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The Art of Not Doing: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Rest, Resistance and Pleasure Activism

Birkbeck, University of London (Bloomsbury campus), London, United Kingdom
Organization: Birkbeck, University of London
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Event Date: 2019-10-17 Abstract Due: 2019-06-03

The Art of Not Doing: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Rest, Resistance and Pleasure Activism
Birkbeck, University of London, 17th October 2019

Deadline for submissions: June 3, 2019
Contact email: theartofnotdoingconf@gmail.com
Submissions encouraged from graduate students and early career researchers from all disciplines.

In a culture that valorises busyness, productivity, pace and “progress”, stillness can be radical. Refusing, ignoring, omitting, not doing; sometimes the most political actions look like doing nothing at all. But who gets to not do? When and how is not doing a politicised, racialised, privileged, resistant or utopian act?

Recent years have seen a rise in movements that oppose production and work in favour of centring pleasure, sustainability, and compassion. The popularity (and marketised co-optation) of self-care and mindfulness practises—often appropriated from previously colonised states—demonstrate a desire for restitution and “time-out” from professional, emotional, and reproductive labour. Is it because capitalism has finally gone too far and millennials, as a recent viral article argued, are ‘the burnout generation’?

Interest in what it means to “stop doing” can be seen across different disciplines. Contemporary novels such as Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) and Ali Smith’s There but for the (2011) explore what happens when people stop participating and shut themselves away. Studies and manifestoes of the post-work movement (e.g. David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work (2015) and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015)) consider the potentials of a post-capitalist world in which production is reimagined and reconsidered. Scientific studies into rest, work and mental health uncover new ways of understanding (un)productivity and social studies of unemployment, disability and illness activism challenge dominant modes of determining societal value.

This conference explores what it means to "not do". Centering pleasure as a strategy for resistance, we want to explore the erotics and potentialities of the still, inactive, restorative and unproductive—all those actions that are traditionally dismissed as preparation or reward, but not action itself. Is it possible, by exploring these everyday rituals and feelings, to help create “a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work” (adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism [2019])?

Alongside paper proposals, we welcome submissions of artworks, short films and proposals for lightning talks, performances and "acts of care". See the conference website (https://www.theartofnotdoing.com) for the full Call for Submissions and for guidance on how to submit a proposal. We are happy to discuss any ideas you have, whether or not they fit into the set submission categories.


Submission topics may include but are not limited to (see a longer list on the website):

  • Studies related to rest, leisure, pleasure, and “time off”—how can your discipline think about and study acts of ‘not doing’?
  • Strategic (un)productivity: industrial action, #schoolstrike4climate and anti-work activism
  • The psychology, science and medicine of stress and burnout
  • (Un)doing spaces: the geography, spatiality, and topology of work, rest and resistance
  • Who gets to not do? The politics and privilege of breaks, rest, strikes and self-care
  • The biology of work and rest
  • Translation and the act of omission
  • The art of not doing: omitting, ignoring, stopping, resting in literature and artworks (e.g. Maryam Ashkanian’s ‘sleep series’)
  • Dis/ability, neurodiversity, and illness activism and the critique of compulsory able-bodiedness/neurotypicality
  • Radical business models - how to work by not working/and the efficiency of rest (e.g. Alisa Vitti’s ‘Cycle Syncing Method’ which uses the menstrual cycle as a blueprint for launching and managing projects)
  • The economics of post-capitalism
  • Unlawful stopping: unemployment, unproductivity and the law
  • Critical responses to concepts like ‘burnout’, ‘productivity’ and ‘self-care’
  • Pleasure activism: the potential of pleasure for sustainable change and recuperation (for example submissions that responds to the work of adrienne maree brown or Audre Lorde’s ‘The Uses of the Erotic’ [1978])
  • Sleep, dreams, and daydreams in contemporary politics
  • Archival studies: the importance of stillness with/in the archive
  • The philosophy and ethics of (not) doing
  • Gender, race, class, sexuality, ability and age in relation to wellness and work
  • Representations of burnout and rest in poetry, zines, online magazines, theatre, film, theatre, documentary, visual art, installation, fiction and memoir

See the full CFP on our website: https://www.theartofnotdoing.com

Follow the conference on Twitter for updates: https://twitter.com/artofnotdoing

All submissions are due by midnight on June 3, 2019. Please include any access needs/preferences—we will do our best to make the conference fully accessible for all who would like to join. We particularly encourage submissions from those operating within academia, activism and contemporary art whose voices are often marginalised by the mainstream canon.



Lise Groenvold