Constructive Resistance: Emotions, Repetitions, and Time

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

Constructive Resistance: Emotions, Repetitions, and Time

Studies of resistance have gone through different stages; an early focus has been on the more obvious and dramatic forms of resistance, and later there was recognition of subtle and diffused articulations. In spite of this development, studies on collectively organized, confrontational, and violent forms of resistance to state power and capitalism still dominate the field of resistance studies (Baaz, Lilja and Vinthagen 2017). As a response to this, this book argues that, following the work of Roland Bleiker, the most powerful practices of dissent “work in discursive ways, that is, by engendering a slow transformation of values” (Bleiker 2000, 276).

Considering the above, the forthcoming sections elaborate on more constructive forms of resistance, which bring about what has been addressed as “subversive knowledge,” “counter-history,” or “knowledges otherwise” (cf. Foucault 1990, 1997; Grosfoguel 2013; Lilja and Vinthagen 2014, 2018; Mignolo 2009; Lilja and Vinthagen 2007; Koefoed 2017; Sørensen 2016; Sørensen & Wiksell, 2019; Wiksell, 2020; Vinthagen 2005). The next-coming chapters disentangle the undertakings of different epistemic battles. Probing how, for example, figurations, posters, photos, artifacts, and buildings matter in establishing contemporary discussions, I inquire how and why they are (re)imparted with meaning and to what effect. Among others, I will consider “authentic” artifacts and “fake” replicas as representations, which, when analyzed in their contexts, provide crucial insights on how meaning is produced as resistance. I suggest that constructive resistance is sometimes complex and subtle. When this kind of resistance is enacted, it is not always obvious what relations of power are being challenged. It is thereby often difficult to distinctly carve out one particular governing technology and thereafter argue for a direct link to a specific practice of resistance; still, there is clearly a correlation between how power is applied and the resistance that is performed (cf. Baaz and Stern 2015, Stern, Hellberg and Hansson 2015).

James Scott is one scholar within resistance studies who has moved his focus in order to capture non-organized and more subtle practices of resistance. His research on resistance, however, does not, according to his critics, allow for more symbolic approaches to power or the conceptualizing of resistant subaltern subjectivities. Scott seem to embrace domination as mainly repressive acts, and his research could be understood as elaborating, primarily, how peasants are dominated while their minds remain free and, at least to some degree, unpersuaded by hegemonic arguments (Butz 2011; Mitchell 1990, 562, 564). Is it so then, that in this regard, Scott assumes a subjectivity that preexists and is maintained despite dominating discourses? This would mean that even though Scott, occasionally, conceptualizes resistance through symbols, these symbols are not a means of resistance against the discourses that form subjectivities, truths regimes, and realities, but rather against more direct forms of power (Lilja and Vinthagen 2018).

The constructive resistance discussed in this book departs from a different conceptualization of power than Scott’s (Scott 1977, 1990). Rather than being mainly repressive, power is understood to also function through the production of truths, subject positions, and subjectivities. Truths are constructed in a complex interplay between discourses and materialities. Artifacts, buildings, and bodies are not embraced as passive vessels of different meanings, but rather as discursive materialities, and as such they partake in the ongoing processes of producing different discourses (Martinsson and Lilja 2018; cf. Butler 2015; Barad 2008).

An important point of departure in this book is that in order to understand our conceptions of “reality” and how they emerge, we must look closer at different forms of constructive resistance and the “whats” and “hows” of that which is being performed, displayed, and repeated. How do micro-practices of resistance produce new and emerging realities? How is resistance played out by various strategies such as repeating statements and “things,” performing certain identities, circulating emotions, or by making specific artifacts hypervisible?

Resistance practices, in this regard, slide into, mix with, and resemble other aspects/behaviors, such as compliance, passivity, avoidance, and survival strategies. Resistance must be understood through its entanglement with power, affects, agency, temporalities, spaces, and other forms of resistance. It should also be added that resistance might be parasitic on power and/or nourish as well as undermine it. Power is, for example, sometimes created or recreated exactly through the very same resistance that it provokes.

The concept of “constructive resistance” moves beyond noncooperative forms of resistance that primarily oppose the “one-dimensional” decision-making or “sovereign” power (Vinthagen 2005, 2007; Lilja and Vinthagen 2007; Sørensen 2016; Koefoed 2017). Minoo Koefoed proposes an alternative definition of constructive resistance, namely: “as subaltern practices that might undermine different modes and aspects of power in their enactments, performances and constructions of alternatives” (Koefoed 2017, 43).

The main focus of this book is not the construction of unorthodox institutions or movements, “nowtopias” or the enactments of noncapitalist alternative societies, but rather, it uses the concept of constructive resistance to denote resistance that aims to produce discourses “otherwise” that thereby negotiate truths and subject positions. It is resistance practices that come to “produce and structure subjectivities, ways of life, desires and bodies, by destabilizing, displacing or replacing such production” (Lilja and Vinthagen 2018).

