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.
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.
Drawing on Dr Aidan McGarry's research on marginalised voices in politics, Professor Catherine Moriarty’s research on digital arts and humanities, and Dr Olu Jenzen’s research on social media, this research will provide new insights into how protestors come together and make the choices they do
The project is funded by a £250,000 award granted by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).