The Materiality of Resistance: Resistance of Cultural-Material Artefacts and Bodies

This special issue seeks to fill a gap in existing research by displaying how matter makes resistance possible, but also how matter orients resistance, thus creating an entanglement of power, resistance, and materiality. Materiality is understood in a broad sense as embracing various kinds of matter, such as books, paper, pavements, streets, public transport, buildings, taxis, as well as assembling bodies. These bodies take part in resistance – sometimes as a constitutive force outside a hegemonic gendered, sexualized, racialised and classed order, or as a transformative force inside the hegemony. The significance of the interconnectedness nature of discourse, culture and matter can be exemplified, and become evident, in the bodies of those who participate in protesting assemblies. Resisting assemblies are where bodies move and speak together, and these bodies are motivated by various political purposes in different public spaces. It is not only bodies but also cultural artefacts – such as pamphlets, pavements, streets and squares – that are of cultural-material importance (cf. Barad 2008; Butler 2015). Cultural artefacts – such as various flags (for example, the red socialist or rainbow flags) or the veil and other forms of clothing – are different types of materialities of importance in resistance practices. These materialities can make alternative communities of belonging possible and visible by playing a role in marking boundaries between those who belong to accepted and desirable communities and those who are excluded from them. A built environment – such as architecture, pavements, walls, squares and malls – is a third entrance that works as a conditional as well as performative force for the emergence of resistance. A ‘natural’ environment is yet another; non-human organisms and natural resources such as trees and water can be conceptualized as powerful agents of resistance. Together, these are important examples of materialities that relate to, and entangle with, transnational as well as national markets and the capitalist system. The above opens space for new research within the field of resistance and matter. This special issue will thus elaborate on resistance as an intra-action between the material and the cultural – what we call cultural-material. From this vantage point, civil societies should embrace the interaction between the emergence of subjects, practices, matter and various understandings of these entanglements. The questions that we wish to explore are: What does this cultural-materiality do to and for civil society and its (potential) actors of organized/collective as well as informal/individual resistance?

What papers are we looking for?

We invite authors to submit papers that address the challenges raised above, as well as related themes from different perspectives and across different disciplines, especially in relation to how these topics relate to ‘resistance’. We welcome both conceptual and empirical contributions. We seek high-quality, original research articles that explore the following themes:

  • The blurring of distinctions between the human-technology, the human-animal and culture-nature/matter couplets, and investigations of connections and intra-play between these dimensions, with the focus on what it means to the study of resistance.
  • The contribution of materiality in the shaping of strategies, and relationships between resistance and social change; how non-human agents can be defined and understood as agents of resistance.
  • The impact and condition of materialities for the emergence of resistance subjectivities, among those the formation of cyborg subjects. Of special interest is the transformation process of subjectification.


Abstracts by                              1 November 2017
Notification of acceptance        7 November 2017
Submission of final papers       15 January 2018
Submission of revised papers   16 April  2018

To printing                                1 December 2018

Journal of Resistance Studies,


Barad, K. 2008. Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. In: S. Alaimo and S. Hekman, eds. Material Feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Butler, J., 2015. Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Researching Resistance: on Methods and Ethics in Resistance Studies

Guest Editor: Anton Törnberg
Submission deadline for abstracts: 30 November 2016
Objective for the JRS special issue

Resistance studies draws upon a variety of research fields, including gender studies and feminism, peace studies, political science, sociology, critical race studies, anthropology, psychology, and critical legal studies. This broad range of sources and inspirations has favored the development of a methodological pluralism in the field and studies of resistance have thus utilized a broad set of methods that includes both quantitative studies focusing on e.g. the efficacy of civil resistance (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011; Howes, 2013; Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2004), but also various qualitatively oriented studies such as discourse analysis (Bleiker, 2000), in-depth case studies (Varghese, 1993; Weber, 2009) and ethnographic studies (Abu‐Lughod, 1990). But while resistance scholars have occasionally discussed the advantages and limits of specific techniques and methods, they have rarely engaged in broader methodological or ethical debates. Methodological choices within the field often arise from personal taste and disciplinary tradition of individual researchers, not from epistemological insights, ethical-political standpoints and experiences emerging from the field of resistance studies. There is even a virtual absence of systematic textbooks and discussions of methodological models, challenges and possibilities suitable for researching resistance.

