Between Myth & Memory: Contemporary Politics and the Performance of History

deadline for submissions: 
March 8, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Centre for Performance and Urban Living, University of Surrey, UK
contact email: 

Between Myth and Memory: Contemporary Politics and the Performance of History

An interdisciplinary one-day symposium 

— Call for Papers —

 25 April 2019

Centre for Performance and Urban Living, University of Surrey, UK

The University of Surrey can be reached within 30 minutes by train from central London.

Keynote: Dr. Sophie Nield (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The practices that make up the performances of contemporary politics stand in complex tension with the past. Efforts to locate the roots of present-day democracy in the Athenian city-state might negate historicity in favour of myth (Ridout 2008). On the other hand, shared myths of democratic community might serve concrete purposes, upholding norms of behaviour and modes of thought not encoded in the law. The rise of radical right-wing populism, for instance, has raised alarm over the erosion of traditions of political behaviour (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018). This has put the political left in an intriguing quandary: caught between the desire to challenge myths of Western democracy and the championing of a small-c conservatism that staves off the ongoing wreckage of a flawed but still valued political culture. 

Conversely, an ahistorical perspective might assume not only that present political practice is unproblematically linked to the ancient polis, but also that the present marks a radical break with the past. One might think here of Fredrick Jameson’s (1996) position that, in postmodernity, ‘time consists in an eternal present’ and deferred catastrophe. Or one might think of social science scholars, who tend to assume that mediatisation has made the performative features of politics worthy of study in the contemporary moment, as local communities of active citizens have been turned into global audiences that are performed to (Manin 1997; Moffitt 2016). Performance, then, is seen as a new problem, as particularly, perhaps even exclusively, relevant to the now. 

As part of the University of Surrey’s new Centre for Performance and Urban Living (dir. Patrick Duggan), this symposium aims to challenge views that posit the performances of contemporary politics as apparently ahistorical practices. To what extend does our ability to imagine alternative futures depend on our memory of partial, resistant, but also temporally and spatially specific upheavals of the structures of social and political life (Nield 2006, 2015)? What might be gained if we consider the process and potential value of how shared myths become embedded in political communities? And how can we interrogate the ways in which the theatre of politics perpetuates, modifies, and obfuscates its own connections to and our memories of the historically or mythologically conceived past?

Contributors may wish to take any of the following themes as points of departure (though the symposium is NOT limited to these):

  • Public speech acts and the performativity of institutions
  • Collective and public memory of the nation/the state/politicians/political communities
  • Performance histories of populism
  • Evolutions of concepts of democracy, liberalism, political representation, the body politic, etc.
  • Mythical forms of political identification
  • Myth and the harnessing and sustaining of power
  • Performances of national, regional, and urban identity, ideas of inclusiveness/exclusion, and their evolution
  • Historicized and localized performances of political identity
  • The mass media as driver of performance practices vs. performance practices that drive the media
  • The performance and evolution of legitimacy
  • Tropes and metaphors in the performance of politics
  • Representations of the political past and present in politics, popular culture, and the theatre
  • Theatricality as a feature of political life
  • The misrecognition and false identification of breaks and continuities
  • Ritual, ceremony, veneration, and myth in politics, parliament, and urban political contexts
  • Traditions, inventions, and roots of practices of protest, opposition, resistance
  • Effects of mediatisation and liveness on the theatre of politics
  • Historical representations of gender, race, class in politics

Submission format: An abstract of 250-300 words, plus a bio (max. 100 words) for each contributor. Presentations in a range of formats are welcome; however, if you wish to present in a non-conventional format, or require specialist equipment, please include an additional paragraph (no more than 150 words) outlining what you need.

Deadline: 8 March 2019. All proposals should be submitted to Dr. Julia Peetz: 

A link for registration will be available nearer the time. Registration will be charged at £20 (with institutional affiliation) and £5. (unaffiliated / student). The symposium will include lunch, coffee, and a wine reception.

This CFP is also available on the university website.        


Jameson, F. 1996. The Seeds of Time. NY: Columbia UP.
Levitsky, S., and D. Ziblatt. 2018. How Democracies Die: What History Reveals about Our Future. NY: Crown.
Manin, B. 1997. Principles of Representative Government. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Moffitt, B. 2016. The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation. Stanford: Stanford UP.
Nield, S. 2015. ‘Tahrir Square EC4M: The Occupy Movement and the Dramaturgy of Public Order.’ The Grammar of Politics and Performance, ed. S. M. Rai and J. Reinelt. London: Routledge, 121-133.
Nield, S. 2006. ‘There Is Another World: Space, Theatre and Global Anti-Capitalism.’ Contemporary Theatre Review 16.1: 51-61.
Ridout, N. 2008. ‘Performance and Democracy.’ The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies, ed. T. C. Davis. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 11-22