‘Unruly Politics’ and the language of power

“How’s the ‘Unruly Politics’ module going, Louise?”

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I think Unruly Politics is like one of those optical illusion images with squiggly lines, supposed to reveal another image when you stare at it. You stare and stare and stare… momentarily, you glimpse the hidden image and it’s so brilliant – but then you blink once, it disappears, and no amount of staring hard can bring it back. In the end, it’s still just a load of squiggly lines, you end up feeling frustrated and wondering if you have you just wasted your time staring at it. Or was that momentary glimpse worth it?

During this module there were moments when I absolutely understood why I was there. Sometimes one of my classmates said something was so brilliant, so on-point, that I wanted to over-enthusiastically point at them and scream ‘yes! that’s it!’ (but being British, I probably just nodded in mild agreement). But quite frankly, some of the time I sat there wanting to punch a wall. Why?

Here seems a good time to quote Matt’s recent blog on Ranciere: ‘There are times in your piece when you appear to advocate a type of politics in which things are suddenly made visible, sensible and available to experience. Like in the protests or revolutions, when the public, so often the audience of politics through our TV screens, become the performers and the distinctions between the two are lost. Well I implore you, if this is what you call the aesthetic regime, then speak its language!’

Matt criticised Ranciere for not speaking the language of the people. I agree, and I want to take his point further. I believe that as a class, we weren’t speaking the language of everyone in that classroom. We weren’t truly inclusive or participatory – for much of the module, many in the class were silent, or (like me) spent much of the time feeling too intellectually intimidated to speak.

Khanna talks about the ‘competition between civil society and the state to be the proxy for the ‘voice of the people.’’ He claims that ‘there is a fundamental difference between the opacities of the state, and the insistence of the Unruly on a different language.’ But in Unruly Politics, I felt we somehow replicated the hegemonic powers and in political fog that we were criticising. Our attempts to understand citizen action and the ‘voice of the people’ were lost in clouds of our own intellectual elite-ness.

A bunch of students in a progressive institute discussing social movements and ‘unruly’ ideas, sat in a circle on the floor. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in a circle at a progressive event, NGO conference or just with my left-wing friends, doing the same thing; feeling like a caricature. It just felt very privileged to be discussing Ranciere and the ‘aesthetic regime’ while for many people in the UK right now, the concern is whether they have enough money to pay their bills or to eat that day; or consider the humiliation of visiting a food-bank.

My frustrations could be symbolic of my frustrations of the left itself in the UK (though I identify myself as strongly left leaning). We make ethical decisions, we march, we boycott. We claim to be inclusive of minorities, of the marginalised and the downtrodden. But do we just surround ourselves with people like us? Are we just talking to ourselves? In the UK, Brexit was a stark reminder to my activist friends and myself that as a progressive movement (and here I do talk very generally), there is a general lack of understanding or inclusivity. We’re not speaking the right kind of language.

This course has given me the opportunity to engage on a deeper level with texts that enhanced my understanding of what it means to be a political subject and my understanding of political events, and to delve deeply into these discussions. But I simply want to ask the question of whether the language we have been speaking to each other is useful or productive.

As well, times have changed: perhaps ‘unrulyness’ is creeping slowly into formal politics, albeit in sinister ways (Brexit, Trump). To now truly be able to shed weaknesses and limitations of elites, civil society organisations and formal political action, we might have to become a little more ‘ruly’ – and start engaging more with mainstream politics and power in our discussions.

Reference: Khanna, A. with Mani, P., Patterson, Z., Pantazidou M. and Shqerat, M. (2013) The Changing Faces of Citizen Action: A Mapping Study through an ‘Unruly’ Lens. IDS Working Paper 2013: No. 423.


‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’

Yesterday, Theresa May announced that in 50 days, the U.K. will hold a general election.

There will be a vote this June, she said, about a vote last June, and a chance for the electorate to have their say on what they’ve already said. So she said.

Except it is not. This vote is no more a vote on the previous vote, as that vote was on our membership of the European Union.

The Conservatives have, so their snake charmers tell them, much to gain and little to lose. This vote is about cold hard political power, not a mandate for Brexit. It’s about building a bigger majority in the House of Commons as means of accelerating their increasingly oppressive agenda.

This is what Baudrillard might have deemed ‘hyperreal’- where we can no longer distinguish between reality and a simulation of reality. Indeed, reality is long gone*, we have put ‘the map before the territory’, as has been the case since last June.


Former London Mayor Boris Johnson speaks at the launch of the Vote Leave bus campaign, in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, in Truro

* An example of ‘putting the map before the territory’ (Brexit campaign bus 2016)

The claim that this vote’s reality is about Brexit is a ruse, an ‘allegory of the Empire’, and this narrative will proceed, complete with supporting semiotic cast, as the Conservatives continue to unpick the welfare state.

