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by Angela Dimitrakaki

From Space to Time: “Situated Knowledges,” Critical Curating, and Social Truth

Introduction: Situating “Situated Knowledges,” or the Year 1988
Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”[1] put forward a critical perspective about feminism and knowledge that was to be greatly influential for emancipatory epistemologies across fields and practices—including socially engaged curating. What follows, in the manner of reflections, concerns how the idea of “situated knowledges” might be scripted in an increasingly complex contemporary that critical curatorial theory is inevitably embedded in and, in many cases, also addresses. Haraway’s own article comes from 1988, and we might as well start from considering that contemporary. What marked that year?

“On December 7, 1988,” at the United Nations, says The New Yorker, “Mikhail Gorbachev [...] announced [...] that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in the affairs of its Eastern European satellite states. Those nations could now become democratic. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.”[2] That was an interesting formulation, for what really happened was that those nations would become capitalist. This was what the Cold War, as known in the 20th century, was about, as was the entire 20th century: a clash between two conceptions of the economy that served opposite class interests—or, as recently summarised by Keti Chukhrov, who did not neglect sexual politics in her analysis, between an economy that demanded the extraction of (privatised) surplus and one that met needs.[3] In the decades that followed 1988, numerous theoretical expositions (and there was no shortage of empirical accounts) demonstrated that “democracy” was but a rhetorical device designed to appeal to those that had subtly or less subtly been designated as politically unprivileged (deprived of democracy). Since 1988, we have heard about (i) the conflict between neoliberal capitalism and democracy (read Wendy Brown), (ii) the corruption of democracy into post-democracy (read Colin Crouch), or (iii) how democracy had been an illusion (read Vivek Chibber on the colonised versus metropolitan nations, Nancy MacLean on the plot against democracy in the US, Jacques Rancière on how assumed Western democracies were oligarchies), to mention but a few angles on the matter.[4] In 2021, “post-democracy,” “totalitarian capitalism,” “neo-authoritarianism” and “post-fascism” circulate widely as descriptions of a transnational political predicament.[5]

Earlier, in May of 1988, President Reagan had given his famous address at Moscow State University, where he had spent “many hours” with Gorbachev, “focused primarily on many of the important issues of the day.” The American President announced a revolution without bloodshed or conflict.

Standing here before a mural of your revolution, I want to talk about a very different revolution that is taking place right now, quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict. Its effects are peaceful, but they will fundamentally alter our world, shatter old assumptions, and reshape our lives. It's easy to underestimate because it's not accompanied by banners or fanfare. It's been called the technological or information revolution, and as its emblem, one might take the tiny silicon chip [...].[6]

And yet, bloodshed and conflict had defined extractivist, imperialist capitalism and were therefore essential for the information revolution underway.[7] There would be a lot more bloodshed and conflict. Let’s think about lithium. Thirty years after 1988, the world was told that lithium “shall reign for the future” and, in 2019, the Nobel Prize in chemistry went to lithium technology.[8] Lithium is incredibly important for our technologies. Yet, from National Geographic to anticapitalist and indigenous groups, we are alerted to a disturbing truth: the “lithium wars”—wars among very unequal sides (corporate imperialism, the so-called indigenous peoples, and governments that have to sell the country’s lithium to the world in order to survive in global capitalism).[9] Tech guru Elon Musk—Tesla executive and the richest man on earth for a while in 2020—tweeted about Bolivia, which has a lot of lithium to be mined: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”[10] As Kate Aronoff put it, “The fact that people are talking about a ‘lithium coup’ at all could preview a new era of extractive geopolitics.”[11] Shortly before the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, investors from across the globe were speculating about Ukraine’s rich lithium reserves.[12] This is what the technology revolution announced in 1988 looks like in 2022.

1988 was then an important year. If the contemporary we know began the following year, in 1989, as Former West: Art and the Contemporary after 1989 has it, 1988 concluded an era—that of the Cold War.[13] It was the perceived end of the Cold War, which saw capitalism, in its neoliberal phase, take over the Earth and become “globalisation”—an eminently spatial term. Yet, although the “contemporary” was arguably launched in 1989, contemporary art did not. Contemporary art and its main narratives started in the 1960s, and, for many, the defeats and compromises of that decade (as in France’s May 68) played a key role in its ideological make-up.[14] For the most part, up until the consolidation of capitalist markets as a global paradigm, contemporary art had experienced the cultural hegemony of postmodernism. Far superior to a mere genre such as Abstract Expressionism (also a Cold War weapon) in terms of the freedom it promised (the free play of signs), the concept of postmodernism defined the latest phase of this cultural and intellectual war, becoming fully dominant in the 1980s, when Donna Haraway was also writing, and continued to inform the science and culture wars of the 1990s.

