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The power of emotions to drive leftist movements in Europe during the mid to late 20th century

An EU initiative explored the radical left’s emotional politics and how they influenced society and politics throughout Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The power of emotions to drive leftist movements in Europe during the mid to late 20th century
The EU-funded POLEMOTIONS project investigated oppositional and countercultural movements in Europe. These included new leftist and post-Marxist groups, fledgling social movements such as squatting, left-wing gay activism and feminism, and the alternative left-wing milieu.

Specifically, project partners examined the emotional politics of these movements and their wider societal and political impact. They developed a new paradigm to conceptualise the transformations of protest politics and European societies across the Iron Curtain beginning in the 1960s.

The POLEMOTIONS team argued that the alternative left greatly contributed to new emotional cultures that emerged during these three decades. Findings suggest that social movements were spaces for experimenting with new forms of emotional subjectivity.

Archival work led to a monograph on the politics of emotions in the alternative left in West Germany. Additional articles and book chapters have also been published concerning the West German research stream as a whole.

An international conference was held on countercultures and protest movements in the Iron Curtain. Outcomes were published in a volume that argues for the development of surprisingly similar forms of politics focused on creating an ‘authentic’ personality throughout the Iron Curtain. The book proposes an original interpretation of why the younger generation in particular rebelled on similar grounds against two seemingly very different socio-political systems: democratic capitalism in the west and state communism in the east. Researchers also produced a book manuscript that links the protest movements of the 1970s in the east and west to the peaceful revolutions of 1989.

Workshops for secondary school students in Berlin made use of historical student magazines to discuss the link between personal issues, such as feelings and sexuality, and politics in the 1970s. Students critically reflected on how issues such as gender ideals, emotions and sexuality are rooted in power relations.

POLEMOTIONS demonstrated that the alternative left contributed to the formulation of new emotional styles and norms in West German society at large.

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Radical left, emotional politics, POLEMOTIONS, Iron Curtain
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