Bartleby politics: bridging the gap between everyday and collective forms of resistance

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Recent research in the field of resistance studies has called for the rethinking of the concept of resistance and the overcoming of paradigmatic distinctions between everyday tactics and the contentious politics of social mobilisation. By drawing on Marxist and post-Marxist political thought, this thesis will contribute to such attempts by proposing an ontology of political action and a conception of resistance that promises to bridge the gap between everyday tactics and collective and organised attempts to resist power. Traditionally, resistance and counter-hegemonic political action are understood as requiring a strategic, collective and organised mobilisation of activists, who directly oppose power and seek to introduce social change through the successful achievement of pre-defined demands. Drawing on the works of Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and on Walter Benjamin’s concept of divine violence, the first part of this thesis will propose a contrasting ontology of political action as affirmative passivity, a type of nonviolent political praxis that involves the performative refusal to engage in everyday actions and activities. Such a conception of political action authorises a mode of resistance that does not directly oppose what it attempts to resist, but rather subverts power and leads to social change through passive individual withdrawal and cessation of activity. The second part of this thesis will turn to the political projects of Slavoj Žižek and Giorgio Agamben to trace and reconstruct affirmative passivity from their proposed “Bartleby” politics. It will be argued that both versions of Bartlebian politics authorise a conception of resistance that transgresses the dichotomy between everyday and collective forms of resistance. The thesis will critically evaluate these two authors’ takes on Bartleby politics, how they differ based on their distinct readings of Benjamin’s “divine violence” and Hegel’s concept of sublation and assess the implications of the contrasting modes of everyday resistance that they enable.
Date of Award12 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorVassilios Paipais (Supervisor) & Jeffrey Stevenson Murer (Supervisor)


  • Nonviolence
  • Bartleby politics
  • Political action
  • Resistance
  • Sublation
  • Agamben
  • Žižek

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 15 May 2028

Cite this