Introduction: Testing freedom
Pages 33

This book offers an updated overview of the diverse ways freedom is understood and practised across cultural contexts, including the emergent relationships between governance, autonomy and liberty that characterise everyday worlds. Oksala (2005:209) has argued that when understood as a practice, ‘freedom is defined and gains a meaning only through the concrete operations through which its existence is tested. It emerges through the particular, political and/or personal struggles that try and test its limits, possibilities or extent’. In response, this volume mobilises a wide range of ethnography in order to expand our understanding of the social dynamics, ontological assemblages and referential acts by which the co-dependence of authority and freedom is recreated. In rethinking political protocol through the lens of ‘freedom’, we tackle a central concern: ‘How are normative claims used to present a particular way to define a problem and its solution, as if these were the only ones possible, while enforcing closure and silence on other ways of thinking and talking?’ (Shore and Wright 1997:3)

Our understanding of the daily operations of freedom in practice includes, then, a strong focus on the spaces of argument and negotiation wherein daily meanings of freedom appear and are tested, and how the material apparatus of freedom is operationalised, thus opening new limits and horizons. Thus a wealth of ethnographic insight is provided in each of our chapters on how different people, in multiple sites across the world, deploy meanings of freedom that foreclose certain possibilities for comprehending and narrating freedom while opening others up. At ground level, the relationship of governance and freedom is mercurial – sometimes the intervention of authority allows further freedom, sometimes it is that which blocks the pathway to it. However, in our view, ‘governance through freedom’ is not an exclusive characteristic of late-liberal regimes (Rose 1999).