I(r)rationality, Power Structures and Resistance Strategies
by Mona Lilja and Annika Lundgren

In a modern society where power as well as resistance are made legitimate with various claims of rationality and where ‘development’ is explained as entirely rational, the irrational becomes interesting as a destabilising factor that reveals new perspectives – both in terms of the intrinsic symbiosis between power and resistance and in terms of the potential of irrationality as a method. While the dynamics between power and resistance have been analyzed and discussed by a great number of theorists and from countless perspectives, we claim that the introduction of “the irrational” into the context allows
for a different way of understanding this ancient dualist antagonism.

Our aim in this article is to critically examine the concept of irrationality in relation to resistance strategies as well as power structures. We will be looking at this issue from two different perspectives representing our respective fields of work, trusting that they will inform and inspire each other, making available new ways of thinking. In our work we have been focusing on
two main questions dividing the article in two sections:

1- How does the concept of irrationality alter the understanding of the relationship between power and resistance?
2- What is the potential of irrationality as a strategy of destabilisation?

In the first section we attempt to establish and locate irrational elements within power and resistance, looking at how they affect the correlation between the two. The second section examines how irrationality can be developed and adapted as a tool within activism and (political) art practices. Based on those examinations, we will attempt to draw some conclusions about the nature of irrationality. We start out, however, with the basic definition that “irrationality” is something that appears to somehow stand in contrast to the aim of the activity in which it occurs.

In order to analyse and discuss the interaction between irrationality, power and resistance we will use a two-dimensional concept of power, discussing on the one hand the direct decision-making power and on the other hand the discursive power which creates the categories and concepts through which we interpret the world. The concept of resistance should here be understood as any force, conscious or subconscious, organised or unorganised, reacting to the power described above.

This text constitutes an initial survey of what happens when interjecting the concept of irrationality into the power/resistance-discourse. As such it produces more questions than answers and should be seen as a starting-point and a basis for further and more specific research.

irrationality, power and resistance

Representing the first of the two concepts of power mentioned above, Robert Dahl has promoted an approach that aims to determine who actually prevails in decision-making. Identifying those who have more power should be carried out through the study of concrete and observable behaviour. The focus is thus on the study of actual behaviour within decision-making and on identifying those participants who had initiated alternatives to the decisions that were finally adopted, as well as vetoed alternatives initiated by others or proposed alternatives that were later refused (Dahl in Lukes 1974: 12–13; Lilja 2008). Power, in this view, is then the capacity that makes it possible for one actor to have his/her interests realised against the will of others. According to Peterson and Runyan, key words characterising Dahl’s theory of power are, for example, ‘force’ and ‘coerce’ (Peterson and Runyan 1993: 45). Power in this understanding is frequently used in liberal forms of analysis where power is defined as a person’s ability to affect the pattern of an outcome against the desires of other actors (Kabeer 1994: 224–229; Lilja 2008).

Foucault, however, outlines power as something quite different. Power is always exercised and circulating: it is ‘located at the levels of struggle and manifest in its effects’ (Haugaard 1997: 67). To Foucault, the individual is both subjugated and constituted through power and an actor disseminating it. Foucault also argues that it is the application and effectiveness of the power/knowledge regime that is important. Knowledge is linked to power, first because it assumes the authority of the ‘truth’, and secondly because it has the power to make itself true (Foucault 1994). According to Bergström and Boréus (2000: 226), discourses decide what can be said and introduces the different concepts according to which we interpret the world.

Hall calls the latter a system of representation, i.e. a system “by which all sorts of objects, people and events are correlated with a set of concepts or mental representations which we carry around in our heads” (Hall 1997a: 17). These concepts – which are about easily graspable things, such as chairs and tables but also about war, love or friendship – make us understand the world in certain ways.

Hall and Dyer argues that a general problem with the above-mentioned concepts, or types, is that the differences and the separation between different types often become exaggerated and over-emphasized. Therefore we tend to view the world in a rather stereotypical manner. Stereotypes are problematic as they fix boundaries and exclude everything that ‘does not belong’. Stereotypes lead to the establishment of normality (how we should think or act) and, by excluding other types and ways of thinking, they are a way of exercising power (Dyer 1993: 11–17; Dyer in Hall 1997b: 257; Hall 1997a: 31; Hall 1997b: 257; Lilja 2008; Peterson and Runyan 1993: 21–26). Thereby, one important aim of resistance is to shake or negotiate types and stereotypes in order to create more nuanced categories and a more complex world with more than one normality. Connecting the concept of normality with rationality, this ambition could perhaps be described as a striving after “irrationality”, in the sense that it strives to go beyond a single, normative interpretation.

