Exploring resistance

Introducing our 2023 edition of Alive in the Anthropocene

Philippe Vandenbroeck
4 min readMay 19, 2023
Image: Zeehan Shabir on Pexels

Alive in the Anthropocene (AitA), our free series of online talks on humanity’s contemporary predicament, is in its third edition [1].

In 2021 we explored what Andri Snær Magnason called a mythology of the present. Last year my colleague Christophe Kempkes curated a series devoted to the interaction between a change in our economic paradigm and cultural change. The theme that, almost reluctantly, emerged as a frame for the present edition is resistance. Indeed, the idea of resistance sits uneasily with us [2]. We can think of a few reasons for that:

  • In our upbringing we are taught to avoid problems by sticking to rules, and, if problems do manifest, by resolve problems by seeking consensus.
  • Our practice at shiftN, as facilitators, has to an important extent been shaped by ideas that are underpinning a soft, socially-constructivist approach to problem solving. That’s a discursive approach, meaning that it is fundamentally a speaking with one another, acknowledging that we meet each other from different world views. And it’s a social learning approach, meaning that we iteratively try to improve the problematic situations we jointly recognise as worth spending time and effort on. So that’s altogether an organic approach, focused on building trust, deepening familiarity with what bothers us. It is very different from the raised fist of the resistance fighter.
  • This idea can be extrapolated to the more general idea that underpins a systems view of the world. That view is relational. It sees the world as a network of entities that are in constant interaction and exchange. It’s a dynamic world, but conceptually speaking also rather flat. What’s the place of resistance in such a world of interdependence and exchange?

On the other hand, there are good reasons to expose ourselves more deeply to the question what resistance might mean for us.

  • First, and this is perhaps a more personal view, it feels like agon - a Greek word for ‘contest’ - is also a natural part of human existence, that it has a necessary psychological, pedagogical and social role.
  • Second, we have to acknowledge that it is not straightforward to factor in the element of power, or power differentials, in our systems approaches. We tend to imagine these social learning processes to unfold in an idealised social space characterised by equality but that’s in many instances a fiction.
  • Third, we are living in a time where the stakes associated to hanging on to the status quo are rapidly rising. Our present course of inaction risks to jeopardise the lives and opportunities of many. Is it wise then to continue to rely on our dialogical, collaborative learning approaches? Do we have the time for that? Or do we need to resort to other, more activist and polemical means?

These are the kinds of reflections and questions that drift to the surface when we talk about resistance.

In our talks we will explore these questions from different angles, in a perambulatory way. All talks are online and freely accessible upon registration via the website. You are very welcome to join us. We will post reflections on the sessions in forthcoming Medium posts.

Here is the program for AitA 2023:

Session 1 - Eline Borgraver, Hanke Drop (both University College Utrecht), Henk Oosterling (Dutch philosopher-activist), Rudy Vandamme (Belgian organisational transformation and shiftN colleague Randy Mellaerts reflect on what resistance may mean in a professional setting. How do professionals summon the courage to work against the grain, to operate from the place of friction, to push the boundaries of their organisational and deontological remit to respond to their personal values, or the calling of acute personal or societal needs?

Session 2 - Sarah Murru is Assistant Professor, Center for Sociological Research (CeSO), KU Leuven and co-editor of the 2020 book Resistances: Between Theories and the Field. She will introduce us to the newly emerging interdisciplinary field of Resistance Studies. In her talk Sarah will share how this field came into being, what its key questions and governing assumptions are, what kind of novel insights this has resulted in and how we, citizens-professionals-consumers, can use these to our advantage.

Session 3 - Driss Ksikes is a Moroccan writer, researcher and a very respected opinion leader in his country. He has been a professor at HEM (Institute for Advanced Studies in Management) since 1996. His latest publication is a novel on his beloved city Casablanca (Les Textures du Chaos, published in 2022). In this session we will reflect with Driss (in English) on his 2020 book Les Sentiers de l’Indiscipline. This will be an opportunity to explore a form of indiscipline at the intersection of artistic impulse and political activism.

Session 4 - Boaventura de Sousa Santos, eminent Portuguese sociologist and Global South advocate, had to withdraw his contribution. The idea behind this session was to invite a broadly decolonial perspective on resistance. At this point we are still seeking a replacement speaker.

[1] The contributions to previous editions can be watched (or listened to) via the Alive in the Anthropocene website, kindly maintained by Dave Driesmans, our partner in this venture. See also Christophe’s summary of our 2022 edition in two Medium pieces:

[2] ‘Us’ and ‘we’ refers to the core members of the shiftN team but may, depending on context, spill over to include the members of the diffuse intellectual and practice community we feel we are part of.



Philippe Vandenbroeck

Facilitator @ shiftN ⎹ Post-disciplinary researcher @ Newrope, ETH Zürich ⎹ How to create spaces were life is able to unfold, and is experienced as life?