Normativity of Critique - Critique of Normativity

Norms emerge historically and are differently operationalized in specific social and political contexts, so that they can neither be implemented nor contested in the same way at all times. Given that there is no guaranteed way to contest “normative violence”, subversion becomes an incalculable effect. This makes the practice of critique particularly challenging.
If critique’s primary function is to enable autonomy (the Kantian dictum of Ausgang aus der selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit), postcolonial-queer-feminist scholars question the coercive as well as progressive aspects of critical inquiry. If, as insisted in the Western philosophical tradition, “Enlightenment is critique”, then what is the relation of the postcolony to the legacies of European Enlightenment?
The aim of the research project was to develop an alternative postcolonial queer-feminist genealogy of the “politics” of critique in order to critically examine the relation between power, agency, and resistance. The project strove to analyze the forms of subjectivation and emancipation that align with this particular mode of questioning and contesting norms. It scrutinized how these practices can be understood within the ambivalent relations between modernity and postcoloniality.
Within the overall research program of the Cluster, this project examined in particular the ambivalences of the normativity of critique as a form of the exercise of power. In the process, it confronted the normativity of critique with the critique of normativity, analyzing how normative orders are continuously denaturalized, but also reproduced, and how in these processes agential subjects are constituted. The possibilities of thinking and acting otherwise and of questioning the borders of the “Political” were critically examined.
The project was divided into four individual research projects: The research project conducted by the PI, Nikita Dhawan, was concerned with the relation between “Normativity, Critique, and the Enlightenment,” examining in particular the ambivalent and paradoxical relation between rationality and power in which the promise of freedom continuously threatens to become a new form of domination. The second project, conducted by Aylin Zafer, examined how political subjectivity emerges in the spaces between passivity and resistance. In the third project, Johanna Leinius analyzed how, in the encounter between heterogeneous social movements, difference is negotiated and solidarity created. The fourth project, led by Elisabeth Fink, investigated the relation between local and transnational trade union activism in the garment sector in Bangladesh.
The project foregrounded the dynamic and relational aspects of the critique of any kind of power relations: To articulate criticism and create transformative emancipatory spaces, resisting subjects have to position themselves vis-à-vis hegemonic normative orders, whether they aim to contest, withdraw from, or appropriate the latter. These processes were analyzed both at the theoretical level and in empirical studies, in an attempt to identify the potentials for decolonizing alliances and to emphasize the ambivalences of emancipatory desires and practices.

The most important events of this project:

Workshop: FRCPS Chandra Talpade Mohanty Reading Group, in preparation for the Visiting Professorship for International Gender and Diversity Studies of Chandra Talpade Mohanty at the “Cornelia Goethe Center for Women’s and Gender Studies” (CGC), Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, December 12, 2015.

International Conference: Decolonizing Epistemologies, Methodologies and Ethics: Postcolonial-Feminist Interventions, “Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies” at the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, July 2, 2015.

International Workshop: Difference that makes no Difference: The Non-Performativity of Intersectionality and Diversity, Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies in cooperation with the women’s network of  the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” and the Hessian State Centre for Civic Education, Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, February 5, 2015.

Public Lecture: Prof. Ratna Kapur, Precarious Desires, Postcolonial Justice and Human Rights, Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, May 27, 2014.

International Lecture Series: How Does Change Happen?, Cornelia Goethe Colloquium in cooperation with the “Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies”, Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, winter 2013/2014.

Workshop: Angela Davis Reading Group, in preparation for the Visiting Professorship for International Gender and Diversity Studies of Angela Davis at the “Cornelia Goethe Center for Women’s and Gender Studies” (CGC), Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, November 14–15, 2013.


The most important publications of this project:

Dhawan, Nikita/Elisabeth Fink/Johanna Leinius/Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel: Negotiating Normativity. Postcolonial Appropriations, Contestations and Transformations, New York: Springer, 2016.

Dhawan, Nikita (ed.): “Difference that makes no Difference. The Non-Performativity of Intersectionality and Diversity”, Wagadu. A Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies, special issue, 2016.

Nikita Dhawan: Decolonizing Enlightenment: Transnational Justice, Human Rights and Democracy in a Postcolonial World, Politik und Geschlecht, vol. 24, Opladen and Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich Verlag, 2014.

Nikita Dhawan and Maria Castro Varela do Mar: Postkoloniale Theorie: Eine kritische Einführung, second edition, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014.

Elisabeth Fink and Johanna Leinius: “Postkolonial-feministische Theorie,“ in: Y. Franke/K. Mozygemba/K. Pöge /B. Ritter /D. Venohr (eds.): Feminismen heute. Positionen in Theorie und Praxis, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014, pp. 115–128.



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