Refusing Mere Existence: Philosophical Asceticism and the Politics of Refusal


ACLS Fellowship Program


Political Science


“Refusing Mere Existence” explores how the philosophical asceticism developed by Cynics, Stoics, and Epicureans in antiquity might inform a broader politics of refusal today. Refusal has become a keyword in contemporary movements including Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and Idle No More. Focusing on reshaping the bodies and souls of participants toward more abundant life, philosophical asceticism links ethical concerns with the self to political concerns with the collective. Intentional practices like friendship, writing, and free speaking shape "culture as creative refusal": cultivating alternative social and political spaces, languages, and subjects rather than simply withdrawing. Ancient asceticism raises questions about how today’s politics of refusal might better take up bodily and ethical practices to free subjects and collectives from domination.