Since the start of the 21st century seemingly unpredictable change, in all its different guises, has fueled the preoccupations of academic and non-academic publics. The financial crisis, the ‘Arab Spring’, protest movements in southern Europe, the rise of Daesh and right-wing populism, as well as the environmental crisis all make it very difficult to rely on Francis Fukuyama’s theory of “end of history”, which now seems to merely reflect the euphoria of liberal elites following the collapse of the Soviet Union (1992). Such examples of historical assessments should teach us to be cautious of blind spots when we write about our times.
The ‘turning points’, ‘crises’, ’revolutions’ and ‘transformations’ being announced and debated on a regular basis only represent the most visible elements of the conceptual and theoretical apparatus that economists, political and social scientists, as well as scholars from the humanities, deploy to grasp a wide array of social, political, economic processes of the past 20 years. The grand narratives they refer to in order to decide which elements are relevant for understanding change are often out of touch with empirical inquiry. Furthermore, theories describing modernization, individualization, secularization and democratization, for instance, offer broad schemes of interpretation and generalization, but the coherence and strength of their philosophical underpinning only gives a limited account of the intricacies of observable situations.
For example, nowadays, many consider the events in Egypt and Syria, heralded as revolutions and moments of fundamental change by many scholars in 2011, as yet another example of the region’s supposed resistance to change. The situation seems to have reversed to the familiar scenarios of autocratic regime or war. Likewise, many recent processes in Europe, most spectacularly the Brexit, appear to observers to be a return to national paradigms that were thought obsolete. Endorsing such assessments is not neutral. They have their own impact on the social and political environment. Statements on change or lack thereof are always performative. They have effect on the configurations even when they pretend to merely describe them. They have deep implications on the way regions are being represented, which in turn can impact political and economic relations.
In a previous workshop (Snapshots of Change: Assessing Social Transformations through Qualitative Research) that took place at the University of Zurich in 2015, we focused on the methodological tools researchers can develop to study change. This new workshop, entitled Representations of Change: Time, Space, and Power in Qualitative Research on the Mena Region and Europe and to be held in 2018 at the Philipps-University Marburg, intends to reflect more closely on the webs of power affecting both the researcher and ‚the researched‘ when they intend to represent change.
We invite papers that address any of the following three major aspects:
1. Metaphors and grand narratives of change
What terms and metaphors do we use to represent change? What does, for example, a concept like ‘social acceleration‘ (H. Rosa), ‘overheating’ (Th. Hylland Eriksen), or a popular metaphor like ‘Arab Spring’ imply? What role do ’turning points’ play in delimiting the scope of our research, and how do we conceive such turning points? What narrative strategies do we use in writing about change and which concepts of temporality do they imply?
2. The power to represent change in academia
Who is legitimized and granted the authority to explain, define, describe or narrate change, as well as identify potentials of, or necessities for, change? More specifically, how do the power structures of academia influence the way we write about change? Which range of autonomy can Academia claim toward other sources of discourse on change? Who has the power to name social and political change? And what is the role of social science in the current regime of historicity in defining the relation and coherence of past-present-future (F. Hartog)?
3. Research encounters and the study of change:
This section addresses what appears as a blind spot in much of social research: How do the researchers’ social situations, their political and other belongings, influence their choice of subject, representations of change, methodology and sampling strategies? How do the representations of time and space that ‘research participants’ use when they speak about change differ from those of the researchers? Which common language can they rely on when they refer to the past, present and future in assessing change, and where may misunderstandings arise?
The presentations should be supported by concrete examples. An abstract (150-200 words), a CV and a list of publications should be sent to the organizers
before the 4th of September, 2017.
The workshop language is English.
Costs for travel and accommodation will be covered for the participants.
This workshop is a jointly organized by the Research Network “Re-Configurations” (funded by the BMBF), the Leibniz-Research Group “Figures of Thought | Turning Points” (both CNMS, Philipps-University Marburg) and SQUARE / University of Zurich.
Organization and proposal selection committee
University of Marburg (main conveners):
- Dr. Felix Lang: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Christoph Schwarz: email@example.com
University of Zurich:
- Dr. Yasmine Berriane: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Aymon Kreil: email@example.com