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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Ideas on Populism; The paradox of democracy and the rise of the corporate state

Bruce Kapferer

This article was first published as a text feature in the Australian Arena Magazine, issue 145, February 2017.

  • All forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy.- Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

– Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

  • The power of the people is always greater than that of the people in power.

– Wael Ghonim, a Google executive at the time of Egypt’s popular uprising against President Mubarak

When Hillary Clinton attempted to counter Trump and his supporters’ populist attacks by explicitly branding them a ‘basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it’ she was hoist on her own petard. The chant ‘Lock Her Up’ drew its enormous potency from her alleged corruption and from her being a figurehead of the ruling Washington elites who have leached the American state’s democratic egalitarian idealism. Calling Trump and his followers racist and sexist was waving a red rag to a bull. She played on a negative view of populism, an immanent anti-democratic elitism, which elicited outrage, making a mockery of her own populist appeal. The occasionally rank dominant-class prejudice that accompanies anti-populist sentiments (inclusive of those that assume it is a working-class phenomenon, when it is frequently cross class) was egregiously apparent in a CNN pundit’s observation that Trump ‘was throwing red meat to the base’ in his highly controversial travel bans.

Populism has a bad press. It’s a synonym for extremism, racism and exclusionary prejudice of all kinds; the very antithesis of democracy and the orientation of state systems to egalitarian social and political ideals. There is no doubt that this is one of the possibilities of populism, as the rise of rightist extremism throughout much of the Western hemisphere demonstrates today. But populism, even of such a negative kind is born of an orientation to democratic value, even if this is of the Orwellian Animal Farm contradictory kind, where some have more value or rights than others. Populism is not by definition undemocratic, even though it may produce those effects. The current reaction to Trump is no less the force of populism.

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The guerrilleros of the state: Pacification, violence, policing, and predatory forms of accumulation

About: Thomas Salem has just finalised his master thesis in social anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, named “Taming the war machine: Police, pacification and power in Rio de Janeiro” . In that regards he received additional funding from the Egalitarianism project to help out on his fieldwork . The following text is based on his thesis which received a price for best master-thesis from the Norwegian Association for Development Research .


Picture 1: The main base of UPP Alemão strategically perched on a hilltop above the favelas

Tomas Salem

After decades of soaring violence, partly as the result of a public security paradigm articulated through the rhetoric of war on drugs, and of aggressive and militarized policing, the first Pacifying Police Units (Unidades da Policia Pacificadora, UPPs) were established in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 2009. The UPPs or Pacification Project, as it is also known, allegedly sought to bring peace and security to the city, and to the impoverished residents of the favelas [informal settlements]. Arguably, the pacification strategy represents the largest shift in the local government’s policy towards the favelas since Brazil’s return to democracy in the mid 80’s. Between January and July 2015 I followed police officers at three different UPPs, as part of the ethnographic fieldwork for my MA thesis in Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. My objective was to analyze the changes in the exercise of state power towards favela residents through the pacification. Specifically, I focused on how patrol officers at the UPPs enacted a particular state order in the favelas, and at the institutional attempts at producing a new police subjectivity through a taming or pacification of what I describe as the wild masculinity of patrol officers. In my thesis, I tied the process of pacification of the favelas, and of the police, to larger political and economic dynamics on a national and global scale. This text is a brief summary of my main findings and conclusion.[1]



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Publications Egalitarianism Group, 2014-2019

Publications related to the project ERC Advanced Grant “Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparisons”. 2014-2019. The Egalitarianism group have been rather active Read more …