Friendship (FKAKPO)

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On Friendship and the Political Imaginary

note: This page is currently being phased out of use. (It will be archived from 31 January 2024.) Its function is being replaced by this new resource: Links to an external site. )



Zoom presentation on comparative case studies of art practices addressing racialized violence in Brazil and the USA, as part of the 2020 Introduction to Art & Politics course.


Experimental course on thinking the figure of 'the friend' through contemporary art, politics and philosophy.

(last updated 13/07/2023)

This is an innovative distance course taught online and in face-to-face intensives (options to meet in Helsinki, Warsaw, Gothenburg, and Barcelona.) The course is through English and introduces key themes and questions in respect of politics, affiliation and the ontology of friendship with particular reference to contemporary art practices, theories and institutions. The course is based on current research and framed as an enquiry-based process, where the key task for course participants is the production of a project proposal relevant to their own practice (e.g., theory, criticism, art making, curatorial work, cultural studies, philosophy or other research across the creative arts and the humanities). We also welcome PhD researchers in different arts-based and non-arts based disciplines to audit the course as guest researchers.

This course was originally developed in 2021 through the collaboration between Prof. Steven Henry Madoff (SVA New York) and Prof. Mick Wilson (Hdk-Valand, Gothenburg.) Building upon the success of the 2021 course, a second iteration of the course was made in summer 2022.  The third iteration of the course will be delivered in Autumn 2023, linked to the fifth PARSE biennial research conference from 15–17 November, 2023 Powers of Love: Enchantment to Disaffection. The course is a collective reading and research process that operates as a focused inquiry into friendship as a question across politics, philosophy, art and curatorial practices.

Participants are expected to: (i) actively engage in the online workshops, lectures and seminars; (ii) engage in extensive (!) shared reading; (iii) join at least one face-to-face research intensive (from a choice of four); and (iv) and explore the implications of the course themes for their own practice and/or further studies. Participants are specifically invited to develop project ideas connected to the course themes, and relevant to the participants’ own practice, (e.g., theory, criticism, art making, curatorial work, cultural studies, philosophy or other research across the creative arts and the humanities).

The course is structured in four phases: 1. terms; 2. sources and accords; 3. fall-outs, break-ups and estrangements; and 4. responses, reconciliations, reneges and remains.

Phase 1: (September) Terms: introductory series of lectures and seminars looking at some of the central terms and themes pertaining to the question of friendship and the figure of 'the friend', including the option of a first face-to-face meet up in Helsinki 13-14 of September. (Helsinki meeting is subject to confirmation, may change).  What does it mean to speak of the politics of friendship in a period of intensified geopolitical violence, with the year-long war in Ukraine Links to an external site. now added to the ever expanding list of wars world wide Links to an external site.?

Phase 2: (October) Sources and Accords: extensive reading across a range of disciplinary sources, with reading seminars to support the reading process including the option of a second face-to-face meet up in Warsaw (date pending).

Phase 3:  (November-December) Fall-outs, break-ups and estrangements: working with a series of guest contributors we explore the fault-lines, tensions and divergent constructions of the figure of the friend, with particular attention to the contestation of humanist and liberal universalisms, and a range of decolonial, posthuman/more-than-human, materialist, and post-representationalist strategic re-orderings of the figure of the friend. This phase includes two optional face-to-face meet ups in Gothenburg (15-17) and Barcelona (13-15 December).

Phase 4: Responses, reconciliations, reneges and remains: participants share their own project proposals informed by responding to the material encountered through the course (January 2024)


Phase 1:  Terms: Introductory lectures and seminars, September

Throughout the month of September different terms are explored through seminars and lectures to access some of the many different approaches to the politics of friendship and affinity.

With an arc of continuity projected from the Aristotelian "o philoi, oudeis philos" to the Derridean recuperation of this in his intensive meditation on “O My Friends, There Is No Friend”, there is a recognizably euro- and andro- centric (although internally contested) discourse on the political imaginary of friendship. There are practices, terms, and analytical frameworks that operate otherwise invoking different terms and different arcs of continuity, ranging from the diverse Amerindian practices of amigre, pawana, tuhawa, and ayompari to such recent initiatives as the Feminist Duration Reading Group with its address to traditions of feminist organizing and friendship practices.

'The friend' is not a settled and resolved concept. It is something that is tangled with, and yet in excess of, and in specific difference from, other modes of relation including blood-ties, religious community and identity-belonging. Being friends–in ways that are more than family, religion or co-belonging in same-identity–operates centrally within the everyday horizon (the ordinary stuff of just living day-to-day) and the existential horizon (the larger perspective of the contingencies of a life/death .)

'The friend' seems not to be simply a figure to be described, nor  a concept to be defined and then applied, but rather a constellation of practices to be lived, ways of being in the world, indeed for some  the very way of worlding in itself. For some 'the friend' needs to be 'thought,' not in the sense of abstracted into a well-defined fixed category-concept, but worked upon in some way so as to open possibilities to live and die otherwise. Indeed, for some, 'the friend' provides the very condition of possibility for thinking to unfold. While for some the friend is a quintessentially humanist figure, for others it is an integral part of the horizon of a more-than-human, other-than-human, or posthuman imaginary.

