Davina Cooper, King's College London
Matthijs van de Sande, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Paul Raekstad, University of Amsterdam
Recent years have seen increased scholarly attention to the concept of prefigurative politics – the idea that political practice in the present can and should implement, realise or embody elements of a desired future. Although this idea appears as a kind of activist common sense and has deep roots in anarchist and socialist politics, it is also open to diverse and sometimes conflicting interpretations. Recent work has traced some of its historical and conceptual roots, ranging from debates in theology to Council Communism, and also challenged some of its traditional framings and distinctions, for example its contrast with strategic or representative politics.
At the same time, critical work has focused on the temporal structure of prefigurative action: Activists are invited to behave ‘as if’ they live in an (often remote) alternative society in the full knowledge that they do not, to bridge the gap between an undesirable present and an imagined future without collapsing such a distinction entirely. Prefiguration is thus often associated with forms of utopianism, raising questions of how future visions and goals can be coherently incorporated into present action – questions made more acute by the commitment to experimentation shared by most advocates of prefiguration and by the need to reckon with climate catastrophe.
However, the ‘as if’ form of action associated with prefiguration need not be understood in only utopian terms – agents and institutions frequently act as if they have capacities or powers they do not (yet) have, or as if the meanings of concepts (the state, gender, authority) are otherwise, in order to help bring new meanings, powers and capacities into being. Paying attention to such ‘everyday prefigurations’ reveals affinities and tensions with notions of performativity, enactment, imagination, fiction and idealisation, opening paths for dialogue with diverse traditions in philosophy and social theory.
This conference brings together scholars and activists to discuss these concepts and their associated themes, including panels on:
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