFilippis 2004). Hackworth explicitly acknowledges the possibility of a “neo-Keynesian” resistance which seeks to maintain relatively left-leaning state functions. Ultimately, though, he dismisses the resistive potential of such “neo-Keynesian” efforts, arguing that they have yielded “highly limited” successes (2007:191). We argue, however, that focusing on a state’s ordering functions [the “police” component of states; as in Rancière (2004)] may provide a lens for examining how resistance through the state might destabilize or subvert neoliberal hegemony. We articulate the notion of residuals, or mechanisms of the state that can, or have historically, been wielded to mitigate inequalities of capitalism. In order to explore this arena as potentially productive for resistance, we first consider radical democracy as an already-articulated conceptualization of neoliberal resistance (Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Purcell 2008). Radical democracy does not seek to enroll the state in resistance to capital, per se, but recognizes the simultaneous co-presence of a hegemonic (but always changing) state, and anti-hegemonic resistances. Radical Democracy: Responding to Hegemony? The concept of radical democracy provides a framework for articulating where residual state apparatuses stand amidst the myriad layers of state functions, power, and hegemony (cf Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Rancière 2004). We imagine a politics in which the state –whether capitalist or not— is always hegemonic, and thus always produces an outside or excluded that is resistant to the hegemonic order. Radical democracy as initially described by Laclau and Mouffe (1985) offered a theory of resistance—although they did not use that term—to capitalist hegemonies.3 Their goal was to identify a leftist, anti-hegemonic political project that did not rely on unitary categories such as class, in response to the identity politics of the 1970s to 1990s and post-structural theorizing of the absence of any common (structural or cultural) basis for political transformation. The theory of radical democracy posits that any order is an hegemonic order; the post-Marxist socialist project of Laclau and Mouffe seeks to destabilize the hegemonies of capitalism and work towards more democratic articulations that marginalize capital, even as forms of inequality may persist (Laclau and Mouffe 1985). Nonetheless, they can seek more articulations, more opportunities for social protest and struggle over multiple inequalities. Each struggle will produce—or seek to produce—new orders, or hegemonies, but these will be unseated by other struggles; this process describes a democracy not defined solely by a capitalist hegemony. As scholars have increasingly taken neoliberalism as the distinct form of contemporary capitalism in response to which resistance is engaged, they have explored the ways that its intense market logic constricts possibilities for traditional political activism to engage the state: the state is responsive primarily to the logic of facilitating the work of private capital (Brenner and Theodore 2002; Harvey 2005; Mitchell 2003; Peck and Tickell 2002; Purcell 2008). At the same time, however, neoliberalism opens possibilities for resistance because of its internal contradictions (like all hegemonic orders); it simultaneously engages the state to facilitate capital expansion, yet rhetorically rejects the state as an active player in market logics (Leitner, Peck and Sheppard 2007; Peck and Tickell 2002; Purcell 2008). In doing so, the door is opened for alternative projects and resistances. Purcell (2008) takes up the ideals of radical democracy to focus on how it might provide specific means for resistance to neoliberalism. He wants to take the insights of Laclau and Mouffe and apply them to a particular, empirically informed framework for engaged activism that actually interrupts, if not challenges (and mostly not, in his examples), neoliberalism. As a result, Purcell engages specifically with the idea of “chains of equivalence”, which he defines as “entities [which] must simultaneously be both different and the same” (2008:74). Political coalitions and actors with shared or complimentary challenges to neoliberalism—but distinct in character, goals, and identities—form networks of equivalence [Purcell (2008), drawing from Hardt and Negri (2004) as well as Laclau and Mouffe (1985)]. Simply put, networks of equivalence conceptually allow for multiple groups with different specific interests and identities to band together to challenge the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism. The crucial point for Purcell, however, and the key radical pluralist component is that those groups can work together without having to resolve their internal differences; they need only share a common questioning of the neoliberal prioritizing of private capital. They share a struggle, then, for a different hegemony (Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Purcell 2008). In the battle against global finance, for example, activists with different specific interests (agriculture or trade policy or environmental protections) confront the state in the form of police in the streets of Seattle or Cancun (Wainwright 2007); their objections are to the state policies and agreements which support and create frameworks for world trade. In Purcell’s (2008) networks of equivalence in Seattle, a similar, yet more spatially circumscribed network of neighborhood community activists, environmental activists, and a Native American tribe work together to challenge the terms of the environmental clean-up of toxins in and around the Duwamish River. Their target is the corporate interests being held responsible for actually funding the clean-up. The agent helping to hold the corporate interests accountable is the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seattle area environmental activists have been able to form a “chain of equivalence” with the EPA in the Duwamish clean-up in part by inserting themselves into an EPA framework that seeks stakeholder input through a participatory planning structure. The shared interests of the EPA and environmental activists are not obvious or easy to negotiate; the EPA, as a bureaucracy with many actors situated within the US federal system, is positioned as a complex institutional agent. But its particular mandate with regard to environmental protection offers a difficult relation to capital, one sometimes allied with non-state actors seeking limits to capital. Purcell’s (2008) account of this case is insightful and engaging. We are highly sympathetic to his project of conceptualizing resistance and, by connection, a better, more complete democracy. But we differ over some of the details—essential details—of how best to enact successful resistances. In his case study of the Duwamish River clean up in Seattle, Purcell (2008) cites government policies as the factor enabling community resistance and involvement. His account is historically detailed—and necessarily so, for the complexities of the state have everything to do with the sedimented and sometimes inherently contradictory nature of its policies and procedures. In brief, he points to the EPA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (also known as “Superfund”), and associated environmental laws as a sort of “environmental Keynesianism” that the federal government enacted in the decade of the 1970s (through 1980) (Purcell 2008:137). For Purcell, the neoliberalisation of these laws is evident in the increasing local devolution of governance authority over particular Superfund sites, including his case of the Duwamish River, resulting in “a proliferation of ad hoc and special purpose entities [that] increasingly carries out the everyday decision-making in Superfund cleanups” (2008:137). At the same time, however, Purcell (2008:138) acknowledges “that such ‘flexibilization’ … tends to create political opportunities that social movements can exploit”. We want to engage the idea that such flexible—or Keynesian—tools of the state are levers that can force the state to act in ways that might be counter to capital and in the service of greater democracy. In particular, we hope for a more complex, and, we expect, more practically productive conceptualization of resistance in relation to the state. While Purcell (2008:38, 183, note 2,2) acknowledges resistive possibilities from engagement with the state, he also notes that “the state is fully imbricated in the project of neoliberalization” (a point also made elsewhere; cf Harvey 2005; Holloway 2005; Mitchell 2003; Smith 1996; Wainwright 2007). We do not disagree with the basic contention that the state regulates and administers a hegemonic political economic order of and for capital. But the state is complex; following the persuasive arguments of Laclau and Mouffe (1985) and the example of the EPA in Purcell (2008), the state ought to be conceptualized like any actor: as multifaceted, with many possible subjectivities in relation to any particular conflict. This complexity offers the possibility that the state can be a tool for resistance, one we explore further in the rest of this paper.

You can scan this thread for a highlighted version (link)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: