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Accepted Paper:

Inside/Outside Liberal Aspirations: Critical Reflection, Radical Politics, and the Will to Be Otherwise  
Natalie Morningstar (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how a group of radical Irish artist-activists invoke and challenge the liberal values of freedom and agential will. I suggest that my informants' will to be otherwise, and the value they place on detached critical reflection, exists at once inside/outside liberal aspirations.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents analysis of Irish anarcho-communist artist-activists' simultaneous invocation and refusal of the liberal values of freedom and agential will. Drawing on theorisations of positive and negative freedom (Berlin 1969), and on recent anthropological approaches to freedom as aspiration of the ethical self (Laidlaw 2014), I consider whether freedom and agential will, as ethnographic grammars of 'actually existing' liberalism (cf. Collier 2005), offer a path toward thinking beyond the 'false opposition' between structure and agency (Baumann and Gingrich 2004).

In keeping with Collier's (2012) critique of neoliberalism as overly 'structuring' explanatory Leviathan, I advocate a recentring of ethnographic insight on the ways in which the 'advanced liberal' agential citizen-subject (Rose et al. 2006) might at once invoke and challenge the practicability of exercising a will toward freedom. To this extent, I explore how my informants' arts practice and anti-neoliberal activism require existing 'inside/outside' classically liberal aspirations (Yurchak 2013). I argue that it is precisely the fact that they characterise freedom as 'the will to be otherwise' (Povinelli 2012), and the critical work of questioning as the extent to which one might 'get free of oneself' (Foucault 1990), that allows them to sidestep the totalizing structural work that 'neoliberalism' often accomplishes.

I suggest, then, that what is at stake in comparatively recentring everyday liberal grammars is also what is at stake in my informants' art/activism: namely, the extent to which behemoth explanatory and political categories prophetically foreclose the work of detached critique, itself a legacy of liberalism.

Panel P137
The roads to freedom? Liberal grammar in translation
  Session 1 Friday 17 August, 2018, -