One characteristic of postmodernism was that it regarded pretty much everything as space. Time became flat, losing its past-present-future sense of direction, as Fredric Jameson famously argued. Meta-narratives, where connections were possible for a “totalising vision,” were out, as Jean-François Lyotard contended, and politics fragmented into smaller and smaller parts (micro-politics). Broken mirrors were used reference a “self” seen as forever incomplete and fractured—as a notable artwork of Barbara Kruger’s connected to feminist critique had it. References to “surface” proliferated overall. Signs enjoyed complete freedom, apparently. The “desert of the real,” an apt spatial metaphor, circulated from theory (from Jean Baudrillard to Slavoj Žižek, more precisely) while the seminal film The Matrix (1999) gave substance to the phrase in an unforgettable scene. During the Cold War, postmodernism was exported from the centre of the capitalist West as a highly desired state of cultural being, with the “peripheries” claiming they were also postmodern or that they were postmodern even in advance of America. Postmodernism then arose as an extremely successful dominant ideology, imposing a spatial unconscious pretty much everywhere.

This was the historical, cultural, and intellectual context in which Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges” was produced. The emphasis on spatiality is already betrayed by the verb “to situate,” the synonyms of which are “to establish,” “to fix,” “to put,” “to park,” “to position,” “to put in place.” Yet overall, the text brims with spatial indicators, despite its author’s conscious effort to disidentify from key postmodern tenets. Although therefore Haraway sees that relativism, as such a tenet, stands against a politics of emancipation and so against feminism, she writes:

The alternative to relativism is partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibilities of webs of connections called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology. Relativism is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally. The “equality” of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry (emphasis added).[15]

I want to suggest two things in relation to the above passage and how it can be connected to critical curatorial theory. First, that to give in to the spatiality that underwrites it means to leave unexamined how postmodernism has functioned and remains relevant today, as dominant ideology: as a set of internalised values that mostly function unconsciously in predisposing subjectivities in the reception of their lifeworld and in their interaction with it. Second, that the prevalence of “display” in the extant conditions of exhibition-making already enhances the pull of spatiality (I have examined elsewhere the disciplining function of the exhibition form on the radical and even centrifugal tendencies of contemporary artistic labour).[16] To counter the ongoing naturalisation of the hegemony of space, we could take time as the axis of “situating.” Opening this paper with a revisiting of the past year 1988 was a way of introducing this intention. Why however am I suggesting a turn to time as a route towards situating the gap between emancipatory intentionality and a social reality that frustrates it?

1. On “the Equality of Positioning”
First, because doing so can help us address the problem Haraway pointed to already in 1988: the “equality of positioning” that postmodern relativism had generated. It is this that is hidden into calls for diversity, including “diversifying the curriculum.” Numerous art history and curatorial programmes, but also art biennials, museums, and independent art institutions have interpreted “diversity” in terms of enriching the synchronous with so-called marginalised positions—“positionality” being another of Haraway’s keywords. Yet to think in terms of “margins” and “centre” is already to think in terms of space. To think diversity through these concepts means to imagine a flat terrain that marginalised agents are called to occupy a bit more. The centre is thus assumed to shrink. But what is the reality? That the centre does not shrink! The ethically (rather than politically) correct acknowledgement of marginalised positions has not so far meant the displacement of central-dominant ones. Art-world inclusivity, much like liberal “pluralism,” can seemingly expand without undoing the extant regime of power. Why is that so?

In answering this question, my short answer would be: because the spatial logic of diversity is flawed. The margins-and-centre metaphor is wrong. What we are told are “margins” and “centre” are not “locations” at all. Rather, they are antagonistic relations the current appearance of which can only be grasped if we think of their interwoven histories, because it is these histories that construct the agents of the antagonism as often vastly unequal. In having an exhibition that maps and puts on display feminist art from different geographies does nothing for uncovering the colonial and imperialist relationships that have shaped not just each geography but also how they connect to each other. Let’s take Greece where I come from as an example: the colonels’ junta (1967 - 1974) that cut off Greece from the emergence of a feminist (art) revolution in the centre of the capitalist world, and especially the USA, was hardly unrelated to American foreign policy and interests. That Womanhouse was created in the USA and not in Greece in the early 1970s is tied to this history and any feminist “display” that would fail to think of this relationship of American to Greek feminism would be distorting the current, 21st-century “contemporary.”[17] In short, working today towards a global feminism means also researching and understanding the impact of the historical truths of capitalist geopolitics rather than speaking of “peripheries,” “semi-peripheries” and “centres” in terms of “partial” and “locatable” perspectives.

