Specialist doctoral course: Activism and Contestation: Anthropological Reflections - March-May 2020

Co-organised by Anthropology at the KU Leuven, the Institute of Development Policy (Antwerp University) and CARAM


The aim of the course is to introduce PhD students to cutting-edge scholarship, which opens new pathways for describing and theorizing the role of claim-making, protesting, and mobilization both in social, political, economic and in academic life. 

Throughout the discipline’s history, anthropologists have proposed various theories of resistance, yet the crucial question is: which ones remain relevant in our age? What kinds of new language and concepts do we need to develop to make sense of contemporary contestations, both occurring in academia and beyond? 

While we take a decidedly anthropological approach, the course is open to PhD students of the social sciences, humanities and arts who are interested in engaging with questions of activism & contestation.

This series is the 2nd edition of a collaboration between anthropologists working at various Flemish universities. Last year, the theme was "affect & materiality", organized at the University of Ghent. The 2nd edition will be hosted at the KU Leuven. 

Set up

The course is composed of four lectures by internationally renowned speakers, each preceded by a masterclass in which students will be able to discuss their own work and engage in detailed discussion and debate. Topics addressed include: new progressive movements, opposition to austerity, land and territoriality, anti-racism, popular culture and new media, and decoloniality. 


4 MARCH 2020

Revindicative movements of the neoliberal era/Transformative politics: commoning and the emergence of a political bloc

Ida Susser, Distinghuished Professor in anthropology, Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Hunter College, Professor of Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center

Based on fieldwork among activists in global cities such as Barcelona and Paris, this paper analyses the emergence of new progressive movements. The paper considers the challenges of horizontality, consensus and representation which have led to some of the splits and disaffection among activists. It asks to what extent class illuminates such difficulties. The paper outlines the many active issue-oriented groups which were inspired by major demonstrations in opposition to austerity. Such groups focus on diverse but often related concerns including housing, the gentrification effects of tourism, immigration, police violence and the development of cooperatives. They operate within the context of new political parties also formed in opposition to austerity. Activist groups and progressive parties have come together but also fragmented over the past five years. Has wider cooperation or scaling up occurred, and is Gramsci´s concept of the emergence of a political bloc useful in this context?

Short bio:

Ida Susser has conducted ethnographic research in the U.S., Southern Africa and Puerto Rico, with respect to urban social movements and the urban commons,· gender, the global AIDS epidemic and environmental movements. Her recent publication: Updated· Norman Street: Poverty and Politics· in an Urban Neighborhood (Oxford University Press 2012). The original edition of this book (Oxford 1982) explores working class consciousness, racism, ethnic identities and gender in the emergence of social movements in Greenpoint- Williamsburg Brooklyn. It focuses specifically on the occupation of the People’s Firehouse sparked by the New York City fiscal crisis of 1975, the first neoliberal experiment. Claiming a Right to New York City the new section discusses the changing neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn from the original ethnography which began with the New York City fiscal to the Occupy movement of 2011.

31 MARCH 2020

A Decolonial Approach to Online Extreme Speech

Sahana Udupa, professor in media anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich

Popular assessments as well as influential studies of digital disinformation and vitriol make two broad arguments about the nature of digital mediation that has led to the current predicament of right-wing populism. The first argument suggests that vicious anonymity of online subjectivities has let loose the most primal animosities of human race, now unmoored from shared values of responsibility, dignity and care. The second related argument locates the problem in equally vicious, yet charismatic, populist leaders who have successfully channelized social media to bypass mainstream media and hoodwink general publics to fall into the trance of right-wing rancor. While both the arguments have a grain of truth, they reveal less than what is at stake. Based on fieldwork among right-wing online users in India and comparative insights drawn from ethnographic cases in different regions of the world, this talk presents a complex scenario of precarious labor, manipulation, and fun that lies behind right-wing populist cultures online. To demonstrate the point, I draw upon but move beyond Euro-Atlantic cases of online right-wing mobilizations analyzed in recent studies as “specific resentments and rage of aggrieved power” (Brown, 2018) and turbulences in “the liberal settlement” (Mazzarella, 2018). Examining online right-wing nationalist activities in India more closely, I argue that online extreme speech and disinformation are not only about a particular subjectivity, even less a mere psychological disposition, but a constellation of practices, affordances, and actors. Finally, I ask if this analysis should get into a conversation with recent thinking on “decoloniality”, and what gains there are in bringing these perspectives closer.

Short bio:

Sahana Udupa is Professor of Media Anthropology at LMU Munich, where she leads a five-year research project on digital politics funded by the European Research Council: www.fordigitaldignity.com. She researches and teaches digital politics, online hate speech and extreme speech, news and journalism cultures, and media policy. She is the author of Making News in Global India: Media, Publics, Politics (Cambridge University Press, UK, 2015) and co-editor of Media as Politics in South Asia (Routledge, London, 2016, with S. McDowell). Her most recent publications include, “Extreme speech and global digital cultures” (special section in International Journal of Communication, with M.Pohjonen); “Digital politics in millennial India” (special issue in Television & New Media, with S. Venkatraman and A. Khan) and “Gaali cultures: The politics of abusive exchange on social media” (New Media and Society, 2017). She produces and co-hosts the podcast on digital media, “Online Gods” (with I.M. Cook).

