Definition: Agency and Resistance

Helena Zeweri my darlingness of a friend and great intellectual picked these excerpts to relate the idea of agency, which she feels is quite difficult to define due to the complexity of individuals and situations where agency is exercised. I have attempted to clarify what is being said here, as it may be quite difficult for some to understand. These clarifications are NOT absolute.

Saba Mahmood notes the following in her chapter on agency and resistance:

-Lila Abu-Lughod recommends that resistance be used as a diagnostic of power, to locate shifts in social relations of power that influence the resisters as well as those who dominate (9); oftentimes resistance is not to escape from dominant forms of power, but might also be used to assert an ability to engage in capitalist consumerismor relate to urban bourgeois aesthetics and values (9).

Meaning: When women resist, this is an indication that the relationships between them and those who dominate them,are shifting and changing.

But sometimes, their resistance is not just a reaction against those who dominate them. We should not always think of women’s resistance as an opposition against men. Sometimes their resistance is an attempt to participate in the market (being able to buy products and services as a way of improving their lives) or participate in the activities of the middle class (like seeing concerts, or travelling abroad). For instance, a woman who advocates for her right to enter public space may not necessarily be an act of opposition against the norms that restrict her mobility, but more so, a desire to participate in public activities (like shopping, going to the movies, eating out) etc…

-Evokes Foucault: “Power, according to Foucault, cannot be understood solely (only) on the model of domination as something possessed and deployed (moved)  by individuals or sovereign agents (rulers) over others, with a singular (one) intentionality, structure, or location that presides (control) over its rationality and execution.  Rather, power is to be understood as a strategic relation of force that permeates life and is productive of new forms of desires, objects, relations, and discourses” (17).

Meaning: Power cannot be understood as a ONE MODEL IDEA of a defined set of people holding power over another defined set of people, with one intention and one structure of control.

Coming away from a one model idea of power, we can understand that power is held and executed for different reasons, by different people, and at different times. And it produces new ideas, desires, relations and ways of thinking.

-Thus, “the very processes and conditions that secure a subject’s subordination(inferiority) are also the means by which she becomes a self-conscious identity and agent”

Meaning: The subject (woman) understands her identity (who she is, what she is capable of, her goals in life etc…) through the processes and conditions that subjugate her. Her self-consciousness is produced by the process of her subordination. She understands herself and what she is capable of through that subjugation

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One thought on “Definition: Agency and Resistance

  1. Thanks for your explainations. Very interesting! Keep up the good work. I love reading your blog. You are a great motivation to me. From what I have read so far, we share many same interestes and professional goals.

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