CONFERENCE, CfP: “Political Communication on the Spot” Democratic Cultures and the Local in Europe 1870-1990. 04.-06.04.13. Deadline: 31.03.12.

Politische Kommunikation vor Ort. Demokratische Kulturen und lokaler Raum in Europa 1870-1990 / Political Communication on the Spot. Democratic Cultures and the Local in Europe 1870-1990

Berlin, April 4 – April 6, 2013.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Mergel / Claudia Christiane Gatzka M.A. / Benjamin Schröder M.A., Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Deadline: March 31, 2012

The fundamental politicization that many European societies experienced during the last third of the 19th century appeared to contemporaries and historians alike as a process that might be described as a virtualization of political communication. Successive enlargements of the franchise integrated ever more people into the political process, forcing them to communicate within the framework of parties and other imagined communities. The expansion of a commercialized press, later the emergence of new media, such as the cinema, radio, and television, created a market of opinions; political communication took on the form of mass communication. According to new concepts of the masses and propaganda citizens and electors appeared as a passive ‘target group’ that could easily be manipulated.

At the same time, however, men and women continued to arrange their daily routine in reference to their immediate environment, the cities and villages in which they lived and their distinct social structures and local cultures. Far into the 20th century and beyond it was primarily in a local context that the polity could be mobilized, followings could be built and issues were debated, and the politicization of face-to-face communication had an effect, in turn, on local day-to-day life. Political communication referring to the national or even international communities, too, was situated mostly in concrete places: Politicians did not exclusively speak through newspaper or television but also in ‘real’ places. What happened in cities and villages when they were turned into a stage for national political communication? To what degree did local codes imprint themselves on the modes of conflict and cooperation? Can we speak of a continuous nationalization or even Europeanization of political communication in Europe since the late 19th century; or do local characteristics turn out to have been quite persistent even in the age of a mass public sphere? What influence did the changing media, traditional understandings of conflict, or the arrangements of the electoral system have on how politics were performed on a local level?

The conference is addressing these questions from a European perspective. A look at the USA will be useful to point out specifically ‘European’ features. We are looking to investigate relations and tensions between ‘central’ political communication and ‘peripheral’ local cultures in European societies in the late 19th and 20th centuries, using as case studies concrete places. These would ideally be comparative, but we are also interested in studies about single countries, and they are meant as examples – while research will be conducted in villages, it is not about these villages. Our notion of political communication is wide: it includes not only verbal communication but also performances, ritualized and other symbolic practices that serve to advertise for a cause, to shape identities, and to stage and resolve disputes. National elections offer an excellent site to investigate these questions, but proposals dealing with other aspects of political communication and its local dimensions are equally welcome.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

– Mobilization and Politicization:
How is the local community’s interest raised for political events and issues of a national character, and how, coming as they are perceived from ‘the outside’, are they fitted into the local political sphere? What kinds of politicization can we observe in concrete places, and which role does the local situatedness play here? How do citizens become visible as an object but also as an actor within political processes? – Local Community and Partisanship: The imagined local community, which mostly defines itself against an ‘outside other’, is rendered precarious by partisanship. What kind of strategies to bridge or bypass political divisions can we identify, and how were persistent political boundaries dealt with? How did the local terrain influence where and how deep trenches between the camps were dug? How and with what success did partisan groups claim to represent the local community?

– Conflict and Violence:
Which ways of resolving conflict can be observed locally? How did violence appear on the stage, and was it endogenous or exogenous in origin? Which conflicts evolved into traditions, and to what extent did these match conflicts ‘on the outside’?

– Symbolic Worlds in Urban Space:
Did symbolic universes differ from one place to another and in comparison with supra-local levels? Can we observe something like local semiotic communities? Which images defined the local dimension of political communication? What role did particular spatial arrangements play in the symbolic construction of politics on a local level?

– The Personal Dimension of Local Political Communication:
How important were personal acquaintance and personal communication as a channel of political communication in the local sphere? What was the relation between ‘local heroes’ and politicians that came from outside? How did ‘multiple’ identities of those involved – such as being a member both of the local community but also of a political party – lead to tensions?

– Mediated Communication in the Local Sphere:
To what extent do we have to talk about mediated political communication even on a local level, and how were the media different in one place compared with other places or regional/national media? How did ‘national’ forms of communication, for instance propaganda material, enter the local sphere and how were they dealt with and transformed locally? How did technical innovations such as microphone and loudspeaker change specifically local modes of face-to-face communication, for instance in political meetings? How did people ‘learn’ to use mediated forms of political communication locally?

The conference is organized by the research project ‘Electioneering as Democratic Practice. Studies in Political Communication in the 20th Century’, which is funded by the Thyssen Foundation. It will take place from 4 to 6 April 2013 at Humboldt-University in Berlin and it will be held in English and German. Proposals for a paper should likewise be in English or German and about 500 words long.

The panels will be made up of short presentations, based on papers that are circulated beforehand, and a discussant commenting the papers. A publication of the results is planned. Please send your proposals to Claudia Christiane Gatzka: . The deadline is 31 March 2012.

Claudia Christiane Gatzka
Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin