Performance & Populism

Mobilization, Popular Power, and Embodiment on the Left

An interdisciplinary conference of scholars, activists, and artists engaged in rethinking alternative societies

Presented by the University of Warwick and the University of California, Berkeley

3–5 November 2021

Online / Zoom Webinar

Free and open to the public

Accessibility: Live transcription will be enabled for all Zoom webinar sessions. If you require an additional accommodation for effective communication in order to fully participate in this conference, please email tdps@berkeley.edu with as much advance notice as possible and at least 7-10 days in advance of the event.


About the Conference

Performance and Populism responds to the global escalation of neoliberalism, the crisis of democratic institutions, and the rise in demands for popular sovereignty at the turn of the 21st century. This period is defined by the persistence of extraction economies, racialized violence and the narrowing of democratic rights; an emphasis in security and law enforcements to ensure private property and the accumulation of capital. At the same time, we are witnessing an upsurge of people reclaiming power placed in the hands of the banking and business elites that dominate public services, communication systems, manufacturing industries, centres of knowledge production, and other systems of geo-political, social, and cultural life. The failure of institutions to defend various demands of the people triggered the rise of populism on both sides of the political spectrum.

Performance and Populism puts focus on left-wing populism. This point seems to be particularly important to address in the contemporary political conjuncture. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019/20, the inequalities have been exacerbated, the xenophobic, anti-immigration and nationalistic sentiments strengthened, and the institutionalization of extreme right-wing discourses and politics and authoritarian regimes increased. Under such circumstances, the need to empower the left with the ideas of economic transformation, political innovation, and social, geographical, and cultural connectivity, becomes even more urgent. The construction of 'the people' and 'popular power' become important issues for local and transnational alliances on the left. So far, left populism appears as the most successful strategy of the progressive politics. Yet, few studies move beyond a 'management' perspective ultimately designed to explain the rise and role of leaders.

Performance and Populism takes its lead from Performance Studies to broaden the debate on constructing, imagining and embodying 'the people' and mobilizing 'popular power' on the left. The interdisciplinary approach of Performance Studies which combines social theory and performance practice presents a methodological and analytical challenge to populism. It demonstrates how various performance practices give rise to a people, stressing their role in reshaping politics, institutions, and governments. Combining a performance studies approach with that of political culture, art, and praxis allows us to expand the conversation about left populism towards more specific forms of mobilization, collectivism and politics.

The multifaceted, transnational and partisan approach to the main topic of this conference raises innovative research questions about art and politics, the formation and critique of collective identification, and the relationship between the people and the institutions.

Keynote Speakers

María Esperanza Casullo

When the Body Speaks Before It Even Talks: Populism and Synecdochal Representation

María Esperanza Casullo (Universidad Nacional de Río Negro)

In conversation with Yannis Stavrakakis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

Srećko Horvat

Revolution After the Apocalypse?

Srećko Horvat (Philosopher, Author and Political Activist)

In conversation with Vijay Prashad (Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research)

Keynote Roundtable

Commune: Mobilizing Popular Power from Geo-Political Souths

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson (Highlander Research and Education Center)

Meyby Soraya Ugueto-Ponce (Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research)

Charlie Braxton (Poet, Playwright, Journalist)

Geo Maher (Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

Moderated by Rebecca Struch (University of California, Berkeley)


Conference Schedule

Day 1: Wednesday, 3 November 2021

International Start Times: 08:00 San Francisco — 11:00 New Jersey / Caracas — 12:00 Viedma / São Paulo — 15:00 London — 16:00 Belgrade — Athens 17:00 — 20:30 New Delhi — 02:00 Melbourne

Duration: 4 hours, 5 minutes

Webinar Registration

START TIMESESSION DETAILS

08:00 PDT / 15:00 GMT

Welcome and Introduction

Conference Organisers and Curators:

  • Goran Petrović Lotina (University of Warwick; Sciences Po The Paris Institute of Political Studies)
  • Angela Marino (University of California,Berkeley)

08:15 PDT / 15:15 GMT

Keynote 1: María Esperanza Casullo (Universidad Nacional de Río Negro)

When the Body Speaks Before It Even Talks: Populism and Synecdochal Representation

In conversation with Yannis Stavrakakis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

09:30 PDT / 16:30 GMT

Panel 1: Left-Wing Populist Politics and Social Mobilization

Chair: Igor Štiks (Singidunum University; University of Ljubljana)

10:20 PDT / 17:20 GMT

Break

10:30 PDT / 17:30 GMT

Pop-up Performances

Disrupting the City: Public Speaking As a Performative Political Act

  • Danae Theodoridou (Fontys University of Applied Sciences; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

  • Luc Debouvry and Lisa Loigge (participant of The Practice of Democracy/ An Analogue Campaign)

11:00 PDT / 18:00 GMT

Panel 2: Mobilizing the People Through Artistic Performances

Chair: Milija Gluhović (University of Warwick)

Day 2: Thursday, 4 November 2021

International Start Times: 08:00 San Francisco — 11:00 New Jersey / Caracas — 12:00 Viedma / São Paulo — 15:00 London — 16:00 Belgrade / Zagreb — Athens 17:00 — 20:30 New Delhi — 02:00 Melbourne

Duration: 4 hours, 10 minutes

Webinar Registration

START TIMESESSION DETAILS

08:00 PDT / 15:00 GMT

Keynote 2: Srećko Horvat (Philosopher, Author and Political Activist)

Revolution After the Apocalypse?

In conversation with Vijay Prashad (Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research)

09:15 PDT / 16:15 GMT

Panel 3: Socialist Pasts and Socialist Futures

Chair: Silvija Jestrović (University of Warwick)

10:20 PDT / 17:20 GMT

Break

10:30 PDT / 17:30 GMT

Panel 4: Protest Art and Protest Iconography

Chair: Anneleen Masschelein (University of Leuven)

11:20 PDT / 18:20 GMT

Panel 5: Public Spaces and the Aesthetics of Resistance

Chair: Janelle Reinelt (University of Warwick)

Day 3: Friday, 5 November 2021

International Start Times: 08:00 San Francisco — 11:00 New Jersey / Caracas — 12:00 Viedma / São Paulo — 15:00 London — 16:00 Belgrade — Athens 17:00 — 20:30 New Delhi — 02:00 Melbourne

Duration: 3 hours, 35 minutes

Webinar Registration

START TIMESESSION DETAILS

08:00 PDT / 15:00 GMT

Panel 6: Populism as Performance?