Perhaps it is appropriate to speak of a specifically 'liberal' figure of the friend (involving values of the authentic, the private, the elective and the individualist) that is worried at the contamination of the concept of friendship by blood (kinship, obligation, rigid formality) and by utility (as means to an end, as a mode of publicity, evacuated of content by the instrumental de-humanizing of 'mass' society). One research task then may be to ask: What is obscured, occluded or evacuated in the 'liberal' figure of the friend? What are the different 'otherwise' figures of the friend?  How are these differentiated? What is at stake in these differences?


Phase 2: Sources and Accords: Extensive reading work. October

The Sage said, “A good friend is felicity in the two worlds.” A “good friend” is a loyal and faithful friend. “The two worlds” are this world and the next world. When you obtain a good friend, you can lean on him while perfecting virtue when you are still alive. After death, you can rely on him to release you from calamity. Hence the good friend is a bliss in both worlds. Liu Zhi (ca. 1670–1724)

Drawing upon a diverse range of sources we will work through a substantial body of reading together that builds upon the introductory work in Phase 1 by forging an in-depth encounter with different ways of thinking the question of 'the friend.'  Sources are drawn from philosophy, literary criticism, art theory, aesthetics, anthropology, political and social theory, and de/post-colonial discourse and include texts by Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Aristotle, Roland Barthes, Bettina Beer & Don Gardner, Maurice Blanchot, Svetlana Boym, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Céline Condorelli, Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, G.W.F. Hegel, Leela Gandhi, Steven Henry Madoff, Walter Mignolo, Michel de Montaigne, Sachiko Murata, Jean-Luc Nancy, Elizabeth Povinelli, Raqs Media Collective, Sasha Roseneil, Carl Schmitt, Sibyl Schwarzenbach, Jared Sexton, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Claire Tancons, Pnina Werbner, and Sylvia Wynter.


Phase 3: Fall-outs, break-ups and estrangements:

Over this series of intensives, supported by the input of different guests, we will work through detailed discussions of the terms and sources explored in Phases 1 and 2 with particular attention to dissension and disagreement.


Phase 4: Responses, reconciliations, reneges and remains: 

Participants share their project proposals and development of ideas in response to the course content.


Draft Course Schedule Autumn 2023 Draft

Times are CET (Swedish time):
last updated 5 Sept 2023
Phase 1: Terms
Tuesday 5 Sept      16:00-18:30 Introduction

Wednesday 6 Sept    16:00-18:30 session 2
Thursday 7 Sept     16:00-19:30 session 3
Tuesday 19 Sept     16:00-19:30 session 4
Thursday 21 Sept    16:00-19:30 session 5
Thursday 28 Sep     23:00 DEADLINE #1  Proposed shared reading for the group (no class)

Phase 2: Sources and Accords

Tuesday 3 Oct       16:00-19:30 session 6

Thursday 5 Oct      16:00-19:30 session 7
Tuesday 10 Oct      16:00-18:30 session 8
Thursday 12 Oct     16:00-18:30 session 9
Tuesday 24 Oct      16:00-18:30 session 10
Tuesday 31 Oct      16:00-18:30 session 11
Thursday 2 Nov      16:00-18:30 session 12
Tuesday 7 Nov       16:00-18:30 session 13
Thursday 9 Nov      16:00-18:30 session 14

Phase 3: Fall-outs, break-ups and estrangements:
___Intensive option  - Gothenburg
Wednesday 15 Nov   PARSE Conference
Thursday 16 Nov    PARSE Conference
Friday 17 Nov      PARSE Conference

Tuesday 21 Nov      16:00-18:30 session 17
Thursday 23 Nov     16:00-18:30 session 18
Friday 24 Nov      23:00 DEADLINE #2 Critical response to aspect of PARSE conference (no class)
Tuesday 28 Nov      16:00-18:30 session 19

Tuesday 5 Dec       16:00-18:30 session 20
Tuesday 12 Dec      16:00-18:30 session 21

Intensive option
 - Barcelona

Thursday 14 Dec     (times to be announced)
Friday 15 Dec       (times to be announced)

Warsaw intensive
to be conformed (based on participant sign-up)


Phase 4: Responses, reconciliations, reneges and remains: 
Thursday 21 Dec     23:00 DEADLINE #3 First draft proposal (no class)
Tuesday 9 Jan       23:00 DEADLINE #4 Final proposal (no class)

Wednesday 10 Jan    16:00-18:30 session 22 Participant presentations
Thursday 11 Jan     16:00-18:30 session 23 Participant presentations


Reading lists and guest speaker list will be published 1 June 2023

Guest speakers in 2021 and 2022 included Kathrin Böhm, Jason E. Bowman, Céline Condorelli, Quinsy Gario , Jennifer Hayashida,  Steven Henry Madoff, Walter Mignolo, Jota Mombaça, Sarah Pierce, Bojana Piškur, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Helena Reckitt, Grace Samboh & Ratna Mufida, Shuddha Sengupta, Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach, Thiago de Paula Souza, and Claire Tancons.

Guest speakers for 2023 will be published in late Summer 2023

Application period was in March-April 2023. Application via (for international applicants) and via www.antagning.seLinks to an external site. (for Swedish applicants). Next application cycle will be in early 2024 for the course delivered in Autumn 2024.

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