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In November 2018, the Arbeitskreis Geschichte + Theorie in cooperation with the Centre for Contemporary History held a conference under the title “Times of the Event: A New Survey of a Historical Category”. Building on its papers and discussions, my colleague Anna Karla (Cologne) and I have been taking the topic further, lead to the publication of a forum in History & Theory.

The forum consists of an introduction and four contributions.

Abstracts can be found below. Most texts are available free of charge under a Creative Commons licence.

At this time, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my co-editor, Dr. Anna Karla, the contributors, Dr. Fernando Esposito and Dr. Britta Hochkirchen, as well as Dr. Jörn Eiben, who played a vital part in the early conceptualization of this project as well as in the organization of the original conference.

Theo Jung / Anna Karla: Times of the Event: An Introduction

This introduction sets the stage for the following contributions by outlining the current state of research on the two fundamental categories that this forum brings together: the event and time. In a brief survey, we discuss the ways in which the temporality of events has been theorized across disciplines. We also present our core argument for understanding the event as a temporal focal point. In dialogue with existing approaches, we seek to develop a theoretically enriched and empirically fruitful conceptualization of the event, thus offering new perspectives to the academic historiography of events as well as to historical culture at large.

Fernando Esposito: Despite Singularity: The Event and Its Manifold Structures of Repetition

This article’s principle interest is in the “structures of repetition” that characterize supposedly singular events. The starting point for the analysis is Reinhart Koselleck’s discussion of the event in “Structures of Repetition in Language and History.” Koselleck perceived events as arising from metahistorical structures that characterize all human histories regardless of the eras in which they took place and are narrated. This article scrutinizes Koselleck’s understanding of the event as well as the underlying “structures of repetition” shaping it. In considering the question of the temporality of the event, this article distinguishes three strata of repetitive structures. First, it examines a seemingly trivial historiographical structure of repetition of the event, which is the iterative proclamation of the return of the event. It then analyzes Koselleck’s foundational, yet rarely truly appreciated, “Structures of Repetition in Language and History” and maps out the fundamental structures of repetition, which are the conditions of possibility of events. Finally, it hints at a further linguistic stratum of repetitive structures. In light of growing interest in Koselleck’s work in both German and Anglophone historiography, this article systematizes the manifold structures of repetition against the backdrop of current explorations of the event’s temporality, thus surveying a facet of Koselleck’s pioneering work that is too often forgotten.

Britta Hochkirchen: Beyond Representation: Pictorial Temporality and the Relational Time of the Event

Pictures are often connected with the mediation of the event but, paradoxically, not with temporality as such. Although there are several existing approaches that focus on the interplay between the event and its literary representation, the relation between pictorial time and the temporal constitution of the event remains unexplored. The field of image theory has offered insights into the multiple dimensions of the picture’s temporality. It has shown that the picture’s temporality concerns not only the depicted event but also the picture’s immanent modes of producing different temporalities within one pictorial plane. The picture thus not only makes visible but also generates multilayered times of the event. This article brings together insights from image theory and from theories of historical times to demonstrate the relationship between the times of the event and the inner logic of the picture. In order to identify the various qualities of the picture that structure the times of the event, this article uses the case study of Reinhart Koselleck’s practical and theoretical work with pictures. This article reads Koselleck’s approaches to pictures alongside new insights concerning the relationality of time to the event and the picture. By exploring the picture’s agency with regards to the politics of time, this article lays bare the picture’s potential to structure the times of the event.

Theo Jung: Events Getting Ahead of Themselves: Rethinking the Temporality of Expectations

Whereas most theoretical and historiographical accounts of the event have focused on its present and past dimensions, this article addresses the relatively underexplored phenomenon of the future event. As temporal junctures, events often already elicit effects before they come to pass, and even if they never do. Building on foundational work on the relation between experience and expectation by Hans-Georg Gadamer and Reinhart Koselleck as well as on current historiographical debates on “past futures,” I develop a threefold typology of the future event, distinguishing between the assumption of the routine event, the expectation of the relative event, and the adumbration of the radical event. Engaging with case studies like the year 2000, the ambivalent character of socalled media events, and ongoing debates about a possible climate collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic, I show how reconsidering the complex temporalities of the future event can shed new light on the ways in which past societies made their futures present.

Anna Karla: Controversial Chronologies: The Temporal Demarcation of Historic Events

In everyday language and in historiography, influential events are commonly described as “historic” but are rarely defined from a theoretical standpoint. Discussing temporal demarcations of events by scholars—in particular William H. Sewell Jr.’s foundational study of the Storming of the Bastille—this article considers the contemporary urge to define the event’s temporal boundaries to better evaluate the alleged importance of certain events in history. Rather than perpetuating the constructivist idea that any event possesses a fundamentally interpretable character, it crafts a theoretical definition of the historic event that distinguishes between its flexible fringes and its rather stable core. Fixing an event as an anchor point on the timeline of history is thus presented as a process that provokes political, social, and—last but not least—financial controversies. As this article shows with examples from the history of revolutions reaching from the late eighteenth century to the early twenty‐first century, such epoch‐making events are essentially shaped by their flexible beginning and ending points. Although the cores of these events remain strikingly stable, their temporal fringes become objects of highly controversial discussions.

