Researching the aesthetics of protest


This project looks at the aesthetic elements of protest and considers the form and effects of participatory actions and dynamics in the call for change. As well as images, symbols, graffiti, forms of rhetoric, humour, and slogans, the project scrutinises the orchestration and flows of collective actions both online and in public spaces. The Gezi Park protests in Turkey of 2013 provide the context of our analysis of the nature of aesthetic action.

Recent years have seen a large increase in the number of protests around the world which have challenged economic institutions and political practices, including the Arab Spring, Occupy movements, pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, and anti-austerity movements across Europe. This project focuses on the recent protests in Turkey. The Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul in 2013 began with opposition to development plans for the park – and ended with 11 people being killed and 8,000 injured after sit-in demonstrators were evicted. With mainstream media being suppressed, protestors turned to social media. This project examines the aesthetics of protest, in particular, how protestors use social media to communicate their messages to the public and how they attempt to engage the public, politicians and fellow protestors.

There have been profound changes in forms of political expression and participation that are intertwined with, but not limited to, social media. Increasingly protestors use aesthetics in order to communicate their ideas and ensure their voices are heard. This project looks at protest aesthetics, which we consider to be the visual, material, textual and performative elements of protest, such as images, symbols, graffiti, clothes, art, but also  other elements such as forms of rhetoric, slang, humour, slogans, as well as the choreography of protest actions in public spaces. Through the use of social media, protestors have been able to create an alternative space for people to engage with politics that is more inclusive and participatory than traditional politics. The use of social media allows people to share ideas on protest activity and deliberate with one another in an online environment. What was significant about the protests in Turkey was how images were shared across social media platforms in order to communicate the messages of the protestors, to unite the public and to challenge the unpopular policies of the government which had provoked the protests in the first place. The project will explore how the public and politicians in Turkey interpreted protest aesthetics.

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