Session 17: Effective Resistance: Ethics of the Other and Resistant Subject

Guest Speaker:  Shokoufeh Sakhi (Independent Researcher)

MARCH 26th, 2023 


My doctoral dissertation essays a conception of human subjectivity capable of effective resistance to totalizing systems. The term “effective” distinguishes the absolute resistance of an ethical-subjectivity from the survival resistance of a for-itself subjectivity. It signifies a resistance that itself is neither rendered a new totality, nor assimilated within the old one. In this work I draw on Emanuel Levinas’s separation between interiority and exteriority, between the I and the other, and on his conceptualization of subjectivity on the ethical plane as being-for-the-other. Through a material phenomenology of sensory deprivation and solitary confinement the human subject is comprehended as a corporeal-sensible being that is rendered a subject in response to exteriority, response that arises from both its (survival) needs for itself and its (ethical) Desire for the other. To drive my argument home, through an immanent critical analysis of the conceptions of the human subject and resistance in Michel Foucault and Karl Marx respectively I elucidate the limits of the for-itself approach to theorizing effective resistance.

My final argument is that though occluded, for-the-other subjectivity and effective resistance are to be found in the actual practices of human struggle. An examination of resistance under torture and prison confinement, as well as during revolutionary times, presents the case for theorizing the subject as primordially an I-in-tension and for the indispensability of the ethical dimension for an effective resistance against totalizing systems.

Suggested reading before the meeting

Speaker’s Biography

Dr. Shokoufeh Sakhi is an independent scholar and researcher who is currently a research associate with Off-Site Ethnography of Post-revolution Iran, a project hosted by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, France. She has a doctorate in political science from York University. Her dissertation, Ethics and the Resistant Subject: Levinas, Foucault, Marx is an argument for the “co-primordiality of an ethical and survival subjectivity” and indispensability of the ethics of being-for-the other for what she calls an “effective resistance” against totalizing systems. Her study and research are rooted in and benefited from her experience of eight years of political imprisonment, from 1982 to 1990, under the Islamic Republic State of Iran.

Dr. Sakhi acted as Executive Committee Director (2013-2014) of the Iran Tribunal Foundation investigating the Iranian state's crimes against humanity in the 1980s. She also testified as an ex-political prisoner at the Iranian People’s Tribunal hearings held at the Hague (2012). Among many documentaries, she participated in The Tree That Remembers, an award-winning NFB documentary film on the experiences of Iranian political prisoners in the first decade after the 1979 revolution. 

Her latest publications include "Ethical-Political Praxis: Social Justice and the Resistant Subject in Iran" in Iran's Struggle for Social Justice (2017), and "A Taste of Mortadella" and "Iran Tribunal: Justice in Making" in Voices of a Massacre (2020).