This special issue focuses on methodology and ethics in resistance studies. While resistance studies shares many general methodological issues and ethical problems with other fields within the social sciences, it also actualizes some specific challenges that are perhaps unique for studies on resistance. Relating to this are a number of interesting and highly relevant questions such as: can resistance be studied using the same sort of methodology as other forms of social science, or does it demand a particular set of research methodology of its own? Is it possible to develop an emancipatory methodology within academic institutions that themselves have emerged from and are structured by power interests? What kind of ethical challenges are particular for researchers investigating forms of resistance?

The fact that resistance practices are often performed in secrecy, disguised as hidden transcripts and concealed as symbolic codes that may pass by unnoticed by those in power also raises a series of important issues. Besides the obvious methodological challenges involved with interpreting and getting access to such practices, this also raises certain ethical problems: to accentuate and draw attention to resistance practices obviously poses a potential risk for the resisters, and revealing the practices themselves also risk rendering them less effective or even useless. While this may not have constituted any serious problems for the peasants in James Scott (1985, 1990) historical studies on everyday resistance -simply since his subjects were not alive during the course of investigation- it does pose more serious problems for studies of contemporary forms of resistance, and may even have a decisive impact on the potential for, and outcome of, resistance. These challenges are of course not exclusive to studies on clandestine forms of resistance, but apply equally for overt forms of resistance and tactics employed by activists and social movements. There is always a risk that insights generated from studying these resistance acts are used by those in power to develop even more effective counter-measures. This clearly illustrates how methodological decisions are often closely entangled with ethical-political issues, perhaps particularly so within resistance studies. How should student of resistance handle these issues: do we perhaps need our own version of the Hippocratic Oath?

While lack of data following from the secrecy of resistance practices is an old challenge for resistance studies, its opposite is a more recent one: digitally organized movements are now characterized by an overabundance of data, posing an at least as serious challenge to resistance studies. The growing use of social media and social networking sites has both offered resisters new means to organize and coordinate action beyond physical and geographical limits (Bennett and Segerberg, 2013; Earl and Kimport, 2011), but has also opened up new possibilities for scholars to gather data. This includes both text and documents produced directly by movement actors, but also –and perhaps more importantly- a unique and unprecedented access to previously unimaginable data; traces of the lives, dreams, and feelings of hundreds of millions of people. In this way, digital data thus provides new access to resistance practices and contentious activities in detail as they are unfolding.

But while this data obviously has enormous potential to revolutionize social research, it also comes with certain challenges. Big data is a by-product constituted by traces of ongoing social practices rather than something produced for scientific consumption. Hence, rather than hiding the intricate relational complexity of the real world or the mass-interaction underlying social patterns, it manifests this complexity with full force. This clearly creates new challenges for established scientific approaches and new methods and innovative combinations of methods are needed to approach this data. This constitutes a central challenge for resistance studies within the imminent future.


What papers are we looking for?

We invite papers that pursue the challenges raised above and related themes from different perspectives and across the disciplines. We open up for a broad range of issues concerning methodology and resistance studies, including both conceptual and empirical contributions. We seek high-quality, original research articles which highlight either of the following:

Discussions and reflections on general methodological challenges and/or ethical issues that are unique for studies of resistance. Such articles might also focus on or include critique of conventional methodology applied to resistance studies.

New methods to analyze digital data: we encourage submissions that employ cutting edge, innovative methods of collecting and analyzing digital data in order to advance the field of resistance studies.

Employ less common methods: we encourage papers that use methods that traditionally have been less applied in the field and that may reveal previously neglected aspects of resistance. Examples may be social network analysis, computer simulations, qualitative comparative analysis (QCA).