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To mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the German Empire, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Orte der Demokratiegeschichte and the Otto-von-Bismarck foundation recently held a workshop on the Empire’s political culture. Its contributions have now been published online and will soon also be made available in print.

My own contribution, titled

Cultures of Dispute in Imperial Germany

adresses the changing practices and organizational forms of political meetings. It shows how these slowly transformed from an arena of controversial debate to a more monologous form, focused mainly on the demonstration of the strength and energy of different political parties. Sketching the changing dynamics between speakers, audience, and outsiders, I argue that a more detailed analysis of the varying modes of (not just verbal) participation and interaction such venues encompassed can shed new light on the ways the society of the Kaiserreich dealt with political plurality.

It can be accessed here.

A PDF-Version of all contributions is available here. A more extensive publication of the contributions is planned for later this year.

Many thanks to the organizers, and especially to the editor, Markus Lang.


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After an extended editing process, the proceedings of a workshop held Marburg in 2015 under the title Aristocratism. Historical and Literary Semantics of ‘Aristocracy’ between Cultural Criticism of the Turn of the Century and National Socialism (1890-1945) have now been published by Waxmann Verlag.

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Its table of contents can be found here.

My contribution, titled

Adel und Epoche. Kulturkritik und Aristokratismus im deutschen Raum um 1800 und um 1900 im Vergleich

[Aristocracy and Epoch: Cultural Critique and Aristocratism in the German Lands around 1800 and around 1900 in Comparison]

discusses the role of the semantics of aristocracy in discourses of cultural critique. In a diachronic comparison, I show how the position of the concept of aristocracy fundamentally changed position between, from a designation of one of the central problems of current culture around 1800 to one of their solution around 1900. This semantic shift is explained against the background of the social transformations of the nineteenth century. The changing composition of elites and the concurrent ‘desubstantialization’ of the concept of aristocracy fundamentally changed the way in which diagnoses about the purported decadence of current times referred to social groups.

The workshop and volume were organized by a DFG funded research group with the same title as the resulting volume.

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After my edited volume Zwischen Handeln und Nichthandeln. Unterlassungspraktiken in der europäischen Moderne had already been discussed in two radio shows (Lesart / das politische Buch and Andruck – das Magazin für politische Literatur, both on Deutschlandfunk), as well as in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, three academic reviews have now been published in:

Many thanks to the reviewers for their thoughtful remarks.

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An article I wrote for Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy has been published online. In it, I survey the state of current scholarship on political silences and propose a way forward for future research by means of a re-engagement with Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory and its concept of expectations.

Mind the Gaps: Silences, Political Communication, and the Role of Expectations

https://doi.org/10.1080/13698230.2020.1796329

Through this link, the first fifty readers can access the article online for free. After that, please contact me by email.

Abstract

Predicated on a one-sided focus on political “voice”, analyses of political silences traditionally focused almost exclusively on their negative role as the harmful absence of participation or responsibility. More recently, a new appreciation for the wide spectrum of political functions of silence has gained ground, including forms of willful renitence and even active resistance. Yet this thematic expansion has also resulted in a loss of focus. Lacking a common analytical framework, research on political silences risks limiting itself to the purely additive: finding and filling in ever more minute ‘blank spots’ on the periphery of the map of political research. Building on the work of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, this paper proposes a solution to this dilemma by means of a reconsideration of the political role of expectations. In political discourse, the expected distribution of moments of silence and articulation expresses established power structures, while unexpected silences and the breaking of expected silences conversely present a powerful means of calling these into question. Focusing on this ambivalence paves the way to a new systematic typology of political silences as a distinct mode of political communication. But above all, it points to the value of silence as an analytical probe, an instrument to fathom the expectations and constraints structuring political discourse in various contexts and spaces. Besides providing the study of silence with an overarching research focus, such an approach would thus build a bridge between the issue of political silence and wider debates on the structures of the political field as a whole.

The article is part of a special issue titled Silence in Political Theory and Practice, edited by Mónica Brito Vieira.  Its contributions include

  • Mónica Brito Vieira (York), Introduction
  • Theo Jung (Freiburg), Mind the Gaps: Silences, Political Communication, and the Role of Expectations
  • Toby Rollo (Lakehead University), Democratic Silence: Two Forms of Domination in the Social Contract Tradition
  • Sean Gray (Harvard), Silence and Democratic Institutional Design
  • Mihaela Mihai (Edinburgh), The Hero’s Silences: Vulnerability, Complicity, Ambivalence
  • Mónica Brito Vieira (York), The Great Wall of Silence: Voice-Silence Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes

The print version will be published next year in vol. 24, issue 3 of the journal.

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4250I’m glad to announce that my article

Die Stimme des Volkes und sein Schweigen: die Kommunikationsrevolution von 1848/49 zwischen Erwartung und Erfahrung

[The People’s Voice and Its Silence: The Communications Revolution of 1848 between Expectation and Experience]

has been published in the 59th volume of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, a special issue under the title “Changing the World Revolutions in History”.

