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

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften | Geschichte Westeuropas und transatl. Beziehungen | News | 4.3. - 5.3. Workshop "Reconsidering the Political in Contemporary History: Social Practices and Material Cultures in Cold War Western Europe"

4.3. - 5.3. Workshop "Reconsidering the Political in Contemporary History: Social Practices and Material Cultures in Cold War Western Europe"

(organised by: Jan Hansen, Jochen Hung, Andrew Tompkins, Phillip Wagner)


Cooperation Partners:




Funded by Future Concept resources of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin through the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal Government and its Federal States.


Venue: Humboldt­‐Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Friedrichstr. 191/193, Room 5009


This international workshop will bring together new scholarship on diplomatic history, institutional and parliamentary processes, consumer cultures, and forms of political activism in order to examine how social practices and material cultures contributed to refashioning understandings of the “political” in Cold War Western Europe. During the period in question, diplomacy became ever more multifaceted, encompassing not only negotiations between superpowers over security issues but also a variety of transnational endeavors in fields as diverse as culture and humanitarianism. At the same time, institutions such as parliaments and bureaucracies increasingly shaped political communication in Western Europe. We will consider how parliaments and democratic institutions became ever more important to the framing of public issues just as the (non-elected) administrative bodies of the welfare state became powerful in their own right. As time progressed, consumer cultures also came to challenge notions of the “political.” Our workshop will take into consideration how consumption itself became a political question, particularly as it gave rise to controversies over political identities and geopolitical issues. New forms of protest and activism emerged in part as a result, as a myriad of social movements challenged long-established boundaries between the political and the non-political by reframing issues such as women’s rights and environmental pollution. By bringing these different but interrelated topics together, our workshop will historicize shifting notions of the “political” in the second half of the twentieth century.


In so doing, this workshop will apply and further develop the constructivist approach deployed by scholars of “new political history,” who have argued that the “political” was by no means a fixed entity but rather an amorphous category constantly being reconfigured by performative communication and social practices. Linking political and cultural history, we will explore how various entangled forms of agency create, sustain, and transform political meaning. Drawing on research into material culture as well as science and technology studies, we will also investigate how people built political identities around objects, how they charged consumer items with political meaning, and how they used “expressive equipment” (Goffman) to dramatize their political claims.



Friday (March 4, 2016)

14:30 Registration and coffee

15:00 Welcome and Introduction

15:30-17:00 Keynote lecture

Benjamin Ziemann (University of Sheffield, UK):
Beyond the Front Porch? Changing Contours of the Political in Western Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s

17:30-19:00 Panel I: New Approaches to Diplomatic History

Jan Kreuels (Universität Fribourg, Switzerland):
Reconsidering Cold War Summits

Cristian Capotescu (University of Michigan, USA):
“Pakethilfen nach drüben”: West German Humanitarian Aid to Communist Romania, 1970s–1980s

Stéphanie Gonçalves (Université Rennes II, France):
“Ballet as a weapon”: Ballet Tours and Propaganda in the Cultural Cold War, 1947–1968

Chair: Jan Hansen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Comment: Gabriele Metzler (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Saturday (March 5, 2016)

09:30-11:00 Panel II: Institutional and Parliamentary Practices

Carla Hoetink and Harm Kaal (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands):
More than Words. The Material Culture of Parliament: Objects as Elements of Political Communication, 1945–2000

Jochen F. Mayer (University of Edinburgh, UK):
‘The Backbone of our Work’: File Cards, Allied Archival Protection, and the Persistence of Power in German Labour Offices, c.1935–1955

Chair: Phillip Wagner (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Comment: Stefan Couperus (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Netherlands)

11:30-13:00 Panel III: Consumer Cultures

Reinhild Kreis, (Universität Wien, Austria/Universität Mannheim):
“Join in” and “Do it Yourself”: Home Improvement in the GDR

Benjamin Möckel (Universität zu Köln):
Materializing Global Justice: Consumer Products, Boycotts, and the 1970s Human Rights Revolution

Natalie Scholz (Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands):
Everyday objects and the imagination of the political in postwar West Germany

Chair: Jochen Hung (Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands)

Comment: Jan Logemann (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

14:00-16:00 Panel IV: New Forms of Political Activism

Stephen Milder (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Netherlands):
Political Questions, Grassroots Answers: Creating Green Politics in Western Europe, 1975–1983

John Nieuwenhuys (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium):
Land and Imperialism: Belgian Pro-Palestinian Activists in search of social Alternatives

Tobias Vetterle (Universität Trier/Université du Luxembourg):
Transforming the culture of political participation in Cold War Western Europe: The case of the Luxembourg environmental movement

Panagiotis Zestanakis (University of Crete, Greece):
Media change and the question of (de)politicization in late 1980s Greece.

Chair: Andrew Tompkins (University of Sheffield, UK/Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Comment: Claudia Gatzka (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)

16:30-17:00 Concluding discussion