Call for Papers: Monuments, Memory, #Memes
Annual International Conference,
Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG)
London, 1–4 September 2020
Session Conveners: Dr. Martin Zebracki (University of Leeds, UK) and Dr. Jason Luger (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
In the wake of the authoritarian and digital turn and a time of fast-changing, disruptive politics and uprisings, we seek papers that explore spaces, performances and identities as part of the changing relationships between monuments, memory, and memes (i.e., the digital).
Monuments have garnered global attention, and controversy, as society grapples with what, how, and where to process collective memory. They may assume ambiguous meanings and represent painful, unjust episodes of history for large populations – for example, Soviet and Nazi monuments in Central and Eastern Europe, Confederate statuary across the American South, or bronze representations of former political leaders that transpire dissonant post-colonial legacy, such as the statues of Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, or Stamford Raffles in Singapore.
Notably in the light of political phenomena like ‘Trumpism’, ‘Brexit’, and specific nationalist movements, the very same monuments may signify heroism, glory, and pride to some significant others. The monuments themselves, and the debates and performances that surround them, thereby become a kind of border-scape. They pinpoint much deeper socio-cultural divides and contestations that can, and do, erupt into violence and dramatic political transformations, as witness the scenes of statues being torn down or brutally protected.
Along with the social momenta of international rights movements, new scope has been provided for the establishment of monuments for – or through bottom-up initiatives of – traditionally marginalised populations. For example, the struggles of LGBT+ people for social recognition and equal rights have seen material reifications such as in the case of the Homomonument in Amsterdam and the Gay Liberation Monument in New York. In the context of the Black Lives Matter activist movement, fans of Missy Elliott have proposed to replace the Confederate Monument in Portsmouth, Virginia with a statue of this Black American rapper and music producer.
Through and by the digital, these same monuments have, strikingly, become re-presented and re-imagined, sometimes adopting even larger significance via ‘viral’ social media and circulated in the capacity as memes. The latter – as we have argued in our recent paper ‘Digital Geographies of Public Art: New Global Politics’ (in Progress in Human Geography 43(5): 890-909) – may be rendered as artworks co-created in the digital public sphere, using an image that is circulated and ‘curated’ globally, sometimes with accompanying text or #hashtags and some visual modifications.
Memes (i.e. user-created content), therefore, are an extension of the predominant urban locus of monuments. Hence, they epitomise a digital public art environment, as well as a socio-cultural and political conversation laden with meaning and contestation (again sometimes with dramatic and even violent impacts). Memes may become a sort of digital urban palimpsest, replicating societal fissures that reconfigure and form new borders between political ideologies, cultural understandings, and identities (across ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, geographical origin, etc.). As such, they stretch far beyond the urban as we know it, whereby they also unsettle dualisms such as cosmopolitanism vs. heartland, inner city vs. hinterland, elite vs. layperson, and artist vs. amateur.
Particularly for the socially marginalised, memes can offer new opportunities to reclaim their voice whilst they reside in a power struggle between oppositional voices operating through the same social media channels and repertoires. Memes, then, may become new sites for monument formation and contestation: a virally circulated meme in some ways replaces the traditional stone statue or flowered memorial within a digitally networked type of embodiment.
Against this background, we welcome cross-disciplinary explorations and cases from diverse geographies, epistemologies, and methodologies. Please send abstracts of max. 250 words to Martin Zebracki at m.m.zebracki [at] leeds.ac.uk and Jason Luger at jdluger [at] berkeley.edu by February 3, 2020. Address any queries to both of us.