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Pre-conference Paper Call: Democratic Aesthetics

National Communication Association Pre-conference Seminar

Democratic aesthetics: actual, radical, global.

Wednesday, November 14th 2007, Chicago Hilton, Conference Room 4K

(Participants in the seminar must be registered for the NCA Annual Convention.)

Seminar leaders: Jon Simons and Michael Kaplan, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Issues to be Explored: The purpose of the seminar is to focus on those senses of aesthetics that pertain to the sensory communication of social meanings through the production/dissemination and consumption/interpretation of cultural symbols. In these senses, democratic aesthetics can consist of, among others:
a) particular genres of art forms that embody specific democratic values (such as portraits of ordinary people and individualism, or Brechtian, didactic, realist theater);
b) democratic styles of political performance (such as political actors presenting themselves according to the modes of popular culture, such as politicians as celebrities, or theatrical or “spectacular” activism);
c) the democratization of aesthetics, recognizing aesthetic activity in everyday life (as in Paul Willis’ “grounded aesthetics” or Pierre Bourdieu’s “popular aesthetics”);
d) the constitution of democratic publics as communities of aesthetic judgment (e.g. drawing from Kant’s and Arendt’s notions of sensus communis).

The seminar will analyze general processes and particular examples of democratic aesthetics, while also assessing them in terms of conceptual and normative distinctions of democracy. In particular, the seminar will address the question of whether democratic aesthetics is irrevocably associated with commodified and mass mediated capitalist culture, and hence as symptomatic of attenuated forms of actually existing liberal or market democracy (as in critiques by Terry Eagleton and David Harvey), or whether (and under what circumstances) democratic aesthetics can motivate more radical, emancipatory versions of democracy. The distinctions between actual, critical and radical notions of democracy is also crucial to addressing a key motivating question for the seminar, namely, whether under current conditions in which the Western militarized export of democracy cannot be considered an unqualified “good,” democratic aesthetics offer less hostile ways of practicing democracy in an international and transnational environment.

Seminar structure: The all-day seminar will be structured by three position papers, written by previously selected presenters and circulated to seminar participants in advance, each of which will address a different aspects of “democratic aesthetics” as outlined above. The discussion around each position paper, following a 15 minute overview by the presenter, will be led by a named facilitator, who will structure the discussion on the basis of responses written by seminar participants 2 weeks in advance of the seminar. The seminar will close with a discussion about directions, themes and case studies for future research on the topic.

Requirements: Those interested in participating are initially asked to submit a one-page (250-300 word) statement of interest in the seminar topic, including research already undertaken in the area. These statements of interest should be e-mailed to the seminar leaders: simonsj@indiana.edu and mikaplan@indiana.edu, by Wednesday 1st August 2007. Notification of successful submissions will be given by 21st August.

Seminar participants will be sent the three position papers by Wednesday, 3rd October and are asked to read all three papers and to write a 500-750 word response to the paper in which they are most interested by Wednesday 31st October. Responses should be e-mailed to the seminar leaders: simonsj@indiana.edu and mikaplan@indiana.edu, the paper writer and the facilitator for that paper (details will be provided).


Pre-conference Paper Call: Democratic Aesthetics


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