Crisis, Critique and Futurity
Maria Boletsi & Eva Fotiadi
Anthi Argyriou, Carolyn Birdsall, Nermin Elsherif, Marianna Georgouli, Efi Giannetopoulou, Geli Mademli, Gabriela Maneva, Herbert Ploegman, Ermelinda Xheza
Description of theme and program of the research group
The term ‘crisis’ is currently omnipresent in public rhetoric as a qualifier for global and local challenges. The environmental crisis, the global financial crisis, the European debt crisis, the refugee crisis, the uprisings and revolutions of the ‘Arab Spring’ and the political and humanitarian crises in their aftermath, are all events and phenomena brought under the rubric of this term. While a real industry of popular and scholarly crisis-texts has recently emerged, crisis is often taken as a given: a descriptive designation of a state or event. The ‘Crisis, Critique and Futurity’ group draws attention to crisis as a normative qualifier, a contested, multifaceted concept, and a framing that enables certain narratives of the present while excluding others.
Historically, crisis has assumed many, often contradictory, meanings: e.g., it can signify choice, decision, judgment, critique, illness, rupture or turning point, and can designate either an objective state or a subjective diagnosis. As a concept for conceptualizing history itself, crisis in modernity can signal a deviation from the ‘normal’ course, a radical turn, a transitional phase or a chronic state. Although our group centers mostly on contemporary crisis-scapes, its members engage with historical uses of the concept and their resonance today. Questions the group addresses include how frameworks of crisis:
- trigger conjurations of the past and the (nostalgic, revivalist, romanticized, revolutionary or critical) attitudes accompanying such conjurations
- emplot the present
- shape public space and urban or rural landscapes
- promote particular conceptions of subjectivity, civic responsibility and agency
- mobilize affects
- produce experiences of temporality and visions of futurity
- hinge on certain regimes of representation that raise questions on aesthetics and ethics (e.g., in representations of the refugee crisis).
Although ‘crisis rhetoric’ today often precludes political alternatives and minimizes dissent, crisis-scapes have also spurred attempts to imagine the present and future differently and develop radical imaginaries and alternative ‘languages’: modes of speaking, looking, and acting that challenge ‘crisis’ as a master narrative premised on a judgment of failure (Roitman) and foster different modes of community-building. By exploring the link of crisis with its cognate, critique, scholars in this group trace how crisis-scapes yield possibilities for change, contestation of dominant paradigms, and alternative narratives. The focus is on art, cinema, literature, innovative protest practices, and cultural or social initiatives that turn crisis into an occasion for critique or for thinking the present and future ‘otherwise.’
Methodological questions are central to our pursuits. Contemporary frameworks of crisis (e.g., those formed in the ‘regime’ of post-truth politics), but also forms of artistic expression and radical imaginaries that respond to these frameworks, call for revising our academic vocabularies. In their individual and joint research, members of the group approach contexts of crisis from diverse (inter-)disciplinary perspectives, including literary studies, art history, media and film studies, anthropology, ethnography, archeology, political science. The group intends to develop interdisciplinary tools for exploring crisis/crises in relation to notions such as trauma, temporality, futurity, hope, optimism, resilience, populism, utopia, dystopia, revolution, fragmentation, impasse, stagnation.
The researchers in this group will:
- Meet regularly in a reading group
- Organize lectures, seminars and/or workshops on aspects of the group’s topic
- Work on individual and/or collaborative funding applications, articles, edited volumes, special journal issues, book chapters, monographs
- Set up collaborations between humanities and social sciences scholars
- Set up collaborations with the artistic and cultural sector
Crisis is not just a descriptive designation, but a framing with profound consequences for human lives and political, social and natural environments in local, national, transnational, and global contexts. Despite the etymological and semantic links of ‘crisis’ with choice, decision, change, and critique, today ‘crisis’ is usually projected as an enduring state, legitimizing political decisions and practices that impose states of exception, limit civic or human rights and democratic freedoms, restrict access to public space, enhance biopolitical control, and minimize critique and resistance. Thus, claims to crisis today often reaffirm established (financial, political, social) systems and reinforce the so-called ‘TINA’ doctrine (‘There Is No Alternative’), making alternatives seem irrational or unthinkable. The projection of austerity politics as a one-way-street in the Greek crisis is a case in point.
Against this background, it is essential to interrogate the rhetoric of crisis and to scrutinize its political, ethical, and social ramifications in specific, local settings but also comparatively, transnationally, and globally. It is equally important to trace how crisis-scapes may also form grounds for critique and resistance to hegemonic power, and foster alternative languages and radical artistic and social imaginaries.
Taking on these tasks requires reflexive and interdisciplinary scholarship, but also bringing academic research closer to the ‘field’ of actual crisis-scapes and in contact with social movements, cultural initiatives, and innovative practices in the art world.