Preliminary drafts of the contributions were discussed at a workshop held in Berlin in October 2018 (call for papers), before they were prepared for the publication now available from J. W. Dietz Verlag.


My contribution discusses the 1848 German revolution as a ‘communications revolution’. Whereas earlier research had understood this concept mainly in terms of the infrastructural contexts of revolutionary developments, I argue that it can be fruitfully applied to the specific contemporary understanding of what the revolution was and what it aimed to achieve.

Building on a widespread understanding of politics as an articulation of the people’s voice, contemporaries conceived of the revolution first and foremost as a breaking of its silence. The article sketches how this understanding of the political meaning of the revolution impacted revolutionaries’ language use.

Focusing on the first national parliament in Frankfurt, it delineates the negotiation of speech and silence in this decisive political arena as well as the reactions this elicited from outside. Thus, it offers a new interpretation of the 1848 revolution in terms of the changing expectations put on politician’s communicative action and of their impact on political practice.


The volume’s introduction, written by Kerstin Heinsohn and Dietmar Süß can be read online here. The other contributions (summaries) are available in print.

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9780367427733An article I wrote on the efforts to reform the German language during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has been published in a volume edited by Susan Richter, Thomas Maissen and Manuela Albertone. Languages of Reform in the Eighteenth Century: When Europe Lost Its Fear of Change, published by Routledge, is based on a series of conferences held in Paris (2014), at the Villa Vigoni (2015) and in Heidelberg (2016). It’s scope is defined thus by the editors:

Societies perceive “Reform” or “Reforms” as substantial changes and significant breaks which must be well-justified. The Enlightenment brought forth the idea that the future was uncertain and could be shaped by human beings. This gave the concept of reform a new character and new fields of application. Those who sought support for their plans and actions needed to reflect, develop new arguments, and offer new reasons to address an anonymous public. This book aims to compile these changes under the heuristic term of “languages of reform.” It analyzes the structures of communication regarding reforms in the 18th century through a wide variety of topics.

My own contribution, titled

Mending the Boat While Sailing:
Languages of Linguistic Reform in the German Territories, c. 1750–1815

traces the ways in which projects of language reform in the German territories were framed. It identifies two different ‘languages’ of linguistic reform dominating debates on the topic from the second half of the eighteenth century to the early decades of the nineteenth: a language of linguistic enlightenment and one of linguistic identity. Despite their common subject matter , their perspectives were fundamentally different. Thus, two competing approaches of speaking about language emerged, presenting contrasting vistas on the German language’s current state, the possibilities of its future reform, and their political and social implications.

My thanks go out to the editors as well as to the co-contributors for their efforts in getting together this wide-ranging volume.

The volume’s introduction, written by Pascal Firges, Johan Lange, Thomas Maissen, Sebastian Meurer, Susan Richter, Gregor Stiebert, Lina Weber, Urte Weeber, and Christine Zabel, can be read online here.

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Together with Mónica Brito Vieira (York), Sean W. D. Gray (Harvard), and Toby Rollo (Lakehead, Canada), I published a Critical Exchange in the journal Contemporary Political Theory titled

The Nature of Silence and Its Democratic Possibilities

It consists of four contributions and an introduction.

  • Silence as a Mode of Political Communication: Negotiating Expectations – Theo Jung.
  • Interpreting Silence: A Note of Caution – Sean W.D. Gray.
  • Two Political Ontologies and Three Models of Silence: Voice, Signal, and Action – Toby Rollo.
  • Silent Agency – Mónica Brito Vieira.

A pre-publication online version of the text can be read here, the published version here.

The Critical Exchange proposes a reconsideration of the multifarious forms and functions of silence in the political field, which cannot be reduced to the effects of silencing or of secrecy alone, but also encompass silent resistance, denial and a multitude of performative practices constitutive of individual or group identities.

My own contribution concerns the current state of research into political silences and some of its weaknesses. It proposes a re-orientation focused on the role of expectations, starting from the premise that communicative silence functions as the expressive omission of an expected signal.

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Julian Scott: Empire of Silence, Swiss Expo 2002.

Many thanks to my co-contributors, but especially to Mónica for inviting us to York and for organizing this publication.

As a group, we are working on another special issue on this topic, currently under review at the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

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After my interview a few weeks ago, Deutschlandfunk radio has now also broadcast a review by the Austrian author and literary critic Günter Kaindlstorfer of the edited volume Zwischen Handeln und Nichthandeln. Unterlassungspraktiken in der europäischen Moderne in its program Andruck – Das Magazin für politische Literatur.

It can be found here.

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Many thanks to Günter Kaindsltorfer for his wide ranging and thoughtful comments.

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Johan Schloemann, a journalist at the Süddeutsche Zeitung, has published a short article on the edited volume Zwischen Handeln und Nichthandeln: Unterlassungspraktiken in der europäischen Moderne and about my contribution about the withholding of applause and acclamation as a form of protest.

It may be found here.

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