Vika Kirchenbauer, essay, 2022


In the art field, as in other professional fields, sexual violence is not only a gender issue, but also a labour issue. Freelancing arrangements are common in artists’ studios and megastudios as well as in private galleries, even when those formally self-employed work exclusively for one individual or business, permanently and indefinitely. This frequently goes for registrars, studio managers, administrative workers, facility managers, chefs, artist assistants, as well as for researchers, cleaning personnel, art installers, etc. Such freelance setups leave those without an appropriate employment contract with little job protection, and in a poor position from which to take the risk of standing up for themselves. These conditions also result in a lack of formal structures through which complaints concerning sexual harassment and assault could possibly be processed. In addition, power is very concentrated in contemporary art, so that, independently of specific work arrangements or contracts, it must always be feared that those with accumulated connections may assert their influence in the field to ruin somebody’s professional, artistic, personal or moral reputation in the event they do speak up.

Within the art field, power structures are upheld by means of informal networks and unwritten agreements. For instance, remarkably few artists have any written contracts with the galleries representing them, sometimes handing over their entire body of work in a leap of faith. Those occupying the more powerful position in such partnerships favour the vagueness of verbal promises over binding written arrangements, a setup that works to their advantage in instances of conflict. These states of informal connectedness create personal and professional dependencies that often result in implicating many people in known transgressions, at the least through their inaction and silence. Under such circumstances there exist various painful public and private secrets, and—as has been observed over the past years, especially in the European context—each time the perpetrators are about to be exposed, the issue suddenly and swiftly disappears again.

In Germany—to focus on one example in the European context—specifically within the artistic and cultural field, only few cases of sexual violence have been publicly exposed in the wake of the global #MeToo movement.1 The question as to why that is provokes many answers, which are not the same for each and every context. A shared foundational condition is, however, the following: German law places the honour and reputation of those accused above the free speech and expression of those affected. Unless the perpetrator is convicted in court, publicly accusing a person of sexual violence or misconduct is punishable as slander or defamation of character.

If the law protects first and foremost the honour and reputation of someone accused of sexual violence, it also means it protects their privacy. Privacy is a public issue, and the question as to whom or what it is bestowed on remains a site of continued political struggle. On a legal level as well as in social debate, some sex acts are made private, while others are made public. In this regard, acts of intimacy—whether violent or consensual—are always publicly mediated. Up until 1997, German law did not criminalise marital rape, relegating such violence to the protected sphere of heterosexual privacy.2 In contrast, until their decriminalisation in 1994, in (West) Germany consensual acts of intimacy between men—even if they took place in a private home—were not private affairs but occurrences of legal, and thus public concern.3 Heterosexual sex, conversely, remains linked exclusively to the institution of personal life, structurally differentiated from the public, political or professional sphere.4 This in turn means that instances of sexual violence in heterosexual constellations are historically situated within this solidified conception of a private and personal zone, a place from which survivors must wrestle them into the public political sphere if they seek justice. The way in which the law protects the privacy of alleged perpetrators (independently of their gender or sexual orientation) is therefore closely connected to heterosexual culture’s institutions and ideologies of intimacy.

Different legal circumstances in regard to allegations of abuse and sexual violence produce different specific systems of silencing in their respective contexts. In the United States, for instance, the right to free speech is generally valued more highly in legal terms than it is in Germany and most other European countries. While the American conception of free speech constitutionally protects all kinds of misinformation, hate speech, right-wing propaganda, conspiracy narratives and verbal assaults, at the same time it also to some extent facilitates the possibility for survivors of sexual violence to confront their abusers on public platforms, and thus alert and protect others.

As a global audience has learned through a wide array of documentary streaming series5 as well as newspaper and online articles focusing on prominent and powerful men, wealthy US celebrities accused of sexual misconduct usually use settlement agreements to stop those who are potentially ready to speak out against them. These contracts generally include confidentiality clauses—often referred to as nondisclosure agreements—that, alongside substantial payments, often suffice to ensure that not more than a handful of people ever learn about the accusations. Breaking a nondisclosure agreement incurs a stiff financial penalty, which makes such instances rare, given that abuse and sexual violence are facilitated in the first place by conditions of unequal distribution of power and wealth. This system of payoffs and nondisclosure agreements allows abusers in possession of the necessary means to continue preying on other people who have no warning.

