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Synchronic Entanglements and New Social Imaginaries: Anti-War Activism in Brazil and the United Kingdom in the Twenty-First Century

Final Report Summary - SENSIAWABUK (Synchronic Entanglements and New Social Imaginaries: Anti-War Activism in Brazil and the United Kingdom in the Twenty-First Century)

The project’s aim was to investigate the practices and modes of association of activists in Brazil and in the UK, while putting emotions and synchronicity at the centre of social process. The project also proposed investigating the place of war/peace symbols in contemporary social imaginaries. Ultimately, the project worked toward a psychosocial perspective on collective creativity.

The research project took shape in relation to four research objectives. Firstly, the Fellow proposed an articulation between micro-analysis and macro-analysis, by studying the relationship between the biographic events of activists and the events of the social movements. Central to this was the elaboration of notions of event and eventfulness. Secondly, the Fellow proposed to study the problem of synchronicity and synchronic entanglements; and stressed the importance of rhythm and the embodied dimension of politics. Thirdly, the Fellow proposed a study of the pluralisation of political imaginaries, thought of as a form of collective creativity and resistance. Fourthly, the Fellow proposed an analytics of the boundaries that emerge between state and society.

The research makes a contribution to the following domains: (1) studies on collective creativities and the creativities of protest; (2) peace movements research; (3) studies in psychosocial epistemology and methodology; (4) psychoanalytic, as well as political and ethical theories of recognition; (5) trauma studies; psychosocial studies on trauma; psychosocial studies on collective trauma; (6) studies in semiotics and psychoanalysis; (7) studies in social memory.

In terms of its broader social impact, the research is relevant for civil society groups, especially groups of political activists in Brazil and the United Kingdom, as it provides a reflection on collective creativity and on activist practices. The research is equally relevant for policy makers working on political rights and memory policies. Understanding collective trauma, recognition, public mourning, and the creativities of public gatherings and protests is crucial to the debate on political rights.

During the first two years of research in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, the Fellow carried out an innovative multi-method approach for the study of collective process, which relied on biographic interviews and psychosocial ethnography. This methodology grounded a novel way of construing the relation between micro-events and macro-events and between psyche and society. The Fellow conducted thirty biographic interviews with activists and she participated as an observer in various meetings of activist groups and in street protests. It is important to note that in June 2013 street protests of an unprecedented scale sparked up in Brazil, and they continued throughout 2013 and 2014, constituting the context of this research.

There are a number of specificities of that configure meaning of violence, war and peace in the Brazilian context, and particularly in Rio de Janeiro. What is here meant by “war” and “peace” has been greatly marked by the relatively recent process of “pacification of the favelas” [“pacificação”] in Rio de Janeiro, and by the arrival of the Pacifying Police Units [“Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora”] in the favelas starting with 2008. These interventions have created intricate legal-political-social regimes. One of the most important themes emerging from the interviews was the “war within” Brazilian society, pointing to unmourned deaths and disappearances both during the time of the Brazilian military dictatorship and during the times of democracy.

Drawing on the extensive fieldwork of the first two years of research, the fellow formulated a psychosocial theory of collective trauma, anchoring it in ideas of denial and recognition. This original theoretical contribution and the most important findings of the project are reflected in the researcher’s book manuscript, Working-through Collective Wounds: Trauma, Denial, Recognition in the Brazilian Uprising, forthcoming in 2016 with Palgrave, Studies in the Psychosocial series.

Other important findings on rhythm, synchronicity, embodiment, and the formation of collective symbols are reflected in a series of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, such as: (1) ‘What Can a Face Do? What Can an Arm Do? The Brazilian Uprising and a New Aesthetic of Protest’, in Giuseppe Cocco and Barbara Szaniecki (eds) Creative Capitalism, Multitudinous Creativities: Radicalities and Alterities. 2015. London: Lexington, 107-126; (2) ‘O que pode um rosto? O que pode um braço? O levante brasileiro e a nova estética do protesto’ [‘What Can a Face Do? What Can an Arm Do? The Brazilian Uprising and a New Aesthetic of Protest’]. 2015. Lugar Comum 43: 203-225 [in Portuguese]. A series of papers on related themes are in process of submission to peer-reviewed journals: (1) ‘The Oblique Politics of the Brazilian Uprising: Toward a New Semiotic of Protest’; (2) ‘When Being in the Square Heals: Collective Trauma and Spaces of Reconciliation in the Brazilian Uprising’; and (3) ‘Spiralling out of Capitalist Abstraction: The Making of the ’20 Centavos’ in Brazil’.

During the third year of research in the United Kingdom, in London, the Fellow conducted twenty biographic interviews with activists. Drawing on the same theoretical framework, the Fellow studied the contemporary re-emergence and re-configuration of “war” as a political object, and the forms of embodiment it entails. In the context of the current unfoldings in Europe around the growing influx of people fleeing the conflict areas in Syria and the neighbouring countries, the anti-war activists report having revised their ideas on the proximity of war and of the proximity to bodies touched by war, and elaborated on the place of the symbol “refugee” in their political imaginaries. Another main theme emerging from the interviews was that of inter-generational recognition and denial among activists. Different generations of activists often remain opaque to each other’s work. These findings are reflected in a two papers in progress, such as: ‘Remembering War and Peace: Activist Imaginaries in the UK and the Problem of Generations’.

In the third year of the fellowship, the Fellow and the Scientist in Charge collaborated in organising an interdisciplinary conference at the host institution, titled: Creativities of Protest: Imaginaries, Commons and Reparations. The event created a space for a polyphonic reflection on the forms of social creativity specific to protest mobilisations. The encounter focused on the “positivities” and on the productive facets of protests, countering their commonplace representation as “chaotic”, and rethinking the distinction between chaos and order, which has become predominant in making sense of mass mobilisations. The event brought together philosophers, social and political thinkers, scholars in psychosocial studies, and psychoanalysts from Brazil, the United Kingdom, and beyond, with the aim of mutual exchange and learning about the creativities of collective action; and with the aim of theoretical construction on three themes: [1] hauntings and social imaginaries; [2] commons and co-habitations; and [3] trauma and public mourning.

Project visibility:

(1) The Birkbeck Research Projects has a dedicated page containing the project description:

(2) The researcher has a webpage at Birkbeck: