Women on the Verge
Who are we?
We are Female Scholar–Activists working in Australia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, the UK and the USA. Our international network Women on the Verge was created in 2015 and intends to bring to light pioneering women’s theorising in the social sciences that is often absent in published critical theory scholarship.
Embodied and experiential critique
Today, women are thinking and living on the verge of what is not yet possible. We provide embodied and practical critiques of capital, coloniality and patriarchy at a time when the conditions for the reproduction of life on the planet are deteriorating at unimaginable speed and levels. Our critique is not contained by the words we have learned to speak under these conditions, but is attuned with life, affect, commonality, denaturalizing and nature, utopia, storytelling, possibility and prefiguring.
Our ways of practical, embodied and loving critique strive towards the discovery of a constant opening of possibilities that rejects the present state of affairs and a reconciliation with humanity. We meet uncertainty, ambivalence and not-yet-articulation with intuition and determination to create. In this way, we struggle with, against and beyond capital, the law, the state. We search and find comfort in the spaces opened by seeing and feeling the not-yet reality. This is our starting point.
Women on the verge are vital parts of the formation of a new radical political subject that cannot be recognized with old analytical tools. This radical subject-in-the-making is plural, prefigurative, decolonial, ethical, ecological, communal and democratic. Many theorizations about struggles for life today are not sufficiently interrogating their “too” familiar concepts, methodologies and epistemologies and, as a result, they contribute to making this new subject of radical change invisible. In addition to the sciences’ obsession with facticity and policy, which takes them far away from recognizing and contributing to the prefiguration of new realities, there is another “obsession” that comes from critical theory itself: negative praxis. We find hope in neither negativity or positivity, but in critical affirmation of alternatives.
What kind of critique do we propose?
Women on the verge are producing a critique that negates the given by affirming life. This must not be confused — as it often is — with “positive” thinking or affirmationism, for affirmation requires a rejection of what it is. Affirmation is driven by “NO!” and hope and, in practice, ventures beyond what appears to exist, thus offering an epistemological opening that coincides with the determination to live a good life. Yet this prefigurative and “experiential” critique that is already developed at the grassroots of resistance has not been understood by critical theorists, in part because it requires that we approach life and practical theorizing about life without parachutes. Parachutes are helpful and life savers, but they make jumping safe. Staying safe within the confines of what is known to be possible is what is threatening women and society today.
We must seriously consider that the task of this present captivating moment in radical politics is to venture beyond the given — that is, beyond the expanding horrors of our time: war, death, violence, rape, hunger and despair. Doing so shows us that the notion of “utopia” has returned in subtler forms. We have seen a major transformation in grassroots movements’ politics, which prioritizes the ongoing struggle to create and protect breathing space from which to conceive and organize social life alternatively.
A myriad of knowledges and practices is developing towards this goal in urban and rural territories across the world today, led mainly but not exclusively by women. From projects in cooperative production to anti-oppressive education, from radical ecologies and pedagogies to experimentation with new economic possibilities, concrete processes of prefiguration now clearly anticipate a better future in the present. This is not wishful thinking, but part of reality today.
Yet power is not interested in exploring and developing these alternatives further, and nor, it seems, are the many social scientists who actively ignore or dismiss the theoretical and practical potency of these concrete utopias. Is this an option? We argue that it is not, for the material conditions of this world have fostered this rise of “an-other politics” that thinks and speaks and seeks to understand the language of possibility. This language is not “utopian”. It does not build castles in the air but articulates a potentially better life through concrete and intuited praxis.
Women on the Verge and mainstream social science
The main problem with mainstream social science is that it naturalizes capitalist and colonial social forms as “our society,” as “the world we live in.” Women’s experiential critique stands against this naturalization, which contradicts our intuition and diminishes possibilities for life itself. The naturalization of capitalist colonial and patriarchal society as the only viable model of collective human life leaves us in a state of fear and despair, for we know deeply that this is not possible, that it is wrong, that we are not-yet, that there has to be something more and better, that these alternatives are already real.
By normalizing the violence which is inherent in capitalist, colonial and patriarchal society, the social sciences confirm a (real) illusion: that reality is only what appears in front of us. For once the “not-yet” is eliminated from the horizon of possibility, scientists can only operate within the very partial and limited scope of either fantasy or probability. This creates self-limitation and self-repression in our views of the world.
Probability is not the same as possibility. Probability, paraphrasing Ernst Bloch, is something that can be expected, something that cannot be completely discarded. But the realm of possibility refers to things that are not-yet, things whose becoming lurk in the darkness of the present, ready to be activated, enacted, anticipated, made real. But we don’t know. We cannot be certain whether they will become in this time and place or not. Working to realize such possibilities, women on the verge are producing real change: we are throwing ourselves into future possibilities without fear, with hope, without parachutes. Risky? Yes. But worthy.
Women on the Verge. Exploring the meaning
We are exploring the meaning of being ‘Women on the Verge’ (WOV) collectively in several ways. Marina Sitrin said, ‘we are not those women pushed to the edge, overreacting, and caricatures of ourselves as in Almodovar’s film, but we are on the edges of doing, of thinking, challenging our own perceptions and stereotypes, tired of being constrained by specific patterns and models required by academia’. As women, we are always ‘verging’, claim Sarah Amsler. Besides, argued Sara Motta, ‘the idea of us becoming “women on the verge” is not related to a positionality, but rather to an epistemological embrace and practice of becoming multiple . . . “women on the verge” suggests at once a commonality that is troubled by our very real differences in praxis, experience, cosmologies’.
Raquel Gutiérrez envisaged what she understood by ‘women on the verge’: ‘we are jumping out of a plane flown by mainstream critical theorists and political figures. We jump with hope and determination, but hesitation and fear too. One of the women is trying to get rid of the parachute provided by the male crew. It is big, heavy and uncomfortable. It would be better to jump out of this plane than to continue reproducing ideas driven by social science’s establishment and its critics. Their approaches and concepts are constraining our capacity to think freely, to imagine, to prefigure. As they jump out of the plane without parachutes some start weaving a collective parachute. Others realise that they can float in the air and becoming “flying seeds”’ pollinating new possibilities.