Chair: Michael Saward (University of Warwick)

08:50 PDT / 15:50 GMT

Panel 7: The Popular Versus the People

Chair: Alina Mozolevska (Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolaiv)

09:40 PDT / 16:40 GMT

Break

09:50 PDT / 16:50 GMT

Artist Presentation and Talk: Endangered Human Movements

  • Amanda Piña

10:20 PDT / 17:20 GMT

Keynote Roundtable: Commune: Mobilizing Popular Power from Geo-Political Souths

Moderator: Rebecca Struch (University of California-Berkeley)

  • Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson (Highlander Research and Education Center)

  • Meyby Soraya Ugueto Ponce (Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research: IVIC)

  • Charlie Braxton (Poet, Playwright, Journalist)

  • Geo Maher (Vassar College, Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

11:35 PDT / 18:35 GMT

Closing Remarks


Presenter Bios & Abstracts

Théo Aiolfi

Performing the Populist Repertoire: An Interdisciplinary Reinterpretation of the Stylistic Approach

Among the competing approaches to populism, Moffitt’s conceptualisation of populism as a political style stands out as one of the most thought-provoking and original definitions that emerged from the political science scholarship. However, much of its potential is hindered by its strict disciplinary boundaries, a lack of clarity regarding its central concepts and an inconsistency in developing its main features. In this paper, I will first develop a brief genealogy of the use of style in the literature on populism leading to Moffitt’s most influential iteration of the concept. I will then address some of the most common criticisms to studying populism as a style which, I argue stem from a superficial understanding of the concept. Going back to Moffitt’s definition, I will demonstrate that despite its trailblazing qualities, it suffers from conceptual limitations that need to be addressed. I then argue that the best way to tackle them is by expanding populism beyond the disciplinary boundaries of political science and engaging with it through the angle of performance studies. Demonstrating that this interdisciplinary potential is already latent in Moffitt’s work, I will begin by clarifying the underdeveloped relationship between populism, performance, and performativity. Following this, I will revisit his definition of style by engaging with Taylor (2003)’s tension between the archive and the repertoire and justify why populism embodies the characteristics of the latter. Finally, I will examine what Moffitt described as the three core features of the populist style: an appeal to the people’ against the elite, “bad manners”, and the performance of crisis, breakdown or threat. To bring them clarity and consistency, I offer to reconceptualise them as three performative clusters: performances of identity, transgression, and crisis. I then provide a brief overview of what each of them entails, highlighting my divergences with Moffitt’s definition. Finally, I discuss the importance of acknowledging, and even embracing, the legacy of performance studies for the stylistic definition of populism, discussing how it can enrich both the specialist literature on populism and the growing body of interdisciplinary work combining politics and performance.

Théo Aiolfi is an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, at the University of Warwick. His interdisciplinary research is located at the intersection of politics and performance studies, focusing on the concept of populism as a political style. His thesis comparatively analysed Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns in 2017 and 2016.

Adam Broinowski

‘It Can't Happen Here’ in Contemporary Australia

The stakes have never been higher for humanity to seize the opportunities to develop and act to further popular sovereignty in our societies. Despite the manifest pressures of climate change, environmental despoliation, biodiversity loss, labour exploitation and immiseration, the power of social movements to pressure their governments to avert the worst impacts has been greatly diminished. To be sure, during the last twenty years, the formation of many influential and transnational environmental and social justice groups have staked their claims in the fight against phenomena that pose a collective existential threat to our survival. Yet, in this period also, there has been a pronounced turn in popular movements to the far right, which includes neo-fascist elements.   Propelled by its success in capturing elements of the working classes who feel betrayed and marginalised by democratic political parties who have traditionally represented their interests. The failure of the parties who nominally represent the political left to mount consistent and effective campaigns based on the redistribution of wealth, public spending, greater equality and opportunity to working classes, with the support of corporate-owned mainstream media, ‘woke’ corporatism and corporate ‘green washing’, popular right movements have become more appealing. Combined with state policies which have increased policing and security spending while also further privatising public institutions, the space for an organised popular left has shrunk and the deep and broad impacts are being felt across many societies in myriad ways. Nowhere has this dynamic been more visible than in the United States during the Capitol Hill riots of January 6, 2020.  In this context, propose to examine the text It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. First written as a novel in 1935 and then as a play in 1936, Lewis’ text follows the transformation of an editor of a small-town newspaper and those in his closest circle in Vermont in response to the rapid transformation of a democratically elected populist government to outright military rule. Lewis wrote the story at the critical point at which the Hoover was being replaced by President F. D. Roosevelt and his New Deal economic policies in response to the broad and deep impacts of the Great Depression.  Leaving the intriguing historical details to one side, this paper will reimagine how this story might be adapted for the stage in contemporary Australia. The embattled Liberal National Party led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison currently faces serious problems, some of which include breakouts of the Delta strain of the Coronavirus, retaliatory economic sanctions by the People’s Republic of China, a series of allegations regarding sexual assaults involving Ministers within Parliament, and a plummeting national reputation for intransigence on achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.  In this context, and through the discussion of a fictive adaptation of It Can’t Happen Here to political conditions in contemporary Australia, this paper seeks to contribute to a dramaturgy of a contemporary political theatre of the left. Motivated by the question of why a popular left failed to take the opportunity to oppose the rise of far-right groups around the world, this dramaturgical exploration of this text adapted for contemporary conditions in Australia will outline key creative and theoretical possibilities for rebuilding a popular left movement. 

Dr Adam Broinowski is an Honorary research fellow and lecturer in the School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.  He completed an ARC DECRA research project entitled 'Contaminated Life: 'Hibakusha' in Japan in the Nuclear Age' (DE 130100174) in which he examined the social and cultural responses to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in the context of radiological events since 1945. He earned a PhD from the University of Melbourne and was a research fellow at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, Deakin University and University of Tokyo (Monbukagakusho Fellow). His research and teaching areas include history of empire in Asia, modern and contemporary history of Japan and East Asia, performance, film and media politics, and critical international relations in the Asia-Pacific (particularly energy, ecology and social movements). His recent research monograph is Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) and he has several chapters in edited volumes and articles with leading academic journals. Adam has also been involved in 26 professional theatre/performance productions with inter/national companies as a director, writer and performer since 1994. In 2013, he co-founded a Canberra-based group, Social Repair Service, with dancer and choreographer Emma Strapps.

Paloma Caravantes

The gender and class-based symbolic representation of the ‘people’ and the homeland in Spanish left populism: possible alliances with feminist politics?

In the last decade, numerous populist actors have demanded democratic regeneration to recover national sovereignty, claiming to offer an unmediated representation of ordinary citizens and to protect the homeland against different sorts of elites and outsiders. While a growing scholarship addresses the gender dimension of populism, with an emphasis on the anti-pluralistic and masculinist style of far-right politics, few studies document the gendered and class-based constructions of the political subject in left populist discourses, and the implications for a productive dialogue with feminist politics. This paper analyzes the symbolic construction of the ‘people’ and the homeland in the case of the left populist party Podemos in Spain. Drawing on discursive theories of symbolic representation and feminist affects theories; I explore the gender and class meanings and emotions that Podemos leaders evoke in their representation of these two key elements of populist rhetoric and how they relate to feminist imageries and agendas. Through an intersectional analysis of Podemos’ discursive construction and leaders’ presence and performance in institutional settings, I identify a socio-economic construction of the ‘people’ and a multiplicity of gendered meanings in the party’s formulation of popular sovereignty. Some of these constructions reflect feminist commitments, such as the notion of a “feminist country”, a gender+ analysis of the impact of the 2008 crisis on working classes, and the latest efforts to elect women for the party leadership. While Podemos’ symbolic representation of the ‘people’ and the homeland recognizes a diversity of gendered and class-based subjectivities and feminist ideas, populist symbology poses specific problems to feminist imagery. These include the centeredness of the people as a unitary subject and the homeland as the locus of emotional and political representation, the primacy of personalization and (male) charismatic figures, as well as the affective atmosphere of confrontation projected by the party internal dynamics.

