‘Circulating Protest Memories’ workshop at Loughborough University

The Protest Memory Network’s second workshop, ‘The Afterlife of Protest: Circulating Protest Memories, took place over the 17th and 18th September 2018 at Loughborough University. The workshop was hosted by one of the network co-founders, Professor Emily Keightley from the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture at Loughborough. The workshop explored the dynamic qualities of mnemonic practices and the cultural, institutional, and political challenges and obstacles that shape the circulation of protest memories.

Day One

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The first day started with an energising session led by Kevin Ryan from Charnwood Arts, during which the delegates had an opportunity to get to know each other and approach the circulation of protest memory as participants/co-creators rather than academics. Smaller workshop groups then competed with each other in a quiz on iconic protest photos from around the world, followed by an interactive game of re-staging protest photos using a green screen and theatrical props.

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After lunch, Dr Anastasia Kavada from the University of Westminster chaired the session, ‘Archiving Occupy: the role of activists, museums and academics in preserving social movement memory’. The panel discussed preserving Occupy movement memories from a variety of viewpoints –  academic, activist and institutional. Foteini Avarani, representing the Museum of London, examined the historical responsibility of museums and their role as cultural institutions in simultaneously engaging in and archiving social protests.  Ludovica Rogers, from Occupy London, discussed media obsolescence and the problem of both storing and preserving all aspects of movement memory. The elusive character of protest memories, and the politics of what should be archived and by whom, fuelled the discussion after the panel – including conflicts within movements about who gets to document, and ‘password wars’.

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Delegates then considered the ‘Spaces of protest memories’, facilitated by Dr Anne Kaun from Södertörn University, Stockholm. Dr Kaun explored digital mapping as a key research method to capture how protest participants’ physical being in a space is constantly conjoined with global connectedness.

In ‘Actively curating/actively forgetting’, Professor Ruth Kinna and Dr Cristina Flesher Fominaya discussed the creative potential of forgetfulness and re-invention in protest cultures. Prof Kinna emphasised the importance of theorizing ‘protest’ in ‘protest memory’ as changing definitions and social perceptions of protest/protesters have a direct impact on the construction of protest memory. Dr Flesher Fominaya discussed actively forgetting the rules of political campaigning as a site of innovation in Madrid and Barcelona’s local elections, in which activist aesthetics (the Movement for Graphic Liberation) became a marketing tool of political victory. The discussion explored the pressing need for activists and artists to collectively intervene in symbolic and communicative spaces.

Day Two

The second day of the workshop kicked off with a presentation by Dr Jen Birks of University of Nottingham. The session, titled ‘Mediating and remembering anti-austerity protest’, examined narrative patterns in how protests are remembered in the mainstream press after their peak activities. During the workshop delegates were presented with extracts from British newspapers and asked to contextualise #UKUncut campaigns in news discourse.

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The next panel, ‘The materialities of protest: the afterlife of pamphlets and printed ephemera’, was a real treat for delegates as they entered a lecture theatre filled with visually stunning, historic zines, brochures and pamphlets. Dr Gillian Whiteley, from Loughborough University, Philipp Koellen of The Sparrows’ Nest Library and Kate Flannery, a former Equality Officer at Sheffield City Council, discussed the politics and dynamics of preservation (sorting, cataloguing & digitising) and circulation of the printed materials. Philipp Koellen, an activist archivist, emphasised the political importance of collaboration between individuals, libraries and archives in preserving knowledge that due to its materiality can easily be damaged or lost. Kate Flannery evaluated how historic protest memorabilia are used in today’s campaigns to revisit and remember violence and struggles of the past with particular reference to the UK Miner’s Strike in the 1980s.

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Workshop participants then visited the LU Arts exhibition space to explore the ‘Re-imagining citizenship’ exhibition. The exhibition inspected how creative and visual methods can help redefine modern citizenship in the age of political shifts and instability.  After the exhibition, Dr Pawas Bisht from Keele University gave a lecture on cinematic representations of protests following the Bhopal gas disaster. Dr Bisht discussed a number of films and media initiatives which took on and often appropriated this topic, and how activists involved in the campaign have fought to control and resist instrumental use of their memories.

The final session titled: ‘”Tweet, Tweet”: An introduction to digital poetry practices to (re)communicate memories of protest’ was led by Dr Sophie Hyde. Dr Hyde’s case study was the 2011 riots in Birmingham, which she researched by translating personal experiences of participants into digital poems.

The workshop concluded with a discussion on points raised during the two days. One theme in particular was present in many panels throughout the workshop –the imaginary/fantasy of perfect preservation of protest memories. The next instalment of the workshop (to happen at King’s College London in March 2019) will focus on institutional and grassroots practices of curating protest memory.