If in Germany—to stick with the context I am most familiar with—relatively few perpetrators have been exposed,6 the conclusion should not be that these things do not happen here, but that there are reasons why they only rarely spill into the public realm of information. Here, the system that serial perpetrators with access to legal teams deploy differs from the strategy of their North American counterparts. Rather than gagging those affected by their violence with money and nondisclosure agreements, financial threats serve as the tool of silencing most used. On the basis that no public allegations of abuse are allowed if the perpetrator has not been convicted, in Germany it is common practice for law firms to send out cease and desist letters. These letters are received not only by those naming perpetrators publicly, but also by those sharing information about a specific perpetrator’s occupation or branch of business that could lead to them being recognised. The cease and desist letters usually include threats of lawsuits not only on the grounds of alleged slander and defamation of character, but also for compensation payments for the economic “losses” the accusations may have ensued. Potentially having to recompense for the (speculative and hypothetical) economic “losses”7 of a person with ample business activity puts most people at risk of financial ruin. For those receiving such letters, the alternative to costly—and potentially ruinous—court procedures against high profile law firms is to sign the cease and desist order, declaring never to repeat any of the accusations. By signing, they also agree to pay the law firms for their efforts in drafting the threat, which adds insult to injury. Yet, understandably, paying a three-figure sum rather than possibly being ordered to pay tens of thousands will be most people’s only feasible choice. The result is that conversations around specific cases vanish quickly from social media platforms, if they even appear in the first place.

In light of these silencing strategies, the most promising option for exposing powerful abusers is the press. Abuses are rarely isolated incidents; instead, they follow a predictable pattern and logic within systems that enable and sustain these violent practices. If dedicated journalists can establish such a pattern, they can publish a story even in the absence of a court conviction, and without disclosing any of their sources. This is possible under a strict protocol if the independently collected evidence is overwhelmingly strong and beyond any reasonable doubt. However, journalists are not public prosecutors and they operate within an attention economy. The media outlets they work for will only allocate time and resources to a case if the perpetrator is well-known enough for the revelations to generate broad public attention. If a person’s abuser is not sufficiently well-known, the only remaining option is the justice system, through which only about 1% of the total number of rape cases end in the perpetrator’s conviction.8 Such court cases with extremely limited prospects for conviction take place at the expense of potential re-traumatisation of the survivors, so instigating them is not a decision taken lightly. 

If an abuser inhabits a position of significant influence and power, this often manifests in their ability to prevent the violence they exert from entering the public realm of knowledge. It is often within such privatised spheres that violence can do its workings in the most unobstructed way. In addition to the prevailing structural, systemic and economic realities that privatise sexual violence, significant resources are mobilised in specific cases to keep allegations from becoming public. The feminist struggles of recent years are a direct response to this, and in many ways stand in the feminist tradition of critiquing the untethering of the ostensibly private zone from the public political sphere. As such, #MeToo follows a form of activism that seeks to make commonly and publicly visible what is otherwise relegated to individualised experience. Such a strategy can be powerful, in that it can lead in some cases to convictions, and perhaps even more importantly, give a sense of connectedness and agency to people who might have previously regarded their experiences as isolated from a political dimension. Together, this can shift public discourse and sensibility around what is tolerated and what is not. Yet, in addition to the struggles for the accounts of (sexual) violence experienced or observed to enter the public realm of knowledge, it is also important to examine the social conditions under which any resistance to the privatisation of pain and trauma takes place. One fundamental question in this regard is whether a painful and embodied experience can be made commonly and publicly visible at all, and if so, at what cost.


