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The Arts of Autonomy: Pamphleteering, Popular Philology, and the Public Sphere, 1988-2018

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ArtsAutonomy (The Arts of Autonomy: Pamphleteering, Popular Philology, and the Public Sphere, 1988-2018)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

Why do some texts become the object of intense public discussion? How does the public identify the polemical content of pamphletary statements, and how does the public rationalize and discuss these often extreme statements? What can the literary humanities contribute to our understanding of such pamphletary events in the public sphere? This project addresses three crucial scholarly desiderata in order to answer these overarching questions. First, the most recent wide-ranging scholarly accounts of modern Western pamphleteering predate the generalization of internet access, anonymous online commentary, and interlinking. In these earlier accounts, modern pamphleteering is a monological speech act in a liberal public sphere, with all the exclusionary effects this conception entails. ArtsAutonomy argues against this conception and for an approach that takes both the universal online accessibility of polemical pamphleteering and its transformation into a dialogical tool as its historical premise. Secondly, earlier accounts of pamphleteering attribute a degree of historical efficacy to the pamphlet, yet tend to do so on theoretical or formal grounds. ArtsAutonomy argues against this conception and for a contextual history of pamphleteering that studies its concrete political agency by considering the short-delay responses given to its pamphletary claims. Thirdly, earlier accounts of pamphleteering emphasize its prophetic individualism, its remote humanitarianism, and consequently its unsuitability as a tool for achieving goals on behalf of a community one belongs to. ArtsAutonomy argues against this conception and seeks to understand how groups that form around one or multiple experiences of social domination make use of pamphleteering to autonomously advance collective claims on their own behalf. As such, ArtsAutonomy argues that the prevalence of autonomist claims across a staggering array of recent public debates can only be understood and assessed through the rhetorical and literary form of these very claims and the corresponding forms of literacy distributed in the reading public. ArtsAutonomy defines three major research objectives:
Objective 1: To outline the practice and poetics of pamphletary writing in Europe and the United States since the late 1980s.
Objective 2: To produce systematic descriptions of major pamphletary events, comprised of a primary pamphletary statement, its popular philological reception and, in given cases, their joint effects on policy.
Objective 3: To develop a descriptive-interpretative tool kit for the study of pamphletary events by disciplines across the philological humanities.
A siginificant part of the first period has consisted in establishing workflows and research methodologies. We have successfully recruited an international team of highly competent scientist and have produced early research results. Our first publications discuss the historical underpinnings of the nexus of literature, automation (also digitalization), and the public sphere, as well as the recent protest movements that have marked the European and US-American public spheres. We have attracted various international experts; three workshops were held with historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers. We are currently organizing a first international conference, for which we have successfully invited some of the most distinguished experts in our respective fields. Scientifically, we have managed to produce foundational insights into the continued relevance of short-form polemical writing for the developments and tranformations of liberal democracies. We can now focus on further substantiating our hypotheses by producing sevaral case-studies.
The importance of short-form polemical literature has long been attested by noted studies published by historians and sociologists in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Many of these studies focus on pre-revolutionary forms of pamphleteering in the 18th and 19th centuries, and almost always dispense with a discussion of the effects of digitalization and networked communication on contentious debates in the public sphere. The project "The Arts of Autonomy" produces a first scientific study of these effects: we discuss not only the historical roots of some of the most polemical discursive modes at play today, but also consider the basic competences citizens should be able to draw on in order to deal reflexively with these polemical claims.