Movement Discourse

Abstracts / Contributors

download the abstract booklet here (pdf)


Section I: Movement Discourse across the Disciplines, Part 1:
Cultural and Empirical Perspectives in the Social Sciences

Hank Johnston, “What’s a Social Movement?”

Following recent theoretical elaborations in cultural sociology, this paper presents an approach to social movements that moves the performance dimension of social life into the conceptual spotlight. In the last two decades, researchers of protest and social movements have emphasized structural aspects of the state (political opportunity structures) and of how social movements are organized (network relations among SMOs). A parallel strand of theorizing—never paradigmatic—has looked at the interpretative and meaning‐making dimensions of movements, especially framing approaches in the symbolicinteractionist tradition. This paper argues that these approaches are incomplete by themselves, representing methodological choices that capture only partial empirical reflections of movement phenomena. It further argues that the theoretical relevance of structural and interpretative approaches is brought to the foreground when combined with the performance dimension of movement culture. Combining Charles Tilly’s emphasis on repertoires, and cultural sociology’s emphasis on ritual performance, and drawing on several empirical examples of contemporary movements, the paper develops the perspective of social movements as networks of performances, macro and micro, whose primary effects are (1) the confirmation and reworking of structural relations; (2) the ongoing elaboration and testing of ideological elements; and (3) the production of cultural artifacts that are available to both participants and researchers. Participants use a movement’s artifacts to collectively test and confirm its social constructions. Researchers of social movements use them as data to reconstruct the social realities of the social actors that “do the work of moving” in social movements.

Hank Johnston is Professor of Sociology at San Diego State University, and founding editor and publisher of Mobilization: An International Quarterly.


Wouter de Nooy, “Sociological Theory and Network Models for Intellectual Movements”

A sociological perspective on movements is likely to focus on the ways in which people, organizations, events, objects, and concepts become interrelated, remain interrelated, and how these relations dissolve. The prominence of (inter)relations suggests that network models are needed for analysing movements. More particularly, dynamic network models are required because (notably intellectual) movements tend to be relatively weakly institutionalized, so they rise, change, and disappear. Which social contexts favour the rise of movements, what social mechanisms help movements to endure, and why do movements disintegrate? Movements usually start as a protest against a situation, so struggle and power are relevant, which brings in field theory. Movements rise and endure because social relations among people and organizations interact with public classifications that identify a movement and attribute positive or negative value to it. According to field theory, classifications link valence to social characteristics of persons in a subtle way, thus creating a seemingly “natural” order of unquestionable differences among persons and unequal opportunities for them within the field. Theory and network models are exemplified with a case study on literary movements.

Wouter de Nooy is Professor of Political Communication & Journalism at the University of Amsterdam.


Dieter Rucht, “Academic Conceptualisations of Social Movements as Agents of Social Change since the 19th Century”

Social movements are of practical relevance insofar as they have the capacity, and sometimes also the actual power, to shape politics and introduce (or prevent) fundamental changes in and of societies. Consequently, movement activists as well as their opponents reflect on the "nature" of social movements, including the latters' causes, structures, strategies, tactics and outcomes. Parallel to the discourse on social movements among political agents there is also an academic discourse especially in various disciplines of the social and historical sciences. Some participants in this academic discourse, e.g. proponents of rational choice theory, seek to take a neutral and purely analytic perspective on social movements. Other academics, explicitly or implicitly, take a normative perspective when conceptualising social movements, e.g. by performing the role of "organic intellectuals or suggesting to reserve the category of social movements only to "progressive" forces. The paper will focus on academic conceptualisations of social movements in their respective historical context. It will identify major conceptual shifts and their underlying reasons, starting with crude mass psychology of social movements in the early 19th century and ending with the plethora of conceptualisations of the present. Moreover, attention will be paid to theoretical and conceptual controversies within the academia as well as the interchanges between scholars, major political agents and non‐academic observers. I will firstly show that the academic debates and scholarly conceptualisations are strongly influenced by the political practices and conflicts of their respective times. Secondly, I will argue that almost all academic conceptualisations of social movements rest on crucial meta‐theoretical assumptions and normative positions that, in many cases, are not made explicit. Thirdly, when looking over the large time span, I will argue that academic conceptions of social movements become less prejudiced, less driven by hopes and fears, more empirically grounded, more sophisticated, and more conditional and self‐reflective with regard to their normative and theoretical premises as well as their historical context.