Paloma Caravantes is a researcher and lecturer at Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA). In 2019, she completed her doctoral studies at the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies of Rutgers University. Her research focuses on gender and politics, especially on the relation of populism and feminist politics; the gendered organizational culture of institutional and party politics; and the implementation of intersectionality and gender equality approaches in public policies. Her current research project explores processes of democratization at the local level.

María Esperanza Casullo

In conversation with Yannis Stavrakakis

When the Body Speaks Before It Even Talks: Populism and Synecdochal Representation

Why do populist leaders tend to look a certain way? Why do they often stand out, not just because of their discourse or programmes but because of the way they look, dress, speak or style their hair? These questions should not be discounted as frivolous or superficial. In fact, the transgressive bodily presentation of populist leaders is a key to understanding the formation of a populist bond between leaders and followers. Bodily representation is synecdochal: by personifying their entrance into a space of power that had been previously off-limits, the leader’s body carries with it the presence of her followers in a transgressive manner. The signifying role of bodies should be recognized, and the notion of “discourse” should be expanded to incorporate its bodily manifestation as well. Populist and non-populist cases will be examined, from all sides of the political spectrum."

María Esperanza Casullo is an associate professor at National University of Rio Negro, Argentina. She obtained her PhD in political theory from Georgetown University. Her research focuses on populism, democracy, Latin American politics and gender. She recently published the chapter "Populism as Synecdochal Representation. Understanding the Transgressive Bodily Performance of South American Presidents" in the edited volume "Populism in Global Perspectives". Her most recent book "¿Por qué Funciona el Populismo?" ("Why Does Populism Work") is currently in its fifth edition.

Yannis Stavrakakis studied political science in Athens and discourse analysis at Essex. He has worked at the Universities of Essex and Nottingham and is currently Professor of Political Discourse Analysis at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His research primarily focuses on psychoanalytic political theory and on the analysis of ideology and discourse in late modern societies. He is the author of Lacan and the Political (1999) and The Lacanian Left (2007). More recent publications include his introductory monograph Populism: Myths, Stereotypes and Reorientations (2019) and the edited Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory (2020). He served as vice-president of the Hellenic Political Science Association and was Leverhulme Visiting Professor at Queen Mary University of London (2014-5) and Visiting Professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence (2019). He served as founding co-convener of the Populism Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association (UK) and currently directs the POPULISMUS Observatory: populismus.gr

Sam Čermák 

A Day of Joy: A Slovak Happening in the 1970s as a Utopian Populist Gesture

‘Communism’ and ‘populism’ carry negative connotations in the East-Central European context: whereby communism has become equated to totalitarianism since the 1940s, populism is typically dismissed as merely rhetorical (Laclau, 2005). I argue that performances in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s restaged communism as a community-focused political practice (Bishop, 2012) and populism as a ‘practice that produces a particular result: the formation of a collective political subject – a we-the-people’ (Reinelt, 2020). Through the analysis of Alexander Mlynarčík’s happening entitled A Day of Joy (1971), I examine the potential of performance to mobilize rural communities into a “we-the-people”.  In the politically intense situation of post-Prague Spring Czechoslovakia, A Day of Joy was a large-scale happening in a rural region in Slovakia that involved over 300 citizens from villages of the High Tatra Mountains, domestic and international artists, and railroad workers. Mlynarčík was interested in creating a shared experience between the rural community and urban audience that came for the happening. He used the event as an exploration of the sociocultural function of art and methods for creating art for and with local communities. Mlynarčík’s practice illustrates the ways in which focus on participatory performance-making creates a left popular public. By utilizing the concept of utopian communism, I seek to separate it from the embodied Communist reality of 1970s Czechoslovakia. A Day of Joy demonstrates how the transformation of the second public sphere into a site for collective performance of community creates a utopian communist public by creating ‘a people’ and by doing so challenges the established power structure of Communist Czechoslovakia. As such, Mlynarčík’s happening rehearses a version of communism in which the community is put at the forefront and populism in which a “we-the-people” is created as a collective subjectivity in contrast to the totalitarian reality of 1970s Czechoslovakia. 

Sam Čermák is a doctoral candidate at Queen Mary University of London researching Czech and Slovak performance art from the 1960s to 1989 with a focus on disentangling national identities within art historical narratives. He has a publication forthcoming in Contemporary Theatre Review.

Tom Drayton

‘Unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time’: Anti-Racist Activism and the Performativity of Statues

Building upon Getsy’s (2014) understanding of a statue both depicting a body in space and being a body in space, this article addresses the performativity of statues within an activist framework. Whilst Getsy (2014) proffers that the immediacy of the ‘corporeal relationality’ of a statue is counterpoised by it ‘confronting us with its immotility’, recent protest actions have pushed – sometimes quite literally – the statue to the forefront of protest actions. In manipulating, manoeuvring and marring the immotile, activists have woven the statue – a marble ‘residue of past decisions’ (Caterall, 2020) – into the performativity of protest. This paper explores the performativity of activists’ manipulation of statues from playful anarchism through to urgent political protest. From the 2011 repainting of the Monument to the Red Army in Sofia, Bulgaria, to the toppling of the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, UK, I examine the theatricality of recent protest actions that manipulate the immotility and muteness of statues by placing them in the position of the performer.  Absence – and the threat of absence – is also a concern, regarding recent reactionary protests connected to the populist far right; a white protestor occupying the vacant Colston plinth in an effort to ‘defend war memorials’ (Gogarty, 2020); the protective circle of police surrounding a statue of Winston Churchill - itself hidden from view by ‘protective’ wooden boards. The ‘statue’ (or the absence of the statue) proffers a form of performative pedestal; a stage on which both protests and policing become theatricalised. If BLM is a kairos – a defining moment ‘to engage in constructive dialogue’ (Atuire, 2020) – protest actions that interact with such statues place these monuments in a position in which their authority and immotility is viscerally and physically challenged – revealing the precarity underneath their apparent solidity. This paper offers a performative reading towards this dialogue regarding the interaction between protestors and statues through activists’ repurposing these objects as central ‘characters’ in performative protest.

Dr Tom Drayton is Senior Lecturer in Acting, Performance and Directing at The University of East London, UK. His research concerns international activist theatre and the relationship between contemporary performance, metamodernism and the millennial generation. Most recently, his chapter for Play and Democracy (Routledge, 2021), ‘Can I Join In? Playful Performance and Alternative Political Realities’ focussed on the performative activism of Extinction Rebellion. Tom is also the director of Pregnant Fish Theatre and an associate artist for Project Phakama.

Marina Gržinić and Jovita Privtošek

Space, Movement(s), and the Body of the Community as a New Aesthetics

The global world is organized around the (re)ordering of expendable bodies trapped in (hyper)immobilization and (hyper)violence. In short, we live in a necroscape where life is merely the medium of death (Mbembe 2019). Some are allowed to live, others are killed or left to die. However, the movement is closely linked to acts of imagination in relation to social processes as political and esthetic forms. But what kind of political and performative esthetics do social movements take up when the body is immobilized and the space (of action) is seized? Drawing on a history of various protests - starting with Refugee Protest Camp in Vienna, Austria (2012-2013); #BlackLivesMatter, founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin; the Fallist movement in 2015 - we will also look specifically at the Slovenian anti-government Friday (bicycle) protests, ongoing since 2020, to rethink movements and protests in space. Slovenia is a fascist, xenophobic, homophobic, patriarchal space full of anti-immigrant, anti-Roma, anti-Muslim, and nationalist right-wing populist sentiments; this became more evident with the so-called refugee crisis in the fall of 2015 and accelerated with the COVID -19 pandemic in 2019, which coincided with a major political shift that brought a far-right Slovenian Democratic Party and its leader Janez Janša to power. In our lecture and writings we will analyze the situation, because although agency in Slovenia has fragmented and shrunk, body movements find their forms in performative actions (bicycle ringing in front of government institutions, political speeches, lectures, poetry, burning chairs) and protest art (banners, posters, signs, graffiti, chalk drawings on floors, site-specific installations in front of institutions). These forms seem to be the last resort to give voice and visibility to the disenfranchised, excluded, exploited or neglected by the state.

