Kennan Ferguson

May 19, 2022

The Big No

University of Minnesota Press 2022

The Big No (U Minnesota Press, 2022) is an edited volume, assembled and overseen by political theorist Kennan Ferguson, who also provides the Introduction. This group of essays came out of a conference at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The theme of the conference, also created and managed by Kennan Ferguson, and of the book, is the concept of “no” in terms of our understanding of thought, politics, and philosophy. The contributors to the book come mostly from philosophic backgrounds – and thus the emphasis in these articles is on pushing against established theoretical conceptions. But the concept of The Big No is confronting not just saying “no” to something but to decline to work towards solutions, to resolve to say no and not to determine other options. As Ferguson notes in the Introduction, No, in contrast to Yes, “stands against consensus, against assumption, against presumption, against the easy passage…it disturbs order and propriety, forcing power to act nakedly and bringing to the forefront the implicit and accepted.”

The essays in The Big No trace three different kinds of No. The first is the no of resistance—which may, at its most radical, become the no of revolution. The second no is the no of forking paths—an entire grouping of different possibilities and results—this no includes the challenge to reconsider philosophy, to instead take up the idea of non-philosophy, or to completely undercut the very basis of philosophy. The third no is of absolute refusal, of abolition. This third no “looks elsewhere,” denying the basis for whatever request is being made. This no also refuses “the presumptions of unity, of communal experience, and of collective purpose.” These essays take the reader through a variety of schools of thought and modes of thinking, as we are considering what it is to refuse, to deny, to say no to structures, power, demands, expectations, processes, and ways of thinking.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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