We can have a broader enquiry into the appropriateness of “partial” and “locatable” knowledge. An example drawn from a state of emergency in current geopolitics would be Israel and Palestine. We can only go so far if we think of this relationship in terms of a “central-dominant” and a “marginalised” agent—even if here, the “dispute” is literally about a territory. And there is good reason why a recent Open Letter on US media coverage of Palestine, which bravely opposed the “equal distance” reporting on the so-called dispute, did not call for “partial, locatable, critical knowledges” but rather for “the full contextualised truth, without fear or favor” (emphasis added).[18] There is  a difference between “knowledges” (even if situated) and “truth” (even if contextualised), for knowledge, as understood after the paradigms of deconstruction and post-structuralism, favours indeed criticality rather than factuality. What could the 500 journalists mean by “contextualised truth”? That truth exists and has a context. Truth can be revealed, and researching its context is necessary for revealing it. This context is not merely about the current “total asymmetry in power,” as put by the Letter or “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” described by Human Rights Watch. Although no locatable knowledge could oppose these facts, the context would include the practice of settler-colonialism, which has a long history, and which has shaped a number of territories.

Settler-colonialism is notoriously hard to redress. As we know, there is much discussion in contemporary art and curating about “the Indigenous” as peoples victimised by settler-colonialism. The Indigenous are marginalised, and efforts are made by art institutions to give them visibility. I don’t want to refer to whether the Indigenous claim visibility as agents for themselves, because I want to first ask about the identity politics we have here: why should a politics of recognition name “the Indigenous” and not “the descendants of the settler-colonialists”? Why should visibility not be about the perpetrator who should be named as such? Why shouldn’t the latter be burdened with particularising “identity”? This reminds me very much of what happened to artists who were women in the similarly positive approach to visibility sought by second-wave feminism in art. They became “women artists” rather than “the artist” becoming “man artist,” which would reveal the operative gender privilege in art production. Although there is no doubt that second-wave feminism claimed “women artists” as a political category, this political category led to the marginalisation of feminism as such in art: feminism became a typically locatable, partial field of critical knowledge. Meanwhile, everyone else continues teaching/collecting/valuing Picasso, no matter what Carol Duncan wrote already decades back or that man-artist’s documented misogyny in life as in art.[19] The art world has thus managed to both have its cake and eat it: women artists were accommodated as a supplement which did not disturb the mainstream lineage of artistic achievement. We know this because rewriting art histories—for instance, through artwork labels in museums—continues to be flagged up as feminist art projects today.[20]

Diversifying the curriculum will never take care of the problems I am pointing to above. And decolonising the curriculum, about which we hear so much nowadays, certainly does not mean diversifying it. To decolonise means to remove the staples of dominant discourses and the embedded ideology that underpins them from the whatever curriculum. Yet, the spatial logic has so far led to a moral imperative of polite inclusivity rather than the critical exclusions that an examination of historical factuality might suggest. Tied to the ideological dominance of spatial politics, diversity has been, overall, co-extensive with positive visibility and a politics of recognition fashioned to honour the former. I have already addressed above the elementary concerns that arise when visibility is offered to the victimised rather than the perpetrators: the latter can carry on being visible, enhancing the distorting additive model that hides from view their ongoing power over the victimised. Where feminism is concerned, a politics of strategic exclusion has mainly taken the form of parenthetical (read “partial”) women-only shows—an art-world separatism that is seen, mostly, as outmoded today. Now to the politics of recognition: they have gradually come to dominate emancipatory politics in the art world since the 1970s. There is much to say here, but to keep to the focus of these reflections, I will just say that recognition always implies a modality of differentiation from “the many.” Greg Sholette’s “dark matter” analogy should suffice: an undifferentiated invisible mass is necessary for the few art-world “stars” to shine.[21] Sure, some of these stars can be women, or non-white people. And yet, looking deeper we see that recognition is anchored on the culture of meritocracy which is immensely useful to liberalism, which sustains neoliberalism. As we recently argued with Nizan Shaked in OnCurating,

meritocracy imagines that a society giving everyone the chance to “develop” will naturally lead to the best accruing rewards. And so, the natural inequality that will arise out of culturally ensured equal opportunity will, in a familiar loop, be the justification for the competition principle (that the market ideology, and especially the deregulated market ideology, needs) to carry on. This is the logic that presently informs all art institutions that are committed to equality and diversity but are forced to also honour the competition principle. It is the culture that strives for inclusivity while it revels when a figure signifying difference scoops an award.[22]