Marina Gržinić is a philosopher, theorist, and artist based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a prominent contemporary theoretical and critical figure in Slovenia. Since 1993 she has been employed at the Institute of Philosophy at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU). Since 2003, she has also been a full professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria. Gržinić does innovative work in practice research, she is a collaborative video artist, and has been working together with Aina Šmid, an art historian and artist also from Ljubljana, since 1982. 

Jovita Pristovšek is a postdoctoral researcher at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (2021–24) and an assistant professor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Ljubljana. Her area of interest focuses on race and racialization in contemporary regimes of the aesthetic, public, and political. Selection of publications: Stories of Traumatic Pasts: Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Turbo-Nationalism (co-edited with M. Gržinić, S. Uitz, and C. Jauernik, Hatje Cantz, 2020), Opposing Colonialism, Antisemitism, and Turbo-Nationalism: Rethinking the Past for New Conviviality (co-edited with M. Gržinić and S. Uitz, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020), and Strukturni rasizem, teorija in oblast [Structural Racism, Theory, and Power], Sophia, 2019. 

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Meyby Soraya Ugueto-Ponce, Charlie Braxton, and Geo Maher

Commune: Mobilizing Popular Power from Geo-Political Souths

This keynote roundtable brings together activists, artists, and scholars from a variety of geo-political souths to consider the notions of popular power and the commune in relation to populism. Panelists will engage expansively with both the commune and acts of communing as practices of embodied, political mobilization that radicalize democracy and build popular power. Panelists will first share briefly about an aspect of their work in relation to conference themes. The remainder of the roundtable discussion will address what it means to think and act from geo-political souths, and will consider the role of cultural and communal practices in the development of leftist political formations.

Charlie R. Braxton is a noted poet, playwright and cultural critic from Mississippi. His feature articles, essays and reviews on various aspects of hip hop culture in publications such as Beatdown, 4080, Blaze, The Source, Rap Pages, One World, Rime Magazine, Code of the Street (UK), The Pound (Canada), Bbarak Magazine (Czech Republic), One More Robot (Ireland) Rap Sheet, Vibe, XXL, Scratch and Murderdog Magazine. Braxton is the author of three volumes of verse, Ascension from the Ashes (Blackwood Press 1991), Cinder's Rekindled (Jawara Press 2013) and Embers Among the Ashes: Poems in a Haiku Manner (Jawara 2018). In addition, his poems have appeared in numerous literary publications such as African American Review, Cutbanks, Drumvoices Review, Black Magnolias, The Minnesota Review, The San Fernando Poetry Journal, The Black Nation, Massiffe, Candle, Transnational Literary Magazine, Eyeball, Sepia Poetry Review, Specter Magazine and The San Fernando Poetry Journal. Braxton has written two plays. His first play, Artist Doesn't Live Here Anymore was mounted by The Acting Company of Tougaloo in 1984. His second play, Bluesman has been anthologized in the book, Mississippi Writers: Reflections on Childhood and Youth Volume IV, Edited by Dorothy Abbott, University Press of Mississippi (July 1, 1991).

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is an Affrilachian (Black Appalachian) woman from the working class, born and raised in Southeast Tennessee. She is the first Black woman to serve as Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research & Education Center in New Market, TN. As a member of multiple leadership teams in the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), Ash-Lee has thrown down on the Vision for Black Lives and the BREATHE Act. Ash-Lee has served on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly, the advisory committee of the National Bailout Collective, and is an active leader of The Frontline. She is a long-time activist who has done work in movements fighting for workers, for reproductive justice, for LGBTQUIA+ folks, for environmental justice, and more.

Geo Maher is a Philadelphia-based writer, organizer, and educator, who has taught at Vassar College, San Quentin State Prison, and the Venezuelan School of Planning in Caracas. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies (GCAS) and has held visiting positions at the College of William and Mary, NYU's Hemispheric Institute, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He is co-editor of the Duke University Press series Radical Américas, and author of six books: We Created Chávez (Duke, 2013), Building the Commune (Verso, 2016), Decolonizing Dialectics (Duke, 2017), A World Without Police (Verso, 2021), Anticolonial Eruptions (University of California, 2022), and Spirals of Revolt (Common Notions, 2022).

Meyby Soraya Ugueto-Ponce is Afro-Venezuelan, from Caracas, and descendant of free black peoples of Curiepe and La Sabana. She is a researcher and militant in the areas of Afro-diasporic political identities in colonial and postcolonial contexts, and their articulation with religion, the body, food, and social memory. She is also an interpreter, teacher, and researcher of Venezuelan traditional dance. Ugueto-Ponce directs the project "Trama Danza", Collective for Research and Promotion of Afrodiasporic Dances. She is an activist in "Trenzas Insurgentes," a collective of Black, Afro-Venezuelan, and Afro-descendant women. She currently co-coordinates Collaborative Project: Flavors of Afro Memory, which considers race, diet, identity and history of the African diaspora.

Srećko Horvat

In conversation with Vijay Prashad

Revolution After the Apocalypse?

Perhaps the time has come to invert the famous dictum that it's easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. Undoubtedly, "the end of the world," in its various meanings, has become the prevailing Zeitgest and reality of the early 21st century, whether it comes to escapist wet dreams of Silicon Valley, or to various contemporary social movements like Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future. The end of the world as we know it — or Extinction — seems to be our only horizont. The question arises how to go beyond both the fetishism and commodification of the Apocalypse on the one hand, and whether, on the other hand, precisely a new sort of political eschatology can be used as a mobilizing force in the task of going beyond a world-system based on neverending exploitation, extraction and expansion? If there is no kingdom to come, neither on Earth nor on Mars, how can we get to terms with what Günther Anders called the "naked Apocalypse" — or the "Apocalypse without kingdom"? Once eschatologies with a "happy end" — from the Judeo-Christean one to secularized eschatologies of revolutionary movements — become obsolete, what is the meaning and role of Revolution? Even if it seems impossible to imagine the end of capitalism, what if it is precisely by imagining and re-imagining this end — what comes after capitalism? — that we can also arrive at the possibility of a different end of the world.  

