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All too often, depoliticization is reduced to a very recent phenomenon, an effect of ‘Neoliberalism’. In a workshop to be held in Nijmegen on April 1-2, 2022, we aim to place the concept in a wider historical perspective. On the basis of a broad spectrum of European cases from the late eighteenth century until today, depoliticization no longer appears as a monolithic and autonomous process, but rather as a complex bundle of practices and discourses contesting the boundaries of the political sphere.

As organizers, my colleague Adriejan van Veen (Nijmegen) and I are pleased to invite paper proposals from all fields of modern European history and its neighbouring disciplines.

Call for Papers

Depoliticization before Neoliberalism: Contesting the Limits of the Political in Modern Europe

In recent decades, public commentators and political scientists alike have observed a widespread delegation of tasks from democratic to technocratic, international and market bodies. This ‘neoliberal’ displacement has often been pinpointed as the cause of dissolving ideological cleavages and of growing public disenchantment with politics. Yet while the shift of responsibilities from political to allegedly non-political spheres was long thought to have led to widespread political disengagement, recent upsurges in populism and identity politics have called this view into question. Are such recent developments to be understood as a repoliticization, in reaction to previous depoliticization? Or was the political never quite as deflated as we thought? Against this background, questions about the boundaries of the political sphere have again reached the top of both public and scholarly agendas.

Missing from such debates, however, is an expanded historical perspective on the complex entanglements of depoliticization and politicization processes. Research on political history often focuses on the many manifestations of politicization: the rise of political parties, mass movements, and popular leaders. Yet phenomena of depoliticization – the removal of particular issues from political agendas, the manufacturing of tacit political and ideological consent, and citizens’ non-participation – are often less visible and therefore far less studied. In recent years, historians of neoliberalism have started to explore this terrain, demonstrating how the institutional dismantling of the Keynesian welfare state involved the re-framing of contentious issues in terms of ‘natural’ globalization and economic ‘necessity’, placing them beyond the realm of collective deliberation. This workshop’s goal is to expand such insights beyond the narrow margins of the late 20th and 21st centuries: to study depoliticization processes and their interdependencies with politicization as an integral facet of European modernity since about 1750.

The workshop’s aims are threefold. The first is to improve our understanding of the contemporary dynamics of depoliticization and politicization by studying earlier iterations of their entanglements. Which discursive strategies and performative practices did historical actors from the late 18th to the 20th centuries employ to depoliticize certain issues? Is it true that depoliticization, as one prominent account puts it, ‘has to happen in a slow and unobtrusive way and that it is most effective when contemporaries do not even realize that it is taking place’ (Steinmetz/Haupt eds. 2013), or can it also be a publicly expressed strategy, as recent studies on neoliberalism have indicated? Under which conditions were past attempts at depoliticization successful? And when were non-contentious issues or processes eventually (re)politicized?

Secondly, the workshop aims to rethink the strong normative bent of current debates. Neoliberal delegation, citizens’ political abstention, and populism and identity politics are often approached as problems – aberrations of a mass democracy of engaged individuals respecting the boundaries of liberal debate. But this ideal is not only historically contingent; it is highly questionable if it has ever been fully realized. This workshop focuses on the plurality of historical contexts in which depoliticization and politicization processes took place, and on the diversity of actors, ideas and practices that drove them. How can these be compared between democratic and non-democratic regimes, and between various historical timeframes and geographical regions? To which spheres (economic, bureaucratic, legal, religious, scientific, private, etc.) did historical actors aim to displace contentious political issues and tasks, and how were such attempts contested and countered?

Thirdly, by analyzing the complex entanglements between depoliticization and politicization, this workshop seeks to enhance our understanding of ‘the political’ as a facet of historical modernity. The idea of the political as a specific sphere of social interactions has been contested since its emergence in the late 18th century. Depoliticization and politicization processes can therefore not simply be understood as a ‘decrease’ or ‘increase’ of activities aimed at this fixed realm. Instead, attempts at depoliticization or politicization should be seen as struggles between historical actors with very different conceptions of which institutions, actors, and practices count as ‘political’ and which do not. This leads to the questions how historical actors waged these struggles, which discourses and practices they implemented to achieve their respective aims, and which institutional or other changes resulted from such contestation of the limits of the political.

Submission guidelines

The workshop welcomes papers conducting (comparative) case studies on depoliticization in relation to its counterpart politicization. Cases can be drawn from any area in Europe and timeframe between the mid-18th and late-20th century. We also welcome papers on cases of global interactions with European areas, for example in transatlantic and (post)colonial settings. Paper proposals should include a preliminary title, an abstract of 250-300 words, and affiliation and contact details.

Abstracts can be submitted to adriejan.vanveen@ru.nl by October 1, 2021. Successful applicants will be notified before November 1.

The workshop will feature pre-circulation of first draft papers and oral presentations with subsequent discussion. It will take place at Radboud University, Nijmegen, on April 1–2, 2022, and/or partly or fully online, depending on the COVID-19 situation. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered. The workshop is funded by the Thorbecke Fund of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW). A publication is intended.

