I have written about uprisings, but I have never lived through one, until this May. There was radical optimism – fleeting, maybe – in Minneapolis as abolition moved to the tip of tongues and entered the platforms of elected city officials. I knew that uprisings were about rage (and we had our share of unmediated rage), but I didn’t know how much they were fuelled by hope, too. You might not know it, though, to read left social media commentary, where cynicism ruled the day. It is strange, when you think about it, how attached radicals can be to certainty in the midst of massive political upheaval – how invested we’ve become in cynicism as epistemology.
Optimism might technically be cynicism’s opposite, but for radical academics I think curiosity is the antidote. I’ve always been sceptical of the revolutionary potential of scholarly knowing. Not in an anti-intellectual sense (though some may disagree), but in a materialist sense: to what end, all this knowing? It seems to me that if we are to truck in discourse as our collective contribution to revolutionary social change, we ought to be curious about how change happens, to fan its flames rather than rush to stamp out its embers.
For more on Antipode’s “Conjunctural Insurrections” series – an experiment to amplify voices often unheard and invisibilised in politics, daily life, and academic discourse – see https://antipodeonline.org/2020/06/23/conjunctural-insurrections/