Dialectics of Control: An Inter-Asian Perspective 

Hong Hong, 23-24 May 2024. Workshop at Chinese University of Hong Kong, where I presented a paper titled “Societies of impure control – Resilience and Hong Kong Indie Music.” In the paper I engage with the work of Hong Kong folk singer Wong Hin Yan and indie pop band Wantamnam.

The programme of the workshop can be found here.


In my paper, inspired by the call for this workshop – “to discuss and problematise the dialectics of control and freedom” – I would like to go back to 1990, when Gilles Deleuze, in response to Foucault’s work and his notion of power, predicted a move towards societies of control. Taking my inspiration from this text, I do want to ask, how to translate these ideas towards the present, 34 years later? My attempt to answer this question mobilises three interrelated concepts: digitisation, impurity, and resilience. I argue for the importance of impurity as a political tactic to navigate societies of control (Shotwell 2016). We need to compromise ourselves; our hands will get dirty, and we engage in the playful act of self-censorship to not only sustain ourselves but also to articulate some sense of freedom and social critique. This impurity constitutes, to me, resilient tactics to be culturally active in the context of increased illiberalism. What we need is to muddle, make small steps, search for alliances, move under the radar, and speak in more than one voice. The realm of the digital plays an important, albeit contradictory, role here, as I will show. What we need is an impure politics of strategic articulation and disarticulation. In my subsequent analysis of Hong Kong folk singer Wong Hin Yan and indie pop band Wantamnam, I ask: How do they (and I am aware of the gender bias in my selection) sustain themselves in a context of intensified control, how do they play around with the dialectics of control and freedom? What are their tactics for survival, and how do they manage to articulate a social or political critique, if any? I do so by analysing their music, the lyrics, and media reports about them, as well as memories from concerts that I joined.