Movement Discourse

Conference Concept

Movement Discourse: Historical and Contemporary Formations and Transformations

International Conference at Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany, July 2-4, 2015

Organised by the Institute for English and American Studies

Convenors: Prof. Dr. Anton Kirchhofer (Oldenburg) and Dr. Annika McPherson (Augsburg)

The omnipresence of social movements has led observers to “note that we live today in a social movement society” (Johnston 2009: 10). Not only in the social and political sciences, but also in other disciplines, movements are frequently referred to, e.g. in the context of schools of thought or periods of artistic production. Yet, few attempts have been made to theorize movements as such. Indeed, as Giorgio Agamben has phrased it, the concept of movement remains “our unthought” – movement “is a word everyone seems to understand but no one defines” (Agamben 2005). This observation calls for an attempt to theorize movement discourse across the disciplines.

Such a theoretical investigation involves a twofold focus of research. First, to study movements not only on the basis of those who belong to them, but also on the basis of those who talk about them as discursive participants, whether they are observers, commentators, participants or academics. Second, to extend the comparative angle of research beyond the social movement context to a wider range and different types of movements as a transdisciplinary problem and field of inquiry.

In this endeavour, we are building on the existing research in movement studies. Empirical descriptions of social and political movements tend to highlight how they come into being and how they act in the public sphere, drawing e.g. on theories of collective action, political opportunities, mobilization, frame theory, or political-process theory (e.g. McAdam et al. 1996, della Porta and Diani 2006, Ruggiero and Montana 2008, Tarrow 2011, Zirakzahdeh 2011). Since most research on and theorization of social movements is based on or “closely linked to the empirical phenomena studied in Europe and North America” (Brandes and Engels 2011, 2; Ellis and van Kessel 2009), it furthermore eclipses questions of how transcultural or universal the phenomenon of social movement formation might be and if social movements might have to be re-theorized in different contexts. The cultural study of social movements, in turn, mainly analyzes their “general meaning-making patterns that develop among participants” in the sense of “movement cultures” and specific uses and productions of aesthetic-cultural artifacts (Reed 2005, 296). Similarly, the rhetorical study of movements so far has largely focused on the discursive fabric either within movements or in their relations to the public sphere, e.g. as a marker of group identity.

Our planned conference aims to outline what we would like to call movement discourse. When and how do movements emerge in discourse? What are their specific historical, social and cultural settings? Who speaks about movements, and in what ways, from what positions, with what authority? How do persons or objects come to stand for particular movements? The focus on the actual processes in which movements take shape allows for a complementary focus on the ‘rhetoric’ of movements in the sense of their mediated presence and discursive or symbolic representation.

We are inviting researchers engaged in the study of movements across a diverse disciplinary spectrum from the social and political sciences, literary and cultural studies, art history, media and communication studies, history, and philosophy to enter into a critical dialogue. Our goal is to better understand the theoretical, practical and historical dimensions of the concept of movement both as a significant social, and also as a discursive phenomenon.

Hence, we would like to invite you to

• discuss your research on movements in terms of the ways in which the concept of ‘movement’ figures in your discipline

• engage in an interdisciplinary dialogue by examining existing conceptualizations as well as methodological boundaries

• contribute to developing new conceptual tools in the research on and theorization of movements


Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. “Movement.” Multitudes Web. 2005.

Brandes, Nicolai and Bettina Engels. “Social Movements in Africa.” Stichproben: Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 11.20 (2011): 1-15.

della Porta, Donatella and Mario Diani. Social Movements: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006.

Ellis, Stephen and Ineke van Kessel, eds. Movers and Shakers: Social Movements in Africa. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009.

Johnston, Hank. “Protest Cultures: Performance, Artifacts, and Ideations.” Culture, Social Movements, and Protest. Ed. Hank Johnston. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.

McAdam, Doug, John D. McCarthy and Mayer N. Zalal. Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Reed, T.V. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Ruggiero, Vincenzo and Nicola Montagna. Social Movements: A Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

Tarrow, Sidney. Power in Movements: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Zirakzadeh, Cyrus Ernesto, ed. Social and Political Movements. Los Angeles et al.: Sage, 2011.