Illustration by Dina Mobaraki

Francoise Verges on a Feminist Theory of Violence

NYUAD hosted a book launch for Prof. Verges, where she spoke on how protection, abolitionism, decolonization, and imagination are related to her book, A Feminist Theory of Violence.

Nov 27, 2022

Last Tuesday, on Nov. 22, NYU Abu Dhabi received Professor Françoise Vergès, activist and public educator, to have a conversation about the recent English translation of her book A Feminist Theory of Violence. The conversation was preceded by a light launch, which mainly faculty members attended. However, some minutes before the start of the event, students, mainly female students, started to fill the room, having a higher turnout than expected, as many had to sit on the floor.
The conversation started with a brief introduction of the book by Professor Vergès, where she explained that her motivation, beyond the MeToo movement, to write A Feminist Theory of Violence was the movement of Black feminism in low-income, African-American neighborhoods for young girls, the different wars taking place in the world, as well as the state of systemic violence. Professor Vergès explained that she became curious about the discourse of protection when she looked at the idea of vulnerability of premature death caused by an inability to breathe, a concept that comes from the fact that, in Europe, air pollution caused the deaths of [238,000 people in 2020]. In addition to air pollution, the Covid-19 pandemic also made it difficult for humans to breathe, be it because of the need to wear masks or the impact of the virus on the lungs. Hence, the author became interested in understanding how we can live in a world that is unbreathable and increasingly uninhabitable and how the discourses of protection respond to this question. Professor Vergès shared that when tied to the idea of protection is the question of which lives should be protected? In this case, protection means access to public services of good quality, such as education, clean water, and healthcare. According to her, the system that provides protection finds its roots in slavery, and what the definition of a good life is.
Having offered a definition of protection, the state is the main actor responsible for providing protection to its citizens. However, as mentioned by Professor Vergès, performances like A Rapist in Your Path by Las Tesis, in which it is denounced that the state justifies and legitimizes violence against women, remind us of the failure of institutions and the state to protect its citizens. Similarly, the book also explores how rape has been and is a form of degradation and domination of women.
The book also delves into the propositions of abolitionism; how abolition is a way of liberating a system focused on exploitation and the extraction of resources.
According to Professor Vergès, protection is not only a creation of the state but something that all societies develop. Therefore, how can we reappropriate the strategy of protection and make it universal in what the author calls a state of permanent war, that is, of systemic violence? Thus, the book analyzes the concept of peace, as it is a concept that is at the core of feminist demands, and how it has become the short period between two wars: what was once a ceasefire has now become peace. For the author, decolonizing is not only about the land, but also about the people. Therefore, the book looks at decolonization as both the end of colonial empires (Portuguese, French, and Spanish) and the long process of decolonizing the arts, culture, and language.
Professor Vergès ended her introduction by reminding the audience about the urgency of imagination and the necessity of shaking our way of thinking and imagining solutions. Just saying that something is wrong is not enough. If we don’t want this, what kind of architecture/structure would change the situation? What kind of structure do we want? Related to the imagination, the author emphasized the need to question everything, to go beyond what is being told, to be conscious of what surrounds us, and to unlearn what there is to be unlearnt. In her words, we should proceed as follows: “I see, I understand, I become conscious; then what do I do?”
The introduction of the book by the author was followed by a series of questions by Hannah Elsisi Ashmawi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender, Governance, and Society; Sheetal Majithia, Assistant Professor of Literature; and moderated by Aikaterini Arfara, Assistant Professor of Theater. The last minutes of the conversation were open for students to ask questions.
Sponsored by the Writing, Languages, and Pedagogy Research Kitchen at NYUAD, the book conversation with Professor Vergès calls us to take action to change a reality full of injustice and violence.
Scarlette Jimenez is News Editor. Email her at
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