AAAL 2022 Invited Colloquium

Convened by Anna De Fina, Sibonile Mpendukana, and Quentin Williams

Resistance as an emerging process: Strategies and practices 

Anna De Fina (she/her), Georgetown University 
Sibonile Mpendukana, University of Cape Town 
Quentin Williams, University of the Western Cape, South Africa 


Description of colloquium


Over the past few years, issues of power imbalances, injustice and inequalities have become more and more evident thanks to the increased visibility of social movements that openly fight against them. Telling examples such as Black Lives Matter and the #FeestMustFall movement have systematically uncovered the oppression and violence which is perpetrated every day against African Americans and people of color in general in the US and abroad. These movements have highlighted the importance of resistance and its potential for success, especially when it stems from grassroots activism. Although resistance is a generalized phenomenon, as a concept it has proven hard to define. Indeed, resistance has been used to designate a great variety of practices that include organized and spontaneous action, discursive and semiotic practices and assemblages that stem from individuals and/or collective initiatives. And while some see it as based on actions, others see it as based on cultural appropriation (Hall & Jefferson 1976). In their comprehensive review of literature on the topic, Hollander & Einwohner (2004) conclude that all descriptions of resistance contain the idea of action and opposition. Rather than trying to provide a precise definition of the phenomenon, with this panel we want to investigate different manifestations of individual and social rejection of  various forms of oppression and injustice. We investigate resistance as a set of emerging and often spontaneous processes and practices, not necessarily tied to activist movements. In our colloquium, we bring together Northern and Southern scholars conducting research on this topic. The contributions focus on how spontaneous acts and discourses of resistance emerge in the everyday exchanges of diverse communities, including those that were not born around a particular social or political agenda. We focus on resistance that stems from a lack of voice from abused, racialized bodies, bodies that emerge from tender histories and distraught presents, raw emotions and sore vulnerabilities, and in opposition to  racialized and neoliberal patriarchy. We pay special attention to online environments to demonstrate how resistance takes many forms: from irony and jokes to the raising of serious topics, from the dissemination of information to the telling of stories.



Anna De Fina, Sibonile Mpendukana and Quentin Williams, Georgetown University

 (5 minutes)


Resistance in everyday interaction among migrant and local youth in Italy

Anna De Fina, Georgetown University

(15 minutes)


Resistance is an ambiguous concept and a highly debated one. Some scholars see it as based on actions and agency while others conceive of it as encompassing cultural appropriation (Hall & Jefferson 1976). Resistance can be active or passive, it can involve explicit or explicit opposition and it can be violent or pacific. While in the past there was a tendency to attribute the capacity and inclination to resist to specific ethnic or social groups (see Rampton 1996), more recent theorizations have recognized that it can encompass spontaneous practices that emerge among heterogeneous groups and that political engagement is one important arena in which people create ties of solidarity and engender resistance together (Wilson & Stapleton (2007). For migrants and marginalized people, resistance often encompasses different forms of “push back” against stereotyping and discrimination. Such resistance is indeed facilitated by political activism (see for example Wand et al. 2021). However, it can also emerge within everyday communicative practices among migrants and people in their networks. This is the focus of my presentation, which centers on exchanges that take place on the Facebook page of one of the members of a network of friends that include migrant and local youth in Italy. I show how resistance takes many forms: from irony and jokes, to the raising of serious topics that are seen as unifying oppressed people in different parts of the world and through different discourse genres: from storytelling to status updates.



“Because my students demanded it of me”: Indigenous teachers resisting systemic injustice through assemblage

Haley De Korne, University of Oslo, Norway

(15 minutes) 


The Mexican education system, like many around the world, has (re)produced inequalities by imposing a colonial language (Spanish), a centralized curriculum (with a strong focus on nationalism), and inflicting symbolic and physical violence on students who speak other languages and identify with other cultures (López Gopar 2007; Maldonado Alvarado 2002). Within this context, I examine how teachers who are Indigenous language speakers narrate their experiences with and responses to injustice in education. Data is drawn from semi-structured interviews between the teachers and myself (a foreign, non-Indigenous researcher), and my ethnographic observations and participation in and around their schools. In this paper I ask: Which injustices do they highlight? What responses or forms of resistance do they describe? How do they position themselves in relation to resistance and social change?


