Being-in-Common: Multimodal Expressions and Emergent Collectivities around the Mediterranean

Author: Sophie Richter-Devroe (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar)
Speakers: Ayman El-Desouky, Veronica Buffon, Sophie Richter-Devroe
Topic: Language and Spatiotemporal Frames
COMELA 2021 Colloquium


In this colloquium we inquire into the roles that multimodal, collectivizing expressions (verbal, visual, sonic, etc.) play in binding communities around the Mediterranean beyond the national. Our three papers focus on conditions of exceptionality that cement spatiotemporal frames in which collectivities emerge: revolution, crises, and dhikr.

Ayman El-Desouky’s paper, “Languages of Knowing and the Thought of the Collective”, investigates the thought of social reality in its collective and collectivizing modes of expression, and the challenges these pose for the endeavors of intellectual and political critical thought. The social may manifest agency in collective modes of speech, and of action, rooted in cultural memory, the understanding of which seems to demand a form of analysis that can only be aesthetic—as we have seen in the Arab uprisings and other social movements since 2011. If critique is best understood as a thought style, what is the thought style of the collective? The paper will explore the possibility of critically approaching how the collective imaginary speaks, and in so doing shifts the ground beneath the regimes of representation and of power.

Sophie Richter-Devroe’s paper, “The Language of Street Art: Emergent Solidarities on the Margins” analyzes street art in the specific spaciotemporal frame of ‘crisis,’ drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the migrant solidarity community in Athens. In understanding these visual materials as spaces where everyone, including those on the margins, can express themselves, the paper compares the messages that refugees and activists communicate in their English-, Greek- and Arabic-language graffiti. What political imaginaries are inscribed on the walls of Athens, and what communities emerge? Through their cultural production, artist-activists express new radical notions of togetherness and solidarity which emerge from their shared histories, politics and predicaments of precarity on the margins of the national and neoliberal orders.

Veronica Buffon’s paper “Dhikr and the ‘being-in-common” inquires into sufi practices of dhikr through an ethnographic study of Kurdish/Zazaki and Turkish speaking women in Turkey. The paper assumes the zikir as therapeutic and experiential dynamics that challenges the institutional framework of modernism with its hierarchical and linguistic representations of space and roles as implemented by the Turkish state in the Kurdish region. By focusing on therapeutic roles and women’s subjectivities during this collective practice, the paper discusses the intersubjective and multilingual space where the community is not a pre-ordered social entity, but is formed through the collective experience of a ‘being-in-common’.

Keywords: language, Mediterranean, collectivity, aethetics, solidarity