In light of the circumstance that only a fraction of cases of sexual violence end in the perpetrator’s conviction, it must be stated that within current legal frameworks these crimes are hardly prosecutable. Western legal systems are constructed upon a notion of intelligibility, in the sense that they presume that violence can be evidenced and proven in general terms, and that it can become legible and verifiable beyond the specific, embodied and situated experience. If someone has experienced sexual violence, in addition to the crime often having been relegated to the private realm without witness or evidence, the affected person may also not become cognitively aware of the crime immediately, if ever. Past experiences, amnesia, a state of freezing as well as self-questioning often contribute to making it a long process until a survivor of assault, coercion, abuse or rape can trust their feelings enough to place and name what they experienced. Memory resists the linearity of a timeline, and trauma can put gaps in places the mind is not prepared to revisit. Consequently, despite its having occurred, the experience of violence cannot necessarily be proven even to oneself. It is nonetheless expected of survivors to verifiably prove themselves and their case. Thus, the courageous act of speaking up always comes accompanied by the heightened pressure of making oneself transparent under public interrogation. This stands in opposition to the way the perpetrator is positioned, who defends their chartered right to privacy and honour, and who is equipped with the legal foundations to do so. It is significant to note who departs from a space of self-evident opacity, of not having to disclose anything, and who can only seek justice under the condition of making oneself transparent.

The political conceptualisations of transparency and opacity are deeply embedded in Western thought. The ways in which they structure relations are often indicative of how privilege and power are distributed in a specific context. In his writing, when Martinican philosopher Édouard Glissant “clamor[s] for the right to opacity for everyone”,9 it is in response to a Western subjectivity set on making the Other transparent through processes of knowing and understanding. The Other is assessed according to a Western scale of measurement; using that scale, legitimacy can only be achieved through transparency. This process takes place within a hierarchical relation in which the subjects of understanding need not explain themselves, while the objects of understanding are reduced and rendered knowable. The claim for the right to opacity is therefore not a call to strip the powerful of their privileges, but to generalise these privileges and extend them to everyone by effectuating equal relations predicated on opacity that “[d]isplace all reduction."10

The violence of imposed transparency can be observed at the example of colonial ways of relating, yet Glissant’s philosophy describes something so fundamental to Western subjectivity that it can be found structuring all realms of relation in a hierarchical manner. Opacity—the right not to be understood and reduced—is granted only to some in all Western societies, while those situated lower within constructed social hierarchies are only legitimised if making themselves transparent. Somebody who seeks asylum will need to relay their most traumatising experiences to convince the body of people their safety and survival depends upon, while somebody naturally considered a citizen simply enjoys inalienable rights without first having anything to prove. Somebody who is transgender needs to make themself legible and intelligible in order for the judicial and medical system to grant them legal personhood, while somebody who is cisgender is not required to endure psychiatric assessments for their identity to be adequately represented in their passport. Somebody who applies for the unemployment benefits they are technically entitled to generally needs to grant the state access to their bank account, while somebody who is wealthy and feasibly owes large sums in taxes can often protect their finance information as part of their privacy. Someone who has experienced sexual violence needs to provide solid evidence in vivid and painful detail under interrogation in a court setting, while a perpetrator can simply be silent on the matter and insist that their name not be tarnished.

Especially when it comes to sexual violence and the ways in which justice or accountability can be sought, the constellations around private/public and opacity/transparency are marked by friction and ambivalence. On the one hand, sexual violence is relegated to a private and personal realm, from where it needs to be wrestled into the public political sphere for any kind of justice to be found. On the other hand, this shift into the public sphere takes place under conditions reproducing the violence of transparency onto those who on top risk a doubling of traumatic events. It is a precarious position, in which those affected by sexual violence are rarely granted any right to opacity, at least almost never in conjunction with the exposure of perpetrators in the public sphere. As mentioned earlier, rare exceptions in this regard are the instances in which journalists can establish a pattern of abuse and publish a story citing people who spoke off the record—a notable circumstance in which survivors are not required to expose themselves publicly as a precondition for a perpetrator to become known. In view of this, it is incumbent to conceive of further ways through which cases of abuse and injustice can become known in the public realm without forcing transparency upon those affected. This would also mean expanding upon the notions about how violence relates to visibility in more general terms, in order to radically challenge the conditions that produce the unequal relations and positions around transparency and opacity in the first place.