Papers should follow the submission guidelines of JRS available online: The journal uses double-blind review, which means that both the reviewer and author identities are concealed from the reviewers, and vice versa, throughout the review process.

In addition to academic articles (up to 12000 words), we welcome other contributions, such as book reviews (3000 words) and comments columns (5000 words) that relate to the topics of this issue.

Please send preliminary abstracts (max 500 words), together with a short bio, to the special issue editor, Anton Törnberg [email protected] by 30 November 2016. All questions regarding the special issue should be directed to the issue editor. The submission deadline for the final article manuscripts is 15 March 2017.

Important Dates and Deadlines

30 November 2016: Abstracts
31 December 2016: Notification of acceptance
15 March 2017: Submission of papers
15 April- 1 June 2017: Referee reviews
1 August 2017: Submission of revised papers
1 November 2017: Copy-editing finished

The Realities of Resistance During Maoism: Chinese Residents’ Untold Stories in the Period Following the 1949 Communist Revolution

Corresponding author: Dr Angela Maye-Banbury, Principal Lecturer Department of the Natural and Built Environment Sheffield Hallam University SHEFFIELD

England S1 1 WB

Tel: 00 44 114 225 4753

[email protected]

“Order. Private homeowners should submit their deeds. Those who disobey this order will be killed without exception.”

The notice pinned on the doors of hundreds of thousands of Beijiners by the Red Guards was categorical. Either surrender your home and all its contents to the state or face dire consequences. This was no idle threat. The Red Guards, Mao’s vanguard of young people recruited during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), were dedicated to rooting out anyone deemed as “counter revolutionary.” Evidence of recalcitrant acts was not needed to engage the Red Guards’ wrath – hearsay alone, no matter how flimsy, was deemed sufficient. During this turbulent and controversial period of China’s history, even contemplating acts of resistance against the state, let alone actually carrying them out, was the equivalent of signing one’s own death warrant.

Yet newly published research provides new insights into the diverse strategies of resistance adopted by Beijingers to counteract, mitigate and on occasions, directly defy Mao’s transformational housing reforms. Senior Communist Party leaders recognised soon after assuming power, that controlling the country’s housing stock was central to distancing China from centuries of dynastic rule to pave the way for the formation of new People’s Republic. Confucian inspired family values which had formed the bedrock of Chinese life, would need to be consigned to the past if the new Communist vision was to become a reality. Nowhere was Confucius’ ethos more in evidence than in everyday life in Beijing’s vernacular <em>siheyuan </em>(courtyard) housing. These distinct dwellings, handed down from generation to generation, became one of the first targets of the new ruling elite. Dating back to the 14th century, <em>siheyuan</em> nestling in Peking’s hutong (alleyways) allowed several generations to live under the same roof enabling households to maximise resources and reinforce common, long established values. Such solidarity, imbued in every aspect of Chinese life, directly conflicted with Communist ideology which relied on, by definition, the decimation of traditional family life.

Hutong life today in Beijing

Hutong life today in Beijing

With Mao firmly at the helm, the housing campaign gathered momentum in the lead up to the 1949 watershed as new policy statements signalled the intent to firstly appropriate property occupied by former Nationalist officials. Communist officials began to seize family homes to house workers and party members. But the full force of Mao’s intentions as regarding the fate of property and its occupants came during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) when revolutionary fervour was at its peak. The new ruling regime announced three radical housing policies designed to eradicate the “Four Olds” (old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits). These policies were: (i) further powers to seize private property and mass eviction of urban residents (ii) the branding of landlords as counter revolutionary and (iii) the creation of <em>danwei </em>(work units). Landlords and other “capitalist roaders” (anyone who appeared to favour material gain) became demonised and subjected to public ridicule.

