Constructive Resistance: Repetitions, Emotions, and Time - Mona Lilja 2021


The previous chapters have been fleshed out in order to contribute theoretically to the understanding of (intended or unintended) meaning productions as a form of constructive resistance. The book has mapped resistance, in which the subjects carrying it out have employed language and matter as (sometimes powerful) practices of dissent. All in all, artifacts, bodies, belongings, descriptions, and photos are analyzed as means of constructive resistance.

Constructive resistance can be seen as the “putting forward” of an alternative, in a context of power. Or, as expressed by Koefoed, it is a “subaltern practice” that might destabilize or undermine different modes and aspects of power in their “enactments, performances and constructions of alternatives” (Koefoed 2017a, 43). Having said this, I would like to pinpoint the complexity of constructive resistance. As Avery F. Gordon’s (2008) Ghostly Matters demonstrates, we need to present life in different and more complicated ways than most social analysts presume. Resistance is carried out individually, by networks or by more organized social movements. It is practiced once, or repeatedly, in patterns. Sometimes resistance is played out in glaring and loud ways, while on other occasions the resistance is hidden, which is illustrated by James Scott’s concept of everyday resistance (Lilja and Vinthagen 2017). Resistance, thus, prevails as hidden, visible, or comes across as hypervisible.

Another complexity of resistance becomes visible as we embrace “proxy” resistance—resistance that is carried out on behalf of others and is motivated by “solidarity.” This kind of resistance creates unexpected alliances across social sections. In Japan, for example, social movements are struggling for farmers who live in poor conditions in other parts of Asia. Similarly, some artists pinpoint the precariousness of migrants by placing their belongings in Swedish museums (as a form of constructive resistance).

Establishing alternative knowledge, as a form of resistance, has previously been described in terms of reversed discourse, (re)categorizations, hybridization, or the (re)loading of artifacts with new meanings (Bhabha 1994; Hall 1997; Foucault 1990; Lilja 2008; Baaz and Lilja 2016; Hall 1997). The core idea behind these concepts is that dominant truths are challenged as new ones emerge. However, in this book I suggest that, in relation to constructive resistance, it is not always exactly obviously which discourses and norms are being problematized. In the cases that I have drawn on in this book—for example, migrants’ belongings in Swedish museums, the Preah Vihear temple conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, and the self-making of (society- and self-defined) women politicians in Cambodia— the knowledge that is challenged, negotiated, and/or complemented is more or less stable in different situations. When analyzing the knowledge-making of Japanese civil society organizations, the senders (civil society organisations) and addressees (multinational companies and local and local retailers of their products) of the resistance are clearly identifiable. In the case of the “authentic artifacts” of the museum exhibitions, that which is opposed, complemented, or negotiated is less obvious. Overall, the knowledge that is negotiated is more or less discernible.

The same goes for the intension of the resister: intentions could be considered plural, complex, contradictory, or evolving. Intentions could also occasionally become something that the actor views differently in retrospect, only vaguely recognizes, or is unable to account for. Although I suggest that intensions are not needed as criteria for defining what resistance is, by being able to identify a possible intention of the resister, it is easier to detect the power relations and the resistance act. No matter how we judge a resistance activity per se, by searching for the content of a possible existing or emerging intention of the resister, our understanding of why there is resistance increases (Baaz et al. 2017).

The relationships between power and resistance are complicated. As it has been highlighted in previous chapters, power techniques must, as we now know, serve as the corresponding reference point for possible resistance techniques, where the peculiarities of power inform how resistance is conducted. Still, the link between resistance and power are neither simple nor always obvious. How resistance pans out also depends on contextually produced discourses and subject positions. Over and above this, it must also be pointed out that resistance evokes resistance. This is interesting as the attempt to resist might become more effective, in the cases that it provokes, or entangles in, other forms of resistance.

