Making The Familiar Strange: A Festival of Critical Ideas

Last week I attended re: publica in Berlin for the first time. For those not familiar with it, it’s a vast conference about internet and society incorporating activists, journalists, hackers, academics, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in a melange of sessions over 3 days that was at times frustrating but which I nonetheless found enormously stimulating and enjoyable. It takes place in a stunning post-industrial venue in Kreuzberg, a vast series of linked warehouses and out buildings centred around a large court yard, the scale of which can be seen in the Flickr stream for the event.

By the second day of the event, I was consumed by the thought: what would a sociological re: publica look like? I’ve been preoccupied by this ever since and I’m starting to plan how to make something like this happen. Obviously re: publica is a massive event that has grown over many years and I’m not planning to attempt anything on this scale. But the idea I have is for an initial 3 day event, taking place in summer 2017, taking the form of a literary festival focused around sociology, anthropology and related disciplines.

The theme of the festival would be making the familiar strange. This might seem too diffuse but I think it captures something crucial about the capacity of these disciplines to contradict common sense, unsettle taken for granted ways of viewing the world and to work creatively in elaborating upon dormant alternatives. In this sense all the content would be ‘critical’ but in a way that avoids obscure theoretical argument and addresses everyday life in an accessible way.

I’m obsessed with the idea that this would take place in a post-industrial venue similar, though smaller, to that of re: publica. Birmingham and Manchester immediately seem like potential locations which could facilitate this. I’m keen that the atomisation of TED talks be avoided (as well as the simplification that they sometimes fall into) so I would imagine a lot of the intellectual content of the events being centred around a key topic which  speakers would explore in different ways. For instance here are some of the potential session topics that occurred to me. These only reflect my own interests and I’m hopeful that the actual range of topics would be much broader than this:

  1. Life after capitalism
  2. Acceleration society
  3. The future of cities
  4. Riots and disorder
  5. Real utopias and dystopias
  6. Stigma and shame
  7. Robots and the end of work
  8. Freedom in an age of big data

However I’d like there to be lots of stuff that isn’t talks. As well as the generic category of ‘workshops’ (about what I’m not sure) I’d like there to be art installations scattered around the venue and the 3 days could be a host for all manner of public engagement projects that fit with the theme of the event.

This plan is far from complete but I think it’s starting to take shape. I’ve had a first attempt at an initial financial plan and I’m cautiously optimistic that if I could raise £15k+ in funding, this could otherwise be self-financing through ticket sales at a price that wouldn’t be extortionate. However this is so far beyond the scale of anything that I’ve ever tried to organise before that it’s possible I’m being wildly unrealistic.

If this seems like something you might want to help with then please get in touch:

Categories: Committing Sociology

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