Social and cultural politics of resistance and empowerment

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The chapter addresses the value and importance of an empirical feminist anthropological perspective to forms of social and cultural resistance. Using Muslim women’s rights activism in India and queer Muslim and transgender grassroots activism in the U.S. as case studies, this chapter sets out to examine the intricate politics of resisting at the intersection of gender and sexuality, religion, and race. The goal of this chapter is to look at the anthropological contributions to resistance – not necessarily as a form of mere political opposition – but as it manifests itself within people’s everyday lives (Scott 1985) and in grassroots activism. So doing, the chapter sheds light on the many facetted ways in which power, in the Foucauldian sense, is re-negotiated in the context of political struggles, everyday relationships, and cultural activities (Ortner 2006; Scott 1985). Borrowing from third world feminism and subaltern and queer studies, the chapter further offers methodological suggestions geared at centring the margins (bell hooks 2000, Kimberly Crenshaw 1991). The material discussed in this chapter opens up room for reflection on how new forms of identities around gender and sexuality, religion, and race and ultimately agency are produced through political and cultural forms of resistance to sexism, patriarchy, Islamophobia, imperialism, and nationalism.

The first part of the chapter sets out the anthropological debates on resistance with a specific focus on the anthropological understanding of how resistance and hegemony work. Drawing on feminist and queer theory, I will make a point of resistance as not being a pure process that is straightforward, intentional, and geared toward directly overthrowing hegemonic power structures. Rather, borrowing from James S. Scott’s (1985) concept of ‘everyday resistance of subalterns’, I will discuss resistance as a practice geared to challenge normative constructions around race, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion. So doing, I will further examine forms of resistance as theorized and practiced by black radical feminists, Third World feminists, and queer scholars/activists.

In a second part, I will examine different samples of feminist practice of resistance including political protest and social movements, poetry and art, as well as everyday bodily performativity. I will substantiate such discussion with specific ethnographic examples including art produced by queer Muslim feminists and transgender individuals in the U.S. on the one hand and current attempts of Muslim women’s rights activists to stretch the boundary of the public space through bodily performativity in India on the other. The goal of such analysis is to evince social and cultural politics of resistance as a form of boundary work and practice and as a cultural terrain in the Global South and Global North.

The third part of this chapter will be concerned with the methodological implications a feminist-queer anthropological gaze on resistance entails. I will discuss the need to take the voices and experiences of actors located at the margins as a starting point from where to understand the diverse, and to some extent paradox, forms of resistance to hegemonic forms of power. Such discussion will lend from Chela Sandoval’s (2000) theorization of “Methodology of the Oppressed” and Bell Hook (2000) and Kimberly Crenshaw’s (1991) conceptualization from “margin to centre” or of “centering the margins” respectively.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality
EditorsMartin Fotta, Cecilia McCallum, Silvia Posocco
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Gender, Sexuality, Anthropology, Resistance


Dive into the research topics of 'Social and cultural politics of resistance and empowerment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this