Is Thought Action?


Is Thought Action?

NICA/ASCA Conference Exploring Tensions Between Academic Theory and Praxis

28-29 November 2013, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

organized by Julia Peetz and Praveen Sewgobind

Keynote Lectures by Sut Jhally and Rosalind Gill

”[People in the humanities] don’t know how to articulate how their work can have concrete effects on the world in which they live,” Judith Butler said in 2000, pointing to a general anxiety in the humanities that asks, “What effect are any of us having, and what effect can we have?”[1]

Under the catchphrase “Is Thought Action?” this conference aims to investigate that anxiety, which in 2013 appears as acute as it did thirteen years ago, and to channel it into a productive dialogue. Our goal is to explore and critique points of tension between academic practice in the humanities and the wider world in the broadest sense. (How) does academic research in the humanities enter into a larger dialogue beyond the academy? Is an insistence on quantifiable results essentially opposed to the logic of humanities research? What productive avenues of contact between practice and humanities research are already being explored? And how can interdisciplinarity facilitate dialogue in “a common language”?

The “Is Thought Action?” Conference will be a mixture of panel discussions, showcases of creative works and two keynote lectures (abstracts below). The lectures, panels and creative showcases are open to the public (full schedule below). Seats for non-participants are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Those who are not presenting but would like to attend a panel as guests are asked to send an email to Please specify which panel you are attending to get a copy of the reader that includes the papers presented.

Topics addressed in the “Is Thought Action?” Conference include but are not limited to:


  • Practice-based work in academia: What, how, and why?
  • (How) does practice-based work inform teaching and research?
  • “Bad writing” — Obscurantism or anti-intellectualism?
  • Activism and academia
  • Interdisciplinarity as a way to broaden focus and reach
  • Interdisciplinary cross-communication
  • Mainstream media representation of academic research
  • Moral responsibility vs. academic freedom of thought
  • Precarious employment in academia and its consequences
  • Class, gender, ethnicity in academia
  • Radical critique and practical change
  • Radical theory vs. moral and political limits
  • Corporate influence on academia



Day 1 – Thursday, 28 November 2013

10:30am – 12:00pm, Filmtheater de Uitkijk, Prinsengracht 452:

Introduction and Keynote Lecture 1 by Rosalind Gill: The Psychic Life of Neoliberalism in the Academy


01:30pm – 03:00pm, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, room F0.02:

Panel 1 – Interplays: Academia and the Facts on the Ground

Olakunle Folami, Tara Atluri,  Adriana Roque Romero, Marieke Hopman

Chair: Robin Celikates

03:30pm – 05:00pm, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, room D1.18B:

Panel 2 – Processes & Movements: How to Analyse the Intangible

Paulo Eurico Alves Variz, Zoltan Varga, Rosanne de Koning, Ymke Kelders

Chair: Mikki Stelder

07:00pm – 08:30pm, Franciscuszaal at the Moses and Aaron Church, Waterlooplein 205-207:

Keynote Lecture 2 by Sut Jhally: Beyond the Ivory Tower: Cultural Politics and Public Pedagogy

Day 2 – Friday, 29 November 2013

All of Friday’s conference activities take place in the social centre at Overtoom 301. There will also be a book stall selling books related to the conference theme courtesy of the International Bookshop Het Fort van Sjakoo.

10:30am – 12:00pm:

Panel 3 – Shaping Thoughts: Subjectivities and Expressiveness

Lisanne de Berg, Iris Blaak, Fanne Boland

Chair: Jules Sturm


01:30pm – 03:00pm:

Creative Works Exhibit 1 – Academic Practice as Performance, Dialogue & Fiction

Sabrina Chou, Tessa Askamp, Catherine Lord

Chair: Jane Lewty

03:30pm – 05:00pm:

Panel 4 – Power Struggles & Creative Constraints

Britt Broekhaus, Samara Chadwick, Barron Mosher, Anders Johansson

Chair: Shailoh Phillips

05:30pm – 07:00pm:

Creative Works Exhibit 2 – Academic Practice as Moving Image: Video, Film & Multimedia

Florian Göttke, Beny Wagner, Stephan de Groot & Sacha Alexander Post

Chair: Manon Parry

The second day will be concluded by a plenary discussion with the two keynote speakers, Sut Jhally and Rosalind Gill (Chairs: Praveen Sewgobind and Julia Peetz). This will be followed by an after-party.

Please go to for an interactive map of the conference locations.

Keynote Lectures

Sut Jhally is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Best known for his work on advertising, mass media and consumption, Professor Jhally is one of the world’s leading scholars on media literacy and recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of six books on advertising, the media and cultural politics, as well as Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation. In this capacity he has directed and produced numerous documentary films, among them Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land, Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women, Hijacking Catastrophe: Fear & the Selling of the American Empire, and No Logo, based on the book by Naomi Klein.

Professor Jhally’s lecture is entitled Beyond the Ivory Tower: Cultural Politics and Public Pedagogy.  

Abstract: “One of the great pillars of post-secondary education, academic freedom, is predicated on the idea that a society needs to have a place where the hardest and most difficult questions can be posed, without fear of political consequences. The accompanying assumption is that the knowledge thus produced will be important for the broader society. This presentation asks whether these assumptions are still valid in the context of declining state support for post-secondary education and the increasing sway of corporate influence. Drawing upon the tradition of critical cultural studies it argues for a model of engaged scholarship, focusing on questions vital for the society, as well as greater attention paid to the process of translation necessary for those ideas to become a material force in the world beyond the academy.”

Note: Outside of the framework of the conference, Professor Jhally is giving an additional reading + screening of film clips from his documentaries on 30 November. This event is organized by the Netherlands Palestine Committee. More information can be found here.

Rosalind Gill is Professor of Cultural and Social Analysis at City University London. She is the author and editor of four books, including the well-known Gender and the Media, a comprehensive analysis of the representation of men and women in 21st century media. Professor Gill hails from an interdisciplinary background in Sociology, Psychology, Gender Studies and Media and Communication, with her research focusing on gender and media, cultural and creative work, and mediated intimacy. She has held posts at Goldsmiths and King’s College London, as well as the London School of Economics’ Gender Institute.

Professor Gill’s lecture is entitled The Psychic Life of Neoliberalism in the Academy.

Abstract: “The aim of this paper is to locate academics within the sights of critical labour studies, and, in particular, the contemporary interest in cultural workers. Despite a growing literature about – and in response to – the transformation of the University there have been few attempts to study academics as workers. This paper argues that there are a number of parallels between academic work and the much more well-documented experiences of work in the cultural and creative industries. The paper examines the increasing experience of precariousness among academics, the intensification and extensification of work, and the new modes of surveillance in the academy and their affective impacts. The aim of the presentation is to build on the critical lexicon of studies of cultural labour in order to think about academic work as labour and to generate new ways of thinking about power, privilege and exploitation. It argues for the need for a psychosocial perspective that can understand the new labouring subjectivities in academia, which it argues are constituted by a distinctly neoliberal form of governance. The talk will challenge us to think about academic work as a kind of cultural labour, and to think about neoliberalism as a psychosocial technology, not just a political or economic one.”


[1] Butler, Judith. “Changing the Subject: Judith Butler’s Politics of Radical Resignification.” Interview by Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham. JAC 20.4 (2000): 734.