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Dissent! Refracted

Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent


Ben Dorfman

This collection of essays addresses the ongoing problem of dissent from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives: political philosophy, intellectual history, literary studies, aesthetics, architectural history and conceptualizations of the political past. Taking a global perspective, the volume examines the history of dissent both inside and outside the West, through events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries both nearer to our own times as well as more distant, and through a range of styles reflecting how contested and pressing the problem of dissent in fact is. Drawing on a range of authors and international problematics, the contributions discuss the multiple ways in which we refract memories of dissent in cultural, historical and aesthetic context. It also discusses the diverse ideas, images and phenomena we use to do so.
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Barbara J. Falk - The History, Paradoxes, and Utility of Dissent: From State to Global Action


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Barbara J. Falk1

The History, Paradoxes, and Utility of Dissent: From State to Global Action

Abstract This chapter provides a thematic introduction to the political philosophy and intellectual history of dissent, beginning with an examination of definitions, origin stories, and examples. The problematic relationship between dissent and violence is illustrated, along with a discussion of transnationality, historicity, and speed in contemporary dissent. Finally, the chapter concludes with an argument in favor of “leaderful” rather than “leaderless” movements of dissent in terms of maximizing the possibilities for effective and lasting political and social change.

Much of the politics and history of the world has been written from above. In the conventional understanding, grand programs for remaking politics and society, raw calculations of national interest, or decisions to invade territory or petition for peace all emerge from political elites. Even political ruptures and revolutions, where society overflows and renders “politics as usual” unpredictable, are often contained and described in narratives that privilege the few rather than the many. Still, it is dissenters rather than the pragmatic and status quo-oriented consensus of the powerful few that have played the most dramatic and sometimes surprising role in political, economic, and social transformation. Dissent is a double-edged sword. The mere existence and flourishing of dissent is a powerful source of legitimation in democratic societies—locales where free expression and unhindered public association are constitutionally guaranteed, highly valued, and the basis of political systems. Dissent provides, to...

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