Weird: Political thinking on the fringes of ignorance
Brian Callan (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Paper short abstract:
Taking the case of Israelis engaged in 'Solidarity Activism' this paper argues that their activism grew out of repeated 'weird encounters'. Weirdness is an affect which describes the failure of hegemonic expectations, reveals the fringes of ignorance and allows doubt and political dissent to emerge.
Paper long abstract:
The fringes of knowledge are strange and discomforting places. Social practices, values and norms don't quite fit with what we've come to expect. Anthropologists have long realised that no one 'stands alone directly confronting a world of solid facts' (Wright Mills, 1967), rather we interpret life through the hegemonic system of acculturated meanings. A feeling of Weirdness arises when the world we encounter fails to accord with our acculturated expectations. It represents the limits of our understanding, the fringes of our ignorance. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with Jewish 'Solidarity Activists' in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, this paper argues that repeated 'weird encounters' help foster political thinking and allow for the emergence of critique and collective action. Such fleeting, disingenuous occurrences may leave only trace affects but they can also reveal disjunctures between the professed liberal polity in Israel's hegemonic narrative and its illiberal social practices with regards to Palestinians. The moment of weirdness does not cause shame or moral outrage but it does cause us to pause, to think, perhaps to wonder why. Yet just as Arendt (1971) saw thinking as a crucial political faculty which causes us to doubt the 'common-sense' world, the feeling of weirdness can also cause us to doubt the veracity of the hegemonic discourse. By highlighting the cracks in the patina of acculturated understanding, weirdness reveals the fringes our ignorance, opening the way for creative agency and transformative action.
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