Contact

For futher details, please contact the workshop organizers.

Dr. Adriejan van Veen (Radboud University Nijmegen), adriejan.vanveen@ru.nl
Dr. Theo Jung (Albert Ludwig University Freiburg), theo.jung@geschichte.uni-freiburg.de

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Between 14 and 25 June, the Association for Political History organizes its postponed international conference under the title “Layers and Connections of the Political”, regrettably online instead of in Rome.

Participation is free of charge after registration with the organizers (here).

On June 21, at 9.00 – 10.30 CET, I am part of the panel “‘Political Participation’ in Democracy History: A Contested and Ever-Changing Concept and Practice?”, organized by Anne Heyer (Leiden) and Zoé Kergomard (Paris).


Chair:
Ido de Haan (Utrecht)
Discussant:
Harm Kaal (Nijmegen)

Participants:

  • Anne Heyer (Leiden): When did the Masses become Political?
  • Theo Jung (Freiburg): Battling with Words or Fists? Changing Modes of Participation in Political Meetings in Britain and Germany (1867-1914)
  • Carlos Domper Lasús (Zaragoza): The University Work Service. A politicizing experience under Francoism, 1950-1970
  • Zoé Kergomard (Paris): Is electoral abstention also a form of democratic participation? Rethinking the value of voting in the young Vth Republic (1960s-1980s)

The whole program can be downloaded here.

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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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In January, it will be a stunning 7 years since the founding of the ‘Reading Workshop History and Theory’ (Lektürewerkstatt Geschichte und Theorie) at Freiburg University’s history department and although we have been forced to go online, we are still going strong.

The group’s starting point was the observation that although the necessity to intertwine theoretical reflection and empirical research is often stressed, in practice the links between the two aspects are too often neglected. The reading workshop confronts this weakness by providing an informal forum for rigorous discussion of the theoretical foundations of the humanities.

Together with students, PhD-candidates and colleagues, we have discussed a multitude of of classical texts from authors like Gadamer, Luhmann, Wittgenstein, Agamben, Hegel, Foucault, Schmitt, Benjamin, Weber, Ricœur, and Spivak, as well as diverse topics such as historical comparisons, postcolonial theory, actor-network-theory, causality, the history of emotions, temporal practices, national identity, and many more.

Anyone interested in joining is very welcome. Just drop me a line.

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A few months ago, I discussed my ongoing book project on the politics of silence in nineteenth century Europe with Philipp Janssen, the host of the wonderful Anno … podcast. The result has just been published and can be downloaded on the website (here) or through any major podcast provider.

We discussed various case studies as well as the project’s general structure.

If you are looking for a (German language) history podcast that adresses a wide range of topics and builds bridges between academic research and a wider audience interested in history, this is the place to start.

To get into it, I can recommend the episodes with my colleagues Sonja Levsen (on postwar education in France and Germany) and Claudia Gatzka (on postwar democratic cultur in Germany and Italy), or perhaps my former Bielefeld colleagues Silke Schwandt (on legal practices in Medieval Britain), Daniel Siemens (on the SA), Axel Hüntelmann (on medical scientist Paul Ehrlich), Levke Harders (on migration in nineteenth century Germany) or Hedwig Richter (on voting cultures in nineteenth century Prussia and the US). In all, there are now over 60 episodes of about one hour each.

Many thanks to Philipp Janssen for his interest in my research and for a very pleasant and lively discussion.

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Next friday, I’m presenting some of my research at a workshop to be held in Berlin (and online) from 29 to 31 October under the title ‘Unity, Right, – but Freedom?’. It is organised by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Orte der Demokratiegeschichte in cooperation with the Forschungsstelle Weimarer Republik and the Otto-von-Bismarck Foundation.

The program includes papers on various institutional, intellectual, cultural and political aspects of the German Empire’s governments, parliaments, parties, social movements, military, and citizens.

Otto-von-Bismarck-Stiftung

My own paper, 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.

The workshop’s (NB updated on Oct 26, 2020!) program can be found here:

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Next week, on October 1 and 2, Mahshid Mayar and Marion Schulte of Bielefeld University organize an interdisciplinary online-workshop titled

The Anechoic Chamber: Construction and Reception of Silence in Language, Literature, and History

I’m very excited to ‘attend’ the presentations. For more information on the workshop’s approach and attendance, please refer to here (English) or here (German).

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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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In the summer semester of 2020, I will be teaching a course titled

Surviving – Experiencing – Writing: Diaries from National Socialist Concentration Camps

[Überleben – Erleben – Schreiben: Tagebücher aus nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern]

These diaries provide a unique insight into the prisoners’ experiences in the camps as well as in the way they tried to cope with them through the medium of diary writing.

Building on research by Renata Laqueur, Alexandra Garbarini, Amos Goldberg, and especially Dominique Schröder – whose book on the topic has been announced for publication in June of this year – the primary goal of this course will be to give the students the opportunity to work directly with the sources.

In the current circumstances, this course will be the first one I will teach fully online, using a number of different tools. I’ve also started a collection of websites on the course topic available online.

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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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