Starting out by looking at the concept of decision-making power, one has to differ between its role in the democratic and the despot regime. In the systems we generally refer to as democracies, the greatest disadvantage of decision-making power lies in the circumstance that it is generally connected to demands on a certain accountability. This renders it’s methods visible and apparent, allowing resistance the opportunity to analyze its logic and
to adapt resistance strategies accordingly. In a democracy, most veteran demonstrators have an intimate knowledge about the limitations of the statutory powers of the police. Equipped in this manner, they are able to immediately point out (and document) any violation committed on the part of the power, using it to invalidate it’s legitimacy. Moreover, the behavior of the prevailing instances of power is often characterized by predictability, producing a devaluating effect. When yet another prohibition is issued in Sweden, it is generally received with a certain skeptic indulgence by citizens who have grown accustomed to this as a typical feature, although each individual may submit to it in practical terms, impairing the respect and the seriousness with which the authorities are viewed by the population.

A further challenge lies in its status in an ethical context in a society where –to a significant part of the citizens– “power” is associated with “evil”, and “resistance” is, consequently, associated with good. When authorities with violent means attempt to put a stop to an illegal demonstration this position is reaffirmed and public opinion is turned in favor of resistance. For each such incident the trust in the authorities is undermined and the support for resistance is gaining. It can be proven how in certain contexts the mere presence of authority (i.e. police, security guards etcetera) at a demonstration, riot or protest increases the level of resistance, justifying its cause and providing it with extra incitement and energy. The story of David & Goilath is deeply ingrained in us - mirrored in countless literary and cinematic narratives; the uprising and victory of the weak and oppressed is a story with what is generally understood as a happy end.

Simultaneously, we have been witnessing a gradual shift in terms of this attitude over the last decades, where it is resistance rather than power that is being demonized. With increasing frequency, authorities are appointing demonstrators “terrorists”, turning public opinion against any opposition contesting the prevalent political agenda. Through this strategy, power is being is assigned to the side of resistance, as by depicting it as a threat the authorities can legitimize almost any act of reprisal in their fight to “protect democracy”. In this interpretation resistance becomes power and power becomes resistance, rendering the authorities the role of heroic freedom-fighters, de-politicizing resistance and robbing it of it’s discursive advantage in the process.

Summing up the above, it seems that decision-making power in democratic systems is counter-productive both in terms of its visibility and in terms of the references connected to it’s position and representation in society. In short, it breeds and consolidates resistance simply by being identified and/or experienced as power. Thus, it’s rational attempts to suppress resistance are always accompanied by the paradoxical fortification of it, being the inevitable consequence of the conspicuousness that is its prerequisite.

In a dictatorship, however, no such claims of transparency can be made and consequently power can be exercised randomly and without necessarily following any ethical or juridical principles or guidelines.

A recent example of this is constituted by the manner and style of the the latter part of the leadership of Muhammar Ghadaffi; “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya” from 1977 to 2011. Initially considered a hero and a freedom-fighter his consistent denial of holding any power eventually became problematic, earning him the reputation of a demagogue and an autocrat. As protests against his rule began in February 2011, his behavior became increasingly absurd and his address to the nation and the rest of the
world less and less coherent. Maintaining –despite an obvious and rapidly growing opposition– that he was loved by his people, his erratic actions and statements eventually precluded any conjectures of what would happen next.

Rather than reducing this behavior to the desperate moves of a man under pressure, it should be understood as an inherit feature of despots. The deployment of utterly random acts of absurd brutality and benevolence that suppress the population through fear of the random caprices of a ‘god’ constitutes a form of senselessness which is not only an ultimate sign of power, but also an active tool in the dictators arsenal of power.
A tyrannical and random leader who claims in fact not to be a leader is a powerful construction because of its incomprehensibility.

One could claim that the, presumably democratic, USA is no less arbitrary in it’s appointing terrorist suspects. The USA Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism activities as "activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state, that (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S." The use of the term “appear to be” in this definition leaves the issue open for an entirely subjective interpretation. Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University notes: "Terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one's enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. (...) Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization 'terrorist' becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned.”

The execution of power carried out both by Ghadaffi and the US Patriot Act can be seen as irrational in the sense that they follow no discernible logic. The difference seems to be that while a democracy still claims rationality –and it’s power lies in it’s ability to present itself as such–, the way that dictators manage to control the population and exercise their power is to insist on their right to be irrational, legitimizing it as an expression of their divine supremacy.