Srećko Horvat, born in 1983 in former Yugoslavia (now Croatia), has been called by German weekly Der Freitag "one of the most exciting voices of his generation" and described as "fiery voice of dissent in the Post-Yugoslav landscape." He is a philosopher and political activist, whose writings has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, Newsweek and many other leading international media. In 2008 he co-founded the Subversive Festival in Zagreb where he served as program director until 2013. Since then he has been active in various movements, most notably with DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), co-founded together with Greece's ex-finance minister and economist Yanis Varoufakis in 2016. Besides working across continents in restoring democracy, he has been active in theater for the last decade, leading the Philosophical Theater at the Croatian National Theater (HNK) in Zagreb and cooperating with various theaters across Europe (Burgtheater, Volksbühne, BITEF, etc.). He has published more than 10 books translated into more than 15 languages, most recently After the Apocalypse published in 2021. Other books: Poetry from the Future, What Does Europe Want? (together with Slavoj Žižek), The Radicality of Love, etc.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian and journalist. Prashad is the author of thirty books, including Washington Bullets, Red Star Over the Third World, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He is the Chief Correspondent for Globetrotter and a Columnist for Frontline (India). He is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (New Delhi). He has appeared in two films – Shadow World (2016) and Two Meetings (2017).

Reid Kleinberg

Style, Symptom, Real: A Critique of the Performative Approach to Populism and ‘Paranoia’ in America

This paper initiates a critique of the performative approach to populism by engaging scholarship that mobilize the concept of the ‘paranoid style’ to understand the candidacy and administration of Donald Trump. The term paranoid style was coined by the American political scientist Richard Hofstadter to describe robust right-wing, third-party support during the mid-1900’s in the US. I take issue with the effectiveness of the paranoid style to be used as (1) an explican of Trump’s resonance with and grip on the American politics between 2016-2021 and (2) the use of this explican to justify labeling the Trump campaign and presidency as ‘populist’. The grounds for my disapproval are partially disciplinarian; the Essex School of Discourse Analysis maintains populism is defined by a formal pattern of organization rather than the display of an aesthetic or communicative quality. The overt emphasis on aesthetics found in the performative approach raises skepticism about its ability to penetrate to and grapple with the ‘deeper’ relations between the political-economic structure of American society and the emergence of Trump’s movement- the ontological existence of the Trump phenomenon. I first introduce Hofstadter’s term and explain how it has been re-deployed by the performative approach to populism. Next, I suggest an alternative and more fruitful understanding of the ‘paranoid style’ can be found in Fred Jameson’s reading of this phenomena in the ‘paranoia film’ genre and subsequent theorization of post-modernism’s relation to capitalism. Taking Jameson’s understanding of the ‘paranoid style’ as a symptom of late-capitalism as a springboard, and drawing from Slavoj Zizek’s psychoanalytic approach to American democracy, I re-describe our epistemological desire and difficulty understanding Trump itself as a form of paranoia. Finally, with this assessment of the paranoid style and American politics in hand, I conclude by addressing whether or not Trump was a ‘populist’ and judge the strengths and weaknesses of the performative approach.

Reid Kleinberg is a PhD candidate at the University of Essex’s Centre for Ideology and Discourse Analysis. His research interest lie in continental philosophy, contemporary left-wing politics, and the fate of the nation-state in our globalizing world. His doctoral research pursues the question, through the perspective of post-structuralist discourse theory and contemporary political theory, of what normative and strategic problems arise when left-populist movements attempt to articulate the 'nation' as empty signifiers or privileged nodes in their discourse. He is studying this theoretical enigma through the case of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's 2017 presidential campaign in France.

Jason Luger and Zihan Loo

“I am the people”: Performing Solitary Resistance as Anti-Authoritarian Populism

What happens when the embodiment of the “people” is reduced to a single entity? In this paper, we offer a postcolonial critique of normative portrayals of left-populism1 and the (false) liberal vs. illiberal binary, through two transnational examples. The first examines tactics of protest by Singaporean activists restricted by the Public Order Act, which constitutes a one-person protest as an illegal public assembly. In response to these regulations, climate activists in Singapore adopt a method of dissipated solo protests holding up cardboard signs in solidarity with the Fridays for Futures global student movement, calling for a collective “we” in the face of climate change. This paper tracks the State’s response and other activists’ counter responses, where the cardboard sign as signifier is emptied and trans(muted) across time in its digitally-viral and gestural forms. These oneperson protests mercurially embody both authoritarian-neoliberal subjectivity while appearing to hold the state accountable for its actions without a unifying, collective demand. Our second example(s) are the solitary activist performances of sharing photos of anti-Covid-lockdown signs in contexts like the UK and USA. In this case, the collective action is made diffuse by social-distancing restrictions on public assembly, and the “we” is generated through individuals’ sharing images of cardboard signs on social media. As with the Singaporean case, the unifying issue is an anti-authoritarian populism that transcends easy bifurcations of ‘left’ or ‘right’ and is stripped of either a clear critique of capitalism, or, any specific social justice issue, other than an individualized conception of ‘freedom’. Substantively, we suggest that these transnational comparisons, linked in their shared materiality of cardboard as ephemera and examined through a postcolonial lens, challenge normative portrayals of left-versus-right populism, and trouble assumptions about authoritarianism and conventional logics of liberalism that are used to decode them.

Jason Luger, PhD is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. His work explores questions of urban space and politics, in comparative contexts. Specifically, he probes the way that activism, authoritarianism and illiberalism shape, and are shaped by, offline and online urban environments and encounters, drawing from field-research conducted in Southeast Asia, the US, and the UK. 

Zihan Loo is a queer artist from Singapore and a PhD student at UC Berkeley in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Zihan’s research focuses on distended and pragmatic gestures of resistance under “illiberal” regimes. His practice and research strives to reconcile the tension between the flesh of the body with the bone of the archive. He was awarded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council of Singapore.

Alina Mozolevska

Rhetoric of Indignation and Performance in Discourse of Populist Parties Podemos and the Servant of the People

Nowadays it is impossible to talk about contemporary politics without mentioning the term “populism” that has become the center of political and critical debate. This socio-political phenomenon is considered as one of the markers of the transformation of the modern democracy (G. Fitzi) that not only defines the relationships between the people and the sovereign state but also can drive profound changes of geopolitical space. The proliferation of populist discourses in Europe is tightly related to recent global challenges such as globalization or migration crisis, but is also accelerated by regional problems, social inequality and spatial disequilibria (K. Aiginger). In this paper we would like to focus on the driving forces of political mobilization in the left-wing European populist discourse. We will compare main discursive and performative strategies of Spanish Podemos and Ukrainian Servant of the People. These parties are relatively new in politics (Podemos was created in 2014, Servant of the People in 2019) but already represent a strong political force in their countries (Podemos is third voted party and Servant of the People represents the majority in Ukrainian parliament). They both exploit the deep sense of disappointment in the power institutions and the distrust in the old system that partially explain their success. Following questions will be explored: What are the main narratives that are used to build the antagonism between the people and the elite? What is the role of performative practices in Spanish and Ukrainian populism? What are the main traits of their public discourses? How main populist narratives are articulated/performed by their leaders Pablo Iglesias and Volodymyr Zelensky?

Alina Mozolevska is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philology at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. She holds a PhD in Linguistics with a major in Romance Languages from Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, Ukraine (2014).  She is a member of the Association des professeurs de Français d'Ukraine and La Asociación de Hispanistas de Ucrania. Her research interests include Media Studies, Border studies, Critical Discourse Analysis, and Text Linguistics.