The “equality of positioning” then that Haraway sees as the threat of relativism is an ideological effect of structural, foundational inequality. If “in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura,” as put by Marx, “the equality of positioning” inverts the social relations that give rise to it.[23] These relations are reproduced daily (and “social reproduction,” a key concept of feminist critique, finds several conceptual applications here yet primarily its anchoring in temporality) not by chance but through highly specific mechanisms ranging from coercion to consent. Before we think about women in these mechanisms, it should be said that the latter are also characterised by duration, which is why it is so hard to change them. (Duration, in the art exhibition universe, translates to prestige—just think of the Venice Biennale, documenta, etc.). The reason that the figure of revolution has been prominent in some emancipatory politics is precisely because revolution promises an abrupt break of the durational and daily reproduced, and thus naturalised or hidden, relations. Revolution, in other words, uses time (indeed, an exceptional temporality) against the reproduction of space as we know it. This is why it has been imperative for capitalism to not only defeat actual revolutions of the subaltern, but also demonise and delegitimise the concept of revolution as such—by reducing it to “terrorism.” An additional ideological strategy against revolution has been, however, appropriation: to call a revolution what is not. This has been the most interesting strategy, including if and how feminism is implicated in it.

2. The Gap between a Feminism of Positionality and the Need for a Big Picture

Sheila Rowbotham published Women, Resistance and Revolution: A History of Women and Revolution in the Modern World in 1972. One of the most important books one may ever read about women and time even fifty years later, it made clear to me that women, as the subject addressed by modern feminism, never had their own revolution (that is without linking their own emancipation to another revolutionary cause). They never rose to claim the instantaneous rupture and the immediate, furious overturning of the status quo that oppresses and exploits them. And yet, we find the word “revolution” in philosophy addressing gender and sexuality, and we hear often about women’s revolution in art.

Recently, Fanny Söderbäck’s Revolutionary Time: On Time and Difference in Kristeva and Irigaray (2019) examined these two philosophers’ efforts to address women’s affiliation to cyclical time, “a temporal structure [that] works to maintain the conception of women as embodied creatures reduced to spatiality and repetition.”[24] Predictably, revolution here is thought of as a future-oriented time of “becoming.” It is a long-drawn process with an open future—and as such it lacks, precisely, a concrete revolutionary vision as much as it severs itself from the idea of a break. In art, “revolution” has had an equally complex but perhaps darker fate. It describes mostly the transference of feminism as a social movement in the art field. This was a fervent process that did entail strategies and objectives, internal fights, a degree of disobedience, a lot of activism, groundbreaking ideas and practices—as seen in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s important documentary !WAR Women Art Revolution (2010). There was organised radicalism—that is certain. But given that the visibility politics (politics of recognition as described above) prevailed, the expression of this social movement in art sought change that aimed at women’s incorporation and inclusion in the field it critiqued. Italian art critic Carla Lonzi’s distancing from the art world because she understood it as being structurally against feminism is the closest to a revolutionary consciousness—but abandoning the art world is not the same as revolting in terms of overthrowing the status quo that has shaped it.[25] That said, could a feminist revolution occur just in one sub-context of oppression—in one, in fact, that bears a distinct class stamp despite efforts to overcome it? The transference of what is a social process into a context that has maintained its purposeful distance from the social (think of all the “art and society” titles you know) can either be accepted as metaphorical license or else it is pure idealism.

