Video: Kristin Plys on ‘The Poetry of Resistance’

Kristin Plys introduces the article ‘The Poetry of Resistance: Poetry as Solidarity in Postcolonial Anti-Authoritarian Movements in Islamicate South Asia’


During India’s Emergency, anti-state poetry of a decidedly amateurish quality proliferated. Anti-Emergency poetry did little to bring about the restoration of democracy, nor could it have reasonably been mistaken for great art. So what was the purpose of writing resistance poetry if it was not meant to directly influence politics nor to be great art? Poetry as politics has a long history in the Islamicate world, dating back to the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula. While until the 19th century Islamicate poetry was tied to the Caliphates who employed poets to extol the virtues of the ruling classes, after the so-called ‘Rise of the West’ Islamicate poetry became associated instead with anti-colonial and anti-state movements across the Islamicate world from Morocco to Indonesia and from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. In this essay, I argue that the utility of resistance poetry in anti-state movements in South Asia has been to build solidarity among social movement participants. The sociology of social movements has long placed emphasis on the role of affective bonds and solidarity building for predicting social movement success, and poetry, in the Islamicate context especially, I argue, does exactly that. By circulating poems, social movement participants inform the reader that resistance and opposition exist, they inspire participants and would-be participants and calm fears that participants might have, especially in moments of political repression. These poems generate emotional and cultural bonds among social movement participants by linking anti-state movements to the centuries-old tradition of Islamicate poetry, thereby fostering solidarity and providing a firm basis for collective action.

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