Dieter Rucht is Head of the completed Research Group ‘Civil Society, Citizenship, and Political Mobilization in Europe’ at the Berlin Social Science Center.


Section II: Movement Discourse across the Disciplines, Part 2: Theorizing Narrative Patterns in Movement Discourse

Josephine Guy, “Literary Movements: What Are They? and Do We NeedThem?”

This paper will examine the role of literary movements in literary historiography, with a particular focus on the British fin‐de‐siècle, a moment in literary history that has often been identified with the appearance of an unusual number and variety of such movements. It will look at the ways in which such movements have been described (both at the time and subsequently), as well as examining the politics of 'inclusion' and 'exclusion', and the consequences of attempts to interrogate (typically with the aim of expanding) a movement's membership. The paper will also look at the ways in which other forms of literary historiography, particularly those centred on the findings of book historians and an interest in literary markets and material culture, impact on our general understanding of the nature and role of literary movements, with a view to re‐assessing the validity of the whole concept of the 'literary movement' in the twenty‐first century.

Josephine Guy is Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Nottingham.


Anton Kirchhofer, “Between Metaphor and Allegory: Functional and Rhetorical Perspectives on Movement Discourse”

The discourse on movements which is practised widely and across a range of disciplines and areas of cultural activity, has rarely been made the object of transdisciplinary reflection. As a contribution towards such a reflection, my paper seeks to highlight the peculiarities of this discourse, analysing its distinctive features as well as its contrasts and similarities to discourses about alternative concepts in the various fields and subject areas. Developing and extending insights into the cultural and narrative dimensions of movements, as formulated in social movement theory, I will focus specifically on the role of the allegorical mode in movement discourse. Such a perspective, I suggest, can add to our understanding of the history, the forms and the functions of movement discourse and thus contribute to a better understanding of the cultural location of this discourse.

Anton Kirchhofer is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oldenburg.


Klaus Weinhauer, “Violent and Destructive Crowds? Imaginaries of Social Movements during the 20th Century”

Interestingly historians only hesitantly have embarked on explicit research on social movements; they mainly studied the history of labor movements. This lack of research is especially true for cultural historical perspectives. Fears of social movements are an interesting point of departure for employing such culturally based historical research perspectives. Two time phases of nearly global collective unrest offer a very good test case for such an approach: the years between c. 1916 and 1923 and the 1960s. In my paper I will, on the one hand, analyze how state officials (politicians, military, police) perceived the threats posed by social movements. On the other hand I will outline which counter actions they proposed and how all this changed when these two time periods are compared. My arguments will mainly be based on examples from Germany, the USA and Latin America. One of my aims is to point out some future perspectives for cultural historical research on social movements.

Klaus Weinhauer is Professor of Modern History at Bielefeld University, where he teaches transnational social and cultural history at the Center for InterAmerican Studies (CIAS).


Section III: Mediation and Modes of Representation in Movement Discourse

Kaitlynn Mendes, “Oh sorry, does my dress make you feel like a rapist today?’: Representations of SlutWalk in Global Newspapers and Feminist Blogs“ 

‘I’m told I’m not supposed to say this, but women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.’
– Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti

In January 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti addressed a small group of York University students on campus safety. While his intentions might have been to protect women, his comments that ‘slutty’ women attract sexual assault perpetuated the long‐standing myth that victims are responsible for the violence perpetrated against them. In response to PC Sanguinetti’s comments, a group of local women translated their concern into political activism. Three months later, the first Slutwalk took place in Toronto, attended by thousands. By the end of the year, Slutwalks were organised in over 100 cities in 40 nations, mobilising tens of thousands of women, men, and children. Because there has been an erasure of (western) news coverage of feminist activism and protest since the Second Wave (Mendes 2012), with feminism frequently being labelled ‘dead’ or ‘redundant’ (see Gill 2007; McRobbie 2009; Mendes 2011; Smith 2000), Slutwalk’s global reach and its ability to generate international headlines provides an opportunity to assess how women’s collective activism has been represented cross‐nationally. Although I would argue Slutwalk is clearly part of the broader feminist (anti‐rape) movement, is it fair to assume the mainstream or feminist media agrees? Such questions are particularly pertinent in this ‘postfeminist’ era when feminism is frequently repudiated, particularly by a younger generation who separate themselves from what they see as the concerns of their mother’s during the second wave (see Jowett 2004; Scharff 2010; Zazlow 2009). Because of its grassroots nature, and the different ways it has been adopted to fit various cultural climates (see for example Gwynne 2013), this paper does not seek to ‘prove’ Slutwalk is part of a wider feminist movement. Instead, it raises questions about how the relationship between Slutwalk and feminism has been represented, asking to what extent feminism has been erased or made invisible in global mainstream news coverage and feminist blogs of this bourgeoning social movement.

Kaitlynn Mendes, is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at De Montfort University of Leicester and author of Feminism in the News.


Bart Cammaerts, “The Mediation and Reception of Movement Discourse”

Protest movements produce a variety of movement discourses which ideally need to align with aspirations and interests of citizens and lead to the building of chains of equivalence between a variety of actors. In this regard, mediation plays a pivotal role, in terms of disseminating movement discourses, amplifying them and aiming to legitimate the actions and goals of the movement. Increasingly we can see that a mediation opportunity structure is shaping the way in which movements organise direct actions and communicate their various discourses. This mediation opportunity structure relates to the discursive war of position, but also to the way movements self‐mediate using networked technologies and to the ways in which mainstream media represent movement actions and discourses. Mediation is, however, not merely concerned with the production, dissemination and representation of movement frames, but with a nod to Du Gay¹s circuit of culture, the resonance, reception or decoding of movement discourses by OEnon‐activist¹ citizens is also of relevance. I will apply this theoretical framework to contemporary movements that are critical of neo‐liberalism and embody a renewed politics of redistribution. In this regard, I will present results of an ongoing study using interviews, content analysis, surveys and focusgroups to address the role of mediation in all its diversity.

Bart Cammaerts is Associate Professor at the Department of Media and Communications and Director of PhD Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


Martin Butler, “Punk is Dead. Or is it? On Strategies of Subcultural Positioning in/and the (Re‐)Making of the Punk Movement”

Already in 1978, the English band Crass declared the 'death of punk' in one of their songs, only a few years after this form of musical expression had gained mainstream media attention with the promotion of the Sex Pistols as the nation’s new ‚pop group.’ Ever since this 'sung obituary,' it seems as if punk musicians (i.e. those who understood themselves or were identified as such) as well as punk journalists and scholars have regularly set out with a vengeance to resurrect a subculture whose extinction had been heretically proclaimed by a band which had been considered to be part of it. Against the backdrop of these observations, my contribution traces discursive and performative practices which, in various 'punk revivals,' have been employed to contribute to the making, or remaking, of punk as a movement. Though I will also include examples from journalistic and scholarly writing on punk, I will predominantly focus on the modes of dealing with the movementization and mediatization of punk in punk music itself, illustrating that punk – through a number of ‚revivals’ – indeed managed to further develop a particularly self‐reflexive stance with specific regard to the ways it has been represented and has represented itself.

Martin Butler is Junior‐Professor of American Literature and Culture and Speaker of the PhD Programme ‘Cultures of Participation’ at the University of Oldenburg.