In the widely discussed roundtable “Feminist Time” (2008), which considered recent feminist curating and exhibitions since 2007 had been deemed “the year of feminism,” Rosalyn Deutsche drew on Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou’s concept of “event” to describe feminism and referred to time:

An event is something that happens in a situation, something that supplements and reveals the void of the order within which the event takes place—for example, the political order. […] Feminism was an event because it disrupted the phallocentrism of traditional left political projects. […] Feminism is a more democratic form of politics, one capable of political transformation as it articulates with other political aims and projects. […] [F]eminist history takes place in the tense of future anterior because in it the past is conditional on an inconclusive future. The past isn’t there to be recovered. Rather, past actions gain meaning—they are what will have happened—as feminism mutates into something other.[26]

In 2022, with neo-authoritarianism and the Alt-right on the rise and the backlash against feminist advances so widely felt, we might have more questions on the above than early in 2008, when the global financial crisis had not quite become the event of the early 21st century. Although there is no doubt that second-wave feminism challenged phallocentrism, the global data of the persistently patriarchal capitalism are dismal.[27] There has been no sustained and sustainable disruption, while feminists such as Hester Eisenstein and Nancy Fraser, active since the second wave, have detailed how capitalism used feminist claims to introduce a world order of greater inequality, diminished labour rights, and deadly precarity, while today “women’s rights” do feature in anti-immigrant biopolitics.[28] As for feminism’s relationship to democracy, this is complicated and certainly not straightforward: if you look back to the forgotten history of first-wave feminism, you will find Suffragettes who became fascists (Mary Richardson who famously attacked Rockeby Venus in a militant foundational act of feminism against the art institution!); feminists who denied working-class women voting rights;[29] but also the radical gender politics and writings of women revolutionaries in the early 20th century that are largely excised today from feminist memory. Why isn’t this past there to be recovered? What knowledges would be gained from such recovery and a study of these ensembles of contradictions? I am also concerned with the idea of a constantly mutating feminism, especially if what determines the mutation is (left) unknown. That feminism has been pluralised into feminisms—in ways that do not prevent but encourage antagonistic conceptualisations of feminism—is already an effect of feminism being overdetermined by conditions that do not enter feminist consciousness.

These observations hopefully open to a questioning of the trajectory of feminism, and its understanding of its own history—precisely, in art and society. Art and society are not, of course, equivalent terms for feminist politics. Griselda Pollock had rightly talked about “feminist interventions” in art making and its histories.[30] But such interventions are “feminist” only if they serve social change guided by a feminist vision. (A generation of feminist art historians strove to show how images of women in art and visual culture connected to the oppression of women in the world.) For several years already, to have feminisms rather than feminism has implied that feminism has been working without a vision at best, and with antithetical visions at worst. I can’t see how bell hooks’ vision of feminism can co-exist with Sheryl Sandberg’s lean-in feminism, and hooks’ arguments against Sandberg’s back in 2013 already explain why: “dig deep,” she says, or understand history, to move beyond lean-in.[31] Are these parallel feminisms positional, locatable, and partial, to return to Haraway? No, unless we concede that Sandberg’s is located in her class privilege and hooks’ in her black-woman experience. But hooks’ experience makes her see that the feminism advocated by Sandberg is no feminism at all, because it perpetuates the subordination of most women on Earth and empowers their oppressors.

Should we imagine a curatorial project featuring works that correspond to hooks and Sandberg? I note here, again, that “display” is necessarily a spatialising concept and context. For the feminist curator to work against this magnetism of spatiality, a special effort must be made towards a view of time that allows the presentation of interwoven, but not common, histories. If not, we do end up with a display as an “equality of positions.” In the art institution as we know it, we can have a diversity-sensitive curatorial project where the artists of countries ravaged by the lithium wars can show work alongside the artists from the imperialist countries that ravage them. This would be considered a good thing on the grounds of visibility and the politics of recognition as so far interpreted. In fact, this is the dominant model of exhibition inclusivity. It is a model that rescripts political imperatives as ethical frameworks and that implies a call for the peaceful co-existence of the oppressed with their oppressor. And so, Haraway writes: “There is no single feminist standpoint because our maps require too many dimensions for that metaphor to ground our vision,”[32] I am not so sure. I think there is no single feminist standpoint because women are locked into a global history of antagonisms among unequal forces—in short, because women have exploited, and continue to exploit, women; and because maps are inadequate representational tools when it comes to tracing causes and effects. Feminist curating cannot be reduced to the display-based reconciliation whereby Afghan women artists are merely shown alongside women artists that have benefited from imperial(ist) feminism—a point that hides more historical complexity and enforced complicity than I am able to discuss here.

