ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Politics of Dispossession

Dispossession: The Performative in the Political by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou (Cambridge: Polity Press), 2013; pp 240, Rs 1,229.

Dispossession: The Performative in the Political is a conversation between Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor at the University of California, Berkley, and Athena Athanasiou, Associate Professor at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, on new formations of left politics, on politics of the possible and its relationship with political theory. This dialogue between two of the most eminent and powerful voices from the US and Greece is all the more meaningful because of their common interests in contemporary social organisation, in processes of racialisation and in feminine polemics with the inherent motivations towards non-violent public demonstrations of resistance to contemporary regimes of biopolitcs. Both are deeply involved in transnational movements with a focus on questions of ethics, gender, and violence and “for what makes a liveable life”. Underpinning their highly provocative research is the agency of critical practice that explores vital issues of freedom and rationality, of recognition and desire with one basic social interrogation: what makes political responsiveness possible?

In a compelling exchange on some of the most significant debates of our time, the book moves from feminist and queer theory to the interdependence of each human being resulting in a collective response and a solidarity that makes it possible to become an oppositional force to the present-day unbridled market economy and the ravages of terrorist violence. Relational and subjective forms of our social relations arising out of the worldwide dispossession of the marginalised spurs what they call “performative politics” (p 3). Taking up the case of those who have lost their ancestral land, their citizenship and a broader belonging to the world, the two writers share their perspectives on the conventional logic of possession as regarded by neo-liberalism and humanism. These forces apparently stand in opposition to the notion of performative dispossession affected by injustice that has sparked uprisings from Zuccotti Park to Puerta del Sol, from North Africa to Turkey and, most recently, India. Dispossession indeed constitutes “a form of suffering for those displaced and colonised” and therefore “could not remain an ambivalent political ideal”(p xi).

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