By taking the notion of constructive resistance seriously—and suggesting that it might be the most powerful form of resistance—I use this book to elaborate on different strategies of representation, which function as resistance in relation to time, emotions, and repetition. Given that the kind of constructive resistance expanded upon in this book is about processes of significations, the time aspect—how alternative truths are repeated and thereby established over time—becomes crucial. And, resistance has a temporality of its own; for example, close authorities are instantly resisted here-and-now, while meaning-making resistance suffers from the inescapable time lag of processes of signification. In all forms of resistance, emotions prevail as an important engine of political struggles. Emotions also often turn out to be as a means of constructive resistance. I would also like to suggest that different materialities (bodies, artifacts, pavements, etc.) are important when considering resistance. In this book, matter will be discussed and incorporated as an important dimension in all chapters.

Resistance could be a matter of repeating things differently or talking from new venues (Lilja and Lilja 2018). In The History of Sexuality (1990), Michel Foucault emphasizes how resistance appears as discursive, creative, and small-scaled occurrences when power and knowledge are joined together in discourse, yet it has the ability to create social change. Through different strategies of representation, it is resistance that alters and negotiates knowledge regimes. Political struggles and subversive acts, then, occur as micro-complexities. It is scattered signs that, when reappearing, can be thought of as amassed resistance. A single act of resistance, which to a great extent is interwoven with power discourses, might be hidden and negligible, but when accumulated—for example, when resistance inspires other acts of resistance—it might lead to social modifications and transformations (Foucault 1990, 96—101; Lilja 2019; Lilja and Wiksell 2019).

One example of this kind of resistance was revealed in interviews carried out in Japan in 2013 and 2014 (see chapter 6 in this book). The respondents suggested that Japanese civil society organizations must use specific tactics of narrating and apply specific representations in order to make their recipients understand, embrace, and act upon issues surrounding poverty and pesticides. Foremost, when narrating “poverty,” they argued that it is essential for the organizations to use signs (images, videos, descriptions, bodies) that are seen as corresponding to, composing, or depicting the real, thereby creating a “reality effect,” while simultaneously evoking emotional reactions. In other words, different, but supporting, discursive practices of the organizations together produced the epistemic impressions of a situation where poverty became “the real.” “Realistically” outlining the precarity of the farmers’ situation was a strategy of the organizations to challenge ignorance structures or cultures of silence. The strategies of representation of the Japanese organizations prevail as resistance that promotes new truths and makes constructive use of different representations. This kind of constructive resistance can be a matter of producing ongoing small-scale differences that might look trivial, but sometimes have major impacts (cf. Sørensen 2016).

Discursive change can be quite fast and have a significant impact. One example of such a discursive change that is currently being undertaken and sweeping all over the world is the different, yet interacting, anti-gender mobilizations, which revolve around the politics of more conservatively oriented subjects who direct themselves against “gender ideology,” “gender equality,” gender mainstreaming, and/or gender studies (e.g., Kuhar and Paternotte 2017, 256, 258—59). Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte (2017), among others, have argued that despite national specificities, common patterns in the mobilizations can be identified across borders, including the rhetoric of anti-gender activists and a similar repertoire of actions and strategies. Gender studies, abortions, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are repeatedly resisted by anti-abortion groups, religious groups, family associations, nationalists and populists, and far-right groups as well as by individual subjects on social media and newspaper editorials (Kuhar 2015; Kuhar and Paternotte 2017, 256, 259; Peto 2016; Lilja and Johansson 2018). Overall, different voices from different conservative discourses support each other. This could be exemplified by the anti-gender discourses that are repeated by straight, “involuntarily celibate” men who call themselves “incels.” These men often subscribe to notions of white supremacy, which is expressed on different internet pages and sometimes turns into violence. The representations of the “incels” are different but still correspond to some of the views that were expressed by, for example, Pope Francis in 2016 when he made it clear what he thought was theologically at stake by arguing that “God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way . . . and we are doing the exact opposite” (Butler 2019). Also, Damares Alves, Brazil’s Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, has enhanced more conservative discourses by tweeting, “Attention, attention! It’s a new era in Brazil: Boys wear blue and girls wear pink.” She also stated that under President Bolsonaro’s administration, “a girl will be a princess and a boy will be a prince” (Foust 2019).

Transnationally, anti-gender mobilizations, which often intersect with notions of racism, have created new discourses and collective identities; been able to formulate joint—and sometimes successful—attacks on gender studies or the rights of women and sexual minorities; hinder the passing of progressive laws; and cut state funds for work on gender equality. This enormous (symbolic and material) impact, which has been brought about by different representation of these groups and subjects, highlights the importance of different practices of representation.