With this in mind, Haraway’s assertion that “feminism is about a critical vision consequent upon a critical positioning in unhomogeneous gendered social space” might be construed as an epistemological weakness of feminism.[33] The gendered social space is not unhomogeneous—rather, it tends to be homogeneous where structures are concerned, as we are all subject to legal frameworks that organise gender relations, as there are international treaties that suggest this or that in relation to gender, as we travel with gendered passports, as we endure the pandemic of gender violence, as social reproduction is scripted as persistently gendered across continents. Nation-states use “their” women as property to plan demographic policies in a global context designed, precisely, as a web and a network, where everyone finds their place in the central planning done by, and for, capital. The wide applicability in recent years of the term “biopolitics,” as the large-scale management of life and lives so as to maintain the state of things, highlights this, and it is in this context that antagonisms proliferate, that power over others becomes materialised so as to generate hierarchical “difference”.

Thinking of biopolitics, during documenta 14, in 2017, a group of LGBTQ+ refugees hired as collaborators of an artist stole the stone they were given to carry around symbolically (a replica of an ancient stone from Socrates’ trial) and refused to give it back saying:

You have come to Greece to make art visible, graciously offering to purchase the participation of invisible exoticized “Others”. Your stone is supposed to give us a voice, to speak to our stories. But rocks can’t talk! We can! So, we have stolen your stone and we will not give it back. And like the millions of others who are seeking better lives in Europe, your stone has disappeared. […] But unlike [for] your stone, no energies have been spent searching for those who have disappeared—not minerals or even artworks, but flesh and bone. And we’ve had more than our fair share of funerals. So, we will use our energies otherwise.[34]

This is not positional knowledge. It is the elementary truth of the homogeneity that biopolitics, scripted as border necropolitics, generate. To have the “contextualised” truth, you’d need to look at the long process of the formation of the dispossessed. What was positional was the artist’s defiance who thanked the refugees for making the artwork become more “visible” while he questioned “their political agenda or their artistic parameters,” as Artforum relayed.[35] In 1992, during an Alfredo Jaar show at the Whitechapel, London, the girls from racialised communities that were made photographically visible in the gallery rejected this visibility demanded and their images be removed and not associated with the text that described them. In relation to this incident, Gayatri Spivak argued that shows can be imperfect and fail—fail better![36] But as discussed by Rasheed Araeen in 2000, identity as visibility for the “other” tends to entrench “the other” in depoliticised victimisation.[37] The “other” may well oppose positionality in favour of the complexity of truth.

To conclude, we can, if we want, hear the words of Gorbachev and Reagan from 1988 as merely “positional,” “locatable,” and “partial’. But a knowledge of history, before and since these words, marks them as untrue. How can we make space for truth in our systems of knowledge, even if truth is the hardest to establish? And yet, I can’t see how at this moment in history, feminism in the art field would shy away from such a necessary shift. To do so would mean to stay trapped in the political fiction of eternal becoming, of changing with the times, of accepting a pluralism of (sometimes antagonistic) perspectives but rejecting an emancipatory programme for the future. Against the fixation with end-ism that dominated the postmodern milieu, in which Haraway thought of situatedness as an adequate premise against relationality, today “The End of the End of History” is on the agenda. Today, we need to ask: how can feminism oppose “a world-historical scenario in which one people’s history has permanently dominated that of all others—the end of history by fiat?”[38] Although this was said about American hegemony, the emergence of BRIC countries at the turn of the century as contenders to the throne[39] – an imperialist throne made by appropriated social wealth, a throne dripping the blood of the subalterns – implied a far more complex, but no less brutal, course for globalisation. In 2022, the only imaginable end of history is by climate destruction or by nuclear holocaust – two prospects that call for transitioning from “situated knowledges” to our common truth.

Dialogue and listening do not presuppose the absence of coherent political visions on the part of the interlocutors—and we can no longer be stuck in the intellectual privilege of favouring criticality over factuality. Femicides are a fact; the offshores of the wealthy are a fact; the 13,000 nuclear warheads on the planet are another fact; the move of the dispossessed as migrants and refugees yet another, as is the use of fascist values against the very possibility of a united, revolutionary class of the people—including women locked in “unproductive” labour and prisoners who have no choice—who make wealth only to see it privatised in the hands of the very few.

To persist with feminism as a politics, we then need boundaries and criteria regarding what practices are accommodated. Is truth such a criterion? Working towards a totalising feminist vision, contra Haraway, would have us examine arguments and test evidence, and detect connections that are lost when we succumb to positionality. The Feminism for the 99% manifesto of 2019 pointed in this direction already in striving for an overview and a propositional feminist politics.[40] Yet, in 2022, the escalation of conflict and the divides that imperialisms realise signal a huge challenge on feminist epistemologies. Being positional is a tactic; but building strategies for struggle (including the struggle for feminist unity) requires access to the biggest, and deeper, picture possible. Or, put another way, building strategies for struggle needs a political deployment of knowledge to uncover the historical trajectories that end up forming social truth as a “contemporary.” If not, we may even lose sight of the gap between the noble and often ambitious intentions of our projects in the field and the social reality that naturalises the power these projects seemingly oppose.