Today we know, that the government know, that we know that – all is not what it seems, and their lies are built upon old lies and even older myths.

However, in this liminal electoral space, their lie is only but one truth, be it a well reinforced, in a soup of truths. Another version of a truth is, that in this space, they are just as fragile as we are.

These are indeed unruly times, what matters now, is that we are too.







Curtis, A (2016) Hypernormalisation, BBC Iplayer [available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04b183c ] & a link to his blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/02d9ed3c-d71b-4232-ae17-67da423b5df5 

Poster, M, (2001)(eds) in Jean Baudrillard: Selected writings, Chapter 7, Simulacra and Simulations, Polity, London

Orwell, G (1948) 1984, Polity, London



Short rant: Being black in the UK

In some spaces in the UK, BEING BLACK IS MY SIN

Being black makes me suspicious

Being black deprives me of access

Being black means I have to explain myself all the damn time

Being black means I’m lesser than I should be!

Being black is my sin

Before you say ‘not all…’, ‘sometimes it’s not about race…’

I am not dumb. I know racism when I see it and experience it.

Stop complicating things and wrapping them in academic jargon

Stop telling me I’m imagining things

Stop telling me not to take it personal

‘If you step on my toe and I tell you it hurts, you don’t get to determine how much it hurts!’

Stop telling me ‘my truth is subjective’

When you are immersed in privilege and have never walked in my shoes.

Being black is my sin.

Every encounter of racism hurts!

It doesn’t matter how many times I have gone through it.

It means a journey back to the mirror to affirm to myself that I matter.

That my skin colour doesn’t mean I am lesser.

Until another encounter when being black is my sin



The Shame in My Private Transcript


I thought I’d use this space to offer a brief insight into the private encounters between white British males, conveyed through the particularly rigid transcripts displayed in the performance of gender. I want to specifically explore the notion that ‘power relations are not, alas, so straightforward that we can call what is said in power-laiden contexts false and what is said offstage true’.


Public and private transcripts relate to performances in power-laden contexts. Performances of behaviour that convey the nature of the relationship between oppressive and oppressed groups. In ‘Behind the Official Story’, Scott lays out the performances permeating interactions where power disparities are present; the public transcript located on-stage where oppressed meet oppressor, and the private transcript found off-stage within the confines of exclusivity. Scott explores the disparities in the public performances between groups and the private performances within groups, highlighting how the public transcript only tells part of the story. Whilst our public performances display subservient obedience to the status quo, our private performances may unveil a begrudging resentment to ‘the other’. In moments of unruliness, the private performance leaps on stage, the script is torn apart and the performers reveal a new set of masks.


It is my performance of the private transcript, in the archetypal interactions within the privileged group of white British men, that I find myself most uncomfortable. When I inform the charming gentlemen often found belonging to such a group that I study gender, I am routinely met with the same bewildered response: ‘Gender?! Gender is for girls… isn’t it??’ Despite becoming increasingly familiar to such hostility, I usually respond with some unintelligible academic drivel about ‘toxic hegemonic masculinities’, and how ‘men are affected by patriarchy too, you know!’ My rambling draws to a close around the same time as I notice my fellow compatriot’s eyes have glazed over and what I have said, has fallen on deaf ears. I know that I have utterly failed to communicate my point when the follow up question is – ‘Soo, how many girls are there on the course?’ On learning that I am one of five males on a course with 30 females, all suddenly becomes clear.  ‘Ahh, now I get it! Not as daft as you look ayy!!’ – followed by profuse winking and elbowing at my side. The insinuation, of course, being that I have dedicated a year of my life to study gender, purely to strategically position myself as a more desirable ‘feminist ally’. This whole year is in fact one almighty pulling manoeuvre – one that ought to be commended.


Now, here is my chance to be unruly! To do away with the LADs code of conduct. To do away with the idea that feminism is about an overly self-righteous group of bra burning females. To challenge the ridiculous suggestion that men and women can’t just be friends or colleagues without underlying sexual fantasies. When I relive these situations in my head, at this point I break into a profound and stirring monologue about gender equality, social justice and the fucked up world in which we live, leaving the privileged group of men bewildered and stunned by my intellect and conviction! In reality, weight of performativity hangs too heavy on my shoulders. At best, I regurgitate some more academic shite that even I barely understand. At worst, I muster up a half-arsed chuckle and reluctantly agree, ‘yeah, something like that.’