Section IV, Part 1: Media, Subjectivity and Participation in Movement Discourse

Michaela Keck, “Gender, Critique, and Participation in the Black Freedom Movement: Anne Moody's Autobiographical Self‐Fashioning in Coming of Age in Mississippi”

While the Great March on Washington on 27 August 1963 is often called one of the culminating points in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, in her autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968), Anne Moody comments irreverently: “I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers, to discover that we had ‘dreamers’ instead of leaders leading us. Just about every one of them stood up there dreaming” (335). Her contemptuous remark towards black religious leaders in general and the messianic leader figure of Martin Luther King in particular, represents one of Moody’s central critiques of the freedom movement’s models of black patriarchal leadership at the same time as it demonstrates her emphasis on the power of the people. Melissa A. Flanagan has read Coming of Age in Mississippi as a unique testimony to women’s heroic fight at the frontlines of the black freedom movement, a testimony “ideologically poised at the intersection of civil rights and Black Power” (“Autobiography as Political Resistance” ii). As such, Moody’s autobiography provides invaluable insights into women’s activism and their role in what sociologist Belinda Robnett has identified as Bridge Leadership, that is, informal positions of power and autonomy often invisible to the public, in which (women) activists fostered and maintained vital connections between the movement’s visible, formal male leaders and the local communities in the South. At the same time, and as I will argue, by critically distancing herself from the black male religious leadership, Moody also positions herself in line with the black revolutionary tradition that Cornel West has called “Black prophetic fire”: she assumes a position of marginality, which allows her to simultaneously criticize the systemic, racist oppression of blacks in the American South and the problems, tensions, and shortcomings within the freedom movement itself. As a result, she fashions herself as a revolutionary figure who, by turns, guides and inspires but also exhorts and challenges her fellows in their joint suffering and struggle; a revolutionary who relies on and teaches self‐help but who also rejects formal leadership for herself. In short, Moody’s self‐fashioning as an uncompromising female prophet and revolutionary oscillates between guiding figure and participation. Paradoxically, this fashioning of her selfhood as outstanding and participatory, individual and collective, ultimately cannot avoid the image of the charismatic loner and leader.

Michaela Keck is lecturer for American Studies at the University of Oldenburg.


Birger Hansen and Christian Lassen, “Confronting Trauma through Activism: Reparative Engagements with Social Movements”

"To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim and that joins victim and witness in a common alliance. For the individual victim, this social context is created by relationship with friends, lovers and family. For the larger society, this social context is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered." (Herman Trauma and Recovery 8). Judith Herman points out that both individual and collective traumata are best confronted by means of communication and communalization. While one can view this as a parallel structure, we aim to examine the individual's role within the collective and, in particular, to demonstrate in how far social movements offer a reparative space that enables trauma victims to reconnect their pre‐ and post‐ traumatic identities and to rearticulate them into a coherent self‐narrative. In light of this, we argue that social movements can support the healing process of the traumatized individual. While arguably many social movements have provided this space, we would like to focus on two particular movements: the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and ACT UP!, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which was founded by former members of the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). These movements have brought forward two of the most famous activist authors: Ron Kovic and Larry Kramer, whose engagement has provided them with the opportunity to connect their traumatized and fragmented selves by giving meaning to their experiences. Their works, the autobiography Born on the Fourth of July, and the AIDS dramas The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, thus serve as role models for reclaiming individual autonomy by means of social engagement.

Christian Lassen is Lecturer for Anglophone Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Oldenburg, presenting together with Birger Hansen, whose B.A. thesis is the basis for this paper.


