A Framework for Analyzing Power Dynamics at Inter-Movement Meetings in Postcolonial Contexts

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Johanna Leinius, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”)

In this paper, I argue that when studying meetings between differently positioned political and social actors, the historically entrenched power relations that shape both the context of the meeting and the subjectivities of those that meet must be considered. I use the results of my doctoral thesis, in which I analyze two inter-movement encounters in Peru that aim to link indigenous, feminist, popular, and afro-Latin social movements, to show how the encounter of different social worlds at meetings can be studied through ethnographically based committed research.
Within the nexus of emancipatory social movement organizing in Latin America, the meeting takes on central importance for building and sustaining counter-hegemonic struggles today: Their dominant mode of organizing does not aim to subsume different movements under one central narrative, but is based on the recognition of difference. The movement activists see racial, sexual, cultural, and other divides not as obstacles to be overcome, but as resources for building broad-based strategies to challenge oppression. Meetings are seen as spaces for encountering each other, learning from the others’ struggles, and for building solidarities.
These meetings take place, however, in a context characterized by the hierarchization of difference, which crucially shapes the dynamics at the meetings. In the meetings I analyze, at least two different meeting logics encountered each other on an unequal playing field: An emancipatory Western logics of learning and critical self-reflexivity and an indigenous representational logics of giving testimony.
For the researcher studying these meetings, the presence of different meeting logics represents a methodological and epistemological challenge. The methodological framework I have developed combines a postcolonial-feminist ethnographic approach with post-foundational discourse analysis to provide a comprehensive and situated picture of the situation at hand. Only through the triangulation of different perspectives (participant observation, interviews, the collective reflection of the meeting with the meeting participants), I could recognize the power dynamics at play and trace them back to the different meeting logics anchored in distinct social worlds.
I argue that in order to adequately grasp the meeting dynamics and outcomes in a postcolonial context, the historical constitution of hierarchically ordered difference has to be taken into account. To do this, I propose committed ethnographic research that departs from the postcolonial feminist recognition of the partiality and situatedness of the knowledge of both the researcher and the meeting participants.

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