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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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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On February 7 and 8, I’m taking part in a workshop on current research on nineteenth century political and social history organized by the DFG funded Project Political Participation in the Provinces located at Saarland University.

I’m commenting on a panel on ‘Politics and Publicity’, encompassing papers by Angela Heinemann (Duisburg-Essen) on the emotional history of student associations and gymnastics in early nineteenth century Germany and by Christian Maiwald (Cologne) on the contestation of press censorship in Vienna in the same period.

Other panels address themes like ‘Participation in the Periphery’, ‘Elites’, ‘Politics and Religion’ (commented on by my colleague Christina Schröer), ‘Politics and Infrastructure’ (including a paper by my other colleague Konrad Hauber). The workshop is concluded by a general discussion moderated by Professor Armin Owzar (Paris).

Many thanks to the organizers, especially to Professor Gabriele Clemens and Amerigo Caruso for getting together what looks like a very interesting workshop.

The complete program can be found 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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I’m glad to announce that my article

Auftritt durch Austritt: Debattenboykotts als parlamentarische Praxis in Großbritannien und Frankreich (1797-1823)

[Performance by Means of Withdrawal: Debating Boycotts as a Parliamentary Practice in Britain and France (1797-1823)]

has been published in the 58th volume of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, a special issue under the title “Practising Democracy. Arenas, Processes and Ruptures of Political Participation in Western Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries”. At a workshop held in Berlin in November 2017 (Call for Papers, Program), the preliminary drafts of the contributions were discussed and prepared for the publication now available from J. W. Dietz Verlag.

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My contribution asks under what circumstances the refusal to participate can itself become a mode of political practice.

Participation is often understood to be a fundamental value of democratic politics. But under some circumstances, the conditions of given opportunities to take part in political decision making processes are structured in ways that prohibit their de facto effectiveness. In such cases, political groups may choose to exit from established platforms and institutions in order to symbolically express their disapproval of the given situation.

Taking the example of oppositional groups’ parliamentary boycotts in the context of the changing systems of early parliamentarism, my contribution argues that the refusal to participate can itself be a forceful mode of democratic practice. Cases from the Irish, British and French parliaments shed light on the specific logic and political relevance of these boycotts in the historical context of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The volume’s introduction, written by Anja Kruke and Philipp Kufferath, may be found online here. The other contributinos are available in print.

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The latest issue of French History includes an article I wrote on the role of silence during the French Revolution, titled

Le silence du peuple: The Rhetoric of Silence during the French Revolution

French History, 31, Issue 4 (2017), p. 440–469.

https://doi.org/10.1093/fh/crx062

Abstract

In July 1789, a phrase was introduced into French political discourse that would quickly become a standing expression: le silence du peuple est la leçon des rois. Taking this political bon mot as a starting point, the article traces the uses of and responses to collective silences during the French Revolution. It is argued that silence cannot be reduced to just the lack of ‘voice’ indicating suppression or political impotence. Rather, it must be understood as a mode of political action with a rhetoric of its own. Sketching this rhetoric not only highlights the nature and functions of a mode of political communication too often disregarded. It also shows how the controversies surrounding these silences reflected some of the major political questions of the day, playing a key role in the renegotiations of the communicative spaces of politics set off by the Revolution.

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On April 6 to 7, I will participate in a conference organized by the History of Parliament research group in cooperation with Prof. Christopher Reid of Queen Mary University London.

The conference program may be found here.

My own paper, titled

“A Rhetoric of Silence: Silent Members in the July Monarchy Chamber of Deputies (1830-1848)”,

will be concerned with the rhetorical role of the silent members in the parliamentary debates of the July Monarchy. As I will argue, these silent members were anything but passive. Rather, they developed a complex rhetoric of their own, playing a significant role in the development of debates.

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On 9 and 10 July, I will be participating in a workshop in Berlin, organized by the DFG research network Auditory Knowledge in Transition. The workshop’s title is “Auditory Knowledge in Politics: The Sound of Power and the Power of Sounds”.

A keynote lecture by professor Monika Dommann of Zürich University with the title “Record, Rewind, Rewrite? Eine akustische Geschichtsschreibung der Presidential Tapes” will be held on Thursday July 9th, at 6 PM at the Seminarzentrum Silberlaube Otto-von-Simson-Straße 26 (Raum L 116). All are welcome.

I myself will comment upon a paper presented by my friend Daniel Morat of the Free University of Berlin.

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Last week (May 7-8), I participated in an international conference titled “Parlamentarismuskritik und Antiparlamentarismus in Europa” [Criticism of Parliamentarism and Anti-Parliamentarism], organized by the German Kommission für Geschichte des Parlamentarismus and EuParl.net, a European research network on the history of parliaments.

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Besides a keynote speech by Dr. Norbert Lammert, speaker of the German Bundestag, I had the opportunity to discuss the varieties and modes of criticism of parliament and parliamentarism with a number of renowned experts in the field. My own presentation focussed on the question to what extent antiparliamentary sentiments and discourses current in the German Empire found their way into the ‘lion’s den’, the Reichstag itself. Combining qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis, I attempted to shed some new light on a few famous cases of antiparliamentary discourse in the imperial parliament as well as on their wider relevance for its political culture and modes of communication.

The conference’s program may be found here. A publication of the proceedings is planned.

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Since my time in London at the German Historical Institute is slowly coming to an end, I’m starting to prepare for my teaching in the summer term in Freiburg. This time, I am offering two courses on different aspects of political history.

Politics from Below: Forms of Participation Beyond the Institutions (France and Britain, 1780-1914)

This seminar course deals with groups that remained excluded from the ‘authoritative’ political institutions (like women, workers, political fringe groups). It asks what strategies were available to them to participate in the political process nonetheless. The course also tries to determine the amount of success these different strategies could have, taking into account both the reactions of the wider public and establishment ‘countermeasures’.

Against Mob Rule and Government by Gabble: Left- and Right-Wing Criticism of Democracy in France and Germany (1870-1933)

In this reading course, we will look into the various traditions of French and German criticism of democracy before its collapse in the twentieth century. Considering the spectrum of anti-democratic positions at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century from a double comparative perspective will allow us to better evaluate the nature and context of what is often reductively interpreted as a specifically German tradition of right-wing ‘forerunners to Hitler’.

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