Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Geschichte Westeuropas und transatl. Beziehungen

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften | Geschichte Westeuropas und transatl. Beziehungen | News | Workshop: Reconsidering the Political in Contemporary History. Social Practices and Material Cultures in Cold War Western Europe, Berlin, 4.-5. März 2016

Workshop: Reconsidering the Political in Contemporary History. Social Practices and Material Cultures in Cold War Western Europe, Berlin, 4.-5. März 2016

Am 4./5. März 2016 organisiert der Lehrstuhl einen Workshop über die Bedeutung von Praktiken und materiellen Objekten für die Konstruktion des Politischen.

Workshop, 4.-5. März 2016, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften

Jan Hansen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin); Jochen Hung (Universiteit Utrecht); Phillip Wagner (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


Recent studies have demonstrated the potential of a constructivist approach towards the political history of Cold War Western Europe. Expanding on the works of thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, historians demonstrate that we need to understand the political as a communicative space shaped by verbal and performative interaction. They argue that various acts of communication constantly reconfigured the boundaries of what is considered as political.

Our workshop attempts to shed new light on political history by seeking to understand how social practices and material cultures formed the contours of the political in Cold War Western Europe. Borrowing from scholars of new social history such as Patrick Joyce, we conceive communication not only as verbal or visual but also as physical interaction that involves human actors as much as non-human agents (e.g. objects, instruments and animals). We would like to bring together scholars to discuss how social practices and encounters with physical objects shaped the building of institutions, the making of policy fields and the transformation of public issues. Our aim is to offer an alternative perspective on the political history of post-1945 Western Europe, calling for an extension of the epistemological horizons of our discipline.

First, we encourage participation by researchers working on the history of social practices. Papers could focus on body politics of violence, scrutinising the various ways in which physical force has shaped political communication. How did perceptions of “terrorism” affect the public discourse in West European societies? To what extent did these interpretations trigger the emergence of notions of “political vulnerability” and a non-violent “civil society?” Contributions might also focus on the different forms of political activism of new social movements such as the anti-nuclear movement. How did new (and sometimes militant) types of campaigning challenge long-established forms of negotiation in the Cold War framework?

Second, our workshop looks for contributions on the importance of material cultures for political communication. This session probes into the various political qualities that different kinds of objects possessed in the age of mass consumption. Contributions could explore to what extent the manufacture, consumption and distribution of things related to the political. How did designers and entrepreneurs negotiate public issues through crafting, moulding and fashioning items. We also invite papers that address the question in what manner different actors attached political meaning to different entities. How did parties, consumer movements and social activists build political agendas around the appreciation, consumption and production of things?

Our workshop also welcomes contributions that combine the study of social practices and material cultures in order to explain the transformations of the political in Cold War Western Europe.

We invite historians from all professional levels to present their research. Please send your proposal (500 words max.) and a one-page CV to ph.wagner@ by Sept. 1, 2015 at the very latest. The workshop will take place at Humboldt University Berlin on March 4-5, 2016. A publication is intended.