In this book, I do not elaborate on anti-genderism norms, but discuss other examples of norm-changes and constructive resistance; for example, the discursive struggle around migrant bodies, where artifacts that pertain to the struggle are presented in Swedish museums; the Preah Vihear temple conflict between Cambodia and Thailand; the border conflict in West Sahara; the self-making of (self-defined) women politicians in Cambodia, and climate activism. The strategies of representation that are used in these, and other cases, are investigated through a closer look at “the visual,” “the heard,” and the things that are performed, displayed, and repeated. The book then moves beyond the visual turn, which, in the words of Bleiker, can be understood as a study of:

the polities of visuality (which) involves understanding not only the role of images—still and moving ones—but also how visual artefacts and performances take on political significance. The spectrum of visual phenomena here ranges from photography, film, video and television to art, videogames, satellites images and computer vision, to name just a few random examples. (Bleiker 2019, 117)

Visual phenomena, such as the ones mentioned in the above quotation, are linked to different overlapping aspects such as “vision, visuality, in-/visibility, visualizing, visuals, visual representations, and performances as well as icons, images, and pictures” (Schlag 2019, 107). In this book, however, linguistic representations are also embraced, and by including the heard (words, sentences, musical tones, etc.), a broader unit of analysis—rather than just the “visual turn”—is in focus (Bleiker 2000). This is motivated by the idea that different realities—a reality being that which one comes to comprehend and read as true or real, and that one embodies and realizes—are constructed through strategies of representation that involve bodies, images as well as words and sounds. Or, as put by Gabi Schlag (2019), this book refers to the “multiple communicative practices that are used to produce and convey meaning, e.g., textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual modes of expression” (Schlag 2019; cf. Kress and van Leeuwen 1996). Moreover, single representations are not in themselves effective in meaning-making but depend upon repetitions of similar representations in order to have an impact. In the forthcoming chapters, I elaborate on how material and linguistic “repeats” are performative; that is, how they do things and direct bodies and resistance (or compose resistance).

As indicated above, representations gain their currency through entanglements with emotions. Practices of representation must also be understood as being played out in a time—space nexus, in which all meaning-making practices have their own temporality. Overall, this book takes a distinct look at three different aspects of epistemic battles, namely: (1) the role of repetition(s) in meaning-making processes; (2) the emotional aspects of different contestations; and (3) the temporality of constructive resistance. These aspects are further elaborated in the sections below, in order to provide a background for the rest of the book.


Repeated words, artifacts, images, and sounds are all a copy of and, simultaneously, a reinvention of earlier linguistic or material representations. Repetition means the establishment of patterns and a steady return to previous styles, practices, discourses, and so on. According to Victor Turner, social action requires a performance that is repeated. This repetition is a reenactment and a re-experiencing of a set of meanings that have already been socially established (Turner 1974). Just as a play requires both text and interpretation, the body also acts within the limitations of preexisting directives: “One is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body and, indeed, one does one’s body differently from one’s contemporaries and from one’s embodied predecessors and successors as well” (Butler 1990/1999, 272). Thus repetition, similarity, and difference are three dimensions of the same process. The repetition of different figures, practices, and linguistic statements is crucial for the governing of subjects and populations, as well as the resistance against it. Thus, the repetition of signs must be embraced as a powerful practice of dissent, considering that

discourses are powerful forms of domination. They frame the para-meters of thinking processes. They shape political and social interactions. They disregard national boundaries and take on increasingly transversal and global dimensions. Yet they are not invincible. They may be thin. They may contain cracks. (Bleiker 2000, 277)

We more or less tend to deliberately reproduce discourses and take the repetition of representations (images, sounds, artifacts, sentences, etc.) for granted. By repeating various representations, which do not simply represent but also reconstruct different world views, we partake in the network of power. However, there are also several examples of how governing takes place through the intentional repetition of words. The practice of governing through repetitions can be illuminated by the example of the Preah Vihear temple conflict on the border area between Cambodia and Thailand. Respondents in Cambodia told us that government employees visit newspaper offices to give them lists of words that they must use when writing about the Preah Vihear temple conflict. Yet another example could be the 2006 election in Sweden. Before the election campaign of the New Moderate Party, they publicized a brand guide or manual, which explained to their members what words to repeat in order to connect the “right” visions, modes, and notions to the party. This manual, which was published on the New Moderate Party’s website, included a glossary that showed which words to use and which ones were considered “old” and worn out and thus should not be used. Among other things, “change” (förändra) was to be replaced with “improve” (förbättra), and “unemployed” (arbetslösa) was to be exchanged with “people without work” (människor som saknar jobb).

In chapter 3, different patterns of repetition are suggested, which could be seen as strategies of representation. Among other things, it is argued that to strengthen or maintain a discourse, it must be repeated in a slightly different way than before (Lilja and Lilja 2018). Take the example of climate change communication. The first time one encounters the discourse of climate change, its message is shocking. But when the same message is repeated and read for a second, third, or fourth time, the reader’s understanding of it has changed and the message is read in a more reluctant way. This means that every time a representation is repeated, it is read and understood in a new way, even though it is (experienced as) exactly the same representation that is being repeated. It also implies that after seeing the same representation again and again, we do not listen as carefully, and we are not as interested as before. Thus, to maintain an interest in the discourse about climate change, the discourse needs to be constantly added to, altered, or expressed in new ways. One must change a discourse in order to maintain it. To repeat the very same representations means changing the reading of it (Lilja and Lilja 2018).