This article is based on the paper “Situating the Gap,” presented at the online conference Situated Knowledges: Art and Curating on the Move, organised by Shared Campus Universities PhD students, Tai Kwun, Hong Kong, and Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, on 26-27 June 2021.

Dr Angela Dimitrakaki is a writer and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Edinburgh, which she joined in September 2007. She is Programme Director of the MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism and teaches also undergraduate courses on art and its contexts since the 1960s, including on aesthetics, globalisation, art institutions, feminism and sexual politics. Since her appointment at Edinburgh she has been supervising an average of five doctoral students per year. She works closely with her doctoral students, often collaborating in projects, to enhance art history’s social relevance. Since 2021 she represents the University of Edinburgh as Director of Studies of the doctoral research project ‘Gender and the sexual division of labour in the curating and production of socially engaged art’ in the context of the Innovative Training Network FEINART, supported by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions of Horizon 2020 and led by the University of Wolverhampton.


[1] Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, in: Feminist Studies 14 (1988).

[2] Louis Menand, “Francis Fukuyama Postpones the  End of History,” The New Yorker, 3 September 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/03/francis-fukuyama-postpones-the-end-of-history

[3] Keti Chukhrov, Practising the Good: Desire and Boredom is Soviet Socialism (New York: e-flux;  Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota, 2021).

[4] See Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New Yok: Zone Books, 2015); Colin Crouch, Post-Democracy (London: Wiley, 2004); Vivek Chibber, Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital (London: Verso, 2013); Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Penguin, 2017); Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, trans. Steve Corcoran (London: Verso, 2006).

[5] See George Liodakis, Totalitarian Capitalism and Beyond (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010); Enzo Traverso, The New Faces of Fascism: Populism and the Far Right, trans. David Broder (London: Verso, 2019); Berch Berberoglu, The Global Rise of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century (London and New York: Routledge, 2021); Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, Late Capitalist Fascism (Cambridge: Polity, 2022).

[6] See https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ronaldreaganmoscowstateuniversity.htm.

[7] In 2022, it is worth reading Lenin’s study of imperialism, written over a century ago, in 1916, not only for becoming acquainted with his insightful analysis which comes close to predicting key parameters of even the first quarter of the 21st century, but also for the many quotes on the subject by other thinkers, including from the 19th century. See Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Penguin Classics, London 2010.

[8] See Alan Finkel, “Long Live the Power of Lithium!,” Cosmos, 12 July 2018, https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/long-live-the-power-of-lithium/ and https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2019/popular-information/

[9] See https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/lithium-is-fueling-technology-today-at-what-cost and https://newrepublic.com/article/159848/socialist-win-bolivia-new-era-lithium-extraction.

[10] See https://twitter.com/evoespueblo/status/1287064230835957762.

[11] See https://newrepublic.com/article/159848/socialist-win-bolivia-new-era-lithium-extraction.

[12] Hiroko Tabuchi, ‘Before Invasion, Ukraine’s Lithium Wealth Was Attracting Global Attention’, The New York Times, March 2, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/02/climate/ukraine-lithium.html

[13] Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh, eds., Former West: Art and the Contemporary after 1989 (New York: e-flux; Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016).

[14] On this, see Grant Kester, “Lessons in Futility: Francis Alÿs and the Legacy of May ‘68,” Third Text 23, No. 4 (2009): 407-420

[15] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 584.

[16] Angela Dimitrakaki, “Art, Globalisation and the Exhibition Form: What Is the Case, What Is the Challenge?,” Third Text 26, no. 3 (2012): 305 - 319.

[17] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Womanhouse.

[18] See https://medialetterpalestine.medium.com/an-open-letter-on-u-s-media-coverage-of-palestine-d51cad42022d.

[19] Carol Duncan, “The MoMA’s Hot Mamas,” Art Journal Vol 48, No 2 (Summer 1989): 171-178 and, indicatively, Shannon Lee, “The Picasso Problem: Why We Shouldn’t Separate the Art from the Artist’s Misogyny,” Artspace, 22 November 2017, https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/art-politics/the_picasso_problem_why_we_shouldnt_separate_the_art_from_the_artists_misogyny-55120.