For a broader consideration of how violence relates to visibility, it makes sense to move on from the textual realm of law and journalism, and contemplate the ways in which violence is approached within practices that make use of images, still or moving. The conceptualisation of images is historically linked to the ways in which, for centuries, the Western eye has been attached to the idea of making visible, legible and intelligible. Within this notion, what is invisible to the eye is regarded as veiled or hidden, ready to be uncovered or excavated. This impulse has also informed contemporary artistic as well as activist strategies from within this Western legacy. When seeking to address the social workings of violence, much faith is usually placed in the power of the image to make violence and injustice visible. By framing the image as evidence, these strategies position seeing as the main way of knowing, and become complicit in maintaining and solidifying empirical notions of the visual—while generally offering little acknowledgement of the approach’s limitations. Though such strategies can in many instances be efficient in mobilising people through or around a commonly visible object, their effectiveness ends at the point where vision begins to fail.

This Western conception of the visible presumes that violence is something that can be seen, at the very least through images and verifiable traces of its effects. But oftentimes, violence is only felt by those affected by it. Across differences, violence can rarely be seen and witnessed from all positions and perspectives. Depending on where we stand, we might be unable to perceive specific instances of violence that are first-hand for others. Thus, we often remain oblivious to the ordinariness of violence others are subjected to. If violence cannot be seen from where we stand, that does not indicate it doesn’t exist. Hence, our desires for wanting to be made to see should make way for modes of justice not reliant on making the pain of those affected generally visible.

Not all forms of violence manifest in a visual way, and not all instances of violence can be commonly witnessed. Furthermore, violence fundamentally relies on structures and systems enabling it. Such complex formations can hardly be conveyed by means of conventional representational methods. Within the logic of the visual, the symptomatic then often ends up standing in for the systemic, while blurring it significantly. Indirect and immaterial aspects of structural violence shape our world’s often very concrete and material injustices. For those invested in artistic practices around (moving) images, such forms of structural violence operating outside the representable realm bring about fundamental challenges. Knowing that these kinds of structural violence cannot be captured in an image does not solve the question as to how to address them. To confront the intricate systems in which violence and injustice emerge, operate and ripple into the future, I believe it is necessary to imagine different ways of conceptualising moving image practices, perhaps by decentralising the visible, or by establishing images capable of being sceptical of themselves.

Power can manifest in the ability to keep violence away from public vision, and it can also manifest in the ability to make violence itself invisible. Within established social hierarchies, the more economic, social or political power a person holds, the more they are able to affect the lives of others, particularly also in indirect ways. Or, to put it differently, the violence they exert can work through structures, and thus outside the directly visible or observable realm. Their policies and actions may, for instance, cause someone to be denied work, housing, or social benefits. Yet despite impacting the lives of people intimately, their active role and responsibility may not necessarily manifest in immediately traceable and directly observable ways.

This very much relates to systems of social stratification, within which many people are only able to confront structural violence through immediate resistance. While the violence working through structures may not show, the visible response to it is frequently framed as aggressive. When then, for instance, entire social groups are stigmatised as rowdy and violent, they are accused solely of their social status, and the associated structural limitations on being violent beyond the immediate and visible. To focus on the visible realm of violence thus often means to focus disproportionately on those without the structural opportunities to exert violence beyond the visible.

The present is shaped by personal and collective instances of (past) violence that resist visibility, which tasks us to rethink the relation between representation, gaze, memory, and trauma. Within artistic practices that employ the moving image, it is necessary to leave behind the assumption that violence and trauma can be adequately represented within the visual field. Instead, it may be more appropriate to imagine the totality of violence and trauma as the negative space that shapes and defines the little that becomes commonly observable. This negative space itself might not be captured; yet again, this circumstance in no way negates its presence. In making moving image work we often try to fix and stabilise an object into steady form, but—to quote Lauren Berlant—“objects are always looser than they appear (…) only a semblance, a seeming, a projection effect of interest in a thing we are trying to stabilize.”11 The practical and discursive terms of stabilising and visualising may be too limiting a conception to approach the complex formations around violence and trauma. In moving image practices, perhaps it could be more generative to depart from an understanding of the weakness of one’s tools, and question one’s own impulse to transfer the non-graspable into the normative frame of vision.