Systemic injustices, including poverty and intergenerational trauma loom large in their narratives, while the responses to these monumental problems are much more localized. Their responses and strategies for change focus on their position in larger social collectives, and their dependence on an assemblage of social and material capital (e.g., Viczko & Riveros 2015, drawing on Deleuze & Guattari 1987). As described by teachers, this assemblage of capital includes elements of the education system, and elements that conflict with the system. I highlight the narratives of teachers who stood out in my observations as acting in resistance to systemic norms and taking an instrumental role in creating spaces of otherwise (Povinelli 2011) within their schools; in contrast to my observations, these teachers rarely describe themselves as resisting or leading, but rather emphasize their dependence on the socio-political ecology surrounding them. This case illustrates strategies of resistance that are simultaneously within and beyond (educational) systems, and contributes to critical reflection on ways of viewing and conceptualizing resistance from the outside and the inside. 


The end of ‘language’, or the reinvention of Kaaps as resistance

Quentin Williams, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

(15 minutes) 


The speakers of Kaaps are resisting ‘language’. For the last decade or so, discourses of reinvention have slowly begun to redefine the terms and conditions under which colonial languages such as English and ‘Afrikaans’ are semiotized as former hegemonic languages, but also how in their reinvention they are becoming a resource of emancipation and empowerment and the greater exercise of agency and voice for historically racialized and marginalized speakers of those varieties in South Africa. In this presentation, I outline an argument for the comparative exploration of how historically, racialized speakers of marginalized varieties resist hegemonic languages by investing in the artistic representation of linkages between language reinvention and new relationalities. In particular, I draw on social media examples that forms part of a longitudinal, qualitative research project on youth multilingualism of how a new generation of Kaaps speakers are transforming the sound patterns, lexical diversity and grammatical structure of Kaaps into new ways of speaking and being in that variety. I also illustrate how Kaaps speakers are linguistic strategies of resistance that arise out of conjectures, determinations and contradictions. I conclude with a discussion that reflects on the implication of resisting ‘language’ and how linkages between reinvention and new relationalities provides us with the indicators on how to move away from colonial and apartheid linguistic discourses and practices.



From ‘land to fees’?: Chronotopes of vulnerability in South African students’ protests

Sibonile Mpendukana, University of Cape Town

Gilles Baro, Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa

(15 minutes)


Certain mass protests tend to center mobility, space, bodies and contestations of place (egs., Rojo 2014; Bagna & Barni 2015; Kasanga & Said 2016), thus inviting a necessary gravitation beyond ‘the textual signs themselves [but also] towards voices’ (Seal 2017). Such an initiative has occupied the attention of some scholars, and include the framing of ‘the performativity of the body’ (Kitis & Milani 2016) and the “performance of dissent” (Seals 2015) as semiotic resources. The recent student protests in South Africa against fee increases and other neoliberal reforms in 2015/6 are no different.


This presentation aims to re-contextualize the protests through the concept of vulnerability (Butler 2015; Frawley 2015) “as bodily exposure... and as part of the very meaning and practice of resistance” (Butler et al 2015), in a discussion of resistance within the frame of ‘coloniality of being, power and knowledge’ (Maldonado-Torres 2007) and what Mbembe (2015) described as a “Fanonian moment” – a disruption of hegemonic orders.


This paper further aims to highlight the diachronic relationship between the vulnerability expressed during student protests and centuries of resistance struggles against oppression and marginalization in South Africa, through the lens of the chronoscape (Baro 2019). This theoretical tool allows us to investigate a semiotic landscape diachronically, “capturing the past layers of meaning” (Baro 2019: 58), or the “co-occurrences of events from different times and places” (Blommaert & De Fina 2016:3)”. Using a corpus of protest signs, we present a picture of protests soaked in chronotropic meaning as students mark the continuation of the vulnerability between their parents’ and their own generation.



Concluding remarks and question and answer with audience and presenters

(25 minutes)

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