For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!

Symposium at the University of Amsterdam, 5th – 7th June 2019 | Keynote speakers: Sarah Clancy, Jim Hicks, Frank Keizer | Deadline for proposals: 10th April 2019 | Dates: The event will commence in the late afternoon of 5th June and end by early afternoon of 7th June | A collaboration of ‘Contemporary Poetry and Politics’ (FFI2016-77584-P), The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, The Amsterdam Center for Globalization Studies, and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis. | Organizers: Cornelia Gräbner (Lancaster University), Joost de Bloois (University of Amsterdam).


Contrarianism gains momentum whenever a hegemony consolidates itself to such an extent that there is no longer space for the possibility of alternatives. The aims and the character of contrarian movements show themselves through the interplay of ethics, politics and poetics in concrete examples of contrarian speech and contrarian practices. With the symposium ‘Against the Grain: The Ethics, Poetics and Politics of Contrarian Speech’ we open up a space for the analytical exploration of this interplay, and for a sharing of practices that oppose both the status quo of corporatism and neoliberalization, and the contrarian movements  appropriating ‘free speech’ from the populist right, the alt-right, and neo-fascism.

Contrarianism can be a mode of getting to know the opponent from a committed position or perspective and, through this analytical practice, can produce dissident knowledges. Contrarianism can be a form of expression; in the face of a stifling hegemony, its poetics can nurture desires and open up new horizons. Contrarian practice can take many forms, among them opposition, resistance, dissent, non-cooperation, contestation, subversion, or sabotage. It can be practiced from within a system, from its margins, or from an outsider position. Today, contrarianism is also weaponized as a rhetorical strategy by political movements that seek to consolidate or radicalize existing power structures (be it regarding class, gender or race), or obfuscate their ruthless pursuit of their economic interests. The contrarian defiance of supposed ‘political correctness’ and the left-liberal ‘elite’ in no small measure has contributed to the success of such movements. This symposium, a collaboration between the research project ‘Contemporary Poetry and Politics’ (FFI2016-77584-P) and the University of Amsterdam, approaches contrarian speech by bringing together the poetic and the analytical, ethics and politics.

We specifically (but not exclusively) invite attention to the interplay of poetic and political sensibilities with discourses and practices of contrarian speech in the discussion of five thematic areas:

  • Dissent, Disobedience and Free Speech: We invite contributions that explore the notion of ‘free speech’ in contexts where free speech is turned into a means of pacification, or where it is weaponized against minorities or by economic elites against imagined cultural elites. What does ‘contrarian speech’ mean in such contexts, how might its boundaries be defined and set?
  • Austerity and Precarity: In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent ‘austerity’ measures that have been rolled out all over Europe, class differences and socio-economic precarity have increased substantially. Tremendous social suffering has been inflicted, and structural violence against vulnerable populations has been escalated, and the TINA (There Is No Alternative) ideology has strangulated the political imagination. The emergence of movements such as ‘Occupy, the Indignados or Nuit Debout indicates increasing resistance to neoliberal TINA (There Is No Alternative) ideology. We invite explorations of social justice and opposition to class privilege, contrarianism and right-wing populism, and even the alt-right and extreme right.
  • Crisis: Hand-in-hand with the creation and perpetuation of social and political crisis comes the resurgence of discourses of security which appropriate and manipulate fear. We invite critical analyses of such discourses, and the role of contrarian speech in opposing these, whereby the analyses account for the consequences of social injustice, legal and political surveillance, and precarization.
  • Ecocriticism and Infrastructure: We invite engagements with the ideologies of progress and modernity, with the practice of corporate power and the ideology of corporatism, with the ways in which infrastructures embed habituation and complacency into everyday life and perception, and with the expressions, practices and ecocritical approaches that go contrarian to it.
  • Creative Criticism: This practice of knowledge and of writing goes contrarian to the ever more stringent, restrictive, constraining, disciplinarian and secretly ideological practices of academic writing that are being imposed on academics. Creative criticism gets to know its opponent progressively and, while opposing and subverting them, creates ‘Other’ writing practices that subvert the binary of creativity and criticism and create space for dissident knowledges.
  • Anti-Fascism, the Alt-Right, and Right-Wing Populism: Anti-fascist movements and anti-fascist artists and cultural organizers have always had to go against two opponents at the same time: the right-wing, populist and /or fascist movements and individuals that go contrarian to the status quo, and to a status quo that is often marked by social injustice, that is usually hostile to anti-fascists and often, tolerant of fascist and right-wing populist movements. We invite explorations of such doubly contrarian practices and explorations, as well as of the ways in which fascist movements, the Alt-Right and right-wing populism pose as contrarian to the status quo

Contributions may cover (but are not limited to):

  • Contemporary political movements/events 
  • Contemporary political art (i.e. poetry, literature, visual art, cinema)
  • Media representations of contrarian speech
  • Cultural/artistic representations of crisis/precarity/austerity
  • Ecocritical dissidence
  • Contrarianism,  hegemony and conjuncture 
  • Far-right discourse on/as contrarianism
  • Free speech, sexism and heteronormativity (i.e. online sexism and heteronormativity)
  • Media representations of ‘free speech’
  • Free speech, contrarianism and the construction/limits of the public sphere
  •  ‘Contrarian’ and ‘free speech’ as political trope
  • Contrarianism as Foucauldian parreisia
  • Contrarianism, dissent and social media 
  • Contrarianism and/as privilege
  • Contrarianism as noise
  • Class and contrarianism (i.e. class analysis, class struggle as contrarianism)
  • Artistic and philosophical/theoretical responses to free speech controversies
  • Contrarianism/free speech and anti-terrorism (i.e. Erri de Luca’s work, the ‘Tarnac affair’)
  • Free speech and racialized exclusion
  • Contrarianism and sabotage
  • Free speech, surveillance and contemporary governmentality
  • Artistic and creative practices of ‘contrarianism’
  • Poetry and crisis
  • Assembly as contrarian practice (i.e. Nuit debout, Occupy)
  • Contrarianism as ethics
  • Contrarianism as crisis discourse (i.e. ecocritical voices, eco-politics, movements concerning climate change/extinction)
  • Contrarianism and gender formation (i.e. on social media forums)
  • Contrarianism and negativity
  • Contrarianism as ethics of refusal and inoperativity
  • Contrarianism as affirmative ethics/politics
  • Contrarianism as -ism

To submit a proposal please send a title, an abstract of 250 words and a short biography of 100 words by 15th April to