Enduring memories of dynastic rule today in Nanjing

Enduring memories of dynastic rule today in Nanjing

Verbatim extracts from Beijing residents’ detailed eye witness accounts expose the everyday realities of resistance during the first three decades under Communist rule. Significantly, the study did not set out to examine acts of resistance per se. Rather, interviewees were asked to recount their personal housing histories with minimal intervention from the interviewers. <em>As the protagonists of their own stories, those interviewed were afforded an opportunity to unite discourses of the past and present and to find, where possible</em>, a sense of restoration, reconciliation or even closure. For many of those who chose to share their unique story, memories of Maoism remained vivid, enduring and compelling. For others, although recollections of the realities of the period remained painful half a century later, a desire to recount their personal experiences rose to the fore. Perhaps the fear of forgetting triggered the desire to remember – and vice versa.

The extracts from the eyewitness accounts which follow reveal the distinct modes of resistance deployed by three residents (one man and two women) over space, place and time when negotiating their housing circumstances during the volatile, turbulent and politically charged Mao era. Analysis of these detailed eye witness accounts reveals previously undisclosed resistance tactics which fortified the residents’ abilities to apply personal agency as an instrument of resistance.

The study exposes many acts of personal courage including direct challenges to the ruling regime. Equally, other more nuanced acts of resistance also rose to the fore. Creativity, innovation and resourcefulness coalesced to fortify resistance. Patience, hope and resilience were also shown to empower residents in their public and private challenges to the new ruling order. Furthermore, serendipity, speculation and intelligence gathering also contributed to the respondents’ diverse arsenal of resistance.

The analysis suggests a new way of framing resistance, a more nuanced, flexible and subtle typology designed to further understanding of how and why people engaged in everyday acts of resistance when negotiating the despotic Mao period. This new tripartite typology proposes that agency as resistance may be framed as: agency through deferment, agency through acquiescence and agency through protest.

Three Untold Stories of Resistance

Liu Xia-hui, The Astute Apprentice Tailor: Agency Through Deferment

Liu Xia-hui’s story begins when had just left his family siheyuan aged only sixteen. Born in 1933, he was one of thousands of young men who became apprentice tailors in Beijing’s (then Peking) to Qianmen, China’s renowned epicentre for merchants and traders. In lieu of remuneration, the apprentices were provided with food and shelter by their apprentice masters. As Liu Xia-hui recalls, accommodation was minimalist and closely monitored: “All the apprentices were staying under one roof…It was the workshop of the capitalists.”

The apprentices were ruthlessly exploited by their employers. Daily factory life reinforced the strict hierarchies which existed between servant and master. Liu Xia-hui married in 1956 (aged 23) and had four children (two boys and two girls). Motivated by a desire to safeguard his family’s welfare, he began to gather local intelligence regarding housing availability. By adopting the combined tactics of invisibility, assimilation and observation, he calculated that he would be offered accommodation in a new guild housing development he observed being built. His patience was finally rewarded. He was given first refusal on not just one but two offers of guild housing. Having protected his family’s housing interests, he felt comfortable in rejecting an offer of state housing with impunity. The two properties went some way, albeit modestly, to restore some symbolic and financial capital which had become eroded during his many years as an apprentice tailor.

The research characterises the approach used by Liu Xia-hui and others who opted to bide their time during Maoist driven housing reforms as devising a strategy of resistance as using “agency through deferment.”

Qing Hong, The Fearless Mother: Agency Through Protest

Qing Hong was born in 1931, the year Japan invaded Manchuria. Upon marriage aged 15, she left the siheyuan where she lived with her extended family to take up occupation of a privately rented property in the Chaoyangmen district. Qing Hong recalls how, seven years after the revolution, the new ruling elite tried to force her to her move with her husband and children more than 1,000 kms west:

“In 1956, the private housing was made into public housing by the authorities. We were told to move to the Ningxia province.”

Urging her to adopt a discourse of rightful resistance to challenge the state eviction, Qing Hong’s landlady advised she fought the imposed state move. Significantly, Qing Hong’s resistance would also have benefited the landlady by protecting the landlady’s property from falling into the hands of the government.