Section IV, Part 2: Media, Subjectivity and Participation in Movement Discourse

Michaela Koch, “‘I have had the pleasure of corresponding directly with Cheryl Chase’: Political Intersex Activism and Academic Criticism”

In 1993, in a letter to an editor of the magazine The Sciences, Cheryl Chase asks “intersexuals and people close to them to write to us at the Intersex Society of North America” (letter n.p.). This public encouragement is often referred to as the founding document of the U.S. intersex movement (cf. Preves, Karkazis). Yet, this letter is not only an address to intersex people themselves, but also Chase’s reply to an article by feminist biologist Anne Fausto‐Sterling from the previous issue of the magazine. Fausto‐Sterling takes up Chase’s reply to her article and confesses her “pleasure of directly corresponding with Cheryl Chase” (reply n.p.). Thus, Chase’s letter is at once the founding document of ISNA (at the time of writing, Chase was ISNA’s only member) and the beginning of the collaboration between academic criticism and intersex activism. In the following years, ISNA grew to become the world’s largest intersex advocacy organization with activities ranging from peer support to public protests at medical conferences and in the media. ISNA’s work has been accompanied by (academic) criticism and scholarship commenting on, supporting, and scrutinizing the organization’s development, its impact, politics, and policies. In return, intersex activists have continuously evaluated, supported, or contradicted intersex scholarship. However, cooperation or alliances between activism and academia are not undisputed and provoke questions of independence, objectivity, and credibility (of both scholarship and activism). Thus, this paper scrutinizes the discourse on the intersex movement (rather than the intersex movement as such), focuses on the relationship between intersex activism and academic criticism, and attempts to consider the effects for both.

Works Cited

Chase, Cheryl. Letter. “Intersexual Rights.” The Sciences July/August (1993): n.p. Print.
Fausto‐Sterling, Anne. “Reply.” The Sciences July/August (1993): n.p. Print.
‐‐‐. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough.” The Sciences March/April (1993): n.p. Print.
Karkazis, Katrina A. Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. Print.
Preves, Sharon E. Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2003. Print.

Michaela Koch is lecturer for Anglophone Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Oldenburg and recently finished her PhD thesis.


Corinna Schmechel, “Athletic movements: About concepts of sporty activities as element of social and political movements on the example of feminist_queer sportsmovements”

In my input I want to expand the meaning of the term „movement“ by focussing on social and political movements which address the body and sportive practices field of their concern. Therefore I would like to introduce the feminist sport‐movement which grew in the 1980’s and some of the outcomes of this, which are nowadays feminist and_or queer sports‐clubs. I want to raise the issue of the role of the body and the affective bodily experiences for the participation in a social movement. For the actors of the 1980’s feminist sports‐movement – which concentrated especially on combat sports and other „male“ disciplines – the possibility of experiencing one’s own body and use (and move) it without restrictions of gendered stereotypes and role models, was elementary for a brighter movement of political emancipation. Nowadays this goal still exists and is accompanied with the claim of transgendered and genderqueer persons for spaces to do sports without binary gender‐restrictions. The sportive use of the body occurs as a metaphor and a tool for a general participation in society (as can also be noticed meanwhile in state‐funded programs such as “Integration durch Sport”, which claim to integrate migrant and socially deprivileged people). What does it mean that sports and politics are intervened in this way? How can this be related to a rising claim on the subjects to care for one’s own body, to be sportive and fit and to fulfil beauty‐ and health‐norms? In which way are these norms and claims (including their immanent boundaries as for dis‐abled persons and abasement of fat people) reproduced when doing sports is contained into political motions?

Corinna Schmechel, M.A is member of the Ph.D. programme “Cultures of Participation”, University of Oldenburg, where she is doing a research on marginalized bodies within the field of fitness sports.


Section V: Historical Trajectories: Movement Discourse and the Threshold of Modernity

Samuel Cohn, “Cholera Riots of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century: A Class Struggle We May Not Like”

My paper will begin with a brief examination of the contemporary and theoretical literature on social movements to question whether various movements of the later Middle Ages should not be classified as ‘social movements’. I will then jump to cholera myths and social violence that spread from Asiatic Russia to New York City in 1831‐7 and which continued to recur in places in Europe until 1911 (even 1973). These movements, I will argue, are far more difficult to fit into present notions of ‘social movements’ than artisan organizations and revolts or certain religious movements of the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, a discussion of these widespread cholera protests, most often of marginal populations and on the margins of organized social and political modes of protest, might help further probe our definitions and considerations of movements that rest on the frontiers of presently defined ‘social movements’. The talk will also seek to illustrate how cholera protest evolved over the nineteenth and twenty century, while maintaining certain of its core mythologies.

