For Whom Do We Refuse? : Exploring the politics of “Refusal” and “Resistance” in and beyond social movements

Organizers: Elizabeth Clark Rubio and Angela Okune (UC Irvine – Anthropology)

In their respective work on the groundbreaking notion of “refusal,” Audra Simpson (2014, 2016) and Carole McGranahan (2016) have asked what it means when marginalized people–through individual or collective action–turn their backs on and refuse to accept the legitimacy of various authorities to grant rights, social services, recognition, and protection. Refusal forces us to think through the ways in which articulating inclusionary demands to the state, or “shadow state” (Wolch 1990, see also Gilmore 2007, Ferguson and Gupta 2002, Karim 2011), is a tacit acceptance of the imperial, gendered, racist, settler colonial dominance that create exclusions and the need for humanitarian, academic or state intervention in the first place. While McGranahan and Simpson are writing in the context of formal social movements, we are interested in further exploring the diverse ways in which refusal and resistance are enacted in encounters with diverse arrays of institutions that comply with the state and its “shadow” — humanitarian agencies, non-profits, transnational corporations, and academic institutions in an era of neoliberal privatization of social welfare.

Both Simpson and McGranahan have pushed scholars to consider the generative aspects of refusal. In turning away, those who refuse may not be disengaging, but instead imagining and enacting new subjectivities, new ways of being, interpreting histories, and new freedoms that lie outside the state. Of course, the imperative to imagine freedom beyond what hegemonic forces delimit as politically imaginable present those who refuse with the dilemma of having to “stop a story that is always being told” (Simpson 2014, 177). It is the difficult task of acting and imagining in ways that lie outside the dominant ideological forces — capitalism, neoliberalism, nationalism, militarization, imperialism — that structure but do not determine what we imagine to be politically possible (Kelley 2002; INCITE! 2007). The fraught imperative to look beyond while still operating within particular hegemonic frameworks makes it such that even those who refuse must at time deploy a politics of resistance — to accept foundational grants from the non-profit industrial complex (INCITE! 2007), to couch would-be radical demands in the language of citizenship and assimilation (Nicholls 2013), or to subject oneself (yet again) to the gaze of the academy (Paredes 1979; Clark 2008), as some examples. The result is often an interesting amalgamation of a politics of resistance and a politics of refusal that are neither entirely one nor the other.

We invite abstract submissions for papers that explore questions such as the following:

  • How do politics of resistance and refusal co-exist? What new sorts of politics and subjectivities, modes of historicity and dreaming of the future are generated from their interaction? What happens when the concepts of refusal and resistance are expanded to domains outside of formal social movements?
  • How do social actors enact resistance and/or refusal towards different publics? What structures decisions to perform refusal in certain spaces and not others?
  • What is the relationship between individual and collective enactments of refusal? Through what mechanisms are they mutually constituted?
  • How does refusal shape the way that actors understand themselves as subjects in opposition?
  • What are the implications of studying refusal and resistance? How do/can/should these concepts shape the scholarly work that is possible / ethical on this topic? Are there particular sensitivities that those working with/on these topics must take into account and how might these be negotiated?

If you are interested in participating in this panel discussion, please send a title and abstract of 250 word maximum (and a 50 word minimum) to and by March 30.