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The Art of Not Doing

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Malet Street

No booking required

This event is free to attend, register via Eventbrite here

This interdisciplinary conference explores activist instances of not doing in contemporary culture. Centering pleasure as a strategy for resistance, we want to explore the erotics of the still, inactive and unproductive. Through conversation, provocation, installation and self-care, we look at unproductivity as an activist practice and the ways in which caring, resting, suspending, pausing and breaking can be re/claimed as political acts by and for everyone, particularly those marginalised by the racial and gender inequalities of neo-liberal capitalism.

Recent years have seen a rise in movements that oppose production and work in favour of centering pleasure, sustainability, and compassion. The popularity (and marketised co-optation) of self-care - attributed to Black and brown feminists such as Audre Lorde and more recently Sara Ahmed - and mindfulness practices - often appropriated from previously colonised states - demonstrate a desire for restitution and “time-out” from professional, emotional, and reproductive labour. Studies and manifestoes of the post-work movement (e.g. David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work (2015) and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015)) envision a post-capitalist world in which work is ousted from its place of chief deity of neoliberalism. Is it because capitalism has finally gone too far and millennial's, as a recent viral article argued, are ‘the burnout generation’? What is certain is that stopping work (and, more recently, refusing school in the #schoolstrike4climate marches) continues to endure as a popular tool of protest, but one not always accessible to everyone.

Interest in what it means to “stop doing” can be seen across different disciplines. Scientific studies into rest, work and mental health uncover new ways of understanding (un)productivity. Social studies of unemployment, disability and illness activism challenge dominant modes of determining societal value. adrienne maree brown’s concept of pleasure activism seeks to rethink activism through the lens of pleasure, creating “a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work”. Artistic and activist practices explore resistance theoretically and in practice, such as when contemporary novels like Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (2007) and Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) take up the refrain of “I would prefer not to” from Herman Melville’s classic short story of Bartleby the Scrivener, and tell the stories of people who decide to stop certain actions or wholly withdraw from society.

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