Moreover, as stated above, it should be made clear that different forms of resistance are not mutually excluding—quite the opposite. They are often combined in different ways, overlap, support, or undermine each other. For example, constructive, breaking, or avoiding resistance (Baaz, Lilja, Schulz, and Vinthagen, forthcoming) could be part of the same resistance strategy, and could also intersect with other practices (such as compliance). All in all, different entanglements of resistance display a complexity, which must be embraced. This conclusion is further confirmed by the observation that power is sometimes used for resistance.

In addition, as the constructive resistance interrogated produces alternative knowledge and subject positions, also what is concealed, not-known, and non-visible in the knowledge production is important. Roland Bleiker (2000) has pinpointed that when opening up a certain perspective, one simultaneously tends to “hide” everything that is invisible from that vantage point: “every process of revealing is at the same time a process of concealing” (276; cf. Shalev-Gerz 2017). Foucault has, in a similar vein, concluded that “the epistemic agency that subjects have within a discursive practice is such that their knowledge and ignorance are co-constituted: their epistemic lucidity and their epistemic blindness go hand in hand, mutually supporting each other. As another epistemologist of ignorance” (Medina 2011).

The tension between knowing and not knowing in the process of knowledge-making is an interesting discussion, addressed in this book too. The above chapters have displayed how alternative knowledge prevails in relation to “not knowing” or is creating the uncertainty of “not knowing.” The Japanese civil society organizations, when attempting to establish “knowledge otherwise,” (in regard to the usage of pesticides), did not “throw away” the normative understandings, but rather they made other ways of understanding possible, while keeping the original understandings visible (Lenz Taguchi 2004, 177). 1 However, in Kjelbye’s images it is what is not there that makes the objects in the images hypervisible, and this thereby sculpts what we come to know. Similarly, Swedish museums, by displaying unknown migrants’ artifacts, created the feeling of not knowing of the owners of the bags (and where these unknown people currently are). This construction of “not-knowing” appears as a form of constructive resistance. Also, women politicians’ hiding of certain dimensions of themselves is to be seen as resistance. Practices of hiding then prevail as a part of the constructive resistance. Overall, knowing and not knowing and the visible and the hidden are important dimensions of constructive resistance.

As I have shown in this book, the concepts of, “repetitions,” “emotions,” and “time” (and “matter”) are important components of a theoretical framework of constructive resistance (dealing with the construction of knowledge and self-making).

Repetition is thus one of the key elements of constructive resistance. There is a crucial difference between strict repetitions and approximate ones. In some situations, the solution will be to repeat something as carefully as possible, but in other cases approximate repetitions will, as is displayed in previous chapters, enrich or maintain the discourse. There is also a temporal scale or variation that ranges from an immediate to a delayed repetition, which also seems to matter in meaning-making resistance. At public assemblies, placards are repeating other placards in the same venue. At other occasions, repeating less often can make dominant discourses weaken. Moreover, it must be remembered that the meaning of the repeat differs depending on the contexts. In his famous book Mythologies (1972) Barthes constructs a model for analyzing cultural representations, in which the locality matters for what is repeated. Similar artifacts, when repeated in different contexts, gain different meaning; as the context changes so do the (de)coding processes/practices. Thus, for every time a similar artifact is displayed its meanings alter due to that the contextual setting has changed (to different degrees). This too impacts on subversive repetitions.

Repetitions also change discourses as they knit together different discourses, actors, and practices. For example, the human rights discourse has emerged as concepts such as “torture,” “war crimes,” “religious intolerance,” “human rights NGOs,” and “human rights lawyers” have been repeated together under a joint umbrella. The human rights discourse ties different acts, practices, “victims,” and “rescuers” to each other. This “knitting” of discourses, actors, and acts is a means of constructing resistance that produces alternative knowledge; so is repeating in an ambivalent, twisting, simplifying, or concretizing way (as displayed in chapter 3, “Constructive Resistance: Communicating Dissent through Repetitions”).

Another aspect of constructive resistance is how emotions is interweaved in knowledge-making. In the chapters that discuss Japanese NGOs and museum exhibitions, the emotional reactions that the authentic artifacts and the poverty tourism induced come across as crucial for the meaning-making processes. When emotions are intensified, in the moment of interpreting or decoding different representations, alternative knowledge is more easily embraced. We remember events, people, or practices that we connect with emotional reactions.

Emotions are important in so many ways for constructive resistance. Emotions can become an engine for resistance, and the aim of resistance can also be to evoke emotions. Emotional expressions can also be seen as means of resistance, as we choose which emotional expressions to display. By departing from Arlie Russell Hochschild’s theorizations of emotional management, Koefoed (2017b) illustrates emotional management as resistance through the example of a Kurdish woman who struggled to reduce inner feelings of grief at her brother’s funeral, as the emotions, to her, represented the very power of the Turkish state. According to Koefoed’s respondents, the psychological power of the Turkish state was undermined as she avoided emotions of sorrow and pain. Putting on faces and trying to “feel” unexpected emotions might thus work subversively (Koefoed 2017b; Lindqvist and Olsson 2017; Ackroyd and Thompson 1999; Rasmussen 2004). In Koefoed’s work, the emotional management of the representations of pain is underscored. The strong relationship between representations and emotions is also pinpointed by Hutchison and Bleiker (2014, 495), who states that representation “lies at the heart of understanding the processes that link individual and collective emotions” and “representation is the process through which individual emotions become collective and political.”

In chapter 6, I discuss how different NGOs in Japan send study groups to other countries in order to establish a direct relationship with the farmers, their houses, and farming practices. The chapter suggests that knowledge, which has previously remained invisible to mainstream perspectives, is more easily diffused if understood to represent “the real”; that is, if it creates a “reality effect” and, by this, provokes emotions. Creating an emotional “reality effect” emerges as a form of constructive resistance. In chapter 7, this pattern is further displayed through museum exhibitions. The emotional experience of time-traveling that arise when we are encountering “authentic” objects that were there during the difficult journeys of migrants seems to impact upon our discourses. In a similar vein chapter 5 suggests that (what are considered to be) more concrete representations can be used in constructive resistance in order to provoke emotions and thereby strengthen subversive discourses. Overall, emotions seem to play a key role in constructive resistance.

Moreover, time and temporality are another aspect to consider when analyzing constructive resistance. Resistance is played out across a range of temporal scales. Sometimes resistance is instantaneous and ruptures current knowledge-making. However, more often, processes of signification are burdened with an unescapable time lag; therefore, constructive resistance is often “slow.”

Constructive resistance is played out in relation to different pasts and futures. Sometimes, the past or the future is embraced, and we let nonliving, non-embodied inhabitants into lives to form communities across time. Clock time also matters for constructive resistance. As we are governed, for example, toward maximum productivity, this conjures resistance against the acceleration of human productivity. An acceleration of time has stirred up resistance in the form of attempts to decelerate time (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017). In addition, different temporal orders, such as the ordering of time according to the logic of heteronormativity, discipline subjects and thereby also provoke resistance. Trying to establish alternative temporalities or remove or install the future (or the past) is to be seen as a different aim of constructive resistance. Thus, time and how we “do” time are central to how resistance is performed and what effects it has. Time becomes important for analyzing different repetitions, emotions as well as matter.

Matter, in its various forms, also contributes to the development and transformation of discourses. The temples, bodies, squares, and artifacts that are involved in resistance are to be seen as social agents, discursive-materialities, and as part of meaning-making processes. By this, matter becomes important when analyzing constructive resistance. In line with Otto von Busch (2017, 68), I suggest that “a material perspective can open new dimensions of how humans and objects (or nonhumans) act in concert to open specific possibilities of resistance.” Von Busch argues that different types of matter are mobilized by activists and how materials “literally tie together their actions to others and towards their cause” (2017, 75). He approaches the matter of resistance by way of the concept of “assemblages of resistance” and suggests a methodology of “unpacking” these assemblages by examining how the different elements “support, multiply, and act together as a unit” in the shaping of resistance (von Busch 2017, 76; Johansson et al. 2018). This becomes visible in some chapters of this book: the temple “repeat” and the “authentic artifacts” that are discussed are cases that display the importance of analyzing the intersection of matter and meaning-making.

