Accepted Paper:

Rethinking political subjectivities amidst the ongoing crises of liberal democracy  


James Sevitt (The Graduate Center, City University of New York)

Paper short abstract:

This paper broadens the scope of what it means to be “political” by exploring: What constitutes “political participation” amidst ongoing social, economic and political crises and transformations? What futures are being imagined, and how are they shaped by past experiences and present struggles?

Paper long abstract:

The upheavals of Brexit and Trump have greatly destabilized the UK, Europe, and the US, exposing and exacerbating deep divides and resentments several decades in the making: between neglected peripheries who have lost out from globalization and metropolitan centers who have gained from it, between those with college degrees and those without, and between black, brown and white communities. This paper draws from my ongoing dissertation fieldwork in Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys, which focuses on Wales as a particular case study of how political and "infrapolitical" subjectivities are shaped by, shaping and emerging from the contemporary crisis conditions and contradictions of liberal democracies across the globe, in which centrist politics is unraveling, far-right and left-wing populist movements are gaining strength, and crises of social reproduction and oppositional politics are intensifying. While much research is understandably focused on the growth of populist social and political movements, critically, my project extends this research by attending to emergent and less visible subjectivities of individuals feeling discontent with the establishment, but whose disaffection stirs beneath and on the edges of conventional "political" forms. This paper illuminates ambivalent feelings and viewpoints often covered over by "spectacular moments" of democratic participation (e.g. referendums, elections and protests) that reduce complex positions to binary choices between being either "for" or "against," "yes" or "no." Further, it highlights how individuals in motion around social movements and political events are more privately negotiating complex dilemmas, expressing and envisioning desires, and grappling with life-choices and political imaginaries during a time of great uncertainty.

Panel WIM-WHF01
Hope, futures and worldmaking: critical anthropology beyond the tropes of suffering