NICA Winter School 2012: Doubt

NICA Winter School 2012: Doubt

January 12-13, 2012
Detailed programme 

The NICA Winter School on Doubt takes place on 12-13 January 2012 at Leiden University.
Confirmed guest speakers are Anton Zijderveld, the co-author of In Praise of Doubt, and Richard Kerridge, the editor of Writing the Environment. The School also features presentations by MA and PhD students and two workshops, on “Interdisciplinarity & Doubt” and on “A Poco-Eco View of Doubt.”

The Winter School provides lunches and drinks on both days, a dinner on the 12th, and funding for an overnight stay if you live far away. 5 ECTS credits are available for participants on the basis of active participation in the Winter School and a paper to be submitted afterwards. Enrollment is free of charge.

It is possible to participate in the Winter School without giving a presentation. Research Master and  PhD students who would like to enroll, please send an email with your details to before 5 January 2012. The maximum number of participants is 25 and admittance is on a “first come, first served” basis.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Winter School organizers: Isabel Hoving (Leiden University), Liesbeth Minnaard (Leiden University) and Esther Peeren (University of Amsterdam)


“To be truly theoretical is to doubt.”
— Timothy Morton

 We live in a world at risk, an unstable world, full of political, economical, and environmental uncertainties and insecurities. Having learnt the lessons of poststructuralism well, we approach that world with theories that emphasize unpredictability, opacity, and fragmentation. Simultaneously, however, globalization urges us to take the totality of the world that we inhabit into account and to acknowledge and address its complexity. Ignoring the ban on grand narratives, Hardt and Negri boldly speak of Empire; Glissant poetically refers to the world-totality; and ecocritics such as Heise insist on the need to develop nothing less than a planetary consciousness.

How now do we negotiate these two, equally  ethically and politically laudable, yet divergent, options? While many scholars opt for a reconciliation of the two (Glissant, for instance, argued that the world-totality is non-generalizable), we propose to linger in a position of suspension, of doubt, and to explore its potential. Doubt is a more specific condition than uncertainty. It is not satisfied with the celebration of uncertainty and chaos, but neither is it interested in the embrace of an (imaginary? illusionary?) totality. Rather, it identifies specific options between which it hesitates. Doubt is a state in which action is needed, but postponed; doubt is opened to a future, yet forestalls it. How can doubt be made productive?

We welcome contributions on the epistemology of doubt as well as on the imagination of doubt. What are the theoretical and methodological approaches we use to explore the middle ground between a hesitative inarticulacy and firm statements? To what extent is doubt a productive alternative position from which to navigate and negotiate between fundamentalism and moral relativism (Berger and Zijderveld 2009)? What is the role of uncertainty in our scholarly work, and how do we resolve it, or refuse to resolve it, making it work for us? If we want to move beyond the celebration of plurality and uncertainty, when and how does doubt (as a more specific intellectual position of in-betweenness) enter our work?

We also welcome contributions on literary and artistic genres that are organized around doubt and the suspension of disbelief. How can we reconcile the popularity of the fantastic as the genre of doubt and hesitation with the desire for the “real” that shapes today’s public debate? In what sense do literary or artistic imaginations of the global future testify to the centrality of doubt, uncertainty and insecurity in the world today – and to what effects?

Possible topics:


Climate change, economic crisis, environmental destruction, the struggle for resources, rising food prices, the upsurge of the extreme right — while fully aware of possible paradoxes, tensions, and aporias in these issues, theoristst also reflect on their social responsibility. How does one reconcile theoretical sophistication with social responsibility, theory and activism? How (in)productive is doubt when struggling with (theoretical, social) dilemmas that demand to be resolved?

The body in-between

Transsexuality, transgender, transvestism: what is the role of doubt in the process of changing sex? How do different trans-people deal with the possibility of remaining inside the state of suspension or ambiguity? Heterophobia in homosexuals, homophobia, bisexuality: how does doubt relate to sexual identification?


What are the tensions and paradoxes that are crucial to contemporary imaginations of the future (as apocalypse, as utopia)? What are our own doubts concerning developments that shape the future? Do these doubts hamper, or energize our academic research?


While we are more and more dependent on each other as global citizens, we continue to doubt each other’s sincerity (as prioritizing our own  economic interests over human rights or democracy, as anti-democratic religious fanatics or potential terrorists, etc.). How can cooperation across borders be realized, and what about solidarity on a global scale? Is global connectedness a facile, humanist utopia?