Sara Mello Neiva

Palmares, a "theatre of the masses" in Brazil: Analysis of the 1944 Performance, During the Populist Period of Getúlio Vargas

The work will present aspects of the play Palmares, presented in Rio de Janeiro in 1944, at the end of the Estado Novo (1937-1945). The years of Getúlio Vargas' government are part of a national moment of interest in the national matter, in the search for the Brazilian people. It is when the myth of racial democracy was consolidated. In parallel, at this beginning of mass politics in Brazil, with the rising of the cities - with migration from the countryside - and the formation of the proletariat, new sectors began to participate in political life, straining the traditional ruling elite. Palmares seems representative of this moment. It is probably the greatest example of what Paschoal Carlos Magno, creator of the Teatro do Estudante do Brasil (Brazilian Student Theatre), was aiming at as the “Theatre of the Masses”. At the same time it marks the first appearance of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theatre), founded by Abdias do Nascimento that same year, with purposes of social valorization of the black population. The last act was a creation of the writer Stella Leonardos based on an unfinished project of the abolitionist poet Castro Alves (1847-1871) of a dramaturgy about the Republic of Palmares, a quilombo - refuge of enslaved Africans - which lasted for over a century (from the 16th century to 1695). This act featured 80 black performers from the Teatro Experimental do Negro, mobilised by Abdias do Nascimento. There were more than 400 people on stage, the performances were free and subsidised by Getúlio Vargas, attempting to bring together students and other sections of society. Such experience seems to conjugate some contradictory and revealing elements for the debates on culture in Brazil, mobilising categories such as nationalism, people and populism.

Sara Mello Neiva is a PhD candidate at the Performing Arts Program of the University of São Paulo (USP) and holds a Master's degree from the same program. She has a bachelor's degree in Performing Arts from University of Campinas (UNICAMP). She was awarded a CAPES scholarship (Brazilian Government funding agency) to do part of her PhD as a Visiting Student Researcher for six months at the University of Glasgow. She worked as an assistant director and researcher for the political theatre group Companhia do Latão, was an actress in the stage reading of Zumbi dos Palmares and is currently part of the theatre group Mancala, rehearsing Akin or The seeds of Mancala, a play about the childhood of a black boy in a peripheral neighbourhood. 

Amanda Piña

Endangered Human Movements

Endangered Human Movements is the title of a long-term art based research project, started in 2014. The project focuses on human movement practices, which have been cultivated for centuries all over the world. 

Within this frame, a series of performances, workshops, films, installations, talks, publications and a comprehensive online archive are developed, in which ancestral embodied practices -movements, dances and forms of world-making, re-appear in the context of theatre, museum and beyond. This re-appearance entails a movement towards decolonizing contemporary art and cultural practices by introducing critical perspectives from the fields of sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, visual arts, dance, choreography and contempo-traditional indigenous Amerindian knowledge. The latter encompassing not only contemporary shamanism, but also orally transmitted knowledge, social knowledge about the body, about movement and touch, about healing, about plants, about perception, about the interconnectedness of life forms, and about ritual diplomatic knowledge applied to the relationship with other beings.  The fifth volume of the research deals with ancestral forms of relation between humans and mountains, which are embodied through dance and rituals of reciprocity, specifically in the Northern Highland of Puebla Mexico and in the Andes of Chile.  In this presentation Amanda Piña gives an insight into her art-based research and artistic work, focusing on the fifth volume of her research titled Danzas Climáticas and on eco-somatic practices, as a possibility of rehearsing a decolonial ecology. Throughout the lecture, she unpacks the political implications of embodied practices in the frame of the so called Anthropocene.

Amanda Piña is a Chilean- Mexican Artist living in Vienna and Mexico City. Her work is concerned with the decolonization of art, focusing on the political and social power of movement, temporarily dismantling ideological separations between contemporary and traditional, human and animal, nature and culture. Her work has been presented in institutions such as Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain Paris, Kunsthalle Wien and MUMOK Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, Kunsten Festival des Arts Brussels, Royal festival Hall London, Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico and Festival Santiago a Mil, Chile. She is a research fellow at the department of Theatre, Dance and Performance at Amsterdam University of the Arts. 

Sian Rees

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Staging Popular Power through Performative Objects

The Emperor is naked. We know the Emperor is naked, yet it is easiest for us to imagine him dressed. We are complicit in this. This is our norm. We need an interruption in the everyday to make strange our normality, for us to see his nudity. This paper proposes that performative objects play a critical role in mobilizing and sustaining social movements. First, in alerting us to performances of power that we deem normal and rarely have the opportunity to question.1 Second, in affording participants affective opportunities to embody and perform dissent as a collective. Performative objects act as dramaturgical framing devices, theatricalizing the social, political, economic, and the everyday, presenting opportunities to subvert prevailing performances of power. Although often overlooked as props, it is the object of the yellow umbrella (Hong Kong, 2014), the blank paper (Hong Kong, 2020), the XR pink boat (UK, 2019), which transforms familiar protest repertoire into something far more potent. In a mediatized society, where images are critical modes of communication, performative objects may amplify dissenting voices and communities to wider audiences through social media. This paper considers the efficacy of performative objects in protests which are designed with strategy and affect in mind. It explores objects in climate justice protests, Extinction Rebellion, (2019;2021), the Black Lives Matter movement (2014; 2020), and the gender justice movement (2014-2021). Such objects have a critical affective dimension, empowering participants, whilst exposing and undermining power in sustainable, accessible, and memorable ways. Such objects pose authorities with a dilemma in how to respond under increased media scrutiny: using a rubber duck as a shield against teargas highlights the protesters’ plight and disproportionate authority response. Performative objects, therefore, may heighten awareness of unseen performances of power and even act to empower and mobilize us.

Sian Rees is a Senior Lecturer in Acting & Performance at the University for the Creative Arts. She is a researcher and practitioner with particular interest in engaging with interdisciplinary Practice as Research projects relating to Theatrical Dissent. She completed her AHRC PhD, Theatricalizing Dissent: An Examination of the Methodology and Efficacy of Performance in Contemporary Political Protest (Goldsmiths, 2018). Her work explores Guerrilla Performance, play as resistance, and Temporary Autonomous Zones. She also has varied industry experience as a performer, theatre-maker, director and dramaturg; engaging in a range of political performances, new writing projects, site-specific works, and digital artworks.

Lorenzo Santoro

The Refusal of Black Populism: Ideology and Epistemology in Sun Ra’s Musical and Intellectual Performances

The pianist, composer and band director Sun Ra played a key role in the American Avant-garde from 60s to 80s.. Already in the sixties he abandoned any interest in the African-American identity, elaborating not only the idea of an African futurism, but also propelling clearly unpolitical and esoteric positions. His ability to claim religious, social and political notions far from the Western tradition was confirmation of an artistic and social commitment that did not hide its absolute originality. Sun Ra's performances on the stages of the 70s both in the United States and in the GDR, as in all of Europe and Japan, are a manifestation of completely original sociability and capable of consciously denying fundamental values of the political and social debate of the time. Through an analysis of his writings and his musical performances, the fundamental themes in this sense will be highlighted. For example, the rejection of a collective dimension of "people" is very important both with regard to African-Americans and Americans themselves, and the rejection of traditional historical narratives regarding the birth of the United States, and the advent of modern nation states, and his disregard concerning the role of traditional religions have played in this context. His interest in alternative forms of musical performance is intended to question traditional divisions in knowledge about oral and written culture, and the attempts that were made from opposite positions to achieve identity bonds in this sense. The proposal is intended to highlight these positions, focusing attention not only on the social and political context of reference, but also on the musical and social practices of his orchestra, completely original compared to those used in jazz or avant-garde orchestras of the time.