Two other patterns of repetition, which are discussed in chapter 3, contribute to making the discourses more distinct and increasing their impact. For example, altering the causality of a discourse or removing its complexities leads to more dense messages. Overall, processes of repetition and how these are patterned inform both the content and impact of our discourses and thus have a great bearing on how we construct our emerging discourses. Repetitions are then to be seen as means of constructive resistance.

As indicated above, it is possible to distinguish between material and linguistic repetition. While spoken sentences might pop up and then, in the next minute, be gone, repetitions can also be located at the perceptions of the reader, who again and again runs into and then “reads” similar material artifacts, buildings, bodies, and so on. I address this kind of repetition, one that emerges from the similarities of objects, in chapter 2 by using the example of different articulations, claims, and contestations around a world heritage site—the Preah Vihear temple. The Preah Vihear temple is situated on the top of a steep cliff in the Dangrek Mountain range on the border between Cambodia and Thailand, and has been at the core of a difficult and prolonged conflict between the two neighboring countries for more than a century. To solve this conflict, a replica of the Preah Vihear temple was constructed in 2016 on the Thai side of the border. The temple “repeat”—the copy—was, before being demolished not long after construction, an acknowledgment, a reenactment, and an invitation to re-experience a set of meanings and designs that had already been established by the Preah Vihear temple. Still, the “original” Preah Vihear temple can also be understood as a repetition of previous temples and of itself (Lilja and Baaz 2018).

The Preah Vihear temple replica gained meaning through processes that involve the recognition of both similarities and differences. The replica added to the heritage discourse about the temple and challenged the ambition of Cambodian decision-makers to have exclusive rights to the Preah Vihear temple. The temple “repeat” could be seen as, among other things, an act of resistance against the very idea of one, single “original” temple. Repeating the Preah Vihear temple suggests that it is not unique, exclusive, and/or irreplaceable. The repetition that the replica composes ties the “fake” to the discourse around the Preah Vihear as well as tying the temple’s stakeholders (prayers, tourists, the military, politicians, etc.) to the different artifacts and to the heritage discourse (Tannen 1987). On the whole, the replica, as a repeat, alters discourses and shakes different relations of power (Baaz and Lilja 2018). Building a replica, around which new discourses are constructed, while other are challenged, can be seen as a productive act, an act of constructive resistance.

But it is not only artifacts that are to be read as repetitions and means of constructive resistance that fuels social change. Processes of identification and self-making also build on the repetition of specific figurations and discourses. Embodied figurations are formulated, performed, and governed by various repetitive strategies, which sometimes could be read as constructive resistance (Lilja 2016a, 2017b; Braidotti 2011). By presenting the example of female politicians in Cambodia, chapter 4 displays how (self- and society-defined) women, who seem to repeat and maintain established gender discourses, actually use these discourses and the existence of a multilayered figuration as a “hiding place.” By repeating various subject positions, which are parasitic on existing stereotypes and power relations, the women avoid disciplinary punishments that follow from performing unexpected, unusual, or dangerous positions. To display oneself as corresponding to the female stereotype, while simultaneously questioning it, can be seen as a representational strategy as well as it can be regarded as a form of constructive resistance (Lilja 2016a, 2017b).

The hiding of aspects of a complex self in order to travel more easily in social hierarchies, and gain political power, could be understood as a “hidden” form of resistance. Performing according to dominant understandings of femininity, while hiding the complexity and multilayered self, sometimes creates tension and shakes the cultural order, while simultaneously running the risk of strengthening power. It is a repetition that works against the origin of resistance and hides its subversion. Resistance appears as the effect of power and as a part of power itself, while simultaneously strengthening power (Lilja 2008). It is the matter of a nexus between power and resistance, where they exist simultaneously and nourish each other.

The ambivalent, complex, and hybrid self-making of the women can be understood as a form of constructive resistance, even though it is hard to determine the deliberate intentions of the actors (e.g., Scott 1989) and the act of resisting goes unrecognized by its targets (e.g., Hollander and Einwohner 2004). Here, resistance is not seen as an intent or effect, but as a particular kind of act, which unintendedly breaks contemporary gender norms and contributes to alternative discourses. Emotions, in the form of fear of punishment or desire for rewards, become driving forces for performing reductive figurations. The acting expresses an ambivalence between, or an overlap of, resistance and compliance. In addition, by performing this type of stereotypical position, the body becomes the tool of resistance, which implies the importance of a material, grounded analysis. Physical, emotional, and cultural aspects are bound together and entangled in a complex fashion.

My analysis here is inspired by the “new materialism,” which is an approach that “consider[s] matter or the body not only as they are formed by the forces of language, culture, and politics but also as they are formative” (Frost 2011, 70; cf. Barad 2008; Bennet 2010; Åsberg et al. 2012). That is, material bodies, nature, and artifacts are conceived as having a “peculiar and distinctive kind of agency, one that is neither a direct nor an incidental outgrowth of human intentionality but rather one with its own impetus and trajectory” (Frost 2011, 70). Thus, another important point of departure in this book is that different material physiques—artifacts, nature, bodies—inform discourses. Climate change is an illuminating example of how nature transforms the conditions for nonhumans and humans. Due to the effects of climate change, new discourses emerge, which are informed by heat, drought, famine, and other effects of dramatic weather (Lilja and Lilja 2018; cf. Barad 2008).