The psychology of doubt

Is doubt a productive refusal of essentialist and fundamentalist positions? Is doubt a privileged theoretical moment – the moment for analysis, theory, reflection? Is doubt the pathological condition of psychological impotence or is it related to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder? What is the nature of theoretical doubt, in specific scholarly cases?

And more!

Special Session
Leiden Hotspot: A Poco-Eco View of Globalization

Though the Winter School intends to cover a  range of possible debates and issues under the general denominator of “doubt,” we will also organize a special session on the affinities and differences between the theories of postcoloniality/globalization and the ecocritical approach. Thus, we explore the specificities of an old field of inquiry that is continuously renewing itself, as well as a booming new research field that aims to reconnect to the world’s totality in a new way.


Mediterranean Revolutions, Postcolonial Questions

Since 2005, the Platform for Postcolonial Readings organizes seminars for all (junior) researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium who are committed to issues of postcoloniality and globalization. As an open network, platform for debate, and reading group, our meetings are open to all.

Date | 28 October 2011
Location | PC Hoofthuis 5.59, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
Registration | 
Organizers | Elisabeth Bekers (VUB), Sarah De Mul (KUL), Isabel Hoving (UL), Liesbeth Minnaard (UL)

How to Theorize Actuality?
Mediterranean Revolutions, Postcolonial Questions

Iain Chambers’ study on the postcolonial Mediterranean (2008) suggests a daringly new way to rethink European, Arab, Middle Eastern and North African identities as intertwined. It ties in with the larger project of the theory of globalization, which invites us to see and think the world differently. The conceptualization of the world as radically, though ambivalently, interconnected, seems to have great potential. Postcolonial theory lay the groundwork for this new imagination, but it also reminds us that we should take into account the specific (geopolitical) power dynamics that are bound up with all imaginations of the world. Political accounts of the efforts to create a Mediterranean identity (European Mediterranean Project, Barcelona Process, 1995) point at the Arab distrust of such projects.

What would be a productive way, for postcolonial scholars, to engage with such imaginations, and their political critique? Should we “think global”, and what exactly does that mean? What do these new proposals mean for our commitment to the present struggles in the Southern Mediterranean, and the ensuing efforts to build a democracy? How should we theorize the position of the refugees and the unwelcome reception that they are given in Europe? Which theories are more relevant to these debates – culturally inclined postcolonial theories such as Chambers’, Marxist postcolonial studies such as Aijaz Ahmad, analyses in the wake of Said, or philosophical approaches such as those of Agamben, Derrida, Nancy?

In this seminar we will address these questions in different styles and formats. The day will open with a presentation on Agamben’s work by legal theorist Dr. Bas Schotel (UvA). We will continue by discussing and close reading a number of influential classical texts that can help us to understand the fundamental issues involved. The afternoon is dedicated to exchange and debate. Dr. Dina Heshmat (UL) will present her own research on Egyptian literature in the light of the day’s topic and debates. Other researchers will comment from their own field of research. We will conclude the day with an on-the-spot analysis of a fictional text that addresses the hot topic of the meeting in an unexpected and inventive way.

The seminar is open for both researchers and Research Master students working in the field of postcolonial studies. If you are interested in participating, please register/enroll (Res MA) with Eloe Kingma (NICA/OSL). Active participation by Research Master students (presentation, response, short paper) may be awarded with 1 EC credit. For more information, contact Eloe Kingma (, Sarah De Mul (, or Isabel Hoving (


Programme “Mediterranean Revolutions”

MORNING: The Mediterranean as a Contested Space of
Politics and Economics

10.15            Welcome, and introduction
10.30-11.30   Guest lecture by legal theorist Dr. Bas Schotel (UvA):
                   “Immigrant as State of Exception and Bare Life.
                    Agamben and the State’s Right to Exclusion”
11.30-12.30   The Must-Reads and the Classics: Close Reading and

For this session we read and discuss:

