CFP: The Politics and Aesthetics of Non-violence; 2.-4.6.2011, Verona


POLiTeUma, Politiche e Teorie dell’Umano, University Of Verona, Department of Philosophy, Education and Psychology, and The Finnish Center of Excellence in Political Thought and Conceptual Change


The Politics and Aesthetics of Non-violence

International Symposium
University of Verona, Italy, June 2-4, 2011.

Call for Papers:
Globalization has dispersed along several different lines of action and counteraction the once stable notions of war and enemy. Yet globalization has also changed the way in which victims are hit, killed, figuratively and symbolically produced. In other words, both active and passive ways of dealing with violence today have dramatically changed, especially in their relationship with politics. One of the most striking aspects of the global era is that the instrumental function attributed by politics to violence has ceased to produce ordering effects.

To put it differently, our ways of practicing and enduring/undergoing violence has changed, dramatically, yet it has only slightly affected our ways of thinking about it, and/or thinking against its unavoidability.

In the midst of a global scenario that seems to accept violence as the sole destiny for humans, we are convinced that what is urgently needed, at least from scholars that deal with the human and social sciences, is a radical reflection on the relationship between violence and politics from the viewpoint of the possibility, both theoretical and practical, of non-violence.

From a theoretical point of view, one of the main problems of non-violent political research is its terminological poverty: there is in fact, in Western thought, no proactive word to define and conceptualize non-violence. Only Gandhi proposed the word satyagraha, and crucially his background was not Western.

The conceptual framework of politics is therefore still strongly colonized by the “viewpoint of the duel” and the “ethos of the warrior”. How can we deconstruct this paradigm and uncover or re-invent politics as separated, even alien to violence? If, according to Hobbes, peace is simply the time in which war is suspended, the time devoid of war, (Leviathan, XIII, 8), how can political philosophy and theory imagine peace differently? How can we frame politics in ways that do not need to justify themselves in a negative relationship to violence? How can we, in other words, proactively imagine and theorize non-violence? Finally, how can art – in its diverse expressions - help us in mobilizing new concepts, in broadening the political imagination, in abandoning the apparently legitimate standpoint of realpolitik?

Several are the questions we would like to pose, from several different standpoints within the broad fields of philosophy, politics, art:

1.The first set of questions is ‘ontological’: At the end of a long (and often extenuating) history of  deconstruction of the subject, thanks to the precious work of some key feminist theorists (Butler 2004, 2009; Honig 2007, 2009; Cavarero 2009), violence is thematized as an effect rather than as an action, and it becomes the frame into which the human is re-thought and re-imagined. Yet this frame is not a violent one; instead it seriously questions the ‘viewpoint of the warrior’ and the military paraphernalia that shape our political imagination in order to find new ways to think politics and ‘the human’. From this intellectual (and gendered) horizon emerges the possibility to imagine the human as a subject that is primarily defined by her relationship with vulnerability, namely by the possibility of becoming injured. If, as Judith Butler has put it, violence plays a central role in the (re-)shaping of the subject and it is the task of critical thinking to elaborate ways of dealing with this ineludible violence, we would like to know whether, at the ontological level, can non-violence play a central role as well? We would like to question, in other words, the ‘natural aggression’ hypothesis and verify to what extent an opposite approach to the human would have political effects.

2.The second set of questions is historical or ‘begriffsgeschichtlich’: Western political thought – in the course of its long history – has often questioned itself on the issue of the legitimacy of violence. Yet it has hardly questioned itself on its illegitimacy. In mainstream political thought there is a general disregard for this issue, and this is why we would like to pose the question of the thinkability of the illegitimacy of violence. Are there historical examples (both theoretical and empirical) that sustain this perspective? Is there a non-violent heritage that needs to be uncovered and enhanced within the Western tradition? Moreover, is there a possible interaction between the State and non-violence? Or can non-violence be thought of only outside the borders of the State? Does globalization offer a chance to thematize a different relationship between violence and politics? Is there a possible institutional future for non-violence?

3.The third set of questions is practical: are there forms of action (both real and imagined) that, even if traditionally impolitical, can transform our way of conceiving politics by providing illuminating examples of non-violent yet effective activism? Can  ‘mere life’ issues (related to ‘life’ as bare zoe) transform into ‘more life’ instances of civic and public life (Honig 2009) and thereby broaden the sphere of ‘social change’? Can political research provide examples of non-violent activism that are able to “transcend the cycles of violence that bewitch our human community while still living in them?” (Lederach 2005). How, in other words, and to what extent can non-violence qualify as an effective form of political action?

4.The fourth is aesthetical: is there a privileged way in which aesthetics can theorize and analyze the relationship between politics and non-violence? After all, is not the question of an ontology of non-violence strictly connected to the way in which we feel and perceive our bodies and the bodies of others? Can these categories of perception be analyzed and revised in the light of an ontology of vulnerability? Moreover, can art, as a way of organizing and enhancing human perception, broaden our imagination and thinking in order to criticize the justifiability of violence, its unavoidability and even its ‘naturalness’? Finally, how can art – from literature to sculpture, from poetry to photography – as a form of ‘social activism’ implement non-violence?

In particular, we welcome papers which analyze works of art from the perspective of resistance to violence and which thematize the contribution of the arts as regards political theory of non-violence. Moreover, we welcome papers that tackle, from the different viewpoints of political theory, history of political ideas, peace-studies, social-movement studies, cultural studies, aesthetics, history of art, gender and women’s studies, the possibility – past, present and future – of both the theoretical and practical attainability of non-violence.

A short abstract (max. 200 words) of the paper should be sent by March 31st 2011 to
olivia.guaraldo(at) or lorenzo.bernini(at)
Olivia Guaraldo, Lorenzo Bernini
Lecturers in Political Philosophy, University of Verona.