Matter matters for resistance, not at least for different strategies of self-making and the performing of different subject-positions, which sometimes come to alter discourses or negotiate subject positions. Such resistance may take a number of forms—such as repeating subject positions differently or refusing to be “hailed” into place. I want to suggest that to understand resistance, it becomes important to understand how figures are assumed and performed.

The friction between “victims” and “perpetrators” in Cambodia is an illustrative example of how practices of self-making can be understood as a form of constructive resistance. 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. The distinction between former Khmer Rouge (KR) cadres, soldiers, and front figures and the victims of the KR’s rule has created the figure of the “perpetrators” in the postwar rhetoric in Cambodia. As in other contexts, this figure has been assigned notions of destruction and evilness, and it has been defined through its binary opposition to the victims (Bernath 2016; Bouris 2007; Zucker 2017). This reductive image of the perpetrators has, however, in the long run been difficult to maintain—at least in many villages where former KR members still live alongside the survivors (Bernath 2016). Savina Sirik’s research (2020) shows how many former KR cadres refuse to perform the subject position of the “perpetrators” but identify themselves as victims. The blurry lines between the victims and perpetrators are probably due to the fact that many people in Cambodia in the 1970s had family members or friends in the KR movement—or were themselves attracted by the KR ideology. In addition, many KR soldiers became the victims of the movement. For example, the majority of prisoners taken to Tuol Sleng prison, S-21, located in Phnom Penh, under the reign of the Communist Party of Kampuchea from April 17, 1975, to January 6, 1979, were KR cadres, including high-level officials such as ministers, and their family members, who were accused of collaborating with foreign governments, and spying for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency, USA) and the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Soviet Union) (DC-Cam 2010). Former KR soldiers’ and cadres’ refusal to perform the figure of the “perpetrator,” which they are expected to repeat, is one way of “unsticking” the representation of the “perpetrator” from the bodies to which this image is pasted.

Ahmed discusses the “sticking” of some representations to other representations and to bodies. Or in other words, the bodies who “could be terrorists” are the ones who might “look Muslim”; the one who “looks feminine” is the one who could be the “babysitter” or “nurse” and so on (Ahmed 2004). Some bodies then become nodes, which attract specific images and around which certain meanings assemble (and are maintained). A similar sticking of representations, could be seen in the Cambodian case, where those who were “cadres” are now assumed to be the “perpetrators.” However, as the subjects, who are expected to materialize as perpetrators, refuse to do so, the figure of the “perpetrator” becomes unbodied. 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. The unsticking of different figures, bodies, and representations, then, prevails as a form of constructive resistance that forms our emerging realities. By drawing on Ahmed’s blog, the construction of the “perpetrator” offered by different local, national and international actors, can be described as “non-performative” speech acts that do not bring into effect what they name (Feministkilljoys 2019). Instead, other figurations are offered and performed, which could be understood as a form of constructive resistance.

Representations such as the temple “repeat” or bodies repeatedly representing the “perfect Cambodian woman,” as well as the patterns of the reiterations, could all be seen as subversive technologies and means of constructive resistance. These repetitions do not only counter dominant norms but also construct new knowledge, as well as open up opportunities for unanswered questions and complexity. The repetition of figurations or “authentic” or “fake” artifacts constitutes parts of the different epistemic battles that this book sets out to disentangle in order to shed light upon how contestations impact upon and form our views of what is real. It is not always obvious which discourses and norms are problematized by the repeated representations. There is often no stable knowledge that is challenged or negotiated. Rather, the resistance is more of the unstable but constructive sort, which produces and structures subjectivities, knowledge, ways of life, desires, and bodies as well as complexifying and problematizing various truths. Analyzing constructive resistance is important for understanding processes of social change.


As indicated above, in this book I set out to address emotionality and how it works in relation to resistance. Hate, desire, or love are embedded in social contexts that create the possibility for us to communicate, share, and circulate emotions, while we still subjectively “feel” these. Emma Hutchinson and Bleiker similarly argue that emotions are shaped by society and culture and therefore are not only to be seen as individual experiences (Hutchinson and Bleiker 2014, 499). On the contrary, even though we experience that emotions emerge from within us and move outwardly, they are formed within particular cultural and social contexts: “Emotions always have a history. How we feel in response to particular political events depends on how society suggests we should feel. To experience feelings such as anger, fear, trust, or empathy is dependent on a specific cultural context that renders such emotions meaningful and acceptable” (Hutchinson and Bleiker 2014, 504). As pinpointed by Hutchinson and Bleiker, due to this, some scholars frame emotions as “cultural products,” “reproduced in individuals through embodied experience” (Abu-Lughod and Lutz 1990, 12).

