The Aesthetics of Radical Democracy

MLA International Symposium: Translating the Humanities

Düsseldorf, Germany

June 23-25, 2016

Organizers: Urs Büttner (Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany) and David Kim (University of California Los Angeles, USA)


In the past few decades, Europe has grown both together and apart. On the one hand, this means that more decisions are being made in Brussels and Strasbourg, and that governmental power is increasingly conferred to the European Commission. On the other hand, these developments in political Europeanization involve technocratization, bureaucratization, the loss of democratic legitimation, and the growing influence of capitalism. It is not only national populists who make these accusations, but also leftist intellectuals have demanded more radical senses of democracy in response to these processes.


What does “radical democracy” mean then? Conceptualized in opposition to the “official,” representative politics, the concept suggests that the “demos,” the people, rules itself in an original sense of the political. Since the will of the people has to be visible in this self-presentation, such a sensibility is indispensably bound to an aesthetic form of expression. Loosely associated with “the new philosophy of the political,” Badiou, Lefort, Laclau, and Rancière, among others, offer slightly different conceptions of this theoretical relationship while focusing on performative expressions in protest movements, action art, and theatrical performances. Examples include artistic projects as diverse as the “Occupy” protests, the burial action of Mediterranean refugees in Berlin organized by the Zentrum für politische Schönheit, Schlingensief’s action “Ausländer raus. Bitte liebt Österreich!”, and the theatrical works of Pollesch and Jelineck.


The aim of this panel, titled “The Aesthetics of Radical Democracy,” is to examine how the arts intervene in the “depolitization” of “official” politics in Europe. The panelists will analyze how the concept of “radical democracy” has emerged in relation to this aesthetic intervention. From both sides of the Atlantic and across disciplinary boundaries, they will examine how democracy is (re)presented in art, literature, film, new media, and music, and why the European context serves as an instructive platform for this comparative or translational study. They will question how aesthetic expressions of the demos are inscribed in humanistic languages across cultural, national, linguistic, and ideological borders.


We seek papers that explore cultural practices that lead to radically democratic associations or imagine new social relations. In critique of liberal capitalism within the current European context, we hope to illuminate how the arts remake politicized arenas. These examinations raise questions as to what imaginary communitarian principles are at the heart of European public spheres, and when identity-based categories link up with certain notions of democracy. They speak to certain forms of “radical democracy” within national, cultural, historical or linguistic contexts, and to their receptions or perceptions by communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Our goal is to investigate how “radical democracy” at the crossroads of aesthetics and politics generate newly urgent discussions about political agency, social change, and aesthetic sensibility.


We invite proposals from all disciplines in the humanities. Papers can be presented either in German or in English. Please send a paper abstract (no more than 300 words) and a brief, one-page-long c.v. to [log in to unmask] and [log in to unmask] by August 3, 2015. Notification of acceptance to the panel will be sent out a week later.

David D. Kim
Assistant Professor of German
Department of Germanic Languages
University of California Los Angeles
212 Royce Hall, Box 951539
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1539
Tel (310) 825-3604
Fax (310) 825-9754
Email [log in to unmask]
Twitter @ddkim323
******************* The German Studies Call for Papers List Editor: Stefani Engelstein Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt Sponsored by the University of Missouri Info available at: