The meaning(s) of contention and conflict
Events such as revolutions, protest movements, resistance – phenomena that are contentious by their nature. Likewise, their meanings are highly contested and conflict over what they signify abounds. As part of their struggle, movements and their counterparts assign events with a whole battery of different meanings to fortify their positions: Regimes vilify demonstrators, protesters claim moral authority to legitimize their actions. Depending on which narratives achieve a hegemonic character, struggling actors (and their wider audiences) evaluate their action choices differently, e.g., embrace or refrain from violence, change tactics, lose hope or scale up their engagement. At the same time, shared meanings such as those contained in memories of revolutionary times, in specific spaces of resistance, or in symbols of protest – e.g., a clenched fist encased in a Venus symbol, a circled hourglass or a red MAGA hat – can provide a basis for unity, demarcate friends and foes, and serve as a marker of collective identity. In this seminar, we will explore these complex and multifaceted ways in which meanings are created, negotiated, and shared during, after and in relation to episodes of contention and conflict, and ask how they can serve actors as basis for imagining alternative futures. We examine the role of art, space, and public characters in shaping contentious events, as well as the ways how protest and conflict is remembered. We also investigate how the meanings attached to violence and conflict can inspire or deter collective action. The course will be discussion-based and focus on interactive group work around both academic texts and non-academic resources. After a conceptual introduction to key terminology, several group-moderated thematic sessions will cover a number of mechanisms by which meanings are produced, and explore different forms how they are disseminated. Additional sessions will be dedicated to methodological concerns, such as research designs, techniques for literature research, and paper preparation. Finally, students will have the chance to present their ideas for a term paper in a joint research colloquium. Accordingly, this course is both an introduction to cultural perspectives on protest and social movements as well as a practicum on research designs. Prior knowledge of social movement theory is welcome but not required.
|Dr. Jannis Grimm, Myriam Ahmed