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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, two 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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The new edition of Francia-Recensio includes a review by my hand of the edited volume

Fanny Platelle, Hélène Roth (dir.), Le déclin dans le monde germanique. Mots, discours et représentations (1914–2014), Reims (Éditions et presses universitaires de Reims) 2018

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The volume considers discourses of decadence, decline, and degeneration in the german-language world since the First World War. On the one hand, it aims to go beyond the normal focus on the late 19th century Kulturkritik. On the other, it includes a number of as yet unexplored thematic fields like architecture and city planning.

My review can be found here.

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