Samuel Cohn is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow.


Wil Verhoeven, "Clubbable Conversation: Movements, Mobility and the Birth of Political Modernity in Britain, 1789‐1803"

The era of the great revolutions during the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw an extraordinary mushrooming of movements of many shapes and sizes: sects, factions, coteries, clubs, coalitions, mobs, societies, systems, denominations, schools, orders, doctrines, cults, creeds, etc. This sharp proliferation of movements in society in general, and in the political realm in particular, occurred at the confluence of two related meanings of “movement”: that of “a group of people acting or working together” and of “the act or process of moving.” In fact, much of the revolutionary energy of the period resulted from the overdetermined relationship between, on the one hand, groups of diffusely organized people or organizations striving toward a common goal relating to sociopolitical change; and, on the other hand, a marked increase in the mobility of people and ideas. Simply put, it takes people to be able to move around in the social reality, before they can form a reformist movement of minds and political ideas. In turn, the new opportunities for public debate crucially depended on the emergence of new technologies of dissemination and communication, thereby allowing individuals to make public use of their reason. As the discursive space within which this key rational debate took place, the Habermasian bourgeois public sphere hinged on new media (newspapers, magazines, novels) and new readers (the middle class), in new discursive arenas (printers’ shops, as well as coffee‐houses, salons, Tischgesellschaften). This paper will try to disentangle some of the convoluted complexities surrounding the material origins of ideal movements within the specific historical context of what is known as the “French Revolution debate” in Britain. For the first time in British history, the plurality of the nation’s cultural experience was conducted in a common participatory form. Yet, many questions remain as to who exactly the constituents were in that formative debate. Certainly, it cannot in retrospect be seen as simply polarized into “radicals” versus “loyalists” or “Jacobins” versus “anti‐ Jacobins.” Was there really a reform “movement,” or are we rather dealing with an ad hoc rainbow coalition of anti‐establishment voices? Was the conservative reaction defined and motivated by a coherent political agenda, or merely by fear and panic? In fact, was the French Revolution “debate” not just a cacophony of sociopolitical dissonance? To what extent was “the last real discussion of the fundamentals of politics” (Cobban) the construct of historical anachronism? And would it then still be proper to designate that “debate” as “the most crucial ideological debate ever carried out in English” (Copeland) or “the birth of political modernity” (Claeys)?

Wil Verhoeven is Professor of American Culture and Cultural Theory and Chair of the American Studies Department at Groningen University, the Netherlands.


Albrecht Hausmann, “Movement(s) in Medieval and Early Modern Contexts”

The term ‘movement’ seems to hold a certain fascination for medievalists: Ever since Herbert Grundmann’s Religious Movements in the Middle Ages (1935), ‘movements’ are identified as a marked focus of research interest, contrasting with an – allegedly – rather static medieval society. But is this approach appropriate? Does it correspond to the contemporary sense of self and awareness of others in such ‘movements’? This paper pursues questions like these on the basis of examples from the late Middle Ages (Devotio moderna) and the Age of Humanism.

Albrecht Hausmann is Professor of German Medievalism and Dean of Studies of the School of Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Oldenburg.


