12-13 April 2018

Institute for the Advanced Study of the Humanities, University of Edinburgh

In 1969, Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and its Youthful Opposition coined the modern usage of the term used to define a generation of misfits and revolutionaries, hippies and drug-users, and other cultural and political insurgents and rebels. With nearly 50 years of hindsight, it’s easy to identify short-comings in Roszak’s commentary on the trends and thinkers guiding so much youth culture of the 60s; but his warnings of a ‘technocratic totalitarianism … wholly estranged from everything that has ever made the life of man an interesting adventure’ may still ring a note of dissent with the art, music, literature, philosophy and politics formed in era of the rationale of the market.

Surprisingly, however, the language of the countercultural is now often as likely to be used to describe the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ as it is the radical youth culture of the 60s. On 17 February 2017, for example, the Independent online, in response to claims in the media, published an op-ed entitled, ‘There’s a very simple reason why the alt-right is not the new counterculture’ – the reason being that there is simply no dominant culture to counter. On the other hand, some, such as film-maker Adam Curtis, has argued that, in spite of itself, the counterculture has contributed to the development it originally sought to break with.

With these issues in mind, for this workshop we invite speakers to propose 20-minute papers on the international counterculture in contemporary discourse, or reconsiderations on the artistic or historic counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. Papers are encouraged to address any of the following questions:

  • How is counterculture identified in the 21st century?
  • What artistic and literary practices are identifiable as counter-cultural, and what new theories can be brought to the study of countercultural arts?
  • Does counterculture still retain the possibility of resistance, or have the processes of commodification and capitalisation definitively circumvented any resistant potential?
  • How are countercultural movements bounded by national cultures, or influenced by changes within the national culture?
  • How has counterculture changed with the internet and social media? Can counterculture exist as an exclusively online phenomenon or must it establish a presence in physical space or command of material resources?

Keynote speakers will include Professor Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London) and Dr Katharina Karcher (University of Bristol).

Speakers will also be invited to discuss their themes or expertise on a podcast hosted on the IASH website. Podcast conversations, intended for non-academic audiences, will be about speakers’ interests as researchers on counterculture or simply as enthusiasts of countercultural arts, literature, politics and history.

Please submit abstracts of 250 words, as well as a short bio (50 words) by 5 February 2018 to iash.counterculture@gmail.com. Please note that the will be a £5 registration fee for the conference.