In recent years Lorenzo Santoro has worked intensively in the Italian, Vatican and German archives. He taught in some universities in Italy, Germany, UK and France, and is currently serving as associate fellow at Hannah-ArendtInstitut für Totalitarismusforschung (Germany). He produced 2 volumes, one about Italian Fascism, the other about Music and Politics in Italy, 15 articles and 47 talks in international conferences. His study about music and politics convinced him of the importance of performance in the analysis of the historical discourse. At the moment he is working in the investigation of the Vatican relations to GDR and Baltic States.

David Sheinin

Peronist Mechanics of a Vanished Past: The Argentina Pavilion at the 2015 World’s Fair

A final international performative act of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presidential administration was the staging of the Argentina Pavilion at the 2015 World’s Fair in Milano. A veteran of theatrical populism, the Fernández de Kirchner administration had orchestrated multiple shock performances. These included the guerrilla filming in 2012 of an Argentine athlete illicitly training for the Olympics in the British-held Falkland Islands. The brainchild of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency, the message of the film advertisement was not only that Argentina would be ready for the Olympics; in an unstated, sombre reference to the 1982 Falklands War, Argentina was again prepared to reclaim the islands. Compared the World’s Fair glory days of the 1960s and 1970s, Milan 2015 was a notorious bust. It drew few visitors, few pavilions, and little government financing of pavilion buildings. Even so, the Argentine government invested millions of dollars and significant political capital in its pavilion, the highlight of which was a visit during the fair of the Argentine president herself. For some, the performance of Peronist populism at the fair was incongruous. As Fernández de Kirchner’s presidential term came to a close in the months following the Fair, part of her legacy included a legendary conflict with small and large agricultural producers, and a public distancing from Peronist movement founder, Juan Perón. Yet, pavilion messaging combined a celebration of a past Argentine agricultural triumphal optimism with a nostalgic imaging of the industrial worker, represented in pavilion employees dressed as 1950s Argentine factory workers. What did kirchnerismo hope to achieve in its last great performance on the world stage?

David M. K. Sheinin is professor of History and director of the History Graduate Program at Trent University. He is the winner of the Trent University Distinguished Research Award (2017) and served the university's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada mentor from 2015 to 2020. A member of the Argentine National Academy of History, David has held the J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship in American History (Library of Congress/American Historical Association) and has served as the Edward Larocque Tinker Visiting Professor in Latin American History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published seventeen books, the most recent of which are Race and Transnationalism in the Americas (co-edited with Benjamin Bryce, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021) and Armed Jews in the Americas (co-edited with Raanan Rein, Brill, 2021).

Igor Štiks

The Aesthetics of Defeat: from Melancholy to Mobilisation

“I examine cases of activist aesthetics in the artistic acts, practices, and works related to contemporary political and social activism of progressive and left-wing movements and groups in the post-Yugoslav region. In order to understand the variety of activist aesthetics, including contemporary art, performance, choir recitals, theatre, poetry, mural painting, cinema, and protest art, as well as the influence of anti-fascist and socialist heritage, I refer to Hans-Thies Lehmann’s distinction between the aesthetics of resistance and the aesthetics of rebellion. I further develop Lehmann’s two aesthetics to account for the specificity of the post-Yugoslav region and I show how artists and activists could productively use and combine both aesthetics. Furthermore, to understand the specific post-socialist and post-Yugoslav situation, I introduce the aesthetics of defeat that is directly related to the destruction of Yugoslav socialist heritage in economy, society and culture, and its consequences. The unavoidable melancholic gaze upon the ruins of socialism is observable in a series of artistic performances, theatre shows and documentary films that I present in my paper, as well as in many social actions. More importantly, one can also see how in some instances melancholy becomes a part of activist mobilization”

Igor Štiks is professor at the Faculty of Media and Communications in Belgrade and senior research fellow at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. He is the author of Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship (Bloomsbury, 2015) and co-editor of Citizenship after Yugoslavia (with Jo Shaw, Routledge, 2013), Citizenship Rights (with Jo Shaw, Ashgate, 2013), and Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism: Radical Politics after Yugoslavia (with Srećko Horvat, Verso, 2015). Recently, with K. Stojaković, he published The New Balkan Left: Struggles, Successes, Failures (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, 2021). His novels, A Castle in Romagna and The Judgment of Richard Richter (originally published as Elijah's Chair) won numerous awards and have been translated into 15 languages.

Danae Theodoridou, Luc Debouvry, and Lisa Loigge

Disrupting the City: Public Speaking As a Performative Political Act

This panel draws on the performance project The Practice of Democracy/An Analogue Campaign, which asks citizens (non-art professionals) in different European cities to create and perform publicly unannounced speeches on democracy and social coexistence, following a performance score that guides participants to an embodied, sensorial approach to democracy as a notion and practice. The presentation brings together two speakers/participants of the Analogue Campaign and its maker, including fragments from two of speeches created in the frame of the project and a discussion on participatory performance frames as possible modes of resistance against the severe crisis of democracy and social imagination western societies face today. R. Schneider discusses democracy through the bodily practices of Athenian citizens in ancient Greece. In these terms, she defines democracy as the act of “appearing to others as other appear” (2017), arguing for the interdependency of performance and the practice of democracy. Based on her ideas, the panel approaches public speaking and the appearance of the singular body in front of many -an intrinsically democratic practice- as a performance act able to give visible forms to ‘public space’ and ‘public time’, in the way C. Castoriadis has discussed them. The argument here is that by grounding democracy and public speaking back to the materiality of the body, by approaching it also via the senses and sentiment, and by constructing artificial micro-assemblies able to retrain us into Castoriadis’ three main traits of public speaking (aidos=shame, parrhesia=courage and responsibility), performance manages to open space for new social imaginaries, other than the dominant capitalist ones, in ways that are otherwise not possible.

Danae Theodoridou is a performance maker and researcher based in Brussels. The last years, her artistic work focuses on the notion of social imaginaries, the practice of democracy and the way art can contribute to the emergence of social and political alternatives. Danae teaches in Fontys University of Applied Sciences (NL) and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (GR), curates practice-led research projects and presents and publishes her research work internationally.

Luc Debouvry has been a teacher of primary education and has also worked as an engineer and supplier (materials management) for the Belgian Navy. He has lived in Oostende for the last forty years. He knows the Belgian coast well because he has lived in most of its cities, by the sea. Since 2015, Luc is retired but he still lacks time to perform all the dreams and ideas he realises in his head. He has been a participant of Danae Theodoridou's project The Practice of Democracy/An Analogue Campaign in Ostend in 2021.

Lisa Loigge is a twenty-two-year-old geosciences student from the south of Styria, Austria. She is an amateur actress who takes part in theatre plays and performances in Graz and was part of Danae Theodoridou's project The Practice of Democracy/An Analogue Campaign in Graz in 2020.

