Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Elaborating Sociability: The Unspeakable and Political Change

Niamh Stephenson.

Cultural studies emerged in the absence of a universal path to doing politically engaged research and in debates over the role of everyday experience in the production of alternate, situated knowledges. One approach – affirming the political importance of experience - fails to interrupt proliferation of ‘autonomy’ as a means of regulation. However, negating the value of experience for understanding and producing political change, focusing instead on the contingent, technical and practical organisation of life leads only a politics of critique. Neither position is adequate to our times.
With the unfurling of neoliberal modes of governance - when any attempt to clearly demarcate liberation from subjectification is questionable – we are in danger of responding with ‘euphoric resignation’ (Virno, 1996). Countering this necessitates theorising the capacity for political action. Hence I move beyond the affirmative and negative approaches to research, arguing for the importance of understanding of the particular avenues through which historically specific relationships between experience and the socio-political realm are produced and reworked. This last, productive, approach locates cultural studies research in the terrain of sociability. Here, experience is an interesting anderratic path to reworking the problem of collectivity, the very mechanics of emerging networks. Its political value, is that it can be usefully employed in understanding and developing cosmopolitan, fractal and baroque modes of sociability which challenge current hegemonic practices of social exclusion.
I develop this argument through consideration of specific modes of connection being developed in sexual encounters between gay and homosexually active men.


Niamh Stephenson  (Australia)
School of Psychology Bankstown Campus
University of Western Sydney

  • Sociability
  • Political change
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Lived experience

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)