Masa Mrovlje

Disappointment: Reclaiming the Unfulfilled Promise of Resistance – RESIST

This project addresses the pressing question within critical theory of how we can reanimate resistance in the current climate of profound disappointment over the emancipatory potentials of contemporary democracies. The increasing influence of right-wing parties and factions, deep global socio-economic inequalities, the climate emergency and the continued disenfranchisement of already marginalised groups leave little space for hope. Theorists’ and activists’ efforts to revive the imaginaries of resistance retain a deep-seated distrust of the twentieth-century narratives of universal human emancipation. Visions of a better future, on these accounts, must remain grounded in past losses and failures that cannot be harmoniously integrated into tropes of progress and redemption. The project contributes to these efforts by inquiring into the politically transformative potential of disappointment as a constitutive part of the resistance experience. In particular, it focuses on disappointment’s ability to incite the resisters to creatively respond to the difficulties and failures of resistance. Resistance is taken to denote collective struggles against structural oppression that involve a commitment to greater justice and equality. I explore the political potential of disappointment by studying three political thinkers, whose revolutionary aspirations were significantly shaped by their experiences of disappointment – Rosa Luxemburg, Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus. I bring their insights to bear on the recent example of a popular uprising against an oppressive regime, where the initial promise of resistance ended in deep disappointment over the lack of social and political change – the Arab Spring in Egypt. The purpose is to outline how these theoretical and practical engagements with experiences of disappointment can help us confront the challenges involved in resisting oppression in the present era of political disillusionment.

The project has three interrelated sets of research objectives. Conceptually, it elucidates how the three thinkers’ disappointments help us delineate an account of resistance attentive to: a) the difficulties of sustaining political commitment in the face of failure, b) the quandaries of founding free and equal communities in the wake of liberation from oppressive rule, and c) the dilemmas of building solidarity across the divides entrenched by structural injustice. Normatively, the project explores how disappointments about past struggles can inspire our political imagination in the present and encourage us to avoid the twofold danger of utopian hope and cynical despair. Empirically, the project demonstrates the political value of disappointment on the example of the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, disclosing the resisters’ promises and failures in dealing with the challenges of resisting oppression.The project is eminently interdisciplinary, relying on literatures from critical theory, history of political thought, history, sociology, anthropology, international relations and empirical case study. It has critical, institutional and public impact. Critically, it reveals the complexities of resisting oppression, problematises received ideas of revolutionary action, and analyses how the paralysing spectre of disillusionment can be politically tackled. Institutionally, it discloses forms of political engagement capable of establishing greater justice and equality, without replicating the existing conditions of systemic violence. In terms of public outreach, it aims to identify sustainable strategies for tackling the disenchanted disengagement from the public sphere.