Ways of Overlooking

Photo: Gwenael Piaser, Flick.com

To look is to pay attention, divert oneself from all distractions, and visually recognize the other beyond one’s self.

The ‘right to look’ as Nicholas Mirzoeff (2011) frames it, is said to be the ultimate claim to political subjectivity and autonomy that enables the collective. Yet the ability to look encloses and coheres the potential to overlook the visible too.

Moving beyond the dichotomy of visible/invisible, we turn our attention to the everyday politics of overlooking that constantly rearranges the relations of the visible between what can/ought to be seen and not seen.

The practice of overlooking does not refer to what is invisible or hidden from view as such, but what is there, often in plain sight, but remains unacknowledged, ignored and unsaid.

Consider the spectacular mega-publicity campaigns in India that invite the world to look at the nation favorably as ‘attractive investment destination’ in the global political economy.

This visual invitation requires that investor-spectator overlook unfavorable social indicators, and long held stereotypes in order to fully envision India’s market potentiality. Or take the broader context of social inequities where everyday practices of overlooking – inequalities and lacks, in this case – help forge a ‘normal’ existence between the prosperous citizens and the poor and the marginalized. And in a different context still, cinematic censorship routinely demands – via cutting, blurring and bleeping – that audience overlook nudity or violence in order to see rest of the film.

While the possibility of assembling an uninterrupted visual field has never been without restrictions and contestations, the practices of overlooking open a complex terrain of visuality where presence/absence occurs simultaneously without disturbing the surface.

This symposium is an invitation to focus on the multiple ways of looking and overlooking that entangle and make everyday life.


  • Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University
  • Kajri Jain, University of Toronto
  • Ravinder Kaur, University of Copenhagen
  • Ranjani Mazumdar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • William Mazzarella, University of Chicago
  • Nayanika Mookherjee, Durham University
  • Srirupa Roy, Gottingen University
  • Lalit Vachani, Gottingen University
  • Rashmi Varma, Warwick University

Film screening: An Ordinary Election

(2015, India/Germany, 125 minutes) On 9 September in the afternoon (exact time tbc) there will be a screening of "An Ordinary Election" - a film about the 2014 Indian elections by Lalit Vachani, produced by Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), Göttingen, Germany.

Filmmaker Lalit Vachani will be present for a Q&A session following the screening.


Seats are limited and registration is required.

Please register here by 1 September

Kindly await an email from the organizers confirming your participation. Priority will be given to students and those engaged in research on visual politics and visual theory.

Research Project 'New India'

The symposium Ways of Overlooking follows a number of workshops on the theme of 'New India’ organized at the University of Copenhagen as part of the research programme ‘Nation in Motion: Globalization: Development, Governance in New India’.

Read more here