Garikoitz Gómez Alfaro

What time is radical history? A rough guide to critical time

What is radical history? how to do/write radical history? But also, what time is radical history? This is, I believe, a question posed by Jacques Rancière in his doctoral thesis Nights of Labor: The Workers Dream in Nineteenth Century France (2012), where he strove to highlight the thinking of “pre-marxist” proletarians who were fully able to challenge the institution of labour. One of these criticism is directed against the regular, abstract time of work, but also against what they considered the theft of their time. Rancière thus touched upon a crucial question he never came back to, a question I understand as vital to our concerns (i.e. the making of radical history): how can we deconstruct hegemonic notions of “homogeneous, empty time”? How can we resist history’s theft of the time of our lives?

In my paper I intend to review some of the most important work in the last years that deal with the relationship between time, justice and politics. From J. Fabian’s (2001) critique of classic anthropology’s allochronism (i.e. the establishment of temporal hierarchies between groups of individuals, e.g. “modern” vs “backward”, “primitive”) to B. Bevernage (2012) analysis of the “politics of time” in transitional justice and post-conflict contexts and Scott’s (2014) work on the experience of “disjointed time” in the Granada Revolution, there seems to be a great potential to revise Benjamin’s idea of “weak messianic power” of the past.

My aim is to provide a brief review of these works that could be used by others and then provide two examples: one, related to my own research on social movements in Northern Ireland and their articulation of justice and historical imprescriptibility and a brief text written by Subcomandante Marcos/Galeano (“Insurrección de los vivos/Insurrección de los muertos”, 2013) that picks up some of the questions posed by Rancière thirty years ago. I will finally point to possible methodological solutions to tackle all these questions.

About Garikoitz Gómez Alfaro
I’m a doctoral candidate at the School of Humanities, University of Brighton, with research interests navigating the seas of memory studies, cultural geography and history. Although I graduated in History, I’ve been wandering outside “my discipline” seeking for ways of explicitly link historical research with everyday politics, an interest not particularly welcomed by many of the institutions I’ve come across so far.

It was the desire to bridge these two elements what probably led me to deal with memory. I became interested in memory, like many others in the last 10-15 years, through a reading of Benjamin’s Theses of History. Thus, I understood the so-called “memory boom” as part of a utopian drive that aspired to reclaim a different future by looking into past possibilities, but also as a way to pay attention to the question of the haunting presence of the past in the present.

I’ve tried to approach the latter question from a situated perspective, focusing on the messiness of how communities live embedded in complex temporal entanglements that are rooted in space and place. I have since focused on the deconstruction of apparently “natural” notions of time that underpin classic historiography, but also on the ways in which common people devise alternative senses of time and place that are rooted in wider demands for social justice. In order to look into this. In particular, my research explores how spaces (I’m looking into 2 cities in Spain and Northern Ireland) associated with violent or traumatic events become both arenas for the articulation of cultural memories but also landscapes in which to experience “disjointed” senses of time.

Although I had thought to employ participatory cartography and ask participants to “deep map” their material/affective encounters with a given memoryscape. The theoretical challenges posed by this doctoral detour made it difficult for me to deploy Participatory Action Research techniques, not least because, as someone who’s been trained as a historian in a rather classic institution, my methodological skills are somewhat limited—especially when it comes to resort to techniques traditionally deployed by activist/militant researchers (unstructured interview, participant observation, etc…). The other big problem, as stated somewhere else, is and will always be time. I would like to hear from the experience of other people interested in “radical history” and “alternative methodologies”, especially when it comes to put them into practice within the belly of frustratingly bureaucratic monsters such as today’s universities.

Contact: g.gomezalfaro[at]brighton.ac.uk

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