As our political and economic landscape shifts and pluralises, and knowledges are contested and multiplied, we seek foundations. We seek authority as something solid, something that we trust and listen to, and we seek figures to speak on our behalf. Yet as a form of power that works through consent, trust and obedience, authority is often under-examined or dismissed by critical scholars and activists as being associated with hierarchical or opaque forms of politics (Blencowe et al., 2014). Here, however, authority is understood as positive, non-dominating power that is central to the production of common ways of knowing and living (Dawney, Blencowe et al. 2011).
Despite this, the emergence of new and pluralised forms of authority around the world (e.g. Dawney, 2013a; Millner, 2013) has led to an urgent political and empirical need to investigate authority. This project thus develops a detailed and nuanced account of the affective power of authority figures in the public sphere, attending to the modes of experience and subjectivity through which they work, the forms of control and surveillance they engender, and their creativity, productive force and emancipatory potential.
This AHRC funded networking project created durable collaborations between the Authority Research Network and colleagues in Latin America, where similar approaches to authority research are being investigated in community and local political settings, and where there is potential for research development and cross-fertilisation of ideas. It developed and refined conceptual and methodological tools to elucidate the material, embodied workings of power relations, addressing the timely question of how and why we “buy into” authoritative social and economic formations.
The project involved two symposia: Emergent Authorities and the Experience of Power, Brighton, UK: 31 October 2014; and Emergent authorities and the making of the commons, Joao Pessoa, Brazil, 29-30 June 2015. The symposia were followed by two intensive theory and writing retreats, one in Sussex, UK and one in North-East Brazil, which provided time and space for creative thinking, collaborative writing, engagement with texts and the development of concepts and approaches. These will be supported by a creative writing expert and a visual artist to facilitate the production of creative, communicable material to be used in future work and by colleagues working in community settings.