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Postdoc position in Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe (ReAct)


The project Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe funded by the European Research Council 2019-2024 is located at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON), Faculty of Humanities, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Principal Investigator (PI) is Prof Ann Rigney.

Mass demonstrations are newsworthy. But how are they remembered when they are no longer news? Social movements are usually studied in terms of their emergence and subsidence. Despite recognition that activists are ‘inspired’ by precedents, the afterlife of activism in story and image has never been systematically explored. ReAct contends that knowledge of this cultural memory is needed for a full understanding of civil resistance and aims to provide the first in-depth account of the remembering and forgetting of activism in Europe since the late 19th century. It aims to reveal continuities and changes in how protest has been depicted in different media regimes; demonstrate the role of texts, images, and commemorative practices in conveying the memory of protest to later generations; and show how this memory feeds back into later movements at home and abroad. Details on the project can be found here.

ReAct is now recruiting a post-doc for the subproject on “The Language of Protest.” This 0.9 FTE position is for 24 months beginning 1 September 2020.

The Languages of Protest
How has the verbal and discursive framing of activism developed since the late nineteenth century? And how has this affected the retrospective alignment of different movements? Advancing on Tarrow (2014) and Steinberg (1999), this project will establish how language has shaped the narrative understanding of protest on the part of participants and observers, and show how this lexicon of protest has changed over time. In addition it will identify how lexical changes and the narrative schemata they entail affect the retrospective alignment of different movements.  Labelling events already places them within a tradition: the name ‘Arab Spring,’ recalled the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Spring of Nations of 1848; while the use of variations of the name ‘Indignants’ across Europe in 2011-2012 indicated cross-movement affiliation. Movements may also be re-labelled: the victims of the Peterloo massacre (1819) were recently re-described as “peaceful protesters” and their protest compared to the 1989 events in Tiananmen square; Occupy Wall Street activists called the Paris Commune of 1871 the “first great modern occupation.” The terms ‘protesters’ and ‘occupation’ are anachronistic; by the same token, they help retrospectively to turn earlier events into precursors of later ones.
This post-doc project will show how language carries and re-creates memory, examining how the protest lexicon has evolved and explain the impact of these changes on the interpretation and retrospective alignment of different protest movements. The research will involve examining contemporary and retrospective accounts of selected protest events as seen from different political perspectives. English will be the baseline language with samples from at least one other European language used to provide a comparative perspective. Digitized historical newspapers as well as online resources and published memoirs will be the principal sources. The research should ideally combine historical semantics with critical discourse analysis, and use techniques of close reading as well as computer assisted textual analysis to identify word frequencies and word clusters. The study of newspapers will be supplemented, in collaboration with other members of the ReAct team, by the close reading of sample memoirs written by activists themselves so as to identify the discursive terms of their self-representation and how this has changed (or not) over time.

Your tasks as a Postdoc will include:

  • completion of the assigned research tasks;
  • regular presentation of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • publication of at least 4 substantial articles in journals or edited volumes;
  • co-editing of a collective work;
  • coaching of PhDs;
  • co-organisation of project workshops and conferences;
  • participation in all project-related activities, including outreach activities.
  • a (soon to be completed) PhD degree in a relevant discipline (Literary and Cultural Studies, Linguistics, Cultural History);
  • demonstrable academic excellence;
  • demonstrable affinity with computational methods of text analysis;
  • skills in text and discourse analysis;
  • demonstrable affinity with cultural memory studies and/or social movement studies;
  • excellent English oral proficiency, academic writing and presentation skills;
  • ability to read primary source materials in at least one other European language;
  • ability to meet deadlines and work both as an independent Researcher and as a team member;
  • good organisational, social and communication skills.

We offer a temporary position (0.9 FTE) for the duration of one year. In case of good performance, extending the employment with one year is possible. The gross salary – depending on previous qualifications and experience  – ranges between €2,709 and € 4,274 (scale 10 according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.