Infrared imaging technology is quite allegorical for the desperate impulse to make visible. There exists a common misunderstanding around infrared imaging technology, namely that it makes us see infrared radiation. It does not, because nothing can really make us see anything beyond the light spectrum physically visible to us. Infrared imaging technology is not a representational medium, but a compound measuring tool and data visualisation system. A thermal sensor array measures the amount of infrared radiation emitted, transmitted and reflected by an object. In a somewhat simplified manner, each pixel of an image can be imagined as a single temperature measurement, with software translating these measurements into a visual display. The human eye is and remains unable to see infrared radiation, so all information measured needs to be represented within the visible spectrum. To this end, infrared imaging technology lets the user choose among various visualisation models in which, for instance, red stands for hot while blue stands for cold, or black stands for hot and white stands for cold, or the reverse. While promising to make us see more, infrared technology reduces, compresses and translates what we cannot see into our limited spectrum of vision. This is where it becomes emblematic of many visual strategies that try to drag what resists representation into the frame.

In the pursuit of seeing more, we refuse to see the limits of our vision. Yet in order to imagine ways to justice and accountability applicable beyond the narrow field of empirical intelligibility, it is a prerequisite to acknowledge the limited spectrum in which violence can in fact become visible. Moreover, it is crucial to let go of the faulty notion that violence outside visibility can be shifted into the visible realm for it to become generally knowable from all positions and perspectives. When those affected by violence are only legitimised by making themselves and their pain transparent, this is always connected to an ideology of the visible that refuses to come to terms with its limitations. If it were instead commonly recognised that not all violence can be made visible, it would also become illogical to demand transparency from those affected by it.


In a last step, I want to invert the initial question that has made me think through these thoughts. Instead of asking how violence relates to visibility, I want to consider how visibility relates to violence, moving from notions of minority visibility to questions around class mobility in relation to contemporary art. Demands for visibility have been central to many kinds of identity-based activism for several decades. At the same time, members of the social groups demanding social and political visibility find themselves already frequently burdened with the experience of hypervisibility in the everyday, since difference from dominant, unmarked identities is often socially codified based on visual notions. This hypervisibility in the public sphere often leads to increased exposure to violence. It is then hoped that representational visibility will curb the ordinariness of the violence that minority groups are subjected to. The underlying assumption is that representational visibility of the under-represented is followed by enhanced political power. However, this direct and absolute connection between representational visibility and political power is doubtful, since institutions of power usually grant visibility only in an individualised and rarefied sense, rather than in a collective and political one. The social acceptance of a visible representative of a social group does not necessarily influence the life conditions of the demographic ostensibly represented.

Increasingly over the past decades, hegemonic institutions of contemporary art have prided themselves on “giving visibility” to artists from various minoritised positions, whose difference the institutions’ curators or boards measure based on their own scale. The idea of “giving visibility” presumes that people only become fully visible on an elevated platform, and within a specific context. The cause for someone having previously remained unseen from a certain position and perspective is usually attributed not to the limitations of the looking subject but to the alleged invisibility of the object. Additionally, such a politics of visibility presupposes that subjectivity and identity are per se visually representable—even though queerness, for instance, might fail to appear in the representational field, residing rather outside the rainbow that constitutes the visible spectrum.

Those who like to “give visibility” usually also like to “include”, the concept of “inclusion” being by necessity self-centralising. The art field perceives itself as the desirable centre to which representatives from the margins are admitted, while at the same time negating that the supposed margins are most people’s centres. All kinds of cultural formation irrefutably possess an aesthetic form, whether or not they are regarded as artistic. Yet the art field is disinclined to regard sites of cultural formation and aesthetic practice that are less socially valued as alternative centres on an equal level. Instead, through inclusion it aims to reproduce its own legitimacy and centrality as well as the hierarchical structuring it allegedly seeks to subvert. The artists or art collectives included then often stand in for the demographics they are tasked with representing.

