What happens to social movements when their momentum ebbs away, the streets are emptied and campaigning ceases? They become memory. At the core of the Remembering Activism research project at Utrecht University is the claim that protests have afterlives in the stories that are later told about them with the help of texts, images, objects, places; and that the cultural memory of earlier activism informs later movements by shaping actions and expectations, though not necessarily in a linear way. Underlying the study of these dynamics is the fundamental question: how are protest repertoires, ideals, and mobilizing affects transmitted across movements and across generations with the help of media?
Four years ago we set out to study this question and, in focusing on the remembrance of active citizenship and civic resistance, tried to move memory studies away from its traditional interest in war and trauma. A guiding concept in our work has been the idea of a ‘memory-activism nexus’ understood in terms of a feedback loop between the memory of activism, memory in activism, and memory activism (Rigney 2018; see also Daphi and Zamponi 2019). Along the route, we have organized various events on specific subthemes: on images as carriers of protest memory; on the role of words in framing narratives of protest; on archiving as an activist mnemonic practice; on life writing as a medium of activist memory; for details see www.rememberingactivism.eu.
How is activism remembered and how do stories about civil resistance and activist campaigns make a difference to later movements? In the final conference, we want to revisit these core questions, take stock of the answers so far, and above all, enrich the discussion of the memory-activism nexus by bringing in new voices from across a range of disciplines and regions.
Among the issues we will be addressing:
- Are certain cultural forms and mnemonic practices especially important in the remembrance of civil resistance and in the transmission of hope and defiance?
- How are the dynamics of activist memory influenced by changing media ecologies, specifically digital ones?
- How is the memory of activism mobilized in new protest waves?
- How does ‘memory activism’ (movements about memory; Gutman and Wüstenberg 2023) relate to activism directed towards other causes?
- When does activist memory become commodification and mere spectacle? And in whose interest?
- What forms of forgetting operate in activist memory, and (a piece missing here? Or ‘and’ as transition to the final question?)
- Could it be that hope thrives on forgetting the failures of the past rather than on remembering its energies?
For the programme in pdf with abstracts and more information on the speakers, click on the following link: Remembering Activism Conference Programme.
All are welcome to attend. No registration necessary!
Image: Poster, Plaza del Sol, Madrid, during the 15-M movement (2011); photo Zarateman; Creative Commons CC0 1.0