Strategic essentialism refers to the tactics adopted by various marginalized social groups to reconcile their differences to create an intellect of mutual responsibility over which they integrate into administrative organizations (Spivak and Harasym). The aspect of strategic essentialism mostly emphasizes the essentials of a group or a population with the goal of creating harmony and consolidating their existence in the community. Spivak asserts that "while terms such as "Indian," "Native American" may be manufactured and suppress highly significant differences, they nonetheless do important work."
Today, the purposes and movements of strategic essentialism compromise the fundamental elements of society including feminism and indigenous culture. Many people ignore the disparities among the people to construct a normalized identity which may not be credible. Nevertheless, there are always consequences for expressing an identity that only accentuates a certain component of a population (Dourish). One example of strategic essentialism is female essentialism which ensures that women develop a platform to fight against oppression and discrimination including hegemonic patriarchy, misogyny, and violence. Still, some historians are critical of the use of female essentialism and the affinity it has to corrupt opinions of war-afflicted, non-combatant civilian.
For instance, the respect of human dignity as a global matter has been framed to recreate the customary perception that women, but not adult males are guiltless and at risk. However, this standpoint fails to consider the non-combatants including the adult civilian men. Conversely, it promotes the reliance on proxy females that include some combatants (Carpenter 295). Hence, this tendency to view a certain social order as only females ignores the fact that adult men can be or are part of the susceptible masses. Currently, there are debates of how strategic essentialism can be both significant and unimportant and an analysis of how to balance the two. This argument manifests through the political use of this tactic to advocate for women rights.
Carpenter further asserts that by employing such feminist thoughts, we end up limiting women to the existing structures and systems of thought thus inhibiting the different ways of intellectualizing their rights and freedom (296). In that line, there are conflicting viewpoints regarding the necessity of strategic essentialism. That is when using it is appropriate and whet it becomes inappropriate to apply. That said, historians always question the person or institution bestowed with the power to use the techniques of strategic essentialism. From the illustrations above, it is evident that a single identity is inherent while the other is externally imposed. For instance, the marginalized groups and population develop internal and conscious decisions regarding pressing matters to fit their interests.
However, other matters such as those related to women's movement are not internally inflicted but rather imposed upon a community. Conklin (720) highlights how self-imposed, essentialist identity can cripple a society. He pinpoints that, the Tukanoans in the Colombian Amazon are starting to want to retain their Indian identity not only because they value their culture but also to obtain incentives from both the governments and the Non-governmental Organizations. The relevant government agencies and the NGOs have to deliberate and decide whether or not they meet the criteria of Native American Indigenous tribe (721). Hence, the said population must fit such criteria or risk losing recognition. The implications of adjusting one's lifestyle to demonstrate one's identity lead to the question of not only when it is suitable to use strategic essentialism, but also the people or organizations with authority to apply this approach.
That said, from the illustrations above, it is evident that anthropology, the scientific, social study of the human race through ethnography, is at risk. Anthropology today is under crisis in that many people today lack the enthusiasm to tolerate anthropologists and their work (Ortner). This unwillingness to condole anthropological discoveries results from the mistrust and doubt regarding the validity of the studies especially those undertaken by outsiders. The compromise of anthropology manifests in the meadow and the tutorial room through the existing disaffection amongst anthropologists and the ethnic group(s) they are studying (Lewis 581). For instance, an anthropologist may get a ban from the government ceasing his or her operations as well as rejection from the intelligentsia within the community they wish to study.
Furthermore, when the researcher returns to his or her country, he or she is susceptible to skepticism from the critics who challenge the authenticity of the findings. Criticism regarding the validity of the discoveries made by the anthropologists became prominent in the late 1960s. It is at this time in history that the criticizers began to demand that the anthropologists derived to relationships with and consent to obligation for the civil implications of their effort. Today, many consider the anthropological studies as those that are politically motivated to benefit the interests of a certain group of people and to promote the notion that a particular community is inferior to another. Lewis (582) states that the circumstances of anthropological findings lead to the invention of wide-ranging decrees and perceptions regarding the environment of humankind. The primary objective of anthropology was to suit the interests of the West and to seal in the openings of the white gentleman's understanding regarding himself.
During the colonial era, anthropologists were crucial since they provided information to the West in its efforts to manipulate and control the non-Western parts of the world. They provided information either directly or indirectly thus contributing to the success of colonialism. Their work propelled the conflict amongst the West and the non-Western sphere since their primary concern was to record the primitive lifestyles that presented a vague notion about the indigenous population under study (Lewis). However, they did not take time to question or study the practice of hostility or consider the influence of his or her work environment. Therefore, the colonialists used them as a buffer to quell the blow of Western political dominance and economic exploitation (Marcus and Michael).
That said, from the illustrations, this paper objects to the political engagement of anthropology. However, this essay approves that it remains culturally relativistic. By considering this, the anthropologists help to avert the creation of a social system that does not have a pervasive effect on his or her relationship and the people he or she studied. Conversely, a politically motivated anthropological finding makes a larger part of humanity subservient to the other leading to oppression of the vulnerable group, as well as the exploitation of their resources (Pels 1).
Carpenter, R. Charli. "'Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups': Gender, Strategic Frames and the Protection of Civilians as a Transnational Issue." International Studies Quarterly 49.2 (2005): 295-334.
Conklin, Beth A. "Body paint, feathers, and VCRs: Aesthetics and authenticity in Amazonian activism." American Ethnologist 24.4 (1997): 711-737.
Dourish, Paul. Points of Persuasion: Strategic Essentialism and Environmental Sustainability. University of California, 2008.
Lewis, Diane. "Anthropology and colonialism." Current Anthropology 14.5 (1973): 581-602.
Marcus, George E., and Michael MJ Fischer. Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences. University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Ortner, Sherry B. Anthropology and social theory: Culture, power, and the acting subject. Duke University Press, 2006.
Pels, Peter J. "Introduction: critique and the deconstruction of anthropological authority." Constructing knowledge. Authority and critique in social science (1991): 1.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, and Sarah Harasym. The post-colonial critic: Interviews, strategies, dialogues. Routledge, 2014.
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