The Performativity of Nonviolence in Translation

The Performativity of
Nonviolence in Translation


Witnessing violence on social media creates a heightened sense of urgency that can evoke a feeling of disjuncture in physical reality. In June 2020, we formed a reading group that evolved into a research collective as a response to ongoing police brutality in the U.S. because forms of activism, such as the framing of Black Lives Matter protests, were labeled as violent by opposition groups. The debate over the legitimacy of how public protests are enacted by certain media groups threatens freedom of expression and other modes of solidarity.

So the research collective, composed of eight people in five different time zones, took up the task of creating new approaches to enacting nonviolent assembly by translating theories in The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind by Judith Butler within multilingual and nonverbal contexts. We created a format of collective practice as a mode of artistic research that resignifies Butler’s theory through the lens of performance-making processes and conflict resolution.

We approach nonviolence as a technique of using both singular and collective methodologies to make links across multiple subjective experiences through assembly formation.

Below is an excerpt from a practice-as-research session. Collaborators reflect on ways the methodology in a multi-linguistic context connects to nonviolence.



During the collective narration, a group of voices assembled online. Similar to a Greek chorus, people used the porosity of words to cascade into virtual space. The focus was to speak to understand rather than speak to be heard. Participants were invited to read what they had written during the practice-as-research sessions as well as the other writings from the group. 

The audience was invited to sense nuance in multiple expressions of subjectivity and imagine how relationships can be formed without the need to categorize and identify according to physical appearance.

In partnership with Liebig12, the project was promoted by Vorspiel / Transmediale & CTM Festival in Berlin. Programming included a public talk and practice-as-sessions with people local to Berlin. Documentation of the practice-as research was used for the collective narration via Zoom.

The documentation of the practice-as-research and virtual collective narration was exhibited at Liebig12 and shared with a wider audience. Guests were invited to participate in a condensed version of the practice-as-research, write reflections, and discuss the relationship between nonviolence and social equality.

In future iterations, the outcomes of the practice, such as documentation of participants’ experiences, will be organized into strategies for nonviolent action that can be activated in daily life. These strategies, contextualized through the practice-as-research, will seek to counteract socio-political challenges including sexual violence, transphobia, gender inequality, and displacement.