– By Jemimah Cooper, Emma Cupitt,Kira Godoroja-Prieckaerts, Aditi Razdan, Odette Shenfield and Holly Zhang| October 7, 2016
Image by Ja’s Ink
Resistance can fuel our passion, validate our convictions or break our spirit. The pursuit of resisting may be undertaken out of necessity or through choice. With these motives in hand we will judge the convictions of others and be strongly judged in return.
Here at Demos we have taken this issue to reflect on, and to critique, the fields in which we resist and the act of resisting itself. The importance of attempting such an operation must not be undervalued. The act of resistance is ephemeral and therefore difficult to value. How do we measure the success of resistance? Is it the number of people we have affected, or the effects themselves? Perhaps no outcomes of resistance can be quantifiably measured, and only the qualitative change can be reflected on.
Those in the business of creative pursuits, activism and philosophical thought must always be conscious that they trade in acts of resistance. In forgetting this, they will surrender their pursuit of change, growth and understanding of the world. With this in mind, let us reflect on Demos issue no. 5: Resistance.
Firstly, Author Britt Munro discusses the power of ‘quieter’ forms of resistance. Drawing from Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage’s notion of ‘heroic normality’: the power of resisting an oppressive reality, through the ‘temporary forgetting’ of the political. She writes that ‘whilst resistance to the power structures of sexism, classism, racism and colonialism has shaped the world and will continue to shape it for the better, resilience is the process by which people survive, live meaningful lives and get work done within such power structures’.
Similarly, Sylvia Zhang considers resistance within the Twittersphere, specifically from Muslim twitter users who derided ISIS’ call to arms. Her essay explores how powerful humour is as a mechanism to overpower an oppressor, and how it removes any legitimacy from their claims.
In the face of contemporary injustices– such as mandatory detention, human rights violations, and the release of the Nauru Files – it can be difficult to know the most effective form of resistance. Dr Kirrily Jordan writes of the need for the personal within protest: sharing anecdotes of those imprisoned on Manus Island, and the forms of demonstration practiced by each. While not necessarily overt, or aggressive, these are meaningful as actions in their own right.
Similarly, cultural forms of resistance, and even resistance within cultures exist in the subtlest of ways. Aditi Razdan’s article, ‘Kashmiriyat,’ reflects on the resistance she has seen from her own community, Kashmiri Pandits, in light of the struggles of all those who lived in the Kashmir Valley. She writes of growing up, watching her community fight to remain visible, relevant and recognized as a diaspora that was compelled to leave the homeland they so cherished. Moreover, there is a fight to keep ‘Kashmiriyat’– an indigenous form of multiculturalism that aggressors have tried to destroy in order to undermine the cultural context of the Valley– alive.
Likewise, Sumithri Venketasubramanian grapples with language, and how it can perpetuate power structures. What terms are used, how names are pronounced and which accents we value cannot be considered devoid of context. As she notes, when her culture and her language is not the ‘norm’ or dominant, she has had to teach people to say her name correctly ‘all her life’, or make it easier for people to say. In such a way the onus falls on minorities, but they should not be judged for trying to assimilate. When ‘professionalism is synonymous with Anglo-normativity’ and whiteness is the standard to aspire to, the burden should not be on the minority to unpack power within language.
Another piece addressing issues of culture and identity in a very different fashion is Saaro Umar’s original and moving poem, ‘from’. Her poetry reminds us that recalling the ephemeral sensations of memory and engaging with the traces of history we share with other women can help us see ourselves in the present. In this way we claim and tell the story of our origins and identity.
On the other hand, sometimes resistance requires engaging in critique and activism at the most macro, systemic level. As activists, we face the predicament of whether any meaningful resistance is possible within a capitalist economic system. At the same time, the logic of capitalism has become so immutable that many are afraid to fundamentally critique capitalism. As Frederic Jamieson said, ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’ It is for this reason that we are proud to publish Mia Sandgren’s bold article on global agriculture, in which she is unafraid to tackle the systemic issues underlying unjust global food systems. She persuasively contends that society must stop treating food as a commodity and ‘reform the capitalist underpinnings of the food systems.’
Emma Cupitt’s review of ‘Learning to Die in the Anthropocene’, similarly tackles the great systemic challenge of our generation – climate change, exploring what this enormous problem means for the most existential and important questions in life. She reflects on the book’s proposition that people should resist the urge to go on living today as they did yesterday. Resistance as articulated in this book means embracing strangeness in order to realise a new way of life. By ‘learning to die’, people accept that they cannot go on living the way they are in the Anthropocene.
On the other hand, resistance need not always entail advocating for change. Activism may require resisting change. In the essay ‘Slow and Quiet Resistance in Yangon’, Nur Hadziqah explores the idea of resistance as the opposite of this. Hadziqah proposes that the people of Yangon resist the development of their city by continuing their old way of life and by living slowly, even though outside forces have their foot on the accelerator. This piece further demonstrates the centrality of culture and identity in this edition of Demos.
These are just some of the many great works that we are privilege enough to publish. We would like to thank all of our other incredible contributors: Bianca Hennessy, Nicola Jackson, Judy Kuo, Jharna Chamlagai, Mingji Liu, Jack Johnson, Susannah French, Anita Patel and Magdalena Krakau. We are incredibly proud to be publishing all of your pieces this edition.
Through this issue we will show you the ways in which resistance will play out and shape everyday life, while also changing the structures of whole societies. Each piece gives a unique and robust insight into the grand realm of resistance. As such, they hope to further our understanding of the resistant acts which they discuss and also our own pursuits of resistance.