Although fundamentally different to its character, decision-making power in democracies as well as dictatorships share the feature that they have to visibly manifest themselves as being power. This involves exposing itself to observation, mimicry and mockery, facilitating a derisive undermining of it’s authority. Successfully carried out by different agents; from jesters employed at medieval European courts to contemporary political satire, charging the prevalent power with an air of ridicule, ultimately invalidating it’s supremacy has proven to be a highly efficient and mostly safe way to exercise resistance.

Regarding discursive power, things look slightly different as here we are dealing with an indirect way of exercising power, introducing concepts aiming to shape the way in which people interpret the world around them. This method has an advantage in that, when successfully applied, it is self-generating; once established, the new discourse will confirm, validate and justify itself each time it is repeated. Discursive power can also be applied discreetly and without any easily traceable source or origin; less obvious than decision- making power it’s actual existence can in fact be difficult to draw into evidence.

While this inconspicuousness obviously operates in it’s favor on many levels, the same feature can be said to work against it in that it is difficult to claim any authority in terms of interpretive prerogative while simultaneously denying any authorship. When subjecting a group, population or community to a new theory or idea, the result can only be controlled to a certain degree, as the interpretation of the discourse in question will always be filtered through the previous experiences and insights of the individuals confronted with it. Such an example is how early Christian missionaries introducing the practice of communion in certain cultures were interpreted as promoting cannibalism due to their alleged “consumption of the body and blood of Christ”.

Thus, there is always the chance that the initially alien concept will be hijacked and that it’s form and terminology will be charged with a different content and significance than the one originally intended. In this sense, discursive power can be said to be effective in the way that it can be relatively anonymous and in terms of administration. Simultaneously, it is ineffective in that it is unable to control the interpretation of the individual recipient without giving away the trick of the power-play.
In conclusion, both decision-making and discursive power can be seen as both productive –in that it achieves certain desired results– and counter-productive –in that it undermines its own efforts in other ways.

Above, we discuss power in terms of concepts and discourses. We will now depart from this discursive power and argue that resistance is not only parasitic on power, but different practices of resistance strengthen power as well as undermine it. Or in other words, resistance profit from power, providing the very base for resisting strategies, while simultaneously strengthening and challenging power. One example of the entanglement of power and resistance, their overlaps and hybrid coexistence, is the way in which indigenous resistance prevails as a complex interplay of different power relations.

In indigenous political cultures the women’s bodies – the female indigenous figure – often carries a high symbolic value. Among other things, the women’s indigenous clothing must be understood in the light of contested notions of what symbolises nation and belonging. Thus, the female indigenous body becomes a means to articulate the indigenous resistance against national, hegemonic discourses (Radcliff, 2000). However, this body is not only a means of resistance. Because, as tourism expands, the commercialisation of indigenously dressed female bodies are increasingly searched after. They represent a hetero-sexualisation of client-maid interactions, which in one sense resembles the ethicised relations of the “servility on the hacienda” (Radcliff, 2000: 175). The indigenous female figure prevails as an exotic alterity to tourists, businessmen and other foreigners.

In this, the women are entangled in relations of power that are parasitic on the resistance of the indigenous female body, who search to end the domination through expressing her marginalization and a resisting “us” through indigenous clothing. It is an example of resistance that turn out not just as resistance but also serves different power relations (Radcliff, 2000). In this sense, resistance seem to be rational and turn out as purposeful – that is, it is effective and undermines power (See Weber 1996). However, at the same time this resistance of indigenous is an irrational resistance, simultaneously strengthening power. Power and resistance are thereby overlapping and hybrid and are entangled in different ways for different reasons (Sharp, Routledge, Philo and Paddison 2000: 3, 24).

As demonstrated above, power and resistance are both productive and counter- productive. In line with our initial definition, this could be equated with rationality versus irrationality as it appears to be in conflict with the aim of the activity in question. From this perspective, both power and resistance are irrational (not being purposeful) but also rational (purposeful), as they are, simultaneously, effective against the power-relation at stake. In conclusion, as both power and resistance build on, negotiate and produce each other, they both prevail as both rational and irrational.

