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The Art of Making Democratic Trouble: Four Art Events and Radical Democratic Theory
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Heated debates and strong emotions occasionally arise in the public sphere in the wake of an art object. The interaction that follows becomes part of what we as citizens share in a democracy, with its particular conditions of political speech and democratic exchange. By studying four art events – that is, public contestations regarding art objects – formations of democratic and political subjectivities are highlighted, as well as the constitution of political speech. The analysis tracks the space of conflict that arises in the four chosen art events. The theoretical framework consists of poststructuralist conceptualizations of radical democracy, mainly those associated with Chantal Mouffe, Aletta Norval, and Jacques Rancière.

In the analysis of the democratic and political work that takes place in the art events, a distinction is made between political and democratic dimensions. The political dimensions emphasize processes of politicization and depoliticization, as well as the formation of political subjects and voices. The democratic dimensions foreground the conditions of the exchange and identifications within a certain democratic order or community.

Four events have been selected for the analysis, two from the Netherlands and two from Sweden. The events all occur within a relatively short time period: 2006, 2008 and 2009, 2012, respectively. The studied empirical material is broad and includes for example printed media, television, radio, social media, and political documents. The reading of the material starts with a set of questions that correspond to the distinction between the political and democratic dimensions. However, the uniqueness of each event is reflected by different theoretical emphasis in the analysis. A Dutch art project by Petra Bauer and Annette Krauss sheds light on processes of engaging democratically and exclusions regarding who has the right to take part in the public debate. Issues of voice and legitimacy are highlighted in the event involving the Swedish artist Anna Odell. Intelligibility, conditions of representation and possibilities of assuming a certain subject position are in focus in the analysis of the debate surrounding a cake performance by the Swedish artist Makode Linde. The study of the discussion spurred by Jikke van Loon’s monument in honour of Anton de Kom, emphasizes how memory and silence operate in a postcolonial context to influence the possibility of being heard.

The analysis of the four art events reveals the complexity and conflictual nature of the conditions of political and democratic subjectivities and speech. The events suggest that, within radical democratic theory, we need to engage more depth with the relational dimension. Only by including the interaction that occurs can we understand the conditions and boundaries of speaking politically and the construction of legitimate political and democratic subjects. In the events, articulations of different subjectivities depend on their reception in an often complicated way that is enmeshed in a struggle over whether statements and demands constitute speech or noise. Furthermore, the strong emotions in the events can be understood as part of certain investments in a hegemonic order, and the threats of violence highlight the challenges of antagonism present in any order.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Political Science, Stockholm University , 2015. , 245 p.
Stockholm studies in politics, ISSN 0346-6620 ; 167
Keyword [en]
radical democracy, art, event, space of conflict, agonistic democracy, discourse theory, post-structuralist theory, Chantal Mouffe, Aletta Norval, Sweden, the Netherlands, democratic subjectivity, political subject, politicization
National Category
Political Science
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-122170ISBN: 978-91-7649-232-1OAI: diva2:865302
Public defence
2015-12-18, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2015-11-26 Created: 2015-10-27 Last updated: 2015-11-16Bibliographically approved

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Hafsteinsdóttir, Elín
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