This book will consider emotions that are created from—as well as motivating, informing, and emerging from—resistance. Emotions and interpretations are inseparable; thus, we experience various emotions as we decode different representations. Representations sometimes evoke “moral shocks,” which motivate people “to do something” (cf. Goodwin et al. 2001). Emotions also appear to be an engine of resistance by removing the effects of disciplinary technologies. Emotions, then, not only discipline bodies and form realities, but sometimes also create non-governable subjects and undermine the very core of various self-disciplinary discourses and practices. I would like to argue that emotions, in relation to resistance, tangentially interact with space (loss of land, memorial places, etc.) or different temporal dimensions, such as fear for the future.

In addition, emotions have the tendency to become more intense as representations are repeated. Or as expressed by Sara Ahmed, signs “the more they circulate, the more affective they become, and the more they appear to ’contain’ affect” (Ahmed 2004, 120). In public assemblies, for example, different placards are “stuck” to other posters through the addressing of similar issues and through the spatial and temporal proximity. The messages of posters of hate or frustration are repeated by the vocalized demands of public assemblies. In addition, the linguistic—written or vocalized—petitions are strengthened, and made more complex by the powerful representations that the bodies and occupied pavements compose. All in all, an assemblage of emotionally loaded representations evokes and boosts the will to resist.

An example of the above is the Washington D.C. pussy hat demonstration in 2017 when over 60,000 women showed up in knitted “pussy power” hats to announce their opposition to the Donald Trump’s presidential election. The demonstration was full of placards that said, among other things, “We are watching you President Trump,” “Free Melania,” and “You lied, you bullied, grabbed and denied. Try respect!” (poster with an image of Trump) (Quartz 2017). Here, one poster produced certain effects through its similarities and temporal and spatial proximity to other posters. The posters are to be seen as signs of aversion, which place hate with a specific body (Trump’s body) thereby constituting this body as an object of dislike. Trump is assumed to cause harm to cis-women, the LGBT community, Muslims, immigrants, and other minorities, and he comes to embody the threat of discrimination. The representations direct bodies and align individuals with communities by sticking figures together (LGBT bodies, Muslims, immigrants, cis-women, and other minorities), a sticking that, at least aims to, create the very effect of a collective, with reference to the figure of hate—Trump. 1 Overall, the participants of the public assembly were taking part in various emotional processes while coming together to struggle against, for example, indifference and stereotypization.

The more posters that appear and are read and (re)read, in the light of other similar ones, the more emotions are provoked by the representations. Indeed, the repetition of discourses of hate is crucial for intensifying the emotions of an event and for the production of a “us” and “them” (Ahmed 2004, 121).

The “pussy hat” is an illustrative example of how discourses of activism are part of the making of the materiality of the embodied activist (Butler 1993, 9—10). Norms of dissent come to sculpt the body and mind of the activists, as they dress and perform in line with what is expected of this position. In the example of the above-mentioned “pussy hat,” which can be seen as a materialization of feminist norms, it is discourses of feminism that entangle with processes of materialization of resistance subjects (Butler 2015; Johansson et al. 2018). Thus, representations are performative, partake in creating our experience of reality, and materialize that reality.

As different issues and political institutions are assigned emotional values (such as hate or frustration), this sometimes forms the very basis for political activities and communities of belonging. Constructive resistance builds on representations that often induce emotions and individual reactions to these representations. Moreover, as emotions intensify as representations circulate, this could lead to the escalation of resistance (cf. Ahmed 2004). This is further discussed in chapter 5.

Emotions, then, are induced in the meeting between subjects and representations, and often get intensified while representations of hate or love are being repeatedly read and reread. This might be an important observation, considering Hutchison and Bleiker’s call to theorize: “the actual processes that render emotions political” (Hutchison and Bleiker 2014, 499). However, as I argued in the previous section, the opposite could also happen; the repetition of signs that are too similar sometimes creates the very effect of disinterest and an automated reading of the signs: we have heard it before; it is not new, interesting, or upsetting. Given this, different patterns of repetitions, as well as the character of the representations, become important in relation to how they interweave with emotions. Indeed, if the pattern of the repetition is crucial to the very making of emotions and interest, then these must be studied in depth. We should hence ask how the repetition of representations shapes the form of the constructive resistance, emerging emotions as well as the materialization of public assemblies.

Constructive resistance, which appears as the repetition of signs across time, more generally appears in the shape of time-lagged counter-narratives or reversed discourses that are parasitic on, as well as challenging to, discursive truths (Butler 1995, 2018). Still, different ruptures can work too as a form of resistance and halt automatized reading of representations. Specific bodies that require employment, shelter, healthcare, and food—through their visible, emotional, and material expressions—render complex matters of precarization more concrete and graspable for the reader. Through the embodiment of narratives of poverty or discrimination, thus signifying more than the linguistics representations, they can rupture automatized readings or more theoretical or abstract claims of precariousness (see chapter 5). Constructive resistance could, then, become more effective if more concrete representations are employed to represent and exemplify different truths.