Back at the IDS (home of the public transcript), engulfed by the similarly minded, lefty liberal feminist academics I feel way more at ease. Alas! The language of heteronormativity, liminality and precarity. The language of ‘women’s empowerment’, ‘gender constructions’, and ‘Fuck the patriarchy!’. Ohh how I feel at home! I do however question the truth of this public transcript too… There is a slightly perverse and narcissistic aspect of me that does get a bit of a kick out of people’s intrigue in a straight cis male studying gender. Maybe I do acquire a certain status in a certain group of people by studying what I do? And is this not another wonderfully convenient patriarchal dividend I so willingly cash-in? A man studies exactly the same course as a woman, and WOAH, suddenly it’s a big deal.


It is not as simple as assuming what lies in one transcript to be false, and what lies in the other to be true, rather it is a question of degree. I guess the question for me is, how do I prevent that horrible mask I sometimes sport for the private transcript, growing to fit my face? Perhaps this more honest performance onstage, will encourage a more authentic performance offstage too…


The bloody Palm

‘I do not consider myself the president’ Said Abdel Fatah EL-sisi


This was part of the Egyptian president speech after the terrorist attack on two churches in Egypt yesterday 9th of April. While Christians were celebrating palm Sunday.

How I heard it is:  ‘ I’ the sovereign, who am outside the law, declare that there is nothing outside the law’ (Agamben,1995,p. 15)

Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, it is one of the holiest days in the Coptic church and one of the few occasions in Egypt where Copts can easily be spotted on the streets with their woven palms and wheat sheaves commemorating the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem.

At the end of the Palm Sunday mass, the celebration shifts to sad hymns, solemn readings, and black curtains marking the beginning of the Holy week (passion week in Arabic) leading up to Easter. But today’s celebrations ended too early..’

This was part of my friend status on Facebook, I can not even imagine how she feels. 44 people were killed and over 100 were injured. This violence and discrimination against the Christians minority in Egypt has been going on for too long now. I remember every holy discussion with my friends when they only wish it would pass peacefully, no big celebration plans involved.

‘I am not going to say that who died are Christians or Muslims, I will say the people who died today are Egyptians’ Said Sisi.

No! this nationalist speech is not passing this time. When there is a clear discrimination and terrorism against certain religious identity, you can not just say Egyptians. Any attempt to equalize the violence and disregard the discrimination is not acceptable. The attacks on Churches in holy times have been happening regularly and no one has been condemned.

This is why a comparison with the homo sacer is valid in this situation because the terrorists responsible for killing those innocent people were never condemned to homicide. In this case, the president saying I don’t consider myself the president in his speech is not a humble thing to say. It is a sovereignty status he is giving to himself. As the president and according to the law that you should abide by, you are responsible for what is happening in the country. Us the people of Egypt, being political subjects under the law makes you responsible as ‘The president’ to provide security that you are driving your current legitimacy from. In last July, he asked for ‘Delegation’ from the people to fight terrorism. Under this delegation the space for protesting and opposition in public spaces disappeared and everyone can be a terrorist whenever they oppose the powerful.  Yet, the homo sacer can die.  

To March or Not To March?

I grew up marching.

My parents would take my brothers and I on protests in buggies or sat on their shoulders, before we could walk the whole route.

One of my earliest marching memories was Birmingham, 1999, for the Drop the Debt movement. We had a huge banner made out of a white sheet that read ‘Arsenal 1, Jubilee 2000’ (Arsenal had won the premier league that year). We linked hands around the city, making a huge human chain to symbolise the chains of debt choking the developing world.

I was 11 when I joined over a million people on the streets of London for the Stop the War coalition march. My little brother made a placard: ‘War We Hate Says Forest Gate!’ I wasn’t quite old enough to understand just what was at stake, but I remember feeling amazed at the sheer number of bodies on the streets.

In the years since I graduated in 2012, I have been on a multitude of UK marches: climate marches, trade union marches, NGO marches. In the last couple of months I’ve been on yet more marches… Syria solidarity; Women’s march against Trump; Anti-Racism march… you name it. All have been peaceful, most have been policed. Some have felt electric. Some have felt stale.

And now I feel ‘marched out’ – like my energy has been sapped.

A couple of years ago I sat in a tent at a festival and watched ‘We are Many,’ a documentary about the Iraq War protests around the world. I rarely cry in films, but sat on the grass surrounded by strangers, I silently wept. The film does show the positive outcomes of those marches, which became almost a precursor to the Arab spring. But that didn’t take away from the hopeless frustration I felt: that the leaders of my country had not listened, despite the biggest march in the history of the UK. This frustration has returned to me recently.

It’s easy to feel disheartened. I’ve recently been dating a guy who works in the financial sector (not my usual type…on our first date, he arrived in a swish suit, while I rocked up in a five-pound charity shop jumper, with uncombed hair). I was quick to judge him on his job, yet we actually don’t disagree hugely in terms of world views – but mathematician, he sees things very pragmatically. In one discussion, he argued that marching and ‘occupying’ have not really changed anything. To be honest, in that moment, I couldn’t articulate a good response.

