Sara Ahmed. Complaint! Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021. 376p. $29.95 (ISBN 978-1-4780-1771-4).

Baharak Yousefi


Living, as we are, in this confluence of catastrophes including climate collapse, the global drug poisoning crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic, experience tells us that the trouble is not with evidence. The trouble is with power. As we hear more and more testimony and analyze increasing amounts of data about the impacts of racial capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, and connected ideologies, I find the most urgent writing of our time to be the scholarship of power: how it operates, where it accumulates, and why it persists. In Complaint! Sara Ahmed offers what she calls a “phenomenology of the institution” (19) by interrogating complaint structures and procedures in universities. While Ahmed’s scope is limited to universities, the mechanisms she interrogates and her conclusions are broadly applicable to other institutions. Based on interviews conducted during a 20-month period “with forty students, academics, researchers, and administrators who had been involved in some way in a formal complaint process, including those who did not take their complaints forward, who started the process only to withdraw from it” (10), Ahmed presents a careful and sophisticated analysis of power and its abuses in universities.

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