But not only is emotionality involved in the rupture of scientific or political abstract claims, but emotional management can also be considered to be a form of constructive resistance (Baaz, Heikkinen and Lilja 2017; Lindqvist and Olsson 2017; Koefoed 2017; Hochschild 1983). Conscious attempts of maneuvering emotional expressions or reactions aim to challenge power in different ways. This form of emotional management—as resistance—could also be connected with space (Hochschild 1983). Physical settings, such as mass graves or political uprisings, evoke different emotions and could thus be means of emotional management—as we decide which settings to visit or which to avoid, we are managing our emotions. If we visit political protests and demonstrations—spaces where emotions are generated and circulate between the bodies—we manage ourselves as political subjects. Maneuvering emotional expressions, as we will see in the chapters below, can be seen as a strategy of carrying out constructive resistance.

Some images and artifacts become hypervisible and have more emotional impact than other artifacts; thereby, they also become important means for constructive resistance. As is elaborated in chapter 7, “authentic” artifacts are displayed in Swedish museums in order to construct and deconstruct different truths about migrant bodies. In this chapter, authentic artifacts are discussed as representations, which have a particular value due to their previous physical encounters with migrant bodies. These artifacts are considered more attractive and evoke more emotions, as they have been present during other times and have been felt and seen by the people of the past; perhaps during painful moments, grand time-periods, or dramatic ruptures. Authentic artifacts are often seen as more fascinating and valuable than copies that have not made the “travel in time.” Such artifacts play a particular role in meaning-making and are exhibited with the aim of giving the public new perspectives, emotional experiences, and making the visitors abandon their standard interpretations by negotiating categories such as “us” and “them.” Overall, authentic artifacts in museums, as I discuss in chapter 7, come to symbolize “matter-out-of-place,” be seen as “living” objects with “memories,” remove distances, create time-lagged processes of signification, and/or set off emotional processes. These artifacts are used to establish alternative understandings of history and slow down the interpretation or decoding process, as the receivers have to concentrate more when reading the complexity of the assemblage of artifacts (Tsur 2008, 577f.).


Representations of hate, love, and fear not only impact differently due to how they are repeated, but they are also entangled with different time aspects. As a last theme, this book incorporates the temporality of resistance. How does resistance depend upon different temporalities? How does resistance occur gradually and out of sight as well as dispersed across time and space? When is resistance spectacular and instantaneous rather than incremental and “slow” (cf. Martin 2016)?

Time could be understood as everyday biological processes, such as the aging of things and bodies, which proceed moment by moment. On the other hand, we constantly do time when we organize, understand, and spend time. Time is made in every moment (Dinshaw 2007, 2013). The enactment of temporalities is, to some extent, performative and bodies act out temporalities to which they contribute to establish.

Time is related to resistance in a number of ways, which the final part of the book sets out to unpack. First of all, the production of alternative temporalities prevails as a form of constructive resistance. Different temporalities are wrenched out of order, and are being added to, in order to negotiate hegemonic time regimes. This resistance could be seen as a slow-motion form of resistance as it suffers from the time lag of processes of signification. Constructive resistance, which appears as repetitions of signs across time, more generally, does not signal major ruptures, breaks, or cuts. Rather, this kind of constructive form of resistance constructs new ways of understanding “the real” over a longer time-period. The time-delay of this kind of resistance was envisioned by Foucault (1990; Lilja 2018), and it resembles the theorizing of Homi Bhabha, who argues that there is a lag between the establishment of new, alternative truths and the people narrating these resisting truths (Bhabha 1994).

But “slowness” plays different roles in the crossroads between resistance and power. When reading the works of Foucault, one interpretation is that the deceleration of time should be seen as one of the goals of constructive resistance. According to Foucault, discipline makes us try to intensify the use of the slightest moment; we accelerate time to reach: “an ideal point at which one maintained maximum speed and maximum efficiency” (Foucault 1991, 154). Schools are an example of institutions that have been arranged as machines to intensify the use of time. It is a matter of a way in which to both “accelerate the process of learning and to teach speed as a virtue” (Foucault 1991, 154; Rosa 2014). I would like to argue that if discipline is entwined in an acceleration of time and an efficient use of time, constructive resistance ought to construct “slower” temporalities (Haraldsson and Lilja 2017).

In addition, how resistance produces truths depends upon the different kinds of repetitions and the constant remaking of patterns. This implies that different change-initiating strategies, including resistance practices, have a temporal core. In addition, constructing and disciplining oneself as a resisting subject involves rhizomatic movements between now, then, and the future. Overall, by bringing in the concept of time when exploring the crossroads between power and constructive resistance, new patterns and indicated paths of social change are revealed. In the forthcoming chapters (chapters 8—10), different crossroads between time and resistance are displayed by picturing time ruptures, deceleration of time, and time lags.