Sometimes I wonder if I go on marches selfishly, just to mix with others who share my beliefs, get fired up (for example, the way I felt on a recent protest against Trump’s Muslim ban outside Brighton’s town hall, which turned into a totally spontaneous march around the town) and have an enjoyable day outside. Sometimes I wonder if the competing priorities on some marches, where a multitude of different groups are handing out fliers and promoting their own campaigns, drowns out the prospect of any coherent ‘ask,’ and therefore any real change.

So here’s a note to myself – the reasons why I should keep marching:

Firstly, let’s remember the marches that have changed a hell of a lot. Here are just some.

Secondly, even if nothing changes in the immediate term, we cannot discount the value of being together with many others who share that anger – this can powerful and rousing and imbue a kind of energy or motivation to do more.

Thirdly, the conversations, interactions and feelings at these marches, with different groups pushing different agendas, must be seen in a larger context. Maybe they are part of a dialogue about the kind of world we wish to see in the future – a kind of a learning-by-doing – a ‘prefigurative’ politics. Marianne Maeckelbergh, in her paper on alterglobalization movements, advocates that ‘prefiguration is the most effective strategy (perhaps the only strategy) because it allows for goals to be open and multiple.’

So let’s not discount marching. But let’s also remember that marching won’t do much on its own. And let me continue to study the theory of social movements so that when my date asks if marches really change anything, I have an intelligent, persuasive – and perhaps witty – response.

An unruly pepper

Why unruly?

Since the first unruly politics class I have been asking myself why I joined: why was I attracted to this class in the same way in many instances I have been drawn to join and otherwise support, or at the very least try to understand, political participation expressed through disobedient, disruptive and disorderly action?

The fact that these three synonym of unruly start with the prefix “dis” is interesting in itself. “Dis” is a Latin prefix meaning “apart, “away,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force (don’t worry, this is the only time I mention Latin in this blog but please allow me to make some use of 3 years of studying a language that doesn’t exist anymore!). Two words of this particular definition are of interest for me: negative and force. Why is unruliness commonly perceived as negative And what is this force that underpins it?

In that first class, we shared translations of the word unruly in many languages. I wasn’t satisfied with the Italian translation, which is something to do with not being disciplined. I thought that a name my mum gave me to describe the way I fire up when I’m passionate about something fits more with my experience of unruliness. The name is “Peperina” and it means little chilly pepper.

The force of hot peppers

Now that I think about it, when I feel unruly, it’s exactly how I feel after eating a chilli pepper, like the super hot ones people love in the south of Italy. Although for many Italians this is blasphemy, I don’t like spicy hot food. When I accidentally ingest it, I feel like there is something in my body that needs rejecting, the typical remedies like eating bread or yogurt don’t seem to work on me. I start moving around restlessly like I’m possessed by some force.

To me unruly is when values, systems, structures or rules people don’t agree with are imposed on them with such violence (physical, psychological or social) that this force of rejection kicks in and brings them on the edge until they do something about it. That force and the actions that follow are not necessarily negative or violent but they involve breaking away from the rules and norms that are affecting their body in the same way chilly peppers do with mine.

When I decided to join my first street protests, sit-ins and school occupations as young as 15, the government in Italy was voting a reform for the national education system which included plans  to massively cut public funding for education and research from elementary schools all the way to universities. I remember the initial feeling of injustice for how something so important for me and my peers was being ruthlessly undermined. That feeling quickly turned into rage and then endless collective energy which I invested in organising and taking part in unruly actions with my peers.
If you want a taste of how that looks like you can watch this short video from a movie inspired by the student’s movements of those years.

Temporary insanity

In Italian popular traditions, the chilly pepper is associated with passion and strong desire (in fact people believe it’s an aphrodisiac and sometime it’s called natural viagra). To break away from injustice and oppression, one often enters and goes through what Alves describes as a “state of insanity on the periphery of ordinary life” in which this passionate force takes over like the spiciness of a strong chilly takes over your body.

For Badiou that state is characterised by “collective creative exaltation”, like the one you can see in the video about student’s school occupations in Italy above. Experiencing this state can be dangerous but at the same time empowering. It allows us to discover what we are be capable of, whether that’s ingesting a really hot pepper without suffocating or organising unruly actions that can change oneself, other people and the world around us. This state cannot be chronic: we break from the rules to ultimately return to them, reproducing conformity to custom.

However both Alves and Badiou believe that something more permanent stays behind when this liminal space is closed. I agree with them and believe that the passion and energy that erupt during unruly actions remain latent in us and can change that temporary insanity into learning, creativity, affection and long term projects. It might also remain silent until the next unruly event, when it will join other energies to inform, inspire and create further actions.