Aim of the study circle

This study circle aims at investigating the aesthetic appearances and the experiences of the political in contemporary democracies. What form does the political have today? How do we make sense out of it?

By the political we understand political acts and manifestations in all forms including not only debates and decisions but also institutional and material organization as well as communication and actions of everyday living. The political is thus a wider notion than political institutions and philosophies; it includes how our everyday is embedded in ideologies forming our thoughts and actions.

The focus on appearances is a focus on forms in which the political appears, thus a question of aesthetics and aestheticization. This, again, covers a wide range of phenomena fromthe direct use of aesthetic means in the staging and presentation of politicians and events of political significance to the organization of our environment. A central phenomenon is the way the media aestheticizes politics making the media the heart of the everyday both for what is said and how it is said.

This topic is covered by a variety of disciplines such as aesthetics, rhetoric, communication, material culture studies, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, pedagogy, and philosophy. The aim of the study circle is to bring these different disciplines into dialogue based on expertise in each discipline and the importance of including knowledge from other disciplines.

 

The work of the study circle

Themes of the circle, corresponding to the six seminars:

Conceptual analysis. The intention of the study circle is to create a platform for future collaborations and applications. This makes it crucial to establish a conceptual common ground making explicit the understanding of key concepts and elaborating on different forms of investigation to create a platform for sharing common interest and exchanging of knowledge. It is important for the circle to consult more fields including political theory, philosophy, communication, social sciences and cultural studies.

Historical. For a common platform serves also analysis of 20th century phenomena. The ’60s and ’70s displayed a wide range of new forms of appearances of political activities like, for example, personal appearance in fashion and anti-fashion including specific styles like punk and fetishizing expressions of military forms of guerrilla soldiers and freedom fighters. Also the cold war had many forms of political expressions in both Soviet idea of political form and free market informed ideology.

Material culture. Public space is planned and organised in accordance with particular political ideas, not least of free market and consume. Functionalist architecture has displayed ideas of educating the modern citizen while also enhancing specific, unintended, ideas of modern life such as individualism as goes the Situationist critique. In similar fashion design contributes to forming physical space in accordance with ideologies and intentions. Design is important for how we view space: how it is accessible, hierarchies, limitation of certain actions. Design is also used for changing actions like forming social and environmental sustainability.

Activism. Since the1960s the active forms of the political have been plural from marches and manifestations over interventions and happenings to more radical forms like occupations and violent forms such as terrorism. In recent years we have witnessed a revitalisation of mass movements by use of internet and social media, creation of new movements like Occupy and Indignados, and new activities like the hacktivism of Anonymous. In relation to environment we find guerrilla gardening along with local protests against corporate use of natural resources engaging people across traditional political groupings. Many forms of activism also face political resistance defining – or redefining – the political space threatening democratic rights with agendas of terrorism challenging or reshape the space for political activism.

Political arts and aesthetics in the Everyday. The power’s have always had an alliance with art defining and supporting art as official appearance of the ruling ideology. This is no less the case today, the powers only have changed from kings to consensual ideologies in the democracies. At the same time a whole margin of contemporary art is actually activist, having impact both in politics and the art world. A possible case to look into is the Ultracontemporary biennale in Copenhagen 2017. This will be studied with cooperation with political artists. Artistic research and experimental artistic work will so meet the already cross-scientific work of the circle, and help to both mirror it and to provide new alternative ways of looking at the subject.

Communication. Media have in many ways changed our ways of communication, both concerning content and form. The use of social media can be seen as an expansion of the public debate becoming easy accessible to all, though also changing ethical standards of what can be said as well as changing discourses from arguments into statements. They are also operating on terms not known, like algorithms, and becoming a battlefield for political and economic powers deeply embedded in different forms of control.

 

Nordic relevance

While there are more individuals and institutions in the Nordic/Baltic area concerned with studies in topics related to aesthetics and cultural studies there are, to our knowledge, not an established strategy or even research groups dedicated to studying the appearances of the political in our culture combining research from a philosophical/conceptual approach with also analysis of specific cases using skills of social and human sciences. The big issue is as well to bring in aesthetic inquiry into the world of politics.

Political engagement and communication is rapidly changing these years. The Nordic countries have a tradition for an inclusive democracy through institutions such as unions and NGOs as well as citizen’s groups related to specific topics. To develop analysis of this forms also an important starting point for discussing different forms of appearances as well as sharing experiences between Nordic traditions and other European countries.

The theme of the circle makes is obvious that activities are not only of interest for researchers but also for a wider public with whom the circle should aim at having more dialogues both for learning from practice and also for informing practice.

 

Methodological considerations for the running of the study circle

Motivation

The political in democracies seems to become both present in an increasing plurality of forms as well as to disappear or at least to be emptied of political content.

Modern media seems, as one example, an invitation to a more widespread and elaborate appearance of the political offering both access to news and information as well as participation. Social media has rapidly taken a central position in many political acts, however also contributing to transforming political discourses into easy and non-committal opinions. Similar the political communication is becoming a professionalised activity of political communication and new-speech where the political debate is more a matter of the form of presentation than ideas and visions. This contributes to influencing the participation in the political life and to mistrust in politicians and political institutions. Parallel to this the public space becomes increasingly appropriated by consume and market as an ideology forming public space thus public opinion. Such phenomena could be seen as examples of how the political debate and awareness is becoming suppressed in western societies.

The motivation of the study-circle is found in experiences of how the political is made present, in how these forms are developing and transformed, and in what consequences these forms of appearance have.

 

Plan

Winter 2016, Riga: Conceptual analysis

Summer 2016, Orivesi, Finland: Historical

Winter 2017, St. Petersburg: Material culture

Summer 2017, Berlin: Activism

Winter 2018, Tallinn: Political art and aesthetics in the Everyday

Summer 2018: Communication