Diffracting the Doldrums
: Performing Feminist New Materialisms in the Everyday

  • Alice Colquhoun

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The significance of this study offers the metaphor of the doldrums as a method and framing device for a witnessing that is historical. Led by an art practice, the metaphor examines sustainable ways to be-with the injury of contemporary war. Injury is explained through a type of suspension -a delay of listening by the complacent west to the painful conditions of others. I translocate the metaphor of the doldrums into my performance practice to become feminist and decolonising, interpreting it from its former position of stuckness to an active mode of listening to this delay. I draw from post-colonial theorist Achille Mbembe’s necropolitics (2019) -a ‘live and let die’ attitude of sovereignty applied to victims of contemporary war. I argue for a feminist practice of diffraction after Karan Barad as a way of cutting into binaries. I also argue for what I term quieter methods; these are silence, contemplation, performative text and cutting/diffraction. Quieter methods move away from graphic images typically associated with witnessing contemporary war injury, choosing instead banal, white capitalist landscapes. I build my practice of quiet, following in the lineage of women artists and critical theorists; Lauren Berlant, Della Pollock, Tina Campt, Nadia Seremetakis, who enrich my own understanding of witnessing through a deeper listening to the ordinary day-to-day. I further follow in Chris Cuomo’s (1996) notion of war as omnipresence, David Bissels (2006) being-with and Walter Benjamin's (1940) clock time to theorise an aesthetic of the doldrums. In this practice as research, I see myself as a passenger practitioner, outside of the traditional artist’s studio. The practice interventions are realised in the three-video works for submission alongside the thesis. The core concepts of the research videos are critically analysed in the four chapters, constituting the body of the work: Now it is time for us to do our bit, Silence and Contemplations, The Tallest Tower in The World and Citizen Soldier, alongside an analysis of aesthetics of the doldrums in the works of other feminist artists.
Date of Award27 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorP. A. Skantze (Supervisor) & Emily Orley (Co-Supervisor)


  • Doldrums Metaphor
  • Diffraction
  • Contemporary War as Suspension
  • Necropolitics
  • Capitalist Landscapes
  • Feminist Performance Practices
  • Quieter Methods
  • Listening in Performance

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