The relation between aesthetics and politics has long been an issue of concern: often treated as opposites, sometimes connected perhaps, but essentially belonging to different spheres. Politics has been understood as the public questioning and shaping of collective orders, through power struggle or rational deliberation, mainly within the institutions of the nation state; while aesthetics has been considered either a private affair or a radical form of play contained in the field of arts. Their mingling has been observed with skepticism. Yet this line of separation is undoubtedly less clear than some have claimed. For aesthetics and politics this is reflective of what can also be seen as a broader questioning of accounts based on social theories of functional differentiation.
Examples such as President Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace at a funeral for victims of the Charleston mass shooting, anti-smoking policies’ use of shocking images on packaging to dissuade tobacco product purchases , the Slow Food Movement’s mobilization of a constituency through taste experiences, the Occupy Movement’s bodily performance of collectivity in urban spaces, or the Center of Political Beauty intervening in the public discourse on refugees in Germany with the mass-digging of “graves” on the lawn in front parliament are all illustrative entanglements of doing aesthetics and doing politics. We suggest that in activism, party competition, public policy and international diplomacy, as well as in various branches of art, design and marketing, in everyday life and consumer practices, aesthetics and politics have become inextricably intertwined – or have always been so.
With this workshop, we want to re-examine the nexus between aesthetics and politics by turning away from their conception as institutionally or communicatively differentiated spheres and instead take a “practice turn” to have a look at what is actually done, and how, and to what effect – both in art, design and aesthetics and in politics, policy-making and governance. We propose to start with a generic (and provisional) definition of aesthetics as the doing (and undoing) of sensorial perceptions and politics as the doing (and undoing) of collective subjectivities and agencies. This brings us to focus on a variety of specific forms of entanglement between aesthetic and political practices. We are particularly interested in the interplay and tensions of such entanglements that are constitutive of social orders and patterns of governance as well as those that are disruptive. For quick reference we suggest as a guiding question for this endeavor: How do practices of shaping perceptions and practices of shaping collective subjectivities as well as agencies intertwine in specific situations, to what effect and for which kinds of collective orders?
Our conceptual starting point is defined by two recent trends in the fields of sociology and the study of governance. For one, the past two decades have seen a shift in the field of sociology toward the senses, opening up new ways for studying social relations beyond words. Then, across the social sciences, conceptions of governance have been widened from a focus on rules and the state’s monopoly of violence to the shaping of collective orders through culture, i.e., the systems of meaning that are taken for granted in the practicing of certain forms of life, such as language, gendered bodies, material devices or infrastructures. The new sociology of the senses and the cultural turn in governance studies meet each other, or can be made to meet, in praxeological approaches of social research that take specific sensorial dispositions and affective competences of human bodies as well as materialities and the physicality of media and artefacts to be constitutive elements of social order. They devote attention to ‘aesthetic practices’ as activities that reflexively engage with sensorial perception and affect. The sociology of the senses and praxeological studies of social ordering have also converged in a growing body of research that has begun to study the aesthetic practices at work in governmental public relations, the everyday politics of parliaments, policy-making and governance, marketing, grassroots mobilization, art activism and public participation.
The aim of our workshop is thus to further probe and outline a more conceptually refined practice-oriented approach toward the intertwined and reciprocally constitutive relationship between aesthetic and political practices. We hope to learn from concrete empirical examples about a variety of specific ways in which sensorial perceptions and collective subjectivities and agencies are shaped and about how they relate to each other, interact, and co-produce or jointly work to dismantle collectively lived realities. We expect that a focus on sensorial perception, affectivity and aesthetic practice will contribute a novel perspective on the (un)making of collective orders as it traditionally concerns studies of politics, governance and innovation, but where, so far, social order has largely been reduced to institutional, discursive and cognitive dimensions.
We invite contributions in the form of academic papers as well as artistic performances or accounts of interventions which provide exemplary demonstrations of aesthetic and political practices intertwined. Academic papers may focus on theoretical and methodological aspects directly related to the issues mentioned or may provide close-up empirical accounts of the intertwining of aesthetic and political practices and on their combined effect on specific, historically situated orders. We are primarily interested in papers of performative demonstrations concerned either with the disruptive interplay of aesthetics and politics breaking, subverting and deconstructing collective orders or with the constitutive interplay of aesthetics and politics building, maintaining and reinforcing collective orders. Collective orders may in any specific case be old, established and hegemonic or new, alternative, emancipatory realities and ways of life. We suggest that within this complex intertwining and nesting of aesthetic and political practices, and their ambivalence as both order-creating (modes of governance) and order-disrupting (modes of emancipation), a more differentiated approach may reveal a map of sorts, a sophisticated mingling and overlay of these practices and their effects.