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Crises of Democracy and Cultural Trauma Conference

Monday, 5 November 2018, 9:30am – 3pm

Crises of Democracy and Cultural Trauma Conference

What is it in the world today that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democracy?

Countries that presently find their political systems in crisis can in most cases find causes by looking back to specific times, events and experiences in the collective lives of the culture. By turning to the past, they can determine conditions and patterns of responses and influences that have contributed to current crises. One construct that has proven particularly useful in tracing these crises to their roots has been that of cultural trauma.

Our panel of experts from Trinity and Columbia will explore the Crises of Democracy through the prism of cultural trauma and explore what the erosion of democracy means for the future of our societies. 

This symposium is being run in partnership with the CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute.

Panel 1: Framing and Responses | 9:30 – 10:30

Rosemary Byrne, Trinity College—“What do we mean by a ‘crisis’ in democracy?”
What do we mean by a ‘crisis’ in democracy and what is the difference between electoral outcomes that upset and those that subvert our expectations of democratic process?   This talk will consider the tipping point into ‘crisis’ and the metrics that are in place within the EU to protect democratic governance.

Mary Cosgrove, Trinity College Dublin—“Holocaust, Memory, and the Rise of the Far Right in Germany”

This talk examines the rise of the far right party (Alternative for Germany) under Björn Höcke. Höcke has criticised Germany’s memory culture of the Holocaust and called for it to be scaled back. This has resulted in popular outcry but has also generated support. What is going on here?

Tea 10:30-11:00

Panel 2: Memory and Trauma | 11:00-12:00


Stephen Minton, Trinity College—“Residential schools and Indigenous peoples - genocide via ‘education’”

This presentation draws from material compiled for a forthcoming book, which brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors from Australia, Canada, Greenland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, the UK and the US, in the attempt to tell the stories of what happened to Indigenous peoples as a result of the interment of Indigenous children in residential schools—to say how and why the schools were set up and run; to document the patterns of abuse and neglect; and to examine the legacies that the residential schools systems have had on Indigenous peoples.

Marianne Hirsch, Columbia University—“Photography in Crisis.” 

Lunch | 12:00-13:00

Panel 3: Media and Technology | 13:00-14:00

Jennifer Edmond, Trinity College “Why the things we don’t know about technology may hurt democracy now more than ever”

This presentation will look at how the underlying nature of some of the technologies driving social change today is different from what has come before, and how the unique characteristics of their design and function present threats to democracy that are different not just in degree, but in kind. Historic and contemporary examples will be viewed from the perspective of their transparency, scale and inherent biases, so as to illustrate this difference and suggest strategies by which we might develop productive strategies for ethical and appropriate uses of them. 

Bruce Shapiro, Columbia University—“Aftershock Journalism: trauma, news and democratic repair.”

Every day the news brings stories and images which at once compel attention and defy comprehension. They come not one at a time but as overlapping waves: new tragedies flooding a public consciousness still reeling from yesterday’s crises, posing basic questions about the social contract. What is the relationship of trauma news to authoritarian populism?  Can reporting on crisis and trauma inspire empathy and engagement rather than atavistic fear and alienated cynicism?

Panel 4: Historical Context | 14:00-15:00

Stephanie McCurry, Columbia University—"The KKK and the First Overthrow of Black Democracy in the United States."

Stephanie McCurry’s talk will focus on what she identifies as the key foundational moment in the crisis of democracy and cultural trauma in the United States: The violent suppression of African Americans civil and political rights by white supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, during the period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877).  The legacy of slavery and associated racial violence remains the largest unresolved issue in American political life to the present day. The historical case of the U.S. in Reconstruction thus offers a variety of cautionary lessons about crises of democracy in the 21st century, including about the power of violence to overthrow democratically elected governments, and about what it takes to meet, and nullify, the challenge of armed reactionary groups.

Balázs Apor, Trinity College—“The Crises of Democracy and the Return of the Strong Leader."

The current crisis of democracy is often linked to the rise—or return—of populist leaders in the wake of the global financial crisis. The images associated with such leaders suggest strength, security and evoke illusions of past grandeur. Yet, very often populist leaders endowed with such mythical traits become the very reason for the escalation of political crises and their tenure tends to bring about insecurity, isolation and economic decay. The paper will offer a brief assessment of the imagery of "the strong leader" with a particular emphasis on representations that function as barometers of authoritarian rule.

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Neill Lecture Theatre
Research Theme: Identities in Transformation
Event Category: Alumni, Arts and Culture, Lectures and Seminars, Library, Public
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free (but registration is essential)

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