  • Chambers, Iain. “The Mediterranean. A Postcolonial Sea.” Third Text 18.5 (2004): 423-433.
  • Agamben, Giorgio. Homo sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Fragments from chapter 1 (15-21) and chapter 7 (166-80).
  • Downey, Anthony. “Zones of Indistinction. Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Bare Life’ and the Politics of Aesthetics.” Third Text 23.2 (2009): 109-125.
  • Ahmad, Ahmad. “Islam, Islamisms and The West.” Social Register 2008. (a long text, but a quick read)

12.30-13.30    lunch

AFTERNOON: Imaginations in/of the Mediterranean

13.30-15.30    Workshop

Food for Thought and Discussion I: “Anger, Revolution, and Literature in Egypt” by Dr. Dina Heshmat, specialist in Arabic language and literature (Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University)

Food for Thought and Discussion II: “Multitude, Identity, Democracy and Revolution: the Ontology of the Present in Agamben, Negri and Virno” by Dr. Sonja Lavaert, lecturer Italian, Philosophy of Culture and Politics & Political Theory (Department Applied Linguistics Erasmuscollege, VUBrussels)

15.30-15.45   Break
15.45-16.45   On-the-spot analysis of an excerpt of Rachida Lamrabet’s
16.45-17.00   Concluding remarks

Followed by Drinks

Masterclass Catherine Malabou: What To Do With Our Brain?

Masterclass | In October (28-29), NICA hosts a masterclass and lecture with Catherine Malabou, organized by Adam Chambers, Thijs Witty, Gianluca Turricchia, and Baylee Brits. The masterclass is open to graduate students and interested staff, and is designed as an intensive workshop to question, extend, and experiment with Malabou’s important theory of plasticity. In addition to the workshop, there will also be a lecture by Professor Malabou, followed by a response from Professor Patricia Pisters from the University of Amsterdam. Catherine Malabou is a French philosopher who is currently professor at the Université Paris-X Nanterre and the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at London’s Kingston University.

“The world is not the calm prolonging of the biological. The mental is not the wise appendix of the neuronal. And the brain is not the natural ideal of a globalised economic, political, social organization.” (What Should We Do With Our Brain, 8).

Our brain is plastic and we don’t know it

Catherine Malabou is best known for her development of the concept of plasticity. Plasticity, which Malabou identifies as the “motif” of contemporary neurobiology, is the capacity of the brain to change itself; it is the biological ability of the brain to give, receive and explode form. To paraphrase Malabou, existence impresses itself upon our synapses, it literally leaves its material mark on the wet matter that is our brain. Yet – to expand the book’s question – what can we do with this particular knowledge and how can we relate to the science that generated this concept? Certainly a new insight on how the brain functions would ultimately help in curing the ailments and diseases that disturb this delicate balance, but what if plasticity reshuffles our notion of the brain’s “proper functioning”, and we – as Malabou insists – do not know it? By questioning assumptions already undermined by neurobiology’s latest discoveries, Malabou’s work advocates a consciousness of the plasticity of the brain, that is: a political redefinition of our being with others in this world. In other words, her work invites the reader to re-think the very idea of boundaries separating “nature” from “culture”: how biological alter-globalism and neuronal liberation can sparkle a new turn towards the sciences and materialism.

How is the concept of plasticity relevant to cultural analysis?

Neuroscience is a group of related disciplines that study the anatomy, physiology and functioning of the central nervous system. Cultural Analysis is a practice that dedicates itself to the interdisciplinary study of culture, encompassing works of art and literature, cinema and new media, popular culture, and social belief and value systems. An emphasis is placed on textual, visual and historical details and the social, political and aesthetic movements that underpin them. What can these two practices of enquiry tell each other? The assumption of center and power are crucial for both the study of culture and the brain: they operate at the same intersections between inner and outer, power and distribution, identity and difference. The plasticity of the brain is the “real image” of the world, because plasticity is the form of our world. Malabou’s suggestion is thus that both ourselves and our cultures are constituted by the formative capacity of plasticity. To what extent can this concept enable us to express new insights into the formation of culture, both material and conceptual?

The NICA Masterclass will be an opportunity to experiment and reflect on the malleability of plasticity for use in the interdisciplinary practice of cultural analysis. If plasticity is formative of culture, does an awareness of it transfigure the conceptual or methodological apparatus available to analysis of culture? To what extent has neuronal plasticity already permeated or informed practices of cultural analysis? Should cultural analyses take heed of the plastic nature of the brain? Has the awareness of the performativity of language for instance not already prepared the trajectory? Does the omnipresence of the brain in popular culture have any significance in this respect?


