The Play in the System

The Art of Parasitical Resistance

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 53 illustrations, incl. 19 in color Published: October 2020

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Digital Media, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

What does artistic resistance look like in the twenty-first century, when disruption and dissent have been co-opted and commodified in ways that reinforce dominant systems? In The Play in the System Anna Watkins Fisher locates the possibility for resistance in artists who embrace parasitism—tactics of complicity that effect subversion from within hegemonic structures. Fisher tracks the ways in which artists on the margins—from hacker collectives like Ubermorgen to feminist writers and performers like Chris Kraus—have willfully abandoned the radical scripts of opposition and refusal long identified with anticapitalism and feminism. Space for resistance is found instead in the mutually, if unevenly, exploitative relations between dominant hosts giving only as much as required to appear generous and parasitical actors taking only as much as they can get away with. The irreverent and often troubling works that result raise necessary and difficult questions about the conditions for resistance and critique under neoliberalism today.


“Anna Watkins Fisher's figure of the parasite offers us insight into the contemporary condition in which, due to ubiquitous appropriation and financialization, every oppositional gesture seems to have already been co-opted in advance. Her explorations illuminate the space in which artists and others are forced to operate today and outline ways in which it may still be possible, albeit quite ambiguously, to maneuver, resist, and express opposition.” — Steven Shaviro, author of The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism

“Brilliant and provocative, The Play in the System explores the question: what subversive possibilities might a complicit subject—the parasite—hold? In the era of constant co-optation and coercive hospitality, the citizen is increasingly framed as a parasite. Rather than simply condemn this situation, Anna Watkins Fisher bridges new media and performance studies to understand how parasitical tactics, from hacking Amazon previews to harassing patriarchy, operate as subliminal dissent. This book, however, does not glorify the parasite: it profoundly deals with its limitations and possibilities—its dangerous voraciousness and its refusal to respect boundaries.” — Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, author of Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anna Watkins Fisher is Assistant Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coeditor of the second edition of New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations
Introduction. Toward a Theory of Parasitical Resistance
Interlude. Thresholds of Accommodation
Part I. Redistribution: Institutional Interventions
1. User Be Used: Leveraging the Coercive Hospitality of Corporate Platforms
2. An Opening Structure: Núria Güell and Kenneth Pietrobono's Legal Loopholes
Part II. Imposition: Intimate Interventions
3. Hangers-On: Chris Kraus's Parasitical Feminism
4. A Seat at the Table: Feminist Performance Art's Institutional Absorption and Parasitical Legacies
Coda. It's Not You, It's Me: Roisin Byrne and the Parasite's Shifting Ethics and Politics
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0970-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0884-2
Funding Information

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)—a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries—and the generous support of the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science & the Arts and the Provost Office. Learn more at the TOME website, available at: