Sample of proposed study circle

Forms of appearance of the political in contemporary democracies.

1. Aim of the proposal

This study circle aims at investigating the aesthetic appearance and the aestheticizing interpretations and experiences of the political in contemporary democracies. Where and how does the political take form today, and 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. No concise aesthetic analysis of this exists yet.

The focus on appearance 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 from the 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 market informed ideology.

– Material culture. Public space is planned and organised in accordance with particular political ideas, not least of free market and consume. Architecture has displayed ideas of educating the modern citizen while also enhancing specific, unintended, ideas of modern life. One can view graffiti and street art as acts insisting on the right to use the public space in a different way than planned. 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 1960s 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. Recent years have seen 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 to what is said. 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. Also the rhetoric of political communication as well as the staging of one’s communicative appearance has become a major focus.

The circle is intended for establishing a strong network in Nordic/Baltic countries that will form the foundation for applications in both Nordic and EU area for additional and future activities.

The winter meetings should be organised in collaboration with partners such as the hosting institution and possible in relation to MA- and/or PhD-courses. Collaboration with other study circles in NSU has high priority especially Human Rights/EHU and the proposed circle emerging from the current circle Crossing Context. Partners from the art-world will be included such as Theatre 99 (EST), The New Latvian Theatre Institute, and New Baltic Dance Festival (LIT). Partners for collaboration also includes Finnish Society for Aesthetics and Visual Culture and Contemporary Art MA Programme at Aalto University

Collaboration with Scopus indexed journals for possible publication of a number of presentations is crucial to enable participants having participation funded by their institution and to prove the activity of the circle for further applications. Example of this could be The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics published by the Nordic Society of Aesthetics. The study circle intends to have an outcome of more publications in different journals and publications serving the participant’s professional interests.

The activity of the circle will not be limited to the two yearly sessions. It is important to establish a continuing activity through online platform used for exchange of information, news, and literature; for ongoing debates about topics, and for giving feedback on participants writing intended for publication. It is possible to imagine sub-groups within the circle related to specific institutions or to one of the themes of the circle running through the full time span of the circle. The circle will work towards additional meetings throughout the year with individuals, research groups, and institutions in all of Europe also for building up a platform for EU-funding.

Nordic relevance
While there are more researchers 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.

2. Methodological considerations for the running of the study circle

The political in modern 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.

Winter 2016, Riga 
Conceptual analysis

Summer 2016

Winter 2017, Vilnius
Material culture

Summer 2017

Winter 2018, Tallinn
Political art and aesthetics in the Everyday

Summer 2018

3. List of the people behind the proposal

Max Ryynänen, Aalto University,
Carsten Friberg, Indpendent researcher,

Raine Vasques, University of Helsinki,
Arto Haapala, University of Helsinki,
Corinna Casi, University of Helsinki,

Mikkel Bille, Roskilde University,
Jacob Lund, Aarhus University,
Susan Carruth, Aarhus School of Architecture,
Tue Løkkegaard, University of Copenhagen,
Jan Løhmann Stephenson, Aarhus University,
Luise Langergaard, Roskilde University,
Dehlia Hannah, Arizona State University/University of Copenhagen,

Anna-Lena Carlsson, Mälardalens högskola,

Knut Ove Eliassen, University of Trondheim,
Toufoul Abou-Hodeib, University of Oslo,
Albert Cheng-Syun Tang, Bergen Academy of Art and Design,

Epp Annus, Estonian Literary Museum,
Margus Vilahem, University of Talinn,

Andrew Haas, National Research University, Moscow,
Jozef Kovalčik, Bratislava Academy of Fine Art and Design,
Dan Eugen Ratiu, Babes-Bolyai University,
Flavia Loscialpo, Southampton Solent University,

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Debord, Guy La Société du spectacle. Paris 1967 (The Society of the Spectacle. 1970).
Fr üchtle, Josef & Jörg Zimmermann Eds. Ästhetik der Inszenierung. Frankfurt a.M. 2001.
Haug, Wolfgan Fritz. Kritik der Warenästhetik. Frankfurt a.M. 1971
Hoff-Clausen, Elisabeth. Online ethos. Frederiksberg 2008
Jakobsen, Jakob. Bidrag til kritik af den politiske vidensøkonomi. København 2014.
Koch, Christian. De svarer ikke. København 2011.
Kovalčik, Jozef & Max Ryynänen. Eds. Aesthetics of Popular Culture. Bratislava 2014
Lefebvre, Henri. Production de l’espace 1974. (The Production of Space. 1991)
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Vattimo, Gianni.La società trasparente Milano 1989. (The Transparent Society).