The democratic notion that an individual is capable of representing the perspective of a larger social group within a public field can be generative, also in contemporary art. Representation is capable of creating important affective binds of identification along the lines of many social markers. It can influence and instigate important discourses. Seeing an aspect of oneself reflected by means of representational visibility can also provide a variety of the optimism required for sustained political struggle. Yet representation itself does not guarantee any structural changes capable of accommodating political demands.

This becomes particularly apparent when within a hegemonic cultural field, such as the art field, individuals come to serve as representatives of a class reality from outside the field’s own environment. Minority categories intersect with structures of social class, and identity is never as stable and fixed as processes of othering suggest. Yet, while within social minority categories—such as within gender, sexual, racial, religious or otherwise othered minorities—the representative generally remains part of the represented group despite social ascension, things are different with regard to the structure of social class. A person’s relation and positioning with class systems can significantly shift as their economic, social and cultural circumstances change. Predicated on this is the notion of social mobility, which in turn causes some fundamental, perhaps irresolvable problems in regards to, for instance, artists from working class backgrounds in contemporary art.

There is a structural limitation as to what kinds of artistic perspective can be represented within the field of contemporary art in regard to class experiences from outside its own sphere. The societal structure in which different kinds of cultural practices are hierarchically ordered presupposes and produces notions of class mobility predicated on distance. For an artist socialised within a class socially considered lower to become legitimised and “visible” within the artistic field, it is a prerequisite that they first establish significant distance to their class origins by obtaining distinctive educational and cultural capital. Passing within the field of art requires knowledge of its codes, as well as specific social skills. Who does one kiss on the cheek? Do the cheeks touch or not? Who do you hug? Who do you shake hands with? Who do you smile and nod to without interfering? Once legitimised, included, and elevated onto the platforms on which the field of art “gives visibility”, the artist gains an outlook from a class position quite distanced and distinguished from the one originally inhabited.

The distance to one’s own class background need not be permanent or absolute, but possible. One may return but must be able to leave again; one must be able to move in society rather than be stuck in it. The skill of code switching between different social contexts speaks of a kind of mobility that stands in stark contrast to how inter-class immobility often marks working class realities. In that sense, mobility itself can be understood as a marker of distance, a distance that is not necessarily static but can be established at will. Distance is considered a prerequisite for seeing, analysing and reflecting, as well as for critical or artistic engagement. In contrast, life in the working and poverty classes is often characterised by the absence of cushioning against violence: it is the lack of distance that makes bodies intimately vulnerable to politics and its effects. By necessity, within the realms of contemporary art, one can only be presented with the artistic perspective of somebody who was not crushed by the violence of a class-based society. It is the position of someone for whom, despite obstacles, things have gone relatively well. If things hadn’t gone well, the person would not have a recognised artistic practice, and consequently would remain unseen in that field. Visibility within contemporary art is predicated on personal success, not on collective politics. 

Autobiographical novels of people leaving the classes considered as lower have fascinated and entertained formally educated and economically privileged audiences for centuries. In recent years, in addition, it is remarkable that a notable number of novels on class and social ascent have been published, many of which were later adopted into theatre plays or essay films, all forms of culture that are directed at and consumed by privileged classes.12 These forms of cultural production usually have two audiences: those born into class privilege, and those who have experienced social ascension and can identify with the author’s or artist’s struggle as well as sense of alienation. An audience that remains unaddressed consists of the classes excluded from higher education and legitimised forms of culture.

In such cases, the visibility of individuals who have found success can signify a violent insult to the many they supposedly stand for, and whose lives they make legible to those implicated in shaping their social conditions. As Chantal Jaquet writes in Les transclasses ou la non-reproduction: “The rare examples of social mobility are frequently used to mask and reinforce immobility. Individuals from the working classes who move up the social ladder are used as mascots or symbols to consolidate the social order (...). They are used as political showcases and alibis to dismiss collective claims and to stifle the feeling of injustice.”13

The individual example of social mobility made visible within the artistic field serves a double function. Firstly, it draws up a model of fairness in which the individual chance to success supplants a collective right to political, social and economic equality. Secondly, showing that someone can rise from the bottom to the top creates a generalising illusion of meritocracy, suggesting that most people’s success is not inherited but deserved. Those who have experienced social ascent are thus simultaneously presented as aspirational exceptions to the rule, and as a form of disavowal that such a rule exists. The scarcity principle under which visibility is produced thus serves the reproduction of capitalism, as well as the hierarchical social and global structures on which it depends.