Subversive practices of self-making also prevail in the chapters in this book as an important form of constructive resistance, which intersects with emotional reactions, time spans, and repetitions. Through the everyday recreation of their subjectivities, people reinvent themselves. This is not, however, the optimistic and fundamental creation of “alternative” figurations that break with existing domination in any full sense. This resistance is embedded in the discourses and practices of society that limit the range of possible ways of self-reconstruction. Still, this resistance—creating ongoing, small-scale differences that might look trivial—sometimes becomes significant.

Thus, the chapters in this book not only discuss the practices of establishing “knowledge otherwise,” but also how corresponding subject positions are negotiated. This is particularly the case in chapter 4, which shines light upon the self-making of (society- and self-defined) women politicians in Cambodia, who choose to perform a stereotype while simultaneously hiding complexity as well as their attempts to negotiate the stereotype. However, the other chapters also touch upon how subject positions—or figurations—are framed in, for example, public assemblies, in the desert, in times of acceleration, and in museum spaces. Thus, self-making entangles in various forms of knowledge-making in the form of constructive resistance.

As mentioned previously, the body can be used to refuse to perform, or to perform, certain figurations. I would like to argue that the predictable or unpredictable figures of our societies are not only embodied positions; sometimes they are unbodied, thereby shaking the cultural order. While it is not performed, it is not “proved” to exist, and the misfit between the images and the bodies opens up the possibility for deconstructions, recategorizations, and new discourses. These figures are to be seen as “non-performative” speech acts that do not bring into effect the things that they name (Feministkilljoys 2019). The pulling apart, or unsticking, of different figures, bodies, and representations then prevails as a form of constructive resistance that forms our emerging realities.

But when is constructive resistance most effective? Loud and overt expressions of resistance provoke power. Sometimes hidden forms of resistance are more effective. Being out of sight this resistance may create change processes without bringing about power-reactions. Moreover, resistance movements, networks, practices, or discourses must change to keep us interested and emotionally engaged. As stated above, the repetition of (what we comprehend as) exact representations creates an automatized reading of the sign. If we look again and again at the same picture, the semantics are gradually emptied, and the image’s meaning is changed. It is important to have this reasoning in mind if we want to understand possible resistance strategies. To be effective, constructive resistance must be composed by repeated representations, which are constantly reloaded, twisted, and expressed by new persons from new venues and with new representations. And, as stated above, to create alternative narratives or new discourses, these must entangle in emotional processes and be embraced as “the real.”

There are different ways of approaching the concept of constructive resistance. Koefoed (2017) discusses constructive resistance in terms of movements’ processes of self-organized development. In this book, however, constructive resistance is not about institutions/organizations enactments of “alternatives,” such as alternative ways of organizing society and living the nowtopia, but rather the concept of constructive resistance is used as an entrance for discussing alternative knowledge-making and self-making.

This indicates that there are different forms of constructive resistance. Constructing a replica, ambivalently performing a subject position, repeating sentences in a different manner, and displaying photographs of sand are all very different strategies, but they still all take part in meaning-making processes. Thus, the means of constructive resistance are multiple and differing. The common features are that they all propose an alternative in reaction to, and in the context of, power.


1. This goes in line with Irigaray’s outline of deconstruction. Irigaray promotes the concept of mimesis, which, according to Braidotti, resembles the strategic essentialism. The concept makes visible how repeating “woman” as a negative stereotype, but still slightly different, might call the concept into question and suggest that women actually are something else than the established view expressed. The negative view must not be ignored though, but rather exposed and demystified (Braidotti 2003, 44—46, 1997, 32—37; Lilja 2008).


Ackroyd, S., and P. Thompson. 1999. Organizational Misbehavior. London: Sage.

Baaz, M., and M. Lilja. 2016. “(Re)categorisation as Resistance: Civil-Society Mobilisations Around the Preah Vihear Temple.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 30 (3): 295—310.

Baaz, M., M. Lilja, M. Schulz, and S. Vinthagen. 2017. “Defining and Analyzing ’Resistance’: Possible Entrances to the Study of Subversive Practices.” Alternatives 41 (3): 137—53.

