ESR 11 Blog April 2021: Fabiola Fiocco

Where am I speaking from? Who am I talking to?

Answering these two questions has been the focus of several conversations that took place over these last months. I have asked them myself several times, I have heard them from many of my fellow researchers, and I encountered them in the work of many theorists and activists. It seems that these two questions, and the strategies implemented to formulate an adequate response, are at the core of every counter-hegemonic political and cultural process; a work that can never be considered as finished, a continuous process of self-analysis and positioning. For this reason, in this blog I will not try to answer them, but I will highlight some of the examples that I have found inspiring and useful in this construction process.

Some weeks ago, as art spaces were slowly opening up again, I visited the exhibition From the Volcano to the Sea. The Feminist Group Le Nemesiache in 1970s and 1980s Naples, curated by Giulia Damiani in collaboration with Sara Giannini and Arnisa Zeqo. Taking its name from the Greek goddess Nemesis, the Italian feminist collective was founded in Naples in the 1970s – a particularly significant moment for feminist political action – by the philosopher and artist Lina Mangiacapre to create a space for women to collectively image new ways of being together, in which political action was completely merged with art and nature.

The most fascinating aspect of Le Nemesiache’s practice, which is very apparent in the archival materials on display, was the centrality of mythology “as an embodied practice of transformation”[1] and its ritualistic component. Specifically, they developed an original method named psico favola (psycho-fable), a dramatic reinterpretation of mythological scenarios conceived as a form of consciousness-raising psycho-emotional liberation in which only women were allowed. Starting from the Neapolitan natural (and supernatural) ecosystem, the group carried out a number of actions and experimentations to collectively shape their contextual feminist practice.

The relationship between positionality and specific (political) practices has occurred again and again this month as I started working on the theoretical framework of my research, and took part in various events. As part of the FEINART Training programme, I attended an interesting workshop led by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ursula Offenberger on ethnographic field studies. On this occasion, one of the first concepts we discussed and that kept coming back throughout the sessions was reflexivity, that is the constant examination of one’s position and subjectivity in relation to the fieldwork process and the overall research. How to define one’s position in relation to oneself and others? How to develop analytical methodologies that respect the collective nature of specific processes? How can we avoid incorporating and replicating dynamics of prevarication within our research practice?

Recently, I also had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by the feminist philosopher and activist Ewa Majewska regarding her upcoming publication on feminist antifascisms (Verso, 2021). Within the frame of the lecture, Majewska referred to the notion of politics of location to reflect on the political potential of the International Feminist Strike, especially in its territorial expressions.[2] Very close to Donna Haraway’s concept of situated knowledges, I found this idea particularly significant for it rejects the idea of a totalising universal “sisterhood” to ground collective political agency on the boundaries enabled by a specific locality without implying a nationalist or culturalist position. In her talk Majewska also engaged with the analytical concept of subaltern counterpublics, developed already decades ago by Nancy Fraser, to identify parallel discursive arenas in which marginalised social groups can formulate and circulate counter-discourses and practices.[3]

While I still try to orient myself and unravel the various components that contribute to the organisation and positioning of bodies within the realm of critique, especially with regard to the development of feminist practices, I see in these examples different, but perhaps complementary, ways to engage with the complex nature of political work. Some food for thought.

Take care and speak soon.


[1] Exhibition text by Giulia Damiani for From the Volcano to the Sea. The Feminist Group Le Nemesiache in 1970s and 1980s Naples, 23 October 2020 – 1 May 2021, Rongwrong, Amsterdam.

[2] Despite being initially formulated by Adrienne Rich, here I refer to the concept of a politics of location as developed by Chandra Talpade Mohanty. See C. Mohanty, ‘Feminist encounters: Locating the politics of experience’, in L. Nicholson and S. Seidman (eds.), Social Postmodernism: Beyond Identity Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 68-86.

[3] N. Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, Social Text, n. 25/26, 1990, pp. 56-80.

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