[20] See, indicatively, “Do Museum Wall Labels Hide Artists’ Misogyny? Gauguin and Picasso Protested at Met,” Frieze, 8 November 2018, https://www.frieze.com/article/do-museum-wall-labels-hide-artists-misogyny-gauguin-and-picasso-protested-met.

[21] Greg Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Verso, 2010).

[22] Angela Dimitrakaki and Nizan Shaked, “Feminism, Instituting and the Politics of Recognition in Global Capitalism”, OnCurating 51 (July 2021).

[23] Karl Marx, “The German Ideology” (1845), https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm#p28.

[24] Ciara Merrick, “Book Review Fanny Söderbäck, Revolutionary Time: One Time and Difference in Kristeva and Irigaray, State University of New York Press: Albany, NY, 2019; 398 pp,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 28, no. 1 (November 2020): 100-102: 100.

[25] See Claire Fontaine, ‘We Are All Clitoridian Women: Notes on Carla Lonzi’s Legacy’, eflux journal 47 (Sept 2013), https://www.e-flux.com/journal/47/60057/we-are-all-clitoridian-women-notes-on-carla-lonzi-s-legacy/ and Francesco Ventrella and Giovanna Zapperi, eds, Feminism and Art in Postwar Italy: The Legacy of Carla Lonzi, London: Bloomsbury 2022.

[26] Rosalyn Deutsche, Aruna D’Souza, Miwon Kwon, Ulrike Muller, Mignon Nixon, and Senam Okudzeto, “Feminist Time: A Conversation,” Grey Room 31 (Spring 2008): 32 - 67: 36-37.

[27] See World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2021, March 2021, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf; WHO, “Devastatingly Pervasive: 1 in 3 Women Globally Experience Violence,” WHO News Release, 9 March 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence; ILO, “Fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery,” ILO News, 19 July 2021, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_813449?lang=en; Alisha Haridasani Gupta, “Across the Globe, a ‘Serious Backlash Against Women’s Rights,’” The New York Times, 14 January 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/us/domestic-violence-international.html.

[28] See Sara Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

[29] See https://www.bl.uk/votes-for-women/articles/suffragists-and-suffragettes#.

[30] See Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art (London and New York: Routledge, 1988).

[31] See bell hooks, “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In,” The Feminist Wire, 28 October 2013, https://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/17973/.

[32] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 590.

[33] Ibid., 589.

[34] See https://www.provo.gr/stolen-stone-will-not-give-back/.

[35] Anonymous, “LGBTQI Refugee Group Steals Documenta 14 Artwork,” Artforum, 31 May 2017, https://www.artforum.com/news/lgbtqi-refugee-group-steals-documenta-14-artwork-68785

[36] See “Chapter 2: Nick Stanley and Sarat Maharaj: A Discussion” in Tom Hardy, ed, Art Education in a Postmoderm World: Collected Essays (Bristol: Intellect, 2006), p.30.

[37] Rasheed Araeen, “A New Beginning: Beyond Postcolonial Cultural Theory and Identity Politics,” Third Text 4, no. 50 (2000): 3-20.

[38] Maximillian Alvarez, “The End of the End of History,” Boston Review, 25 March 2019, http://bostonreview.net/print-issues-politics/maximillian-alvarez-end-end-history. Originally in the print copy of the Boston Review titled “Evil Empire,” Fall 2018.

[39] BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China. The acronym was coined in 2001 by British economist Terence James O’ Neill. In 2010, BRIC changed to BRICS with the addition of South Africa. The 14th BRICS Summit (2022), chaired by China, states that BRICS “conforms to the historical trend of a multi-polar world and economic globalization”.

[40] Cinizia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (London: Verso, 2019).

Go back

Issue 53

Situated Knowledges – Curating and Art on the Move

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter


by Jeanne van Heeswijk and Whitney Stark

Training for Together: Extended Bodies Exercise

by Lee Weinberg and Alison Green


by Basia Sliwinska and Caroline Stevenson

Whisper Game: Practising Attention Through Caring and Pacing

by Debe Sham and Georgia Kennedy

Cloth Knowledge: Sculpting with a Missing Corner

by Bo Choy and Chloe Ting

Situated Knowledge, Situated Works

Nadim Abbas, Rose Li, Edward Sanderson (with Fiona Lee Wing-shan), Lang Tu (with Anouchka van Driel)


by Noit Banai and Dani Gal

Memory Communities at the Crossroads

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter

Scores – From Situated Knowledges to Shared Action