Another kind of irrationality, however, appears in the examples given on the positions of Ghadaffi and The USA Patriot Act, where it takes the shape of absurdity and a lack of apparent logic. Here, the seeming irrational factor is something that diverges from the conventionally rational perspective. This also connects with Hall and Dyers objection to the stereotypes created by discursive power, and the aim of resistance as that of creating different normalities and a more complex view of the world. We will be discussing this “anti-normative” irrationality and it’s potential in the next section of the text.

irrationality as a strategy of destabilisation

One trend that one may trace within social science research today, is to rationalise what seems to be irrational behaviour. For example, Wendy Doniger argues that: ‘The attempts to rationalise other peoples’ apparent irrationalities is a game that many scholars of religion have enjoyed playing, particularly but not only in the age of moral relativism’ (Doniger 1992: 43). Martin Harris, Mary Douglas and Ludwig Alsdorf are some of the researchers that might be mentioned in this regard. These and other researchers have, among other things, argued that within our own ‘unique’ systems of meaning – we are all being totally rational (Doniger 1992; Douglas 1966). In addition, the rationalisation is often connected to ‘facts’ and modern science. Marvin Harris, among others, explains some eating habits, which might be interpreted as irrational, through the functionalist and materialist argument that ‘they know how to get protein’ (Doniger, 1992: 43).

It might be argued that the resistance researcher James Scott too belongs to this category of researchers. Scott was one of the first to acknowledge that the lazy irrational ‘other’ might be nothing but a resisting ‘other’ (Scott 19??). Ordinary ‘weapons’ of relatively powerless groups are foot dragging, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, character assassination, gossip and so forth, i.e. resistance methods, which can be interpreted in line with different stereotypes of the “oriental”. (Said, 19??; Scott 19??: ?).

In his research Scott displays how, what seem to be, irrational behaviours in fact composes anonymous, disguised, opportunistic, often unorganised, practices of everyday resistance. These subtle practices of resistance are often far more productive and safer than grander gestures more commonly accepted as ‘legitimate’ resistance. Therefore they often provide an option to already marginalised and oppressed subalterns (Scott 1990; (Butz, www.acme-journal.org/vol1/butz.pdf, [accessed: 28 February 2011]).

According to Scott, what looks like irrationality can in fact be an expression of resistance. Based on this, it becomes interesting to look at the potential of the seemingly irrational as a conscious strategy of resistance; i.e. a carefully drafted tactic, designed to defeat
a(rational) power structure. In the social and political sphere, many examples can be found of how resistance has employed a seemingly irrational response, thereby rejecting the established mode of interaction in favour of a different logic and a different set of values.

As a part of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the radical American social and political activist Abbie Hoffman led 50.000 people to the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on October 21, 1967. Confronted by soldiers of the 82nd Air-Born Division forming a human barricade blocking the Pentagon steps, Hoffman organized a group meditation, allegedly aiming to levitate the building 90 feet into the air, spinning it around once, vibrate it and turn it orange – all in order to perform an exorcism of the building and drive out the evil spirits of militarism. While both the goal and the method proposed by Hoffmann can be (and largely was) dismissed as irrational in terms of the supposedly intended goal to put and end to the Vietnam War, it served the purpose of disarming the soldiers, providing time and concentration for a demonstration of focused, collective willpower. Taking into account that Hoffman’s action was undertaken in a time where a large part of the US population experienced despair and powerlessness in the face of the political situation, this seemingly absurd manifestation did in fact fill an important function through it’s therapeutic effect. On the one hand confirming the demonstrators that their fear and suspicion were indeed shared by a great number of other people, and on the other hand involving the soldiers on guard in a session designed to promote different values. Moreover, this strategy was extremely effective at evading the forces of repression as its seeming irrationality made the political force of the act ungraspable and evasive. There is, after all, no reason to waste any energy on a bunch of confused hippies.

Judith Butler illustrates a different mode of employing the seemingly irrational in the articlePeace Is Resistance to the Terrible Satisfaction of War. Here she argues that sometimes doing nothing is more fruitful than doing something - or rather, that the refusal to respond violently to violence certainly is doing something - just not doing the expected thing. Butler advocates the none-violent response as a way of renouncing revenge, and as a process of healing through abiding with grief, losses and vulnerability rather than striking back and transferring vulnerability to the other, heightening the possibility of violence in society and becoming emotionally anaesthetized in the process. Through her proposed method Butler points to an outcome which goes beyond simply winning the fight and aims for an actual transformation of the conditions giving rise to it.

Looking at the examples described above, the respective approaches of Hoffman and Butler can both be understood as the creation of unstable situations caused by the use of a seemingly irrational element. Wether by doing “something”, as in Hoffman’s case, or doing “nothing”, as in Butler’s case, both scenarios bring the forces of power out of balance by confronting it with parameters it is unable to interpret or handle.

