Academic journal article Theory in Action

The Disappearing Immigrants: Hunger Strike as Invisible Struggle

Academic journal article Theory in Action

The Disappearing Immigrants: Hunger Strike as Invisible Struggle

Article excerpt

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This article follows a dialogic approach in an attempt to build bridges between different academic disciplines and actually existing social performances. A social scientist and an applied theatre practitioner adopt a theory of 'performativity' which explores the productive capacities of performances as kinesis, a movement that represents the energies that break political boundaries and trouble social closures. In doing so, we follow Victor Turner's interpretation of cultural performances as

not simple reflectors or expressions of culture or even of changing culture but may themselves be active agencies of change, representing the eye by which culture sees itself and the drawing board on which creative actors sketch out what they believe to be more apt or interesting 'designs for living' (1986: 24).

In other words, the term 'performance' refers to actions that incessantly insinuate, interrupt, interrogate and antagonise powerful master narratives. In this line of thought, the social world becomes the theatrical stage of everyday encounters as cultural performances which transcend social, political and, ultimately, academic boundaries. Primarily, we are concerned with how the strategy of engaging with invisible bodies and performative resistances can unpack hierarchies of representation. The article focuses on a specific resistant act which can be read as a performance; dealing with the narratives that provide the act with its socio-political context, as well as the categories of audience witnessing of the act.

The article analyses a large-scale hunger strike act, performed by 300 immigrants and staged in the Law School building in Athens. In order to unpack the complexities of such a performance, we critically reflect on our own position as occupying overlapping roles as witnesses, audience, researchers, artists and social scientists. We engage with Turner's 'emphatic view of performance as making not faking', and then we move to 'Bhabha's politically urgent view of performance as breaking and remaking' (Conquergood, 1995: 138).

The starting point of our analysis is the socio-political context in Athens which prepares the stage for that performance. We then move to the actual stage of the Law School building in order to critically reflect on the 'academic asylum' state and the multiple meanings of being in a space always already inscribed by powerful social memories. We draw on Henri Lefebvre's work on the social production of space and the power of remapping. To remap means to engage into a compelling negotiation of space, stereotypes, feelings and practices such as inclusion, recognition and openness. Next, we examine hunger strike as a means of practising resistance and as a spectacle. We refer to the importance of the image in our postmodern societies to evoke genuine human reactions, analysing the performance from the audience's perspective (knowingly including several images to underscore this point). Meanwhile we remain critical on issues of participation and representation in grassroots resistance movements. Finally, we discuss what a possible end could be and the wider social, political and cultural implications of such a performance.

PREPARING THE STAGE: ALIENATION IN THE ATHENIAN LANDSCAPE

The ethnic self in Athens is perceived through a feeling of superiority, which is the result of ancient Greek heritage. The constitution of solid nationalist identities has involved a procedure of homogenisation, namely, the purging of vibrant Eastern elements that were remnant of Ottoman rule which ended in 1834. Modern Greek identity is based on the assumption that 'the Greeks are the distinctive heirs of the ancient Greek civilisation' (Papataxiarhis, 1998: 3). Considering Greece's history of occupation, it may come as no surprise that the main interpretation of national identity has an obvious xenophobic shade and brings forth a rather defensive definition of Greekness, which seeks to 'establish identity not on the affirmation of "us", but on the rejection of the "other", leading to an effort to retain its integrity through isolation and ethnocentrism' (Tsaousis 1998: 19). …

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