When it was clear she was resisting eviction, Party officials escalated their campaign to oust Qing Hong and her family. It was then that the state driven public humiliation campaign began. She recalls how she, her husband and children were “treated badly after a public meeting with authorities – they insisted we moved away.” Public or “mass struggle” meetings, convened to humiliate those who resisted state policy, were commonplace during the early years of Communist rule. Those who opposed the Party line were verbally and physically abused in full view of family members and neighbours. Many died at the hands of officials or plummeted to such depths of despair that they committed suicide. Despite the potential fatal consequences, Qing Hong maintained her resolve to protect the family home. State officials finally left her alone. “…we were threatened with eviction from the house on three occasions but we fought to stay. I told them we would never give in and please don’t come anymore. They didn’t come again.”

The realisation that her landlady was not intending to undertake essential housing repairs proved a critical juncture for Qing Hong. She secured a job with the housing authority. This strategic move enabled her to lobby for state housing on behalf of herself and her dependants. Eventually, after several years, Qing Hong was offered state housing. But she rejected the offer. Instead, she negotiated a mutual exchange with a household in nearby Honglou, a move from which both families greatly benefited in the longer term.

The research describes Qing Hong’s form resistance as “agency through protest.” Successful direct challenges to the ruling elite were rare during the Mao period, least of all initiated by a lower class woman. Qing Hong’s account shows how agency may become apparent in the most adverse of circumstances.

Fan Zhang, The Impression Manager: Agency Through Acquiescence

For Fan Zhang, mother of seven children, was born in 1929. Her Beijing <em>siheyuan</em> which accommodated twenty people, had been in her family for generations. But during the Cultural Revolution, the family’s hutong haven was seized by the government. She reveals how her parents were required to surrender both the property’s deeds and blueprints to the state. Party officials then issued them with a new agreement which diminished their security of tenure from owner occupier to bare licensee in one fell swoop. Fan Zhang recalls: “During the Cultural Revolution…you needed to have a housing contract. The original ownership certificate of the property, it needed to be handed over to the housing authority.”

Fan Zhang’s account reveals the power of the prevailing Communist narrative of the time in minimising personal agency: “By the end of the 1950s, the government called for more rooms because of the growth in population…we gave away our rooms in the east and west.” All three rooms in the south and east of the <em>siheyuan</em> were then allocated by the state to workers in a nearby pharmaceutical factory, consigning the entire family of twenty to the east courtyard.

But Fan Zhang’s spirit of resistance was not entirely eclipsed by the new ruling regime’s stamp of authority. The provision of food and shelter were her strategic priorities. Her focus shifted to safeguarding those basic needs. Moreover, the realisation that local Communist officials seemed equally bemused about the rationale for the “Four Olds” fuelled her resistance and resilience capabilities. Significantly, local Party confided in Fan Zhang and her family that they felt far removed from the epicentre of Communist senior leadership. Discussions between Fan Zhang and local officials created latent communities of discourse underpinned by a shared sense of solidarity and powerlessness. Ultimately, these discussions away from the ruling elite’s gaze generated further layers of resistance in their own right. When negotiating Maoism, she gave was therefore able to give the impression of both resistance and compliance.

Fan Zhang’s distinct resistance approach has been characterised by the research as “agency through acquiescence.” This distinct form of resistance is far from passive. Rather, by drawing on available resources, agency through acquiescence enhances the resistor’s resistance capabilities allowing him/her to focus on basic essentials of life.

These three unique accounts reveal the realities, complexities and nuanced nature of resistance during an unprecedented period of political upheaval in the years immediately following the Communist revolution in 1949. The need to provide family members gave all three resistors featured here the courage and tenacity to question, in different ways, the claims made by the new Communist order. Even in the most adverse of circumstances, the human spirit rises to the fore. Resistance fuelled by agency in the form of deferment, protest and acquiescence provides a continuum through which the negotiation of oppression may be viewed. The three accounts featured here are a salutary reminder of the importance of documenting verbatim accounts regarding the realities of resistance, specifically its power, potential and potency. As the Chinese proverb says, “Even the faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory.” The extracts from the accounts presented here serve to preserve a vital window in China’s history for generations to come.