In the art world –historically and presently– the concept of irrationality is closely connected to the myth of the artist as a (white, male) “genius author”; originally someone upon whom divine inspiration is bestowed. As such, it has a special significance as the irrational becomes proof of geniality and a sign of an uncompromising conviction and focus that disregards societal conventions - something that could be connected to the irrationality of Ghadaffi’s reign in the section above.

Over the last decades, however, a different and more conscious use of the seemingly irrational can be detected among artists as a result of the emergence of institutional
critique and socially engaged art projects from the 60’s as well as the simultaneous artistic adaptation of strategies borrowed from political activism.

Regarding the difference between the old model of the irrational artist genius and the application of irrational elements in contemporary political art practices, the concept of the genius is out of the picture and “irrationality” is understood as a tool rather than as an identity. Furthermore, those projects are more often than not undertaken by groups or collectives rather than by individual artists.

A forerunner for the present-day use of irrational elements as resistance is represented by the work of the Dada-movement between 1916 and 1922. With a main focus on anti- war politics they saw the rational world lead young boys to slaughter and decided that rationality itself was corrupt. DaDa ‘nonsense’ or non-sense was another denial of the power of the rational. The use of randomness was a tool to access irrationality – to bypass the ingrained internal hegemonies of logic, rationality and sense that had (despite all their appeals to truth and efficiency), still turned the world into a killing field.

Today, the method of applying irrational or absurd elements in order to create uncertainty is common in the (political) art context. The Swedish artist group The Psychic Warfare operate with “psychic attacks” which they describe as “a micro-antagonistic practice”. The attacks consist in the participants congregating in certain, carefully choreographed patterns, quietly massage their temples, attempting to influence political issues through meditation and concentration. The activities of the anonymous members of The Psychic Warfare are mainly directed against the politics of labour in contemporary society. Claiming that their methods are an attempt to avoid reproducing the traditional leftist language and images, their expressions are designed to create confusion regarding what is going on in order to make people stop, think and consider their message.

Another example interesting in the context is Kanslibyrån. Thi is an activist group and artistic institution founded by artists Per Arne Sträng and John Huntington, the aim of which is to create a space of uncertainty by encouraging and acting out behavior that is irrational in the sense that it is based on feelings and impulses, contradicting what is generally considered logic. So does Kanslibyråns “Action 35” consist in an ambivalent poster campaign with the message “Maybe!” while “Action 44” consists in always picking the least fresh bread from the bread counter. “Guldoffensiven” was a project where Sträng and Huntington spent two days gold-plating random objects in public space, such as a discarded beer-capsule, the backside of a parking meter and selected bolts in different public buildings and constructions. On their homepage, Kanslibyrån states: Society is largely based on rationality, obedience and efficiency, which is why we want to promote irrationality and defiance as important concepts to abide by. All actions matter and all situations have a subversive and critical potential. Being irrational, transgressing the prevalent logic and acting on emotions and impulses creates an insecurity which allows for new thoughts and ideas”.

Other art projects operate with locating irrational elements in seemingly rational systems. One such piece is Palast Der Zweifel, carried out by Norwegian artist Lars Ø Ramberg on top of the former DDR Volkspalast in Berlin in 2005. Consisting in the installation of three stories high letters spelling out the word ZWEIFEL (“DOUBT”) on the roof of this historical and political landmark, the project articulated the uncertainty surrounding the discussion regarding the role and impact of East Germany as well as German identity today. Executed at a time when the German Bundestag was still debating what was to happen to this long abandoned monument, it also mirrored the ambivalence with which Berlin
regarded on the one hand its past and on the other its representation in the future.

The Stock Is Rising by Annika Lundgren from 2010, is a homage to Hoffman’s Pentagon- levitation (described above), focusing on the financial rather than military forces as the greatest threat against democracy, consequently staging a levitation attempt of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The project operates with the notion of how faith creates reality while simultaneously pointing to the attempt to levitate the building through the force of collective willpower as no less irrational that the activities undertaken by the stock-brokers inside it – buying, selling and dealing in stocks and bonds which in the light of the recent financial crises must be said to represent a mere fictitious value. The Stock Is Rising debates the different ways in which the irrational element is negotiated depending on by whom it is initiated.

