THE CHANGING MEANINGS OF PEOPLE’S POLITICS. Gramsci and anthropology from the history of subaltern classes to contemporary political subjects

Gramsci Conference, Past & Present, King’s College, London, 18th and 19th June 2015 

Abstract

Since the 1950’s, Gramsci is one of the main references for those studies inquiring into the history, the forms, the experience, and the significance of popular politics. What is the significance of popular or subaltern politics today and what would be a Gramscian perspective on that? In order to tackle this question, this paper traces the changing ways in which Gramscian concepts have inspired scholars, and especially anthropologists, on the issue, showing how the idea of popular politics has changed accordingly to the changing meanings of subalternity, from the end of the Second World War to the present. Firstly, the paper describes the way in which Gramsci has been, for a moment, a link between anthropology and social history (De Martino, anti-colonial anthropology, Hobsbawm, Thompson) for the study of subaltern classes, especially rural groups not yet completely incorporated into state and capital modernity. Secondly, it shows the critical, but also partial, use of Gramsci’s concepts in the post-structuralist anthropology of resistance and of peasant societies (Scott, Guha) in postcolonial worlds. At the end, the paper reflects on the possibilities and the limits for a Gramscian look at popular politics for anthropologists today. This is a critical issue in our times, where intellectuals and institutional politics have lost any capacity to represent organically subaltern classes and where the meaning of subalternity of Gramsci’s times – as both nostalgically denounced and prophetically anticipated by Pasolini about Italy – has completely changed in the contemporary world.

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