About the project

The recent protests in Turkey are notable because protestors inhabited and used public spaces in urban areas to communicate their ideas, emotions, and interests to the public in order to foster support and raise political awareness of issues. However, the power of the protestors was strengthened by social media platforms where members of  the public, who were sympathetic with the protestors or lived in a different part of the country or beyond, did not have to occupy the same physical public space, but could engage and deliberate with one another through social networking sites and blogs. Social media platforms are increasingly an interactive space which form part of the political world where people can engage with one another and potentially become powerful.

The aims of this project are to:

  • examine why protestors deploy particular aesthetics using the example of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013.
  • investigate how protestors use aesthetics in order to communicate their message and articulate demands in a significant instance of public uprising and how this is recognised and given meaning by the public, politicians and other protestors.
  • explore how protest aesthetics are mediated and understood across social media so as to challenge dominant understandings of social media as merely a tool for protest organisation and mobilisation and to break down rigid distinctions between online and offline political worlds.
  • understand how protest aesthetics are communicated across social media platforms and the degree to which protest can be performed beyond the physical space of the protest (Gezi Park) into the digital realm through the sharing of aesthetics on social media platforms.
  • offer a theoretical perspective on the relationship between social movements, political aesthetics and performance by demonstrating how politics is performed through protestors’ engagements with aesthetics such as slogans, colour, humour, bodies, clothing, graffiti, symbols, and art.
  • uncover how identities are negotiated by social movements through the performance of material and virtual protest aesthetics including how this constitutes and defines the political world, represents disaffected and marginalised people’s identities and demands, and acts as bulwark against prevailing political narratives and traditional political power.
  • develop an international academic network on the study of protest movements and political aesthetics, which will promote academic exchange, international development, and cross-cultural knowledge production.
  • build diverse publics, including activists, artists, and academics, to engage with the meaning of visual and material culture in protest movements around the world.
  • involve creative practitioners through the digital galleries in order to comprehend, communicate and animate the meaning of protest aesthetics around the world.


The project will use qualitative research including visual analysis, interviews and a qualitative survey of the Turkish public. The research is designed to capture the meaning of protest aesthetics, to understand why protestors used particular aesthetics, and to explore how this resonated with fellow protestors, politicians and the public. Our methodological tools will capture aesthetics that are visual and material expressions of protestors which at once communicate a message and constitute the polity through performance.

The project will curate an exhibition on protest aesthetics in Istanbul, and it will commission digital galleries on protest aesthetics from around the world. There will be an academic workshop in Istanbul on social media and digital humanities, and a design salon at the V&A Museum in London.

The project will communicate and disseminate with individuals and organisations outside academia including activists, artists, politicians, and curators. We hope to develop an international network on the study of protest movements and political aesthetics, which will promote academic exchange, international development, and cross-cultural knowledge production while improving understanding about protest movements.

This project is ongoing; output, findings and impact will be updated in due course.

The project is funded by a £250,000 award granted by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It started in September 2016 and will end in December 2017.

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