Site of Resistance or Apparatus of Acquiescence? Everyday Tactics at the Bakery

By Jose Martinez
Submitted to Session P5024 (Ethnographies of Everyday Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
Ethnography;
Neoliberalization and authoritarianism are often presumed to filter through micro-processes of regulation, discipline and subjectification. However, such dynamics rarely, if ever, occur smoothly or predictably. They inevitably wrestle with varying forms of friction, compromise and struggle. Building upon the theoretical insights of Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, this paper analyzes the everyday ‘tactics’ through which bakers and ordinary citizens manipulate and evade governmental interventions that attempt to organize, manage and regulate the spaces in which they live. I draw on eighteen month of ethnographic fieldwork in Amman’s bakeries to illuminate the ingenious forms of “quiet encroachment” (Bayat 2013) through which urban subaltern groups exert agency over their own lives and influence public policy. The article’s empirical focus is driven by the work of James Scott, Asef Bayat and Lisa Wedeen, whose close attention to under-examined forms of contention, situated in the continuum between total quiescence and open rebellion, has helped elucidate dynamics of power and resistance typically overlooked in statist-institutional perspectives. Focusing on routine practices in three bakeries, located in very different neighborhoods of the Jordanian capital, the empirical sections will emphasize the spatial dimensions of livelihood tactics and the cultural politics of place. They will underscore the simultaneity of symbolic and material struggles over the bakery, a locus of alternative imaginaries and practices that try to contest but also conform, and sometimes reshape, the predominant economic logics driving Jordanian neoliberalization. By assessing place in this fashion, as a politically charged lived space, rather than as a hermetically sealed biophysical reality, the article seeks to assess the effects of governmental interventions, as well as the constellation of acts through which citizens grapple with authoritarian power and capitalist transformation. Unsurprisingly, a very different picture emerges when the ever-changing landscapes of governance are examined through the practices and perspectives of those governed and placed within them.