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Anti-Imperial Epistemic Justice, Agency and Critique: The shifting boundaries of normative agency and action (Sumi Madhok)

In my talk I will propose the following: In opening up an interdisciplinary space for a conversation on normativity, critique, agency and social change, this conference invites us to think nothing short of a radical critique and reconceptualisation of agency. This rethinking of agency becomes necessary for at least three reasons: firstly, because anti-imperial epistemic justice — the material and ethical context of knowledge production — demands the presence of new concepts from different global locations, including those inhabited by historically marginalised world-historic groups. Secondly, if concepts are dynamic and lived constructs that enable us to visualise, describe and discuss the world, then these cannot be shackled to and limited by their provincial locations and formulations. Thirdly, the worldmaking struggles of historically marginalised groups requires conceptual accounts of their agentival activity in both mounting resistances to prevailing structural injustices but also of their ethical remaking of the world. In my talk, I will outline elements of this reconceptualisation of agency, which draws on my long-standing ethnographic accounts of subaltern rights mobilisations in India and Pakistan. These mobilisations are epistemic sites of theory building and provide us with not only new thinking on rights, human rights but also put in place a new conceptual account of agency that refuses ahistorical, unencumbered and atomistic theorisations to address seriously the question of intersectional oppression, coercion and subordination. Crucially, this new conception of agency shifts the spatial geographies and ‘standard’ philosophical background contexts of ‘negative freedom’, ‘abstract personhood’ and action bias that dominate theoretical and philosophical work on autonomy and agency.

Freie Universität Berlin
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Universität der Künste Berlin