Resistance

One of my courses this semester is on social change. Our first set of readings and class discussion consisted of building a vocabulary, from an ethnographic perspective, to discuss the topic of resistance and change. I found the class very enlightening, even though it was not really in my field of passion. One of the most important aspects that seem fundamentally clear and overly simple to me is the difference between resistance and revolution. The concept seemed so basic that I would not even voice it in a senior level course. However, with time I realized that the concept is not inherently accepted by my peers. Consistently the term, “Real resistance” was brought up to qualify the difference between covert and overt resistance- overt resistance with the goal of change being ‘real,’ while covert resistance is considered something else, something soft. Suddenly, in that class, I understood the need for the works of Scott and Gutman that we were reading. People do privilege revolution as the only form of resistance because of its tangible, romantic outcomes. I have no doubt about the qualities of the students taking this course. They are advocates, politically active. They have a stance and they express it. They are revolutionaries. You can tell in their dress, in the dreads and shaved heads, and in the constant reference to anarchist and feminist ideas that I have somehow skipped in university. Of course I am obviously making judgements here. Put me in a line-up with these kiddos and I would not stand out. At least I would not stand out in my true direction. I would look like a leader of the group with my shaved head, purple hair, pierced nose and unconventional clothing choices. But I digress into petty thoughts of belonging and the politics of academia which are worthwhile but have very little to do with my current topic: resistance and revolution.
If resistance is so often equated with revolution it is important to ask why, to recognize the potential harms of the association, and to clearly give it a separate definition in order to progress with the concept. I believe that in sociology resistance is often confused with revolution because resistance is a more personal concept while revolution has a much more easily recognized societal field. That is not to say that resistance is not social, but revolution is entirely a social concept while resistance has some social effects and some personal effects. In many ways resistance falls under the category of psychology as it is often an internal struggle, very personal and individual and revolution is thought to be the social culmination of those internal struggles. What Scott brings to light is that revolution is not the only possible outcome of resistance. Instead, resistance is practiced socially and has measurable, visible social impacts in and of itself. The harm in lumping resistance together with revolution is that we fail to examine a significant social phenomena that leads to and supports revolution, and we fetishize revolution as inevitable and desirable at all times within the current reality. By equating resistance to revolution, or privileging revolution over resistance we greatly restrict our sociological and political imaginations.
If resistance is not revolution then what is it?
The difference between revolution and resistance is held in the goals of the two. In very goal-oriented times it is no wonder that we value revolution, because revolution is a very goal oriented phenomena. Revolution has the end-goal of change. People want to change others, to change themselves, to change the system that they live in, to change perceptions, to change the allocation of resources etc. Resistance on the other hand has to deal with a goal of un-change. Resistance is about survival, about keeping something, and protecting an individual or a culture. Often the desire to change the dominant structure (REVOLUTION) coincides with the desire/need to sustain the minority culture (resistance) and so the two are often lumped together and measured by the much easier to see and feel changes that are brought on by revolutionaries. However, it is important to begin to recognize and measure resistance separately because it IS a separate, autonomous social function that becomes more and more popular in the modern world. Sociologists need to keep in mind that the end goal of resistance is not revolution, but sustaining.

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