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Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics

Gabriella Elgenius - Keynote Speaker, The Symbolic Regimes of Nations: nation building and rival clusters of symbolism in Europe
The Symbolic Regimes of Nations: nation building and rival clusters of symbolism in Europe - Keynote speaker, Gabriella Elgenius

A BSA Early Career Event will be held on Saturday, 6 April 2019 from 09.30am to 5.30pm in the Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen. All welcome. Booking essential.

Objects imbued with symbolic content can be powerful signifiers. In moments of protest and social unrest such objects can divide and unite social groups, tell stories, make declarations, spark controversy, and even trigger violent upheaval. This one-day conference will draw together scholars from a variety of fields to discuss symbolic objects in contentious politics: their meanings, usages, functions, and social responses.

SYMBOLIC OBJECTS are objects which hold symbolic value in contentious political action. We take a broad view of what these include; ranging from flags to protest placards, from controversial statues to symbolic bodies, from Anonymous masks and balaclavas to the machete and the AK47. Importantly, they are not simply symbols (they must be physical objects) nor are they merely objects (they must old symbolic value). Symbolic objects can symbolise resistance, collective action, and peoplehood (racial, ethnic, religious, political, class, gender, sexuality, and others); they can present narratives, articulate symbolic arguments, and make proclamations; and they can be used as tools in protest and other collective actions.

CONTENTIOUS POLITICS incorporates any form of disruptive action which aims to effect change upon the social order. This includes, but is not limited to, protests, social movements, strikes, resistance, armed insurgencies, guerrilla or paramilitary actions, acts of terrorism, and revolutionary coalitions.

In bringing these two phenomena together, we hope to close an existing gap in the literature. The incorporation of symbolic objects into studies of contentious politics remains in its infancy; meanwhile, objects are now making a breakthrough in social theory that it is important to incorporate into our understanding of conflict and political dynamics. Our hope is to interlink these often disconnected areas of research and to expand this important yet under-researched area of scholarship.

If you would like to attend the SOiCP BSA Conference, please email Dr Peter Gardner with the subject line "Symbolic Objects Conference Registration".

The BSA website is experiencing problems at the moment, where it does not allow attendees to register. Although you can still attempt to do so here ( But as several people have reported that this hasn't worked for them, emailing Dr Peter Gardner directly is the best way to ensure that you have a place reserved.




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