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Weak Resistance

Everyday Struggles and the Politics of Failure

May 27,10:30

As a practice, failure recognizes that alternatives
are embedded already in the dominant and that power
is never total or consistent; indeed failure can exploit
the unpredictability of ideology and its indeterminate qualities.
J. J. Halberstam

Revolutionaries are everywhere,
but nowhere is there any real revolution.
Abdelkebir el-Khatibi


The word resistance usually evokes images of struggle, of opposition, but also of power, of domination, and oppression. In its concrete manifestations, however, resistance is more of a process of trial and error; it is often a story of failures intersecting, weaknesses combining and of building precarious solidarities in times of crisis. In this sense, revolution is never a simple story of “success”.


This one-day conference aims at exploring resistances as a multiplicity, as practices and modes of thinking that challenge normative values of success and failure. Resistances act on the mechanisms of power in particular places, in concerted actions, as well as in daily routines of living, being, working, imagining, and organizing. They can manifest as coalitions of the weak and dispossessed but also as coagulations in that in-between, uncomfortable space of the semi-peripheral. The panels will investigate resistances in the decolonial queer context, the cultural field at large, protest politics, and sex work, and will involve researchers alongside activists and other agents.

Organized by Rosa Barotsi, Walid El-Houri, and Ewa Majewska



10:30 Introduction:
Rosa Barotsi and Walid El-Houri


11:00 – 12:30 Part I:
Queer Resistances
A Conversation with Heather Love (University of Pennsylvania)
Moderation and Response: Pearl Brilmyer, Zairong Xiang


12:30 – 14:00 Lunch break


14:00 - 15:30 Part II:
Protest Politics
Walid El-Houri (ICI Berlin)
Margarita Tsomou (HBK Braunschweig)
Moderation: James Burton


15:30 -16:00 Coffee break


16:00 - 17:00 Part III:
Sex Work Politics
Irene Peano (University of Bologna)
Liad Hussain Kantorowicz (Peers bei Hydra project)
Moderation: Ewa Majewska


17:00 – 17:30 Coffee break 


17:30 - 19:00 Part IV:
The Art of Resistance
Rosa Barotsi (ICI Berlin)
Ewa Majewska (ICI Berlin)
Laboria Cuboniks (A Xenofeminist Collective)
Moderation: Pearl Brilmyer


Evening Keynote

19:30 Introduction:
Ewa Majewska

19:40 Jack Halberstam (University of Southern California)
Zombie Humanism at the End of the World


Rosa Barotsi (ICI Berlin)
"Writing a love letter in a bank": The paradoxes of weak resistance in Pedro Costa's No Quarto da Vanda (2000)

Pedro Costa filmed In Vanda's Room in a Lisbon shantytown during its demolition. In the process of becoming a ruin, the neighborhood of Fontainhas is also still home to a number of ignored inhabitants - the construction workers and petty vendors, migrants and Portuguese, who encapsulate the failures of social democracy and the persistence of the country's colonial past. Vanda Duarte and her family resist their forced relocation by continuing to inhabit their everydayness, slouched stubbornly on beds and sofas as the forces of progress gnaw at their existence. In this presentation, I explore the ways in which both the form and content of Vanda uphold strategies of weak, everyday, even wasteful resistance in the face of powerlessness.

Walid Houri (ICI Berlin)
Between disruption and hegemony: resistance, and the persistence of politics

This presentation explores the possible relation between protest movements as moments of disruption that destabilize an established order, and the political transformation, or the new hegemonic structures that such moments can produce or lead to. How do these disruptions contribute to, inform, or provoke the creation of new hegemonic structures? How do they influence and impact on the tactics, discourses, and narratives of emerging orders and new forms of authority? And how can we look at these moments in relation to resistance strategies and political action as ones that create new spaces and new possibilities for political subjects? These questions relate to the way in which protest movements can respond and endure in contexts that are often if not always fraught with the constant challenges of failure and cooptation, depression and demobilization, divisions and fragmentations. I will look at Egypt as a particularly interesting example in this discussion: a place where a repressive populist regime emerges after a protest movement.

