Here I Stand: Mediated Bodies in Dissent

D.R. Koukal


Of all of the various forms of political dissent, the most dramatic as a form of expression is that which places lived bodies in tension with the prevailing social order. Bodies so presented—in marches, strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations and other mass assemblies—are just the opposite of Foucault’s docile bodies. They are a collective will concretized, an intersubjective mass animated by a common purpose that fills a public space and obstinately makes their shared demand. The presence of such dissenting bodies assembled in various public spaces have at times been essential in dramatizing grievances and re-constituting the meaning of a political landscape. Though such dissenting bodies have often been met with the full force of the state, the political efficacy of such bodies has been seriously undermined in recent years due to more subtle strategies to suppress such dissent, and counterstrategies meant to circumscribe these efforts at suppression. The goal of this essay is to explore these developments through phenomenological analysis. Preliminary considerations of (1) different forms of political potency and (2) the lived body and its movement through space, will be followed by (3) an investigation of what it means to be a dissenting body witnessed within a public place, and (4) what happens when dissenting bodies are consigned to circumscribed spaces or retreat to the “virtual.” This analysis will show how these developments have rendered dissenting bodies far less politically effective than they have been in the past, which dangerously weakens the democratic traditions of free speech and open dissent. This, in turn, supports a call (5) for a re-assertion of the embodied subject into the practice of political dissent.


media, dissent, phenomenology, body, revolt, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty

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