The Art of Not Doing: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Rest, Resistance and Pleasure Activism

deadline for submissions: 
June 3, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Birkbeck Institutes

Conference date: 17 October 2019
Submission deadline: 3 June 2019
Conference location: Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom

In a culture that valorises busyness, productivity, pace and “progress”, stillness can be radical. Refusing, ignoring, omitting, not doing; sometimes the most political actions look like doing nothing at all. But who gets to not do? When and how is not doing a politicised, racialised, privileged, resistant or utopian act?

Recent years have seen a rise in movements that oppose production and work in favour of centring pleasure, sustainability, and compassion. The popularity (and marketised co-optation) of self-care—attributed to Black and brown feminists such as Audre Lorde and more recently Sara Ahmed—and mindfulness practises—often appropriated from previously colonised states—demonstrate a desire for restitution and “time-out” from professional, emotional, and reproductive labour. Studies and manifestoes of the post-work movement (e.g. David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work (2015) and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015)) consider the potentials of a post-capitalist world in which work is ousted from its place of chief deity of neoliberalism. Is it because capitalism has finally gone too far and millennials, as a recent viral article argued, are ‘the burnout generation’? What is certain is that stopping work (and, more recently, refusing school in the #schoolstrike4climate marches) continues to endure as a popular tool of protest, but one not always accessible to everyone.

Interest in what it means to “stop doing” can be seen across different disciplines. Scientific studies into rest, work and mental health uncover new ways of understanding (un)productivity. Social studies of unemployment, disability and illness activism challenge dominant modes of determining societal value. adrienne maree brown’s concept of pleasure activism seeks to rethink activism through the lens of pleasure, creating “a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work”. Artistic and activist practices explore resistance theoretically and in practice, such as when contemporary novels like Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (2007) and Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) take up the refrain of “I would prefer not to” from Herman Melville’s classic short story 'Bartleby the Scrivener' and tell the stories of people who decide to stop certain actions and in the process end up withdrawing or being excluded from society.

This conference explores activist instances of not doing in contemporary culture. Centering pleasure as a strategy for resistance, we want to explore the erotics of the still, inactive and unproductive. Through conversation, provocation, installation and self-care, we look at unproductivity as an activist practice and the ways in which caring, resting, suspending, pausing and breaking can be re/claimed as political acts by and for everyone, particularly those marginalised by the racial and gender inequalities of neo-liberal capitalism.

Alongside paper proposals, we welcome submissions of artworks, shorts films, and proposals for performances and acts of care.


Submission topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Acts of not doing: strategic (un)productivity, industrial action and anti-work activism

  • The psychology, science and medicine of stress and burnout

  • (Un)doing spaces: the geography, spatiality, and topology of work, rest and resistance

  • Radical business models - how to work by not working/and the efficiency of rest (e.g. Alisa Vitti’s ‘Cycle Syncing Method’ which uses the menstrual cycle as a blueprint for launching and managing projects)

  • Who gets to not do? The politics and privilege of breaks, rest, strikes and self-care

  • The biology of work and rest

  • Translation and the act of omission

  • Disability/neurodiversity/illness activism and critique of compulsory able-bodiedness and neurotypicality

  • The art of not doing: omitting, ignoring, stopping, resting in artworks (e.g. Ali Smith’s There but for the (2011) or Maryam Ashkanian’s ‘sleep series’)

  • The economics of post-capitalism

  • Unlawful stopping: unemployment, unproductivity and the law

  • Critical responses to concepts like ‘burnout’, ‘productivity’ and ‘self-care’

  • Pleasure activism: the potential of pleasure for sustainable change and recuperation (for example submissions that responds to the work of adrienne maree brown or Audre Lorde’s ‘The Uses of the Erotic’ (1978))

  • The language of sleep, dreams, and daydreams in contemporary politics

  • Archival studies: the importance of stillness with/in the archive

  • The philosophy and ethics of (not) doing

  • Not doing within capitalism: sustainable alternative modes of organizing

  • What turns us on: the science behind what loving what and how you do

  • Following Professor Stuart Hall’s theorisation of ‘The rest in the West’, considerations of indigenous knowledges that have and continue to inform “Western” scientific practices (eg. Henrietta Lacks / Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass)

  • Gender, race, class, sexuality, ability and age in relation to wellness and work

  • Representations of burnout in poetry, zines, online magazines, theatre, film, documentary, visual art, installation, fiction and memoir

  • Time and the performance of (un)productivity in contemporary theatre

  • Responses to theories on conflicting temporalities in zones of oppression and/or occupation (such as responses/additions to Giordano Nanni’s The Colonisation of Time)

  • Academic labour activism and the genre of ‘quit lit’



  • Paper proposal abstracts should be 200-300 words in length.

  • Lightning Talks/Provocations (7-10 minutes) should be summarised in a paragraph of no more than 150 words.

  • Workshops or acts of care should be submitted with a full workshop proposal outline, and a paragraph detailing the ethics, safer-space and after-care intentions/expectations.

  • For proposals of artworks, film, or performance, please include up to 5 images as 72dpi jpeg. Links to film clips, websites or performances are encouraged (but please be sure to include access passwords if video links are private)


All submissions are due by midnight on June 3, 2019.

Please email your submission to: titled ‘Art of Not Doing [enter medium, eg short film or paper] Submission’. Feel free to get in touch with us with any queries, questions or concerns Please also include any access needs/preferences.
We particularly encourage submissions from those operating within academia, activism and contemporary art whose voices are often marginalised by the mainstream canon.

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