Aiswary Walvekar

In The Name of Shivaji: Tracing the Possibilities of Alternative Populism in Maharashtra Through Contesting Genealogies of Performance

The emergence of right-wing populism in India can be traced by examining mobilizations through popular events, where collective memory is recasted by commemorating and reconstructing a historical figure. This paper analyses one such ‘popular’ reconstruction of a seventeenth century Maratha king from the western state of Maharashtra, Chhatrapati Shivaji. Performed since 1985 to present, the open-air spectacle of Janata Raja, a community play written and directed by B. M. Purandare, partially derived from community performances in London and Italy in the 1970s, consists of 250 performers, animals, fully recorded sound and dialogues, a revolving set, and fireworks. Drawing from Janelle Reinelt’s analysis of the interplay between performance, populism and politics, the proposed paper examines embodiment through the participatory nature of the play as well as the use of recording to technology to offer a critique of the construction of a populist Hindutva collective by othering the community of Muslims.  Against the backdrop of such a popular play, the paper maps the possibilities of alternative populisms emerging through contesting genealogies of the performance of Shivaji from the Dalit and minority castes and communities. The production of Ranga Mala’s Shivaji Underground In Bhimnagar Mohalla, performed by farmers from Jalna district, attempts to construct a rational collective by creating affective bonds citing performative genealogical links and deconstructing the right-wing appropriations of Shivaji. By employing the frameworks of genealogies of performance (Roach, 1996) and the concept of historical memory, the paper will analyse the larger cracks in the conception of ‘popular’ and interrogate the possibilities of populism by deconstructing the creative processes of populism which, by dividing the Indian society, builds on the anxieties of the postcolonial-modern as well as neoliberal subjectivities.

Aishwarya Walvekar is a research scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, pursuing MPhil/PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics. She has been awarded the Junior Research Fellowship by the Government of India and has completed the Sahapedia-UNESCO Fellowship in 2018-19. She has been practicing commercial as well as experimental theatre and devising solo productions for the last 17 years. Currently, along with academics, she works as a research assistant at the Alkazi Theatre Archive in New Delhi.

Brad Wright

Remembering the People: Popular Education, Culture, and Class in 1980s Urban Mexico

This paper examines contested notions of lo popular and el pueblo in late-twentieth century Mexico. Based on oral histories and archival research into the urban popular movement in Guadalajara—the country’s second biggest city—I focus on understandings of “the people” and “popular” during the 1980s. The neoliberal authoritarian state in Mexico coopted the language of “democracy” and “solidarity” animating urban popular movements and continued to insist it allied itself with “the people.” States and political parties claiming to represent the masses were nothing new, but how did the lower-class majorities construct the concepts in everyday life and social practice? How did social movements understand and use those terms? The “lost decade” of the 1980s in Mexico saw an economic crisis paralleled by the fortification and expansion of the popular education movement. The Freirian movement and liberationist Christianity circulating around the Americas since the late 1960s galvanized local struggles on the Left and established transnational pieces of movement infrastructure that continue to impact struggles for democracy and human rights. The emerging historiography on post-1968 Mexico has not yet registered Freirian popular education. My research tracks the influence of popular education on a political imaginary and culture, with Guadalajara as case study. Centering the uses of popular communication tools by movements in 1980s Mexico, we can read the historical development of political subjectivities, individual and collective. Popular theater, music, and street newspapers helped shape a political culture of critical analysis, broad participation, and democratic processes in colonias populares where the urban popular movement took root. During this period of transition to neoliberal rule with its corresponding social fragmentation, music, theater, and street newspapers promoted solidarity and class formation in lower-class sectors of the city. Experiences in Guadalajara are essential for situating Mexico within a transnational history of Freirian popular education. 

Brad Wright is a historian of Latin America whose research focuses on late-twentieth century Mexico. He holds a PhD in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, with specialization in oral history. He is the author of “Puras Mujeres: Women’s Leadership in Santa Cecilia Base Communities, Guadalajara, Mexico, 1968-1985,” in the new edited volume Liberation Theology and the Others: Contextualizing Catholic Activism in 20th Century Latin America (Lexington 2021); co-author with Noemí Gómez of “Bonds of Suffering, Bonds of Hope: The Story of a Priest Committed to the Poor” (The Latin Americanist, June 2019); and is working on a book manuscript titled, “Counternarratives of Doña Lucha: Class, Gender, and Power in Mexico’s Urban Popular Movement (1965-1994).” He is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Kennesaw State University, and taught previously at Tennessee State, Colorado Mesa, Cumberland, and Middle Tennessee State universities.


Acknowledgments

Organisational Committee

Goran Petrović Lotina (University of Warwick)

Goran Petrović Lotina is an author, scholar, and curator who has published widely on the interplay between art, politics, and theory. He studied in Ghent, Paris, and Belgrade. Currently, he is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Warwick and Lecturer at Sciences Po: The Paris Institute of Political Studies. Petrović Lotina is Founder and Co-curator of Fogo Island Film, in Newfoundland, Canada, and a member of l'Association internationale des critiques d'art. He finds inspiration in post-Marxist theories of discourse theory, hegemony, conflict, and pluralism, and envisages tension as a guiding philosophical, political, and artistic force. Recently, he wrote a book Choreographing Agonism. Politics, Strategies and Performances of the Left (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Exploring the political and philosophical roots of a number of recent leftist civil movements, the book forcefully argues for a re-imagining of artistic performance as an instrument of democracy capable of contesting a dominant politics.

Théo Aiolfi (University of Warwick)

Théo Aiolfi is an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, at the University of Warwick. His interdisciplinary research is located at the intersection of politics and performance studies, focusing on the concept of populism as a political style. His thesis comparatively analysed Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump's presidential campaigns in 2017 and 2016.

Angela Marino (University of California, Berkeley)

Angela Marino is author of Populism and Performance in the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela (Northwestern University Press, 2018); co-editor of Festive Devils in the Americas (Seagull Press/University of Chicago Press, 2015) and is published in the Latin American Theater Review (2008); Harvard Revista (2014); e-misférica Journal of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics (2013); and Cultural Anthropology (2014). Prof. Marino works as faculty with the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also Affiliate Faculty with the Latinx Research Center, and is advisor to the Teatro Lab project, an ensemble of community-engaged popular theater. More information on teaching, research projects, and publications can be found at angelamarino.net

Rebecca Struch (University of California, Berkeley)

Rebecca Struch is a theatre artist, educator, organizer, and scholar with a commitment to popular mobilization through participatory practice. Her current project troubles assumptions about the relationship between affective bonds in performance and political bonds in civil society. In addition to her academic work, she developed a community-based theatre program at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, trained M.F.A. acting students in citizen artistry, serves on the board of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, and is currently the Assistant Editor of Theatre Survey. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and holds an M.A. in Applied Theatre Arts from the University of Southern California.

Steering Committee

John Burden, Milija Gluhović, Ramón Grosfoguel, Silvija Jestrović, Shirin Rai, Shannon Steen

Special Acknowledgments

Myriam Cotton, Ben Dillon, Jean-Paul Gressieux

Partnership

Performance and Populism: Mobilization, Popular Power and Embodiment on the Left is organized in partnership between the Institute of Advanced Study, the School of Creative Arts, Performance and Visual Cultures, the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, and the Politics and Performance Network of the University of Warwick, and the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies of the University of California, Berkeley.

Sponsorship

European Union FlagThis conference has been conceived and co-organised by Goran Petrović Lotina, as part of his IAS WIRL-COFUND fellowship, jointly funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (under the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions COFUND scheme; grant agreement number 713548) and the University of Warwick.

This conference has been co-organised by Angela Marino and co-funded by the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies of the University of California, Berkeley.

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