The final chapter, chapter 10, will discuss the signification of photos as a form of constructive resistance. In particular, Swedish photographer Ola Kjelbye’s images, which provide us with different narratives about Western Sahara, are discussed. The constructions of time in the photos can be read as a form of constructive resistance. In Kjelbye’s photographs, the earth appears static; it seems to remain century after century, being untouched by the violence and conflicts that are played out on its surface. The earth gives the impression of following another temporality rather than those who live on the land and perform the perceptions of “time.” The temporality of the soil appears as something other than the temporality of the subjects—who are born, lives, and dies on the ground. Thus, the images introduce a radically different conceptualization of time than that which is connected to personal development, family and reproduction, life stages, and death. This “queer time,” I suggest, deviates from the hegemonic “heteronormative” time and is focused on the here-and-now while simultaneously suggesting the eternity of the situational moment (cf. Halberstam 2007). In the light of a longer temporality, where days and nights come and end with repetitive and unrelenting regularity, the conflict takes a back seat. Overall, the photos sculpture new knowledge about the Western Sahara, with their conception of time but also by the absence of bodies and the hypervisibility of the soil.


In the above, I have outlined some theoretical notions that are departed from in this book. Now, I would like to end this chapter with some more general notions on resistance and resistance studies, which are the broader context of this book.

Resistance studies includes several theoretical traditions, including subaltern studies, poststructuralist studies as well as the study of “everyday resistance” or “contentious politics.” The latter can itself be seen as a combination of social movement studies, revolution studies, and studies on guerrilla warfare, civil warfare, and terrorism. Resistance studies could, and sometimes does, draw on the many fields that at least tangentially engage with it, such as gender studies and feminism, queer studies, peace studies, political science, sociology, critical race studies, anthropology, pedagogics, psychology, media and communication studies, critical legal studies, heritage studies, design, and crafts. Resistance, within these different fields, addresses power in multiple ways; that is, not just as the power relations of the state-citizens relation, but also exploitative practices, different discursive truth-regimes, and gender, race, status, caste, and taste hierarchies (Lilja and Vinthagen 2018).

The current state of resistance studies reflects the various approaches to power, which has emerged during the past decades. From the 1970s onward, the conventional view of power has been broadened by scholars such as Lukes (1974), Bourdieu (1986), and, in particular, Foucault (1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2007, 2009). As the study of power has been expanded, so has the study of resistance. Contemporary theories of resistance correspond to the new configurations of power. The potential for dissent against not only sovereignty but also disciplinary practices as well as bio-political governing is gradually becoming recognized. People are raising their voices not only against economic exploitation and neoliberal forms of governing, but also against oppressive discourses of neocolonialism, and gendered and racist norms and practices (Baaz, Heikkinen and Lilja 2017; Lilja and Vinthagen 2017). Currently, neither power nor resistance is studied in singular. Instead, they must be addressed as multilayered. Different forms of power and resistance entangle, thereby forming complex webs (Baaz, Heikkinen and Lilja 2017; Lilja and Vinthagen 2017).

Regardless of the type, resistance exists in relation to power (and/or violence or inspiring forms of resistance). The type of power—together with local discourses, subject positions, and so on—informs the type of resistance that is employed (Lilja and Vinthagen 2017). Still, even though power and resistance are constituted together, resistance sometimes transcends the whole phenomenon of being against something; instead, it constructs “alternative” or “prefigurative” social institutions or discourses (Lilja and Vinthagen 2017).

This kind of resistance—that is elaborated in this book—can be understood as constructive. Majken Jul Sørensen (2016, 57) writes that “surprisingly little” has been written about: “initiatives which not only criticize, protest, object, and undermine what is considered undesirable and wrong, but simultaneously acquire, create, built, cultivate and experiment with what people need in the present moment, or what they would like to see replacing dominant structures or power relations.” Sørensen further acknowledge the complex character of resistance, stating that “constructive resistance does not exclude conventional forms for protests, boycotts and civil disobedience, but focuses on creating, building, carrying out and experimenting with what is considered desirable” (Sørensen 2016, 57). As will be displayed in the next-coming chapters, many practices of resistance contain both constructive and nonconstructive elements, and these in fact work together to undermine systems of domination. Sometimes, constructive resistance is “more” constructive and less in oppositions; it is a sliding scale.

A final remark before moving on: resistance can be played out in solidarity with others, a form of “proxy resistance” (more on proxy resistance in chapter 6, 7, and 10). Here we have, among others, the abolitionists in the struggle against slavery or animal activists fighting for the rights of animals. This kind of resistance might become very strong, since it creates unexpected alliances across social sections (such as race or class). Yet it can easily turn into paternalistic, self-serving, or exploitative practices, in which non-subalterns utilize those who are regarded as subaltern subjects in order to gain status, credibility, or positions within new revolutionary movements or parties (Baaz, Heikkinen and Lilja 2017; Baaz, Lilja, Schulz and Vinthagen 2017).


1. Still, not all approve of the attempts to unify different identities under one hat. The pussy hat community has been questioned by black women, women of color, and the black and brown LGBT community, who argue that the campaigns are an attempt of white feminists that fail to include non-white cis- and trans-women, thus pinpointing the “pussy hat” as being an artefact that is to be seen as “exclusionary, inappropriate, white-centred, and transphobic” (Gordon 2018).


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