Ewa Majewska
(ICI Berlin/ Gender Studies, Warsaw)
Towards the weak avant-garde. Feminist public art, resistance and artistic anticipation.

The aim of this presentation is to discuss a possible strand of a (genuinely feminist and queer) radical aesthetics, for which the working title is “weak avant-garde”. This is not a “weak theory”, neither it is a “weak messianism”, although it does connect to Italian Marxism and Walter Benjamin’s materialism. In the analysis of the art works of Ewa Partum, the Polish artist who declared herself as feminist and the artworld as misogynistic in the late 1970’s, I will find inspiration for discussing artistic resistance beyond the heroic traditional ideal of a macho-invested military forefront. This can be seen as another way of dismantling the avant-garde, but without the utopian “doing away” with it.

Laboria Cuboniks (A Xenofeminist Collective)
Synthetic Affirmations (Excerpts from the Xenofeminist Manifesto)

Ours is an increasingly vertiginous reality. Abstraction, virtuality and complexity are inextricable from our daily lives, demanding a feminist politics adapted to these realities; a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision. Speaking from the powerfully mutable position of no one in particular, Laboria Cuboniks will present sections of her xenofeminist manifesto, introducing modes of synthetic contamination as an affirmative strategy for enduring and substantial change.

Liad Hussain Kantorowicz
(Peers bei Hydra project)
Organizing for sex workers' rights in germany – strategies and challenges.

What are some of the major issues facing sex workers in Germany? How and with whom are sex workers organizing? What are some of their organizational strategies and obstacles? What are key points on the German sex workers' rights discourse? The presentation will attempt to answer some of those questions while keeping a focus on migration, gender, labor and queer politics.

Irene Peano (University of Bologna)
Sex workers' everyday resistances and the subversive powers of prostitution: Reflections on the political potentialities of bodies and social reproduction

Radical scholarship of the 'pro-sex' feminist breed has often viewed prostitution as inherently subversive on account of the fact that it exposes men's dependency on women's sexuality; that it entails, at least in some cases and potentially, women's autonomous control of their reproductive labour power and of their sexuality as distinct from their reproductive powers, as well as a refusal of wage labour; and that is also belies the bourgeois distinction between the public and the private domains, on which the sexual division of labour and the control of women is founded. Of course, the categories of 'man' and 'woman' should be intended as symbolic positions rather than as biological-somatic givens: 'femininity', it has been argued, is 'the quality of the orgasmic force when it can be converted into merchandise' (Preciado 2008: 46-7). The subversive power of prostitution, therefore, is born within the (capitalist and thus patriarchal) denial, repression and control of 'feminine' pleasure. Whilst sharing such analyses, starting from experience on the ground as a researcher and a political activist this paper will interrogate the relationship between the subversive powers of prostitution and the everyday-life experiences of sex workers and their struggles in a variety of contexts: from migrant detention centres to instances of organised collective protest, from daily strife to alternative scenes. Concealment, escape and ambiguity emerge as tactics of resistance alongside eruptions of rage and collective organisation and solidarity, which all foreground the body as the site and tool of opposition and squarely situate resistance within the domain of social reproduction.

Margarita Tsomou (HBK Braunschweig)
Post-representational hegemony: From Syntagma to Syriza?

The presentation tries to explore the genealogy of non-representational politics in Greece by examining the chain of events from the period of the riots in December 2008 to the assemblies of the occupation of Syntagma square in 2011, as well as the daily manifestations of solidarity movements in Greece in the light of - what I call - a post-representational hegemony of the current left government. How does Syriza´s parliamentary government and the dynamics of the movement relate to each other? How does the one promote or support the other? To what extend can we speak of a contradiction between anti-representational politics on the squares and parliamentary representation? To what extent will the Syriza government react to the empowerment of the social fabric through every day social struggles by widening democratic formats and methods in order to re-form the notion of the state, by implementing and supporting post-representational practices of the "societies in movement" (Zibechi 2011) and thus altering classical political spaces of the state?

Jack Halberstam (University of Southern California)
Zombie Humanism at the End of the World

Programme (PDF)

Time: 27 May 2015, 10:30
Venue: ICI Berlin
In English

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