The strategy of “doing nothing”, as promoted by Judith Butler above (and Ghandi et al before her) is also mirrored in several art projects – mainly as a reaction to a society where production has become synonymous with development and is a fundamental condition of existence. Against this background, passivity not only constitutes a seemingly irrational behavior but also seems to have a provocative effect in a time where most people suffer from the pressure to be efficient. The art-scene has seen a number of “sleeping-works” over the last decades, one of them carried out by Swedish artist Elin Wikström, who spent three weeks sleeping in a bed in a supermarket the month before Christmas in 1993 (re- enacted in 2009). Titled “What If Everyone Did That?” the piece created both bewilderment and anger among the customers of the store.

While it could be argued that irrationality constitutes resistance in and of itself in a society governed by principles of rationality, as expressed through the projects mentioned above, it is interesting to consider if and how the application of the seemingly irrational could be pushed further in the political art project. Could it in fact be taken to the point where it provides a basis for going beyond a traditional antagonistic duality?

Mary Douglas’ claims that people tend to protect the distinctive categories that we arrange the world according to (Douglas 1966: 33-41). She introduces what she calls ‘ambiguous things’, the ‘in-betweens’, which fail to fall neatly into any category, but instead appears threatening and create confusion and insecurity as they shake the cultural order, forcing us to put into question the natural ‘truths’ that we take for granted.

This corresponds well with Kathy Ferguson’s theories on “mobile subjectivities” which
departs from the assumption that those who realise that the construction of limited, stereotyped positions of identity may result in discrimination choose not to invest in any single identity but slide between various dimensions. The idea is that ‘hegemonic injunctions’ – that we ought to be in a certain way – must be negotiated. According to Ferguson, mobile subjectivities therefore produce provisional identities, which are used by subjects who participate in the daily practices that mark gender, race, and class, but in an unpredictable way, ‘on a slant’; moreover, by doing so they make a difference. It is in this regard Ferguson frame the concept of mobile subjectivities, which composes multiple fluidity and temporary ‘places to stand and from which to act’. It is ‘hyphenated identities’ that range along particular axes of definition, such as used-to-be-working-class-now- professional, or divorced-mother-now-lesbian. These mobile subjectivities locate themselves in relation to the moving trajectories of power and resistance via circumstances of proximity and distance, restlessness and rootedness, separation and connection.

Understanding both Douglas’ “in-betweens” and Ferguson’s “mobile subjectivities” as spaces of confusion where new identities and discourses can –and must– be created, then presumably artistic and activist practices can produce similar conditions by creating “disturbances” through the application of seemingly irrational elements. In such an imagined model, instead of resistance confronting power through demonstrations, accusations and frontal attack on the turf of traditional power play, the aim must be to create a space which forces/allows a shift in positions for both parties, providing an opportunity for a restructuring of the confrontational landscape.

This requires an ability to let go of anger and desire for revenge, abandoning the seemingly rational riposte of “an eye for an eye” –or, in fact any rational arguing against something is equally caught in this dualistic paradigm–, instead using ambiguity to transform the situation into one where new kinds of negotiations are made possible. While such a strategy may be difficult to uphold in an animated political conflict, it is still a question wort considering:

What happens if resistance directs it’s focus against the conditions framing the struggle,
challenging the prevailing positioning of the opponents as a way of interrupting the pattern of dualist antagonism?

Or, in other words; what happens if resistance stops resisting and instead starts changing the rules of the game?


Based on our research above it seems that two very different possibilities to interpret irrationality emerge:

One where rationality is understood as efficiency in terms of the intended goal and where irrationality, consequently, consists in an inefficiency in regards to what one tries to achieve. In our analysis we have demonstrated how, from this perspective, both power (decision-making as well as discursive) and resistance are simultaneously rational and irrational in that they in some ways manage to undermine their opponent while strengthening it in other ways. In this capacity irrationality always counteracts the intention and, moreover, it fortifies the permanent status quo of the relationship between power and resistance.

The other way of comprehending the irrational is as a lack of apparent logic. Understanding logic as subjective and connected to normative thinking, however, the seemingly absurd and illogical then comes to constitute a rejection of the normative and an insistence on an inclusive and manifold understanding of the world. Thus irrationality can be seen as a phenomenon with the capacity to create an ambivalence or insecurity which shakes the cultural order and creates places where new identities and positions can be negotiated.

From such a perspective, the first interpretation of irrationality renders it a dilemma while in the second one it becomes a tool. In practical terms, this means that irrationality interpreted as inefficiency is a normative understanding of the word which in fact sustains the dualist antagonism between power and resistance. Irrationality interpreted as a lack of
(normative) logic, on the other hand, holds the key to unlocking the mechanisms that hold them forever trapped in the dual antagonism of the power-resistance complex.