Left to right: Gianluca Turricchio, Patricia Pisters, Thijs Witty, Catherine Malabou, Adam Chambers



The Masterclass takes place on October 28, from 13:00 to 17:00 hrs. in the Bungehuis (Spuistraat 210), room 101, in Amsterdam. Please register (please note: only fifteen places available) by emailing Adam Chambers at We ask participants to prepare in advance questions that relate to one (or more) of the four themes of the workshop (see full programme), and to have a familiarity with key texts by Malabou. Required reading for participation: What Should We Do With Our Brain? Suggested readings: Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing and The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, Dialectics. Also, with your registration, please include one of your questions (this will help us organize the themes of the workshop) in addition to a short motivation (250 words or less) describing your research interests and reasons for attending. The public lecture takes place on October 29, starting at 16:00, in the Doelenzaal of the UvA Universiteitsbibliotheek. No registration necessary.

Malabou: What should we do with our brain? full Program




Pinkwashing: Homonationalism and Gay Tourism in Palestine/Israel


JUNE 20, 2011

by Haneen Maikey, director of alQaws

Organized by Mikki Stelder, in cooperation with Queeristan and NICA

The Palestinian community is one of the few in the Middle East that witnessed an explicit formation of a queer discourse in the public sphere. Entrenched in the struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the struggle of Palestinian queers is not only a struggle against social injustice in Palestine, but also against Israel’s colonization, occupation and apartheid. Violations of human rights and international law, suppression of basic rights and civil liberties, and discrimination are deeply rooted in Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, straight and gay alike.

The Palestinian queer community has evolved over the last ten years; civil society organizations working on queer rights have emerged. One of the grassroots organizations working on sexual and gender diversity in the Palestinian community, alQaws, works to integrate the queer community into various levels of Palestinian society. Realizing that the oppression faced by Palestinian queers is not only a result of their gender and sexual identity, but also a result of being Palestinians, alQaws strives to carve out a space for the queer community in the shadow of oppression and occupation.

In 2010, a community of Palestinian queer activists who live in the occupied Palestinian territories and inside Israel came together to promote and stand for the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, which was launched in July 2005. Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS) argue that the struggle for sexual and gender diversity is interconnected with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination.

The lecture on Pinkwashing: Homonationalism and Gay Tourism in Palestine/Israel presents the queer struggle in Palestine in its historical context. It explains the formation of a Palestinian queer movement, which evolved throughout different and major historical events in the political sphere of the region. The lecture proposes an understanding of the current discourse of homonationalism in Israel from the perspective of marginalized Palestinian queers. The strategic pinkwashing of Israel’s image that is used in the campaigns of gay tourism in Tel Aviv is exposed as a cover up to the exclusionary politics of the Israeli state. The lecture concludes with a discussion on the politics of representation of the Palestinian queer community from an Israeli perspective versus a Palestinian one.

Haneen Maikey is the director of alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) Palestinian activists,  who work collaboratively to break down gendered and heteronormative barriers). Maikey is also co-founder of the Palestinian Queers for BDS.



Toppling Times: Cultural Activism

MAY 31, 2011

Organized by Aylin Kuryel and Begum Ozden Firat

 With presentations and performances by L.M. Bogad, Robin Celikates, Kees Hudig, Thijs Witty, Christian Scholl, Emrah Irzik, and John Jordan.

Paths Through Utopia 


The encounter between the insights of political, social and critical theory on the one hand, and activist visions and struggles on the other, is urgent and appealing. Indeed, there is much to gain from a productive dialogue between the theorizations of the intricacies of our time and the subversive practices that deal with them. New forms of activism, with their insistence on creative interventions based on the notions of humor, playfulness and confusion, may provide a suitable ground to explore the  relationship between theoretical acts and activist thinking.

The NICA Atelier Toppling Times: Cultural Activism will consist of a one-day event focusing on contemporary activist practices that aim to interrupt and reorient politics as well as culture. The atelier includes presentations from some of the contributors of the recently published book Cultural Activism: Practices, Dilemmas, and Possibilities (eds. Aylin Kuryel and Begum Ozden Firat; Rodopi), roundtable discussions, as well as a movie screening followed by a debate.

Download: Toppling Times Program