What is postactivism?

By Phillip Maiwald

The crisis and us

The global climate crisis is encroaching more and more and is exhausting all of us immensely. In principal we are ready to do something about the ecological and social crises of our time. However, we obviously tend to reproduce these crises with our conventional types of protest and our dedication. We think that our dedication is important but shouldn’t put that big a strain on us as we want to self-realize ourselves personally and at work. Who wants to voluntarily give up their privileges? We’re not only a part of the problem due to our patterns of consumption but also due to the structures of our dedication and due to the strategies of our protest.

We obviously don’t have any problems to have colorful flags, balloons and banners made cheaply from plastic only to demonstrate for the preservation of nature. We drive jeeps to the bio store and fly to international conferences. We want to be politically correct and not fanatically or undemocratic at all. We want to understand everything possible in its complexity and decide on everything basic democratically. This fact is also a part of the crisis. We seem to forget again and again that we ourselves are not only a part of our democratic society but also a part of nature and that it does not act according to democratic guidelines.

„I want to speak in favor of nature, in favor of absolute freedom and wildness – as opposed to freedom and culture in the common sense – and I would like to regard man as an inseparable part of nature and not as a member of society. I would like to take an extreme stance, with determination, because advocates of civilization already exist enough.“

Henry David Thoreau 1862 in his essay „Walking“


Bear uncertainties

The ideals of our society today include speed and optimization. We tend to want to find a solution for each problem as quickly as possible. We want our solutions to work and provide us with security because the unknown scares us. But our propensity to solve any problem quickly instead of sustainably, and to be afraid of the uncertain, is also part of the global problem. We should use our uncertainties, our fears, to look at things more calmly and more closely and to learn to deal constructively with uncertainties.

„Uncertainty is appropriate in the concerns of this world. A certainty of what we can touch and see is seldom justified, if ever. From all times – from our earliest ancestors – what certainty has remained? And yet we cannot think fast enough about new certainties; we seek their comfort. Certainty is the easy way. “

Billy Knapp in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

If we slowly and persistently get on our way and learn to be insecure, we can develop new, more sustainable solutions and find new questions for many old answers.

Beyond imagination

So we are part of the crisis in many aspects of our day-to-day activities, and we are seeing more and more of how strongly our Western culture and our daily thinking and actions are shaped by archaic fears about our own insecure existence. But doing nothing will not do justice to our need for security. Postactivism therefore tries to create spaces of thought beyond the previously presented, in order to bring a little more light into the darkness of our entanglements in this often overlooked place of our consciousness. Because these very places can offer us perspectives and opportunities to develop new approaches to dealing with social and ecological issues.

  • Postactivism means not only protesting against an external injustice, but also becoming aware of one’s own responsibility at all levels. Postactivism means questioning one’s own stubborn consumer habits and protesting against oneself.
  • Postactivism means consciously protesting for something; to sharpen the view for the current situation and to build on the numerous existing counter-drafts to the already existing ones. At this point, postactivism is closely linked with the ideas of a post-growth society. Ultimately, the term is therefore linked to a debate on how we can and want to live together in the future.
  • The characteristics and procedures of postactivism include – in addition to empirical and scientifically proven facts – also intuitive, artistic and meditative techniques and perspectives.
  • Trusting that many small steps can make a difference is postactivism. Immediate and self-starting is postactivism. Taking position without proselytizing is postactivism.
  • It does not mean being particularly postactivist when things are unnecessarily complicated and complex over all dimensions. We do not need an ever more fragmented, overintellectualized discourse about what the problem is. Because even such a discourse can quickly become a factor that makes it difficult for us to come to viable decisions on the important questions. We know what the problem is. Postactivism returns to simplicity and clarity.
  • In all aspects of the current crisis, it is not enough to point out the views and entanglements that divide us. There are many aspects that go beyond cultural differences and globally connect us humans in our goals. There are universal values to which we can refer. Protecting the planet in order to preserve an intact livelihood for plants, animals and humans in all countries of the world and for future generations can be such a common goal.
  • And postactivism, in our view, means something else crucial: in the face of the seriousness of the global crisis, we should invoke the invisible force that has more than once helped us all out of a complicated mess: the healing and empowering power of humor.



It dawns on us more and more that our wealth is built on the backs of other people and sentient beings and that it is stolen. It dawns on us that we have a special responsibility through our privileged position. It dawns on us that we have to share with others in the future and that we should learn to renounce and recognize something positive in abandonment. Every living thing likes to live a good and comfortable life. But we must stop destroying our livelihoods for our often nonsensical and sometimes grotesque amenities. Consistently pursuing this goal is a challenge but also something very beautiful, which is already becoming reality in many places in society and that we should be looking forward to.