When notions of upward mobility intersect with the spheres of legitimised culture, it can be observed how each visibility produces its invisibilities, and how visibility afforded within a representational field can be reproductive of violent inequalities. In contemporary art this invisibilisation is frequently very concrete. Behind one artist’s name there vanishes the work of many. Often, the more perfectly and effortlessly an exhibition is presented, the more invisible becomes the labour and effort of the many who installed and constructed it. A similar focus on the visible output can be observed in most examples of art criticism. Rarely do critical reflections on the work’s display and distribution extend to the economic circumstances of its production. The representational logics of contemporary art hide many behind a singular person, voice or image. Beside the power to make violence invisible, or to exert violence invisibly, there is thus also the violence of invisibilising. In participating in a form of refined culture that delegitimises other cultural practices it considers lower, one’s own visibility within such a sphere can be the violence felt by those kept at a distance from it. Justified by notions of exceptionalism, uniqueness and differentiation, individualised visibility often comes accordingly at the expense of the invisibilisation of collective political demands. In such instances, representation has little bearing on the structures that reproduce marginalisation and violence in the first place.


1 The movement was initially started by Tarana Burke in 2006, and developed into a broad-based international movement over a decade later, in 2017.

2 Under both East and West Germany criminal codes, rape was defined as forcing a woman to extramarital sex, meaning that marital rape was not criminalised. In July 1997, marital rape became criminalised in unified Germany by removing the word “extramarital” from the definition of rape in the Criminal Code. This change happened after the German Bundestag voted to criminalise marital rape on 15 May 1997, and to include men as possible victims. Following a heated debate, 138 of 643 MPs voted against criminalisation, including former Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, and current CDU party leader Friedrich Merz. See the minutes of the session >https://dserver.bundestag.de/btp/13/13175.pdf< [last accessed on 15 May 2022].

3 In the GDR, homosexual acts were only punishable under § 151 from 1968 on if they involved minors.

4 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 24 no. 2 (Winter, 1998), p. 553.

5 Among several, the most prominent might be Untouchable on the Harvey Weinstein case, Leaving Neverland on the allegations of childhood sexual abuse against Michael Jackson and the docu-series Surviving R. Kelly.

6 Some notable exceptions from the wider field of the arts in which the names of the accused have been publicly exposed are the cases of comedian Luke Mockridge, director Dieter Wedel and rapper Samra.

7 I put “losses” in quotation marks because I do not agree that a projected, but unrealised profit can automatically be considered a loss.

8 In Germany, about 15% of the total number of rape cases are brought to court, of which about 7.5% result in conviction, according to data from 2014 to 2016, evaluated by criminologist Christian Pfeiffer in: Christian Pfeiffer, Gegen die Gewalt (Munich: Random House, 2019).

9 Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. by Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997), p. 194.

10 Glissant, p. 190.

11 Lauren Berlant, ‘The commons: Infrastructures for troubling times*’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 34, no. 3, June 2016, p. 394.

12 The tenth edition of the international theatre festival Brandhaarden, for instance, was dedicated exclusively to stage adaptations of the books of Édouard Louis (Amsterdam, 19 February-3 March 2022).

13 Chantal Jaquet, Les transclasses ou la non-reproduction (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2014) p. 10. My translation, original: “Les rares exemples de mobilité sociale sont fréquemment brandis pour masquer l’immobilisme et lui servir de caution. Les individus des classes populaires qui connaissent une ascension sociale sont utilisés comme des mascottes ou des symboles confortant l’ordre social (…). Ils servent de vitrines politiques et d’alibis pour récuser les revendications collectives et juguler le sentiment d’injustice.”