Sunday, April 5, 2009

In the Name of Solidarity: The Politics of Representation and Articulation in Support of the Labrador Innu

There is a large (but somewhat connected) difference in going about the politics of representation and those of articulation. Representation, or identity politics are the more stagnant, one-image-fits-all, and indignation-when-things-change views. Articulation (including subject-position) politics are more flexible, collective-yet-distinct, and understanding-when-things-change views. Both are useful in some ways and limiting in others, though I see representation as more short term effects, and articulation as more long term.

The politics of representation has confused the movement of the Innu First Nation of Labrador to keep land rights and self-government. Local support is lacking due to “racism and other frictions” (probably competition for resources is one of those frictions) and “requires tangible personal connection.” Stronger support comes from non-Innu southern Canadians, Americans, and Europeans who have picked up the Dances with Wolves card where all Innu are stewards of a pristine land, unchanging, and generally generic. Authentic (whatever that means, stuff changes all the time). The plus side is that these politics are quite convincing and quickly grab widespread attention, and can help with moral authority and ecological legitimacy. The flip side is that representation limits options, like “Native loggers” sounding like an oxymoron rather than a sustainable practice.

The politics of articulation carry the less familiar (at least to me) definition of “a joint, or flexible connection” where emphasis on subject-positions (environmentalist, Innu rights activist, etc.) creates support not based on inherent meanings or established identities, but rather on adjustable positions. This works on several levels. 1) With articulation, all positions are “authentic,” where the validity of the concern is the strong point. 2) Working “for mutual understanding between actors” rather than saving a symbol means the Innu can be opposed to irresponsible development (not all development). 3) Local support is more possible, like the common rival of NATO planes when they downsized some of their employees. 4) Articulation “is fundamentally coalition politics” where groups find a common ground to work from. This is reforming society in a way that works for everyone. And, 5) Contingency is ok. This allows meaning to change, and each subject-position to engage their “support as negotiation”. One example was that if the Innu were to exploit the land same as NATO planes and the mining companies, some subject- positions would drop their support. However, if someone drops out, someone else will probably come in. This also “demands a keen respect for the other’s perspective”, which is difficult because people don’t always agree on everything (I think this is a reason I find it difficult to affiliate with a political party). Thus, the politics of articulation brings solidarity in specific issues.


  1. I think that the politics of articulation will be more useful for the Innu because they're more flexible and are therefore more suited for modern times. Things will always be changing, so views on a people and their interaction with the environment should be able to reasonably change too. I agree with Elena's comment on how nothing's really authentic, since things are always changing.

    I do think that the politics of representation can help the Innu people appeal to distant supporters, but it seems to inhibit them in the long run more than help them. This makes their supporters view them as a unitary people, meaning that they all might act and feel the same way about situations. All individuals are different people with different opinions, so this form of politics can be very limitting.

  2. It doesn't seem to me that the representative process works in relation to this topic. It seems that the pressures of the governmental forces have assumed rights to the desired territory of the people, leading to discontent of a sizeable (but still small) group. And as a result articulation is a less effective method because it takes time and compromise. The compromise requires large scale compromise and power that the people simply do not hold because of struggle for legitimacy,struggles that the Innu may have trouble obtaining. Whereas representative measures are the quick and dirty way to resume a process of negotiation and legitimation.

    The article even suggests that there are intermediaries in the process of representation such as the media or spokespeople. In this process the message or goal becomes diluted, stagnant, or it could become a large scale game of telephone. Looking at our own governmental structure the pluralist model can sometimes get confused by the personal politics of those who have power; the media is a powerful business, and as a business seeks profit, so my argument is that for the media to appeal to a small population's cause, would be detrimental to their own profit. So why would these people be accurately represented on a large scale, and as far as spokespeople are concerned, who is to say that they are also accurately representing the group.

    But even support is gained by representation, but what does that matter when we regard them as untouched natives, uncorrupted and pristine, we do not even know who they really are in that case

  3. In the Barron article, we are offered concrete definitions to ideas essential to understanding the nature of cultural essentialism in relation to a political economy.

    In particular, representation and articulation.

    Representation refers to the ways in which the problems of the people being studied are conveyed to "the other" without any tangible investment therein. This is a basic concept, inseparable form everyday conversation in many ways.

    Barron's notion of articulation is a more abstract concept. Essentially, it is the defining of a certain group in accordance with how they desired to be portrayed. This is a clever game, and somewhat deceptive but entirely necessary for those lacking in political economy.

    I think of the articulation in terms of a trial. The oppressed people without political economy must convince the judge and jury that they have the appropriate faculties (moral authority, ingenuity, etc) to determine how to manage the resources at hand.

    This defense, if made correctly, gives the Innu (in this specific case) a veneer of native mystique non-native Americans and Western Europeans associate with the cultures theirs destroyed through contact.