Désoeuvrement! Variously translated as unworking or inoperativity is a notion that haunts contemporary political theory and practice. Unworking overturns the typical valuation of work and action as positive and constructive and opens an avenue to think radical passivity and inactivity as aesthetic and political practices that question the modernist mantra of purposeful production and ceaseless activity. At its most basic, unworking is the critique of work and of everything that we imagine as such. The work of community-building for instance, the work of art, work as wage labour, even psychoanalysis, imagined as ‘working through’. This issue of continent is dedicated to unworking in its various guises. Its urgency stems directly from the current political conjuncture, in which the winning slogan “Make America Great Again” testifies to the return of the Grand Design in the work of politics. However, just as much as the great work of politics has returned to the scene, so has the critique of politics as work. From the Ferguson riots and Anonymous’ attacks on global banks to Occupy’s “We have no demands”, a political ambition has emerged that spells out the end of traditional categories of representation, integration and participation. Disillusioned with classical activist campaigns for the extension of civil rights, democratic access and the freedom of speech, these actions in various ways embrace negation, negativity and withdrawal as political strategies, turning unworking into “the paradigm of the coming politics.”

But how does unworking come to us and what are its roots? In this editorial, I offer some historical vantage points that constitute a scattered genealogy of inoperativity to orient the reader in her journey through the issue. While I trace the trajectory of the concept through its various political conjunctures, a number of contributions to this issue highlight its parallel aesthetic lineage…

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