Section VI: Movement Discourse beyond Western Modernity: Transnational and Transcultural Perspectives

Gun‐Britt Kohler, “’Movement Discourse’ in Belarus (1906‐1932)“

This paper offers some tentative propositions as a first approach towards reconstructing a ‘movement discourse’ in Belarus. My point of departure is the journal Naša Niva (Our Field), published between 1906 and 1915, which can be understood as nucleus and motor of the emergent Belarusian public sphere of the period. The journal contributes significantly to the propagateion of a national renaissance, which is apparently itself conceptualized as a ‘movement’, and which seems to be generating further movements, among these a literary movement. A second focus of my paper is on the 1920s and on the development of ‘movement discourse’ in the highly dynamic field of literature against the background of a complex political, social and cultural framework. I will analyze to what degree the plurality of literary groups goes along with (self‐) categorizations as a ‘movement’ (bel.: ‘ruch’) or ‘current’ (bel.: ‘plyn’), and which alternative or complementary categories may be used. I will examine, too, how the discourse – and the literary evaluations it proposes – change (or are even discontinued) in consequence of the centralisation of literary organizations around the end of the 1920s. This paper thus aims at contributing to verifying the thesis that ‘movements’ as a concept are bound to modern pluralist societies. In addition, this proposition may possibly serve as a measure for analyzing the cultural and social development in Belarus in terms of the achievement or the loss of ‘modernity’.

Gun‐Britt Kohler is Professor of Slavonic Literary Studies and Director of the Institute of Slavonic Studies at the University of Oldenburg.


Brycchan Carey, “Navigation, Circulation, Migration, and Rotation: ‘Incessant Movement(s)’ in the Eighteenth‐Century Caribbean World”

This paper argues that while colonial discourse very often implies a search for stability and permanence, with its emphasis on planting, rooting, establishing, settling, and colonising, in fact, the opposite was very often true. Writing produced in and about the eighteenth‐century British Caribbean rarely displays a sense of stability but instead more often represents ‘incessant movement’, not just of people—as mariners, colonists, labourers, and slaves—but also of soils, crops, and agricultural produce. Indeed, as one early eighteenth‐century poet pithily expressed it, while many speculators ‘went about’ to discover the seemingly impossible secret of determining longitude, colonial planters had meanwhile found out the secret of perpetual motion on tropical plantations worked year round by an army of enslaved labourers. This incessant movement was not merely of people and things, however. Colonialism demanded a revolution in thought, ranging from new ideas about nature and the culture of tropical lands, to scientific and pseudoscientific discourses about race that were increasingly used to justify slavery—the economic backbone of the British colonies. These ideas circulated widely, albeit not always freely, through the myriad ships passing throughout the Atlantic world; a physical base to the discursive superstructure which Paul Gilroy has called ‘The Black Atlantic’. This paper will focus on four specific types of movement within this structure—navigation, circulation, migration, and rotation—to show how each physical movement contributed to the development of a colonial discourse that both reflected and was itself in incessant motion.

Brycchan Carey is Professor of English Literature at Kingston University, London.


Annika McPherson, “South‐North Entanglements in Movement Discourse: Theorizing Pan‐Africanism”

While the term ‘movement’ has consistently appeared in connection to Pan‐Africanism at the very latest since the First Pan‐African Conference in 1900, it became more firmly entrenched in the context of 20th century processes of political ‘movementization’ and especially in the wake of 1960s historiography. The label, however, has entered Pan‐African discourse via different routes and – at least in relation to the timeframe 1850‐1900 – in its present meanings often seems to be applied retrospectively rather than in the historical sources themselves. This paper traces some of these routes and connotative shifts in this context via a selection of archival records and materials from the 1850s onwards. Based on these sources’ self‐designations and the wider semantic field, the problem of retrospective ‘labelling’ will be connected to the dynamics of diaspora politics between proponents of Pan‐Africanism in the ‘West’ and continental Africa and, more recently, the ‘Global South’ and the ‘Global North’. I argue that it is precisely the (retrospective) designation as a ‘movement’ which allows for these dynamics to be theorized as a discursive entanglement reflecting the principles of Pan‐Africanism. Hence, Pan‐Africanism arguably only emerges as a potentiality through the very label of ‘movement’.

Annika McPherson is Junior‐Professor for New English Literatures and Cultural Studies at the University of Augsburg.