As we write these introductory notes, massive protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square have succeeded in effecting the military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, attended by counterprotests and martial response. Recent actions against public transportation price hikes in Brazil have increased in scope and demand, with millions taking to the streets to call attention to broader issues of inequity and corruption. In Turkey similar grassroots demonstrations have taken place, having originated in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul when the ouster of a group opposing the demolition of this public space sparked widespread antigovernment protests (and a violent backlash). Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued several landmark decisions that affect long-standing political movements and that have unleashed passionate public response; two of these decisions bolster the right of same-sex couples to marry and claim federal benefits, and a third decimates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. High-profile legislative attacks on reproductive rights are currently being waged in multiple states, seen most dramatically in a special legislative session in Texas, where a highly restrictive abortion bill was blocked by a grueling eleven-hour filibuster staged by State Senator Wendy Davis.
Each of these divergent political events has drawn on and generated a wide range of decentralized interventions, with petitions, commentary, and calls for action circulated via social media as well as more traditional, in-person modes of activism (paper petitions, coffee shop meetings, street demonstrations, filibusters). Questions of proximity, access, investment, and material consequence seem thrown into flux, particularly as news on each front is folded into a broader media mélange. At times, “engagement” [End Page 9] in these contexts feels utterly inconsistent with twentieth-century models of political action and at others reads as an accelerated iteration of deeply familiar power struggles. What does it mean to engage within this contemporary political landscape? And what, in particular, is at stake for feminist and queer modes of intervention?
Donna Haraway’s classic essay “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” offers readers a “mapping exercise and travelogue” for rethinking various forms of engagement. Chiefly concerned with what counts as nature, Haraway refutes the notion that nature and culture are somehow distinct and separate spheres of knowledge and ways of knowing; they are, instead, deeply interwoven. Her examples are numerous, each highlighting the artificial separations thought to exist between biological organisms and representations thereof, humans and nature, art and science. The objective, for Haraway, is not only to identify overlooked, existing connections but also to reimagine the means by which new forms of engagement can be generated: “to produce a patterned vision of how to move and what to fear in the topography of an impossible but all-too-real present, in order to find an absent, but perhaps possible, other present” (1992).
Guest editors David A. Gerstner and Cynthia Chris have brought into dialogue a provocative and often surprising array of contributions in Engage!, this issue of WSQ. The works they have assembled here each, in its own way, echo Haraway’s instruction: they refute expected distinctions in order to form new and potentially more productive engagements on their way toward another, possible, more survivable present. As they observe in their Introduction, to engage “encompasses paradoxical processes, since to engage one thing is to disengage another.” We might read each of the component parts of this issue as mobilizing along one (or at times both) of these paths: as a productive dis-engagement and invitation to think creatively about absences, gaps, and the possibilities that might fill those interstitial spaces, or as an artful re-engagement with power, pedagogy, and knowledge.
These dis- and re-engagements take several forms. Nadja Millner-Larsen meditates on the demandlessness of the Occupy movement, while Penny Weiss considers the utility of rootlessness as an organizational strategy read through the metaphor of gardening. Tram Nguyen’s analysis of SlutWalks and SuicideGirls sheds critical light on the politics of social [End Page 10] shamelessness within a broader history of feminist activism. These pieces refuse, in creative and unexpected ways, established relationships between social movement organizing and institutionalized modes of resistance...