Center Research Theme for 2016–17

For 2016-17, scholars from the humanities, arts, and sciences will join the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) in addressing the theme, Naysaying.

The force of saying “no” remains omnipresent and universally available, but misunderstood in the contemporary world. From two-year-old children to nation states, the interruptive immediacy of naysaying occurs at surprising and inconvenient times. The ability to refuse emerges early, and remains democratically available. In cultures of consumption and capitalism, “no” has the power to defend and upend assumptions of order and propriety. From Thoreau to Gandhi, the will to nothing has provided a source of individual and collective creation. Twice over the past seventy-five years, the Greeks have famously declared their own version of No, “OXI”: first, after many other European countries had capitulated to the Germans in World War I, and, recently, in response to demands of austerity.

Naysaying has similarly provoked recent scholarly attention. “No” claims authority, critiques supposition, and refigures subjectivity. Native American scholar Audra Simpson (who spoke at our Spring 2016 Landbody conference) has suggested the category of “refusal” as the proper dynamic for understanding the relationship between Native activists and the settler colonial state, noting that the more commonly used “resistance” already gives too much legitimacy to the actions of a national government. François Laruelle’s conceptualizations of non-philosophy have encouraged multiple critical engagements with the priority of structuring dynamics within thought. And Peter Sloterdijk has popularized Thomas Macho’s understanding of “nobjects” as those which collapse the divide between externality and subjectivity, giving rise to theories of self and object as irreducible.

The power of no proves particularly important in the contemporary social and political climate of UWM and Milwaukee. Naysaying underpinned the 2011Wisconsin protests, and as its formulations spread to Occupy, its insistence shaped that international protest’s refusal to provide a positive program. Naysaying is the language of protest and of overcoming. Its power operates across lines of disciplines and ideology, across modes of writing and of writing’s absence. The conservative “no” bleeds into the creative “no” with no clear lines of demarcation.

In choosing “Naysaying” as our theme for 2016-17, the Center for 21st Century Studies invites scholars from the humanities, the arts, and the sciences to take up the concept of “No” from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. We are especially interested in proposals that integrate theoretical and empirical perspectives in order to:

  • differentiate and analyze the forces which continually attempt to transform naysaying into policies and programs, noting the varieties of indeterminabilty which they carry as a philosophical project
  • analyze the gendered nature of “no,” from the negation of the patriarchal denial of women as full beings to the “no means no” movement
  • investigate historically significant refusals in global and local contexts, noting the various forms and inspirations through which they travel
  • identify the hierarchical, distributive, and taxonomic systemizations which the saying of “no” disrupts, with special attention to the consequences and reactions which it provokes
  • consider literary and rhetorical cases of naysaying as creative activity, attending to its relationship to structures of meaning, power, and iterability