Escape For Non-Experts

My dissertation charts the political imaginary of freedom by way of the problem of escape. The project begins with a question: how does escape remain a political concept in a world that has been hemmed in by modern distance-demolishing technologies (cars, planes, modern weapons, and now information technology like the internet and global positioning systems)? Specifically, I propose three major themes that show how changes in the way people escape foreshadow larger societal transformations. The first is how anonymity reshapes interaction in the overlap of digital media and urban living. The second is how sound metaphors explain new types of social action. And the third is the way recent subcultures entice their members to change identities, or even attempt to abandon labels altogether.

The methods I use in this study are drawn from philosophy, social science, and literature. In particular, I use the cultural philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, recent anthropologies of state formation, and twentieth-century literary theories of social action.

I advance Deleuze and Guattari’s provocative idea of drift, which enables me to pose hypotheses about potential societal transformations that do not require a bloody political revolution that seizes the government. For raw material to test the idea, I look to anthropologies of government for historical examples of actually existing people who ‘ran to the hills’ in order to escape abuses of state power. Lastly, I identify key literary and artistic texts that cover the theme of escape: from ‘drop outs,’ to runaways, to the criminal underground.

Ultimately, I consider if running to the hills has been replaced by burrowing deeper into urban centers. And, to fully understand the effects of the shift in escape from running away to a kind of internal exodus, I look to recent changes in modern life.

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