top of page

THE DEMOCRACY LAB

Interdisciplinary Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities

University of California, Berkeley

Chochenyo Ohlone Unceded Land

"I speak as a victim of America's so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy—all we've seen is hypocrisy." 

                                   —Malcolm X

Performance and Populism: mobilization, popular power and embodiments 
an international conference online Nov 3-5, 2021*
University of Warwick and the University of California, Berkeley

This three day conference on performance and populism responds to the global escalation of neoliberalism, the crisis of democratic institutions, and the rise in demands for popular sovereignty at the turn of the 21st century. This period is defined by the persistence of extraction economies, racialized violence and the narrowing of democratic rights; an emphasis in security and law enforcements to ensure private property and the accumulation of capital. At the same time, we are witnessing an upsurge of people reclaiming power placed in the hands of the banking and business elites that dominate public services, communication systems, manufacturing industries, centres of knowledge production, and other systems of geo-political, social, and cultural life. The failure of institutions to defend various demands of the people triggered the rise of populism on both sides of the political spectrum.

With most media focusing on right-wing populism as a threat to democracy, we found it particularly important to turn our attention to forms of activism that strengthen democratic practice from an abolitionist framework. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019/20, the inequalities have been exacerbated, xenophobic, anti-immigration and nationalistic sentiments heightened along with the institutionalization of extreme right-wing discourses and politics. Under such extreme circumstances, radical ideas are needed in economic transformation, political innovation, and social, geographical, and cultural connectivity. The construction of 'the people' and 'popular power' become important issues for local and transnational alliances on the left. So far, left populism appears as the most successful strategy of the progressive politics. Yet, few studies move beyond a 'management' perspective ultimately designed to explain the rise and role of leaders.

The multifaceted, transnational and partisan approach to the main topic of this conference raises innovative research questions about art and politics, the formation and critique of collective identification, and the relationship between the people and the institutions. Presenters in the following sessions demonstrate how various performance practices give rise to identifications of a people and their role in reshaping politics, institutions, and governments. Taking lead from the field of Performance Studies we consider debates on constructing, imagining, and embodying 'the people' to mobilize 'popular power' on the left. We explore the ways in which interdisciplinary approaches propose a methodological and analytical challenge to populism. Combining political cultures, and art practice to this conference further critiques the disciplinary limitations in populism studies in order to move us towards more specific forms of mobilization, collectivism, and political formation for 21st century democracies.

Commune: Mobilizing Popular Power from Geo-Political Souths

performance_populism_keynote_roundtable.jpg
Featuring: 
(Clockwise from upper left)

Ash Lee Henderson
Meyby Soraya Ugueto-Ponce
George Maher
Charlie Braxton


Moderated by Rebecca Struch

 

This keynote roundtable brings together activists, artists, and scholars from a variety of geo-political souths to consider the notions of popular power and the commune in relation to populism. Panelists will engage expansively with both the commune and acts of communing as practices of embodied, political mobilization that radicalize democracy and build popular power. Panelists will first share briefly about an aspect of their work in relation to conference themes. The remainder of the roundtable discussion will address what it means to think and act from geo-political souths, and will consider the role of cultural and communal practices in the development of leftist political formations.

Endangered Human Movements

amandapina.png

Endangered Human Movements is the title of a long-term art based research project, started in 2014. The project focuses on human movement practices, which have been cultivated for centuries all over the world. 

Within this frame, a series of performances, workshops, films, installations, talks, publications and a comprehensive online archive are developed, in which ancestral embodied practices -movements, dances and forms of world-making, re-appear in the context of theatre, museum and beyond. This re-appearance entails a movement towards decolonizing contemporary art and cultural practices by introducing critical perspectives from the fields of sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, visual arts, dance, choreography and contempo-traditional indigenous Amerindian knowledge. The latter encompassing not only contemporary shamanism, but also orally transmitted knowledge, social knowledge about the body, about movement and touch, about healing, about plants, about perception, about the interconnectedness of life forms, and about ritual diplomatic knowledge applied to the relationship with other beings.  The fifth volume of the research deals with ancestral forms of relation between humans and mountains, which are embodied through dance and rituals of reciprocity, specifically in the Northern Highland of Puebla Mexico and in the Andes of Chile.  In this presentation Amanda Piña gives an insight into her art-based research and artistic work, focusing on the fifth volume of her research titled Danzas Climáticas and on eco-somatic practices, as a possibility of rehearsing a decolonial ecology. Throughout the lecture, she unpacks the political implications of embodied practices in the frame of the so called Anthropocene.

Revolution After the Apocalypse?

In conversation with Vijay Prashad

srecko_horvat.jpg
Vijay-Prashad.jpg

Perhaps the time has come to invert the famous dictum that it's easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. Undoubtedly, "the end of the world," in its various meanings, has become the prevailing Zeitgest and reality of the early 21st century, whether it comes to escapist dreams of Silicon Valley, or to various contemporary social movements like Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future. The end of the world as we know it — or Extinction — seems to be our only horizon. The question arises how to go beyond both the fetishism and commodification of the Apocalypse on the one hand, and whether, on the other hand, precisely a new sort of political eschatology can be used as a mobilizing force in the task of going beyond a world-system based on never ending exploitation, extraction and expansion? If there is no kingdom to come, neither on Earth nor on Mars, how can we get to terms with what Günther Anders called the "naked Apocalypse" — or the "Apocalypse without kingdom"? Once eschatologies with a "happy end" — from the Judeo-Christean one to secularized eschatologies of revolutionary movements — become obsolete, what is the meaning and role of Revolution? Even if it seems impossible to imagine the end of capitalism, what if it is precisely by imagining and re-imagining this end — what comes after capitalism? — that we can also arrive at the possibility of a different end of the world.  

*this conference was produced by a collaboration between faculty of the university of warwick and the university of california, berkeley, nov 3-5, 2021.
For a full program and organizing credits see: https://tdps.berkeley.edu/performance-and-populism
bottom of page