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Against Recognition: Opacity as a social and political strategy

6:30pm-7:30pm on Tuesday 19 March

Times shown are in GMT (UTC +0) up to the 26th March. For events on or after 27th March times are in BST (UTC +1).

SG1 (Alison Richard Building), Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DP

When Afrofeminist activists take to the streets of Paris, what do their protests have to do with environmentalists 250 miles away, battling with police to defend an autonomous zone preventing construction of an airport? As this talk will show, the answer lies in the surprising, but surprisingly widespread, politics of opacity. In modern liberal democracies, access to social and political inclusion is granted on the basis of recognition by the state as a valid political participant. For some citizens, however, this recognition comes at too high a price. Some experience this mechanism as essentially rigged, laying claim to a universalism denied by its discriminatory operation – as when it makes their recognition conditional on jettisoning their particular identity, while simultaneously oppressing them on the basis of this identity. Others argue that increasingly invasive forms of digital surveillance and control, by the state and by private companies, make a mockery of the very idea that recognition is something to be desired, and so undermine the claim that visible or discursive participation in the public sphere necessarily constitutes an unquestionable benefit. Refusing recognition in these and other ways, such groups reject the terms on which participation is granted. Instead, they develop practices of opacity – modes of presence which do not rely on recognition by others in order to be socially and politically effective – as alternative forms of action. This talk will discuss activist movements in contemporary France which have adopted such approaches, considering in particular Afrofeminist groups and environmental protestors. Setting their activities in a broad social and political context, it will explore the reasons behind their choice of opacity as a mode of action, consider the meaning and stakes of their different forms of opacity, and analyse the effectiveness of these forms. Illustrating the wide reach of these positions, it will also present artworks – films, novels, and photography – which engage with these developments.

Martin Crowley is Professor of Modern French Thought and Culture at the University of Cambridge, where he is also Anthony L. Lyster Fellow and Director of Studies in Modern and Medieval Languages at Queens’ College. His most recent book is Accidental Agents: Ecological Politics beyond the Human (Columbia University Press), and he serves as General Editor of the journal, French Studies.

Booking/Registration is: RECOMMENDED

Additional Information

Age: Adults, Young Adults 12 – 18
Format: Talk
Timing: In person
Cost: Free
Event Capacity: 70
Theme: Society
Accessibility: Full access

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