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The art of presence

in Asef BayatLife as politics, how ordinary people change the middle east, pp 26-27, Stanford university press, Stanford California 2010.

 » When the authorities fail to recognize gender rights or youth demands, women and youth may defy the official authority by directly executing their claims in the areas of institutions with least surveillance or otherwise appropriating and overturning those that enjoy official sanction. Such encroachments become possible (…) because the authoritarian regimes, despite their omnipresent image, preside over the state – « soft states » – that lack the capacity, consistency, and machinery to impose full control, even though they may wish to. Consequently, there exist many escapes, spaces, and uncontrolled holes – zones of relative freedom – that can be filled and appropriated by ordinary actors. The genius of subaltern subjects – nonmovements – lies precisely in discovering or generating such escapes. In other words, I am speaking fo the agency and perseverance of millions of women, young people, and the dispossessed who, not withstanding their differences, understand the constraints yet recognize and discover opportunities, and take advantage of the spaces that are available to enhance their life – chances. The case of a physically small Iranian woman driver – her determination to take part, and to win, in male dominated car racing – is only one example of how women find spaces where they can decisively subvert the dominant ideology that regards them as second – class citizens. This example illustrates what I have called the « art of presence » – the courage and creativity to assert collective will in spite of all odds, to circumvent constraints, utilizing what is available and discovering new spaces within which to make oneself heard, seen, felt, and realized. The art of presence is the fundamental moment in the life of nonmovements, in life as politics.

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