27 APRIL 2020

The stateless (ad)vantange? Resistance, land and rootedness in the Israeli-Occupied Syrian Golan Heights

Maria Kastrinou, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Brunel University London

Can statelessness and political emancipatory resistance co-exist? Exploring the political economy of resistance amongst stateless farmers in the Israeli-Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, this paper positions itself within the context of a more refined understanding of the politics of statelessness and citizenship, whilst recognizing the continued role and power of the State. We argue that despite Israel’s material power over the control of resources and bodies in the Golan Heights it has been far less successful in exercising ideological control. We argue that this stems from the Occupied Syrians’ combined condition as territorially, spiritually and culturally rooted to the land alongside their stateless condition (rendering them beyond the patronage of the State). The empirical material draws from extended participant observation among Golani Syrians (in Syria and the Golan) as well as interviews with farmers. We explain how and why specifically the Druze inhabitants of the Golan remained with their land after the Israeli occupation. We then demonstrate their significant resistance efforts, and their conflicts with Israel, over and through their claims to a legitimate presence in the material and ideational landscape. In doing so we challenge common assumptions that stateless, Druze, and rural communities are particularly susceptible to State agendas.

Short bio:

Anchored in political anthropology, Dr Kastrinou’s research focuses on sectarian politics and national belonging, religion, state, conflict and energy in the Middle East and South-Eastern Mediterranean. For my PhD, she conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork research in Syria (2008–2011) looking at contested identities and politics between the Druze sect and the Syrian state. In response to the ongoing war in Syria, her research has incorporated political economy and historical approaches in ongoing projects on the politics of energy and resource conflict in Syria and Lebanon (Durham Energy Institute 2013-2014; AHRC/ESRC Conflict grant 2016-2017), as well as new fieldwork with Syrian refugees in Greece and stateless Syrians in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights (BRIEF Award 2015-ongoing).

12 MAY 2020

Black Identities and the Search for Inclusion in Dutch Society

Francio Guadeloupe, lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam

My new book project, So How Does it Feel to be a black man living in the Netherlands, an anthropological account, complements the gender inflected anti-racist scholarship of stellar Dutch scholars such as Philomena Essed and Gloria Wekker. Where Essed (1991) focuses on the experience and knowledge that Afro-Dutch women have regarding everyday racism, and Wekker (2016) undertakes a ‘psychoanalysis’ of white people as she phrases it, mine is one that brings to the fore the ways within the realm of urban popular culture brown skinned women and men of Antillean descent in the Netherlands contest their secondarization and together with other Dutch—e.g. Moroccan-Dutch, Ghanaian-Dutch, Turkish-Dutch, Surinamese-Dutch, native-Dutch, etc.—have been busy creating and pushing an anti-racist understanding of Dutch identity. In doing so I focus on the way these youths have been developing alternative ways of conceiving the Netherlands in urban music, video clips, sporting grounds, and stand up comedies. Those who became nationally acclaimed urban popular artists project other presentations of self into the Dutch mainstream. I take these alternative formulations of Dutch identity to be translations of a more inclusive structure of feeling, inspired by everyday convivialities, that deserves academic attention for the ways in which it foregrounds the agency of the subalternized without downplaying the impact of institutional and everyday forms of racism.

Short bio:

Aruban born anthropologist Francio Guadeloupe has worked at all the major universities in the Netherlands. He also served for four years—2013-2017—as the President of the University of St. Martin (USM), until hurricane Irma led to the closure of the institution, on the bi-national island of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin. He is currently employed as a lecturer and researcher at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is the author of the monograph, Chanting Down the New Jerusalem: Calypso, Christianity, and Capitalism in the Caribbean(University of California Press, 2009).

How to register

The guest lectures are open; and no registration is required for these.
PhD students from KU Leuven, Ghent University and the University of Antwerp who would like to present their work during the Masterclasses with the guest speakers are invited to submit a written application. The application should consist of a written motivation, a short abstract of your doctoral research (250 words), and a stated preference for one of the four sessions where you would like to present your work. 

To register (or if you need further information) please send us an email (katrien.pype@kuleuven.benadia.fadil@kuleuven.beuntil January 31 2020. A selection will be made by February 12. Decisions will be communicated immediately thereafter.  

At Ghent University and the University of Antwerp, students can earn credits. At KU Leuven, the Masterclass series is acknowledged by the Doctoral School of FSW; it also is part of the doctoral program at the Arts Faculty.