The Role of Physical Symbols and Objects in Subaltern Experiences with International Borders
Anelynda Mielke | BIG Research Reports | #93
This paper attempts to explore the centrality of symbolic objects in border struggles, building on Subaltern Studies, political theory and visual culture literatures. It first explicates the claims of Subaltern Studies founder Ranajit Guha (1983), who suggested that rebel violence in India should be considered a political act, despite its lack of conformity with ‘politics’ as takes place within official channels. He acknowledged the centrality of symbolic objects, which solidified class divides and thus had to be challenged in order to overthrow oppressive structures. Guha’s claims are discussed in conjunction with those made by Jacques Rancière (1999), whose telling of Herodotus’s tale of the Scythian slave rebellion acknowledges the importance of symbolism in the subjugation of subaltern classes. The work of Bruno Latour (2004) in outlining the field of Dingpolitik, a politics centered on objects, is then discussed along with those of Actor-Network Theorists like Michel Callon. These theories are discussed as they relate and contrast with the work of Guha and Rancière. The theoretical claims and contextual work of these theorists will be examined for their relevance to the context of the Canadian border, using a comparative study with the border struggle around the Israeli Wall or separation barrier in the West Bank and Gaza. One man’s fight in Montréal, Canada to escape imprisonment in a church and attain the right to remain in his adoptive country is used as a comparative case with the Israel/Palestine struggle around the Wall. The paper seeks to show how physical objects play a central role in the Subaltern (marginal) entity’s struggle against aggressive State practices and policies in Canada, as they do in other parts of the world.