Barthes, R. 1972. Mythologies, translated by A. Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bhabha, H. K. 1984. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” October 28: 125—33.

Bhabha, H. K. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Bhabha, H. K. 1996. “Culture’s In-Between.” In Questions of Cultural Identity, edited by S. Hall and P. du Gay. London: Sage.

Bleiker, R. 2000. Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Braidotti, R. 1997. “Comment on Felski’s ’The Doxa of Difference’: Working Through Sexual Difference.” Signs 23 (1).

Braidotti, R. 2003. “Becoming Woman: or Sexual Difference Revisited.” Theory, Culture and Society 20 (3): 43—64.

Burkitt, I. 2002. “Technologies of the Self: Habitus and Capacities.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 32 (2): 219—37.

Childs, P., and P. Williams. 1997. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.

Feministkilljoys. 2019. “Nodding as a Non-Performative.” Last edited April 29, 2019.

Foucault, M., 1990. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, translated by R. Hurley. New York, NY: Vintage.

Gordon, A. F. 2008. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis, MN: University Press of Minnesota.

Hall, S. 1997. “The Work of Representation.” In Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices, edited by Stuart Hall. London: Sage.

Haraldsson, A.-L., and M. Lilja. 2017. “Emotional Resistance Against Material Artefacts: University Spaces and Administrative Online Systems.” Journal of Political Power 10 (2): 166—83.

Hutchison, Emma, and Roland Bleiker. 2014. “Theorizing Emotions in World Politics.” International Theory 6 (3): 491—514.

Irigaray, L. 1991. The Irigaray Reader, edited by M. Whitford. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Johansson, A., M. Lilja, and L. Martinsson. 2018. “Editorial, the Materiality of Resistance: Resistance of Cultural-Material Artefacts and Bodies.” Journal of Resistance Studies 2 (4).

Koefoed, M. 2017a. “Constructive Resistance in Northern Kurdistan: Exploring the Peace, Development and Resistance Nexus.” Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 12 (3): 39—53.

Koefoed, M. 2017b. “Martyrdom and Emotional Resistance in the Case of Northern Kurdistan: Hidden and Public Emotional Resistance.” Journal of Political Power 10 (2): 184—99.

Kress, G., and T. van Leeuwen. 1996. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.

Lenz Taguchi, H. 2004. In på Bara Benet: En Introduction till Feministisk Poststrukturalism [To the Bare Bone: An Introduction to Feminist Post-Structuralism]. Stockholm: HLS Förlag.

Lilja, M. 2008. Power, Resistance and Women Politicians in Cambodia: Discourses of Emancipation. Copenhagen: Nias Press.

Lilja, M., M. Baaz, M. Schulz, and S. Vinthagen. 2017. “How Resistance Encourages Resistance: Theorising the Nexus Between Power, Everyday Resistance and Organized Resistance.” Journal of Political Power 10 (1): 40—54.

Lilja, M., and S. Vinthagen. 2018. “Dispersed Resistance: Unpacking the Spectrum and Properties of Glaring and Everyday Resistance.” Journal of Political Power 11 (2): 211—29.

Lindqvist, M., and E. Olsson. 2017. “Everyday Resistance in Psychiatry Through Harbouring Strategies.” Journal of Political Power 10 (2): 200—18.

Medina, J. 2011. “Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance: Counter-Memory, Epistemic Friction, and Guerrilla Pluralism.” Foucault Studies 12: 9—35.

Rasmussen, B. 2004. “Between Endless Needs and Limited Resources: The Gendered Construction of a Greedy Organization.” Gender, Work & Organization 11 (5): 506—25.

Shalev-Gerz, E. 2017. “Contact Page.”

Thompson, K. 2003. “Forms of Resistance: Foucault on Tactical Reversal and Self-Formation.” Continental Philosophy Review 36: 113—38.

von Busch, O. 2017. “Resistant Materialities and Power Tools: Dynamics of Power and Resistance in Everyday Consumerism.” Journal of Resistance Studies 3 (2): 66—88.