Pamphlets are everywhere: from disenfranchised groups defending their existence to transnational coalitions advocating for systemic change, pamphlets are both a preeminent medium of political transformation and a massively popular genre of literature. From Émile Zola’s “J’accuse…!” and the Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection to viral social media posts and open letters addressing society at large, pamphlets have been at the forefront of major societal transformations for centuries. Processes of democratization and dedemocratization, colonization and decolonization, the universalization of civil rights, the enforcement of territorial autonomy, and the critique of labor exploitation have frequently been accompanied by extensive pamphleteering.
By prompting polarized, often violent discussions, pamphlets subvert discursive contexts which have established consensus and instrumental rationality as binding norms. In doing so, pamphlets not only convey information and opinions, they also call on readers to form coalitions, communities, and counterpublics to challenge established powers. This raises complex questions about the circulation of pamphlets among authors, readers, counterpublics, and larger general publics. Pamphlets articulate contentious claims across the political spectrum: in recent years, the polemical texts of the #MeToo movement, of Black Lives Matter, of the Catalan Independence Party, of Brexit, of ACT UP, of anti-abortion coalitions, or of The Pirate Bay have demonstrably affected the normative fabric of Western societies. Pamphletary literature and the responses it elicits are at the core of contemporary social history.
Although pamphlets address elementary questions in modern politics, scholarship knows very little about this crucial genre. In fact, comparatively little research has been done on the way activists use polemical texts to enforce their political objectives, and we know next to nothing about how non-specialist, general readers respond to pamphletary claims. Yet they clearly do so, and with increasing frequency in the Digital Age. How does the pamphlet, both in its traditional form and in its digital manifestations, shape and frame the objectives of contentious politics? What pamphletary impulses lead to political action, and what political actions crystalize into normative change?
The international conference “Activist Writing – The Pamphlet in Practice, History, Media, and the Public Sphere” addresses these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective. We invite contributions from scholars working in fields as various as sociology, history, literary and cultural studies, philosophy, and political science to submit abstracts dealing with the following and related questions:
- Pamphletary Practices: The production, circulation, and reception of activist texts
- The Social Uses of Polemical Literature: Community, participation, and representation by and with pamphlets
- Historicizing Polemical Texts: Pamphleteering from the rotary press to social media
- Publics and the Public Sphere: From pamphletary publics to political coalitions
- From Text to Event: When and how do polemical texts make history?
- Inclusionary and Exclusionary Effects of Activist Literature: Social capital, epistemic injustice, and intersectionality
- Everyone a Pamphleteer? Corporate and reactionary forms of pamphleteering
- Addressing the Real: Causes for contention underlying pamphletary claims
- Polemic, Critique, and Violence: Frameworks of legitimate discourse
- Pamphleteering in the Digital Age: Genres, transitions, and contemporary manifestations
We encourage applications from senior researchers, early-career scholars, and graduate students. Please submit an abstract (300-500 words) and a short biographical note by August 15, 2021 via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to meet in person in Munich, Germany from February 24-26, 2022. In an effort to make the event more accessible and feasible in the event of continuing COVID-19 restrictions, a hybrid format is planned for the conference. A follow-up publication based on the conference is also planned.
This conference is organized by the members of the ERC research project “The Arts of Autonomy: Pamphleteering, Popular Philology, and the Public Sphere” at the
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 852205).
Prof. Dr. Pierre-Héli Monot
Dr. David Bebnowski
Sakina Shakil Gröppmaier