You are here : Version anglaise > Fellows > Previous promotions > Fellows 2021-2022

Short stay


Philosophy and Media Studies – USA

Contact details

Research topics


Visual archives of the populist imagination

Whenever a populist uprising is considered strong enough to jam the supposedly well-oiled machine of democracy, it is pathologized as a political expression and divested of political legitimacy. Populism becomes, then, a political monster.

The Project takes off from a genealogical ‘flash back’ to the inaugural images of the Hobbesian undercurrent projecting the monstrosity of popular sovereignty. Its ‘primal scene’ is captured by two clusters of images: a) the finely engraved covers of Thomas Hobbes’ masterpieces, De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651). While both largely ignored by philosophers and political theorists, they constitute precious visualizations of the discourse on legitimate and illegitimate sovereignty, its reach, and geopolitics; b) the effigies of Hercules and Hydra on coins and royal seals in Cromwell’s England expose perceptions and preconceptions of what is purported as the bestial character of popular sovereignty.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Argentinian philosopher Ernesto Laclau stepped forward to counter this mainstream conception of populism as a diseased limb of democracy by flipping it on its head: the diseased limb of democracy, for Laclau, is not populism but a rationalist conception of politics that criminalizes affects and emotions. On the score of Laclau’s semantic theory of populism as the ‘construction’ of a people around a central empty signifier (2005), we will emphasize the mythographic role of images in the political formation of those very signifiers. The visual archives of populism are thus where we need to look in order to retrieve not empty and disembodied, but embodied, and affective anchors of political signification. Eve K. Sedgwick’s articulation of affect theory as the blurring of the distinction between the interiority of emotions and the exteriority of affects is seminal to this Project. With Sedgwick, we will interpret images as visual intimations of how bodies are inhabited and shaped by their affective outside, thus providing them with orientation in perception, experience, and the construction of social space.

Three specific visual archives will be the object of our analysis and will be shown to constitute a new lineage of grassroot mobilizations: 1) the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement that since 2015 has been taking aim at the colonial heritage of statues displayed in public spaces; 2) the 2015 elections that made Podemos the third party in Spain; 3) the 2016 election of Narendra Modi to India’s Prime Minister. In all three cases, the revolutionary use of visual technology, remediation, intermediation, and transmediation of visual symbols and signifiers, exemplify day’s populist reinvention of political agency in uniquely visual terms.


Activities / Resume


Giovanna Borradori is Professor of Philosophy and Media Studies at Vassar College. Consistently over the past three decades, her research has investigated the intersection of politics and aesthetics, social movements and visual culture, governamentality, subjectivity, and surveillance. By mobilizing distinct and sometimes rival approaches, such as Critical Theory and deconstruction, G. Borradori has helped reconstitute the violence that erupted on, and from, September 11, 2001 as an object of critical analysis and aesthetic relevance. Her book of dialogues with Jacques Derrida and Jürgen Habermas, Philosophy in a Time of Terror (2003), has become a classic text on the war on terror, now available in 22 languages from five Continents. Borradori’s later contributions include essays on the aesthetics of human rights, theories of political testimony, witnessing, and forgiveness, affect theory and media phenomenology, populism and global migration, the visual semantics of coloniality, decoloniality, and postcoloniality. She is presently working on a book dedicated to mapping and deconstructing the visual archives of statistical power, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.



  • Philosophy in a Time of Terror. Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques
  • Derrida (University of Chicago 2003, traduit en 22 langues);
  • The American Philosopher: Conversations with Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, MacIntyre, and Kuhn (University of Chicago Press, 1994, traduit en 5 langues)
  • Recoding Metaphysics. The New Italian Philosophy, (Northwestern University Press,1989)
  • Il Pensiero Post-Filosofico (Jaca Books, 1988) 

Essays and Articles
  • “Sabbie mobile. Pedagogie delle fondamenta e dello sfondamento.” In In cattedra. Il docente universitario in 8 autoritratti,” Cortina, Milano, Italy, 76-106, 2019
  • Du Selfie au Selfie. Aperçus, Révus, et Vite Oubliés,” in Des Pouvoirs des Ècrans, edited by Mauro Carbone, Jacopo Bodini, and Anna Caterina Dalmasso, Mimésis, Paris, France, 2019
  • The Disfiguration of the Polis: Plural Action and the City to Come,” in Economies of Justice, edited by Peter Goodrich and Michel Rosenfeld, Fordham University Press, New York, NY, 2019
  • “Inquadrature del Visibile,” in Selfie & Co.: Ritratti Collettivi ed Estetiche in Rete, edited by Elena Tavani, Guerini Editore, Milan, Italy, 25-36, 2017
  • “Écrans Doubles. La Democratie et le Droit au Sécret,” in Vivre Par(mi) les Écrans, edited by Mauro Carbone, Jacopo Bodini, Anna Caterina Dalmasso, Les Presses du Réel, Dijon, France, 2017
  • “Il Segreto di Maurizio Ferraris. Documentalità e il Diritto al Segreto,” in Ermeneutica, Estatica, Ontologia: A Partire da Maurizio Ferraris, edited by Carola Barbero and Tiziana Andina, Edizioni Il Mulino, Bologna, 2016
  • “Between Transparency and Surveillance: Politics of the Secret,” in Philosophy and Social Criticism, 1-9, 2016 (also appeared in French as “Politiques du Secret. Snowden, Wikileaks,Derrida,” in Jacques Derrida, la dissémination à l’oeuvre, edited by Alexis Nuselovici et Sara Guindani, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris France, 2021)
  • “L’Architettura in Rete,” in Visioni Metropolitane, edited by Giuseppina De Luca, Guerini Editore, Milan, Italy,119-142, 2014
  • “The Markers of Deconstructive Citizenship: A Corrective to the Constructionist Approach to Justice,” A Review of Miriam Bankovsky’s Perfecting Justice in Rawls, Habermas, and Honneth, in Philosophy Today (Vol. 58, Issue 3), 477-486, 2013
  • “A Critique of Critique: between Foucault and Habermas. A Response to Amy Allen’s The Politics of Ourselves. Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory, special issue of Philosophy and Social Criticism, (38-7), 745-752, 2012
  • “Living with the Irreparable. Derrida’s Theory of Forgiveness,” in Parallax, Vol. 17, N. 1, 78-88, 2011
  • “Tiny Sparks of Contingency: On the Aesthetics of Human Rights,” in Philosophical Dimensions of Human Rights: Some Contemporary Views, edited by Claudio Corradetti, Springer, Heidelberg, Germany, 157-172, 2012
  • Spettri del ‘Politically Correct:’ la Decostruzione nell’Era di Obama,” in L’Avvenire della Decostruzione, edited by Francesco Vitale and Mauro Senatore, Edizioni Il Melangolo, Genoa, Italy, 43-58, 2011
  • “Ungrievable Lives. Terror and the Global Media,” in The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Ethics, edited by Robert Fortner and P. Mark Fackler, Wiley-Blackwell, London, NY, 461-480, 2011