F*ck May 68, Fight Now: Exploring the Uses of the Radical Past from 1968 to Today

It’s been a while since we held Unofficial Histories. Precarious part-time jobs or working 60-hour weeks meant that we have not had the the time or energy to hold UH in the past couple of years. BUT, we are sort of coming back this year, 2018, albeit in the slightly different guise- a one-day conference in Liverpool…

F*CK MAY ’68, FIGHT NOW: EXPLORING THE USES OF THE RADICAL PAST FROM 1968 TO TODAY

Friday 8 June 2018, University of Liverpool

Around the time of the financial meltdown of 2008 and the ensuing economic crisis, the slogan ‘Fuck May ’68, Fight Now’ appeared on protest banners and spray-painted on walls all over Europe. In disavowing the legacies of that earlier moment of revolt and revolutionary optimism, it counterposed the urgencies of current struggles against the nostalgia and romance for the radical event. Yet disavowal or refusal have not been confined to a new generation of activists. The whole process of its memorialisation in the media and public culture can be said to have induced form of historical amnesia, in which, according to Paul Foot, a ‘1968 anniversary industry’ has portrayed what happened as ‘an aberration, a moment of delirium which seduced the youth of the time’. Even among historians, there has been a tendency to downgrade the significance of the 68 events in favour of far more consequential long-term processes of change running through the post-war period.

But these have been far from the only response to the legacies of ’68. The reconstruction of past traditions of radicalism has been a central activity in many post-68 movements. The politics of the Women’s Liberation Movement, for instance, was intimately linked to the rediscovery of women’s role as political agents and agitators in history. Indeed, the fusion of participatory politics and historical (or academic) study remains a vital legacy of 1968, represented, above all, in movements like History Workshop,  Geschichtswerkstätten, Dig Where You Stand, and others.

This conference takes the 50th anniversary of 1968 as an occasion to critically assess the various ways in which radical events and movements since the 1960s have been retold, not just in historical writing, but through a broad range of cultural media, activities, and practices, including by activists themselves. It also seeks to explore how the representation of the past is involved in the struggle over cultural and political meaning in the present, over what counts as history and what does not. Finally, it aims to reflect on how memory and history continue to inform political activity in the contemporary moment. In doing so, the conference organisers invite contributions from activists, historians, and other scholars, but also artists, journalists, curators, archivists, educators, filmmakers, musicians, and cultural workers.

Points for discussion might include:

  • How do activists and movements remember (or ritualise) past traditions of political struggle?
  • What tensions or contradictions are negotiated in this process? (e.g. between past and the promise of a better future).
  • How have certain media and forms shaped the memory of radicalism?
  • What are the ethical and political implications of writing the history of the radical event? Or: How do we write the history of revolution in a post-revolutionary age?
  • Has the history and memory of 1968 become fetishised in academic research?
  • Is history still a weapon?

Presentations of up to 20 minutes are welcomed on any area of political or cultural protest since the 1960s along the lines described above. Please submit proposal abstracts of 250-300 words to Ian Gwinn, e-mail address: iagwinn@liverpool.ac.uk .Any enquiries may be sent to the same address.

The deadline for this call for participation is Friday, 16th February 2018.

Funding should be available for travel expenses and accommodation for those speakers who need it.

The conference will take place on Friday 8th June 2018.

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