8 November 2019

Recursive Waves

Bron: Flickr/Julia Hawkins

Prof Ann Rigney (Modern and Contemporary Literature) wrote a blog about the history of protests on the newly launched website of Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe

In the last weeks the headlines have been full of protesters. Each day seems to introduce a new flashpoint. Thousands of Dutch farmers on tractors resisting government measures to reduce nitrogen emissions while thousands of their fellow citizens perform lie-ins in the name of Extinction Rebellion.

Prof. dr. Ann Rigney
Prof. Ann Rigney

ReAct project

When we started the ReAct project we had no idea this was going to happen. ReAct was above all inspired by an earlier wave of protests: the Arab Spring, the various Occupy and Anti-austerity movements, and Gezi Park. By now these lie almost a decade in the past. In the 24/7 news cycle, a decade is a long time. As the news flows ever faster, public attention keeps shifting to the latest, to the emergent, and to what is happening now. It seems as if demonstrations are like mayflies: here today and gone tomorrow.


This is not the case, however. When demonstrations disappear from the news, they turn into memory; into stories that are carried by words and images, in the form of memoirs and documentaries, but also in songs and slogans. This is where ReAct comes in. In ReAct we are trying to identify such traces, so as to understand better how people make sense of protest events, both in the short term and in the long term. How has the memory of earlier protests been kept alive and by whom? And how does this memory impact on later activists and shape their actions and their willingness to mobilise again – be this in five years time, ten years, or an entire generation later?