Society of the Spectacle – 50 Years Later
CECC Fieldwork 2017 | November 23-24
“All life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles,” writes Guy Debord in his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle. “Everything that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” In the theses that follow, Debord offers a revolutionary critique of contemporary capitalist society, a striking vision of a world reduced to the superficiality of images.
For Debord, the concept of the spectacle “unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena.” And today, in an era of so-called “post-truth,” a hyperreal, liquid modernity in which, as Marx once presciently wrote, “all that is solid melts into air,” the spectacle represents an enduringly valuable concept through which to interpret capitalist society. We live in an age saturated by social media, in which “selfies” hold more weight than actual lived experience, where our lives (both real and virtual) are dominated by advertisements at every turn. Images in urban environments mediate and commodify our social relations on a daily basis, while the 24-hour news cycle helps reduce “knowledge” to a series of vapid, sporadic flashing images. It is within such a context that The Society of the Spectacle finds its real relevance.
The book has stirred considerable controversy and debate. Michel Foucault, for one, insists that modern society is, in fact, “the exact reverse of the spectacle.” For him, “our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance.” Meanwhile, Jean Baudrillard builds upon the work, suggesting that the concept of spectacle has been superseded by a new, dystopian regime of simulation. And Sadie Plant shows how many of the ideas of the Situationist International, of which Debord was a member, have come to influence ideas of the postmodern, but in ways which mark a certain political “break.” The work has, arguably, been drained of its fundamental radical qualities, co-opted by the mainstream and repackaged as benign rhetorical theory. In The Society of the Spectacle, as Debord predicts himself, the concept might be reduced to “just another empty formula of sociologico-political rhetoric.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its publication, this two-day symposium, as part of CECC’s annual Fieldwork meeting, will explore the impact and legacy of this pivotal work. In what sense does the spectacle unify or explain the contemporary world? How do individuals and communities produce, confront or challenge spectacle on a daily basis? How relevant is Debord’s spectacle thesis in a rapidly changing contemporary cultural and political landscape? This symposium welcomes contributors to address current local and global concerns through Debord’s ideas, from the increased influence of digital media, the portrayal of refugees and the risk of ecological disaster to gender performativity, urban development and nationalist discourse. We invite academic colleagues, artists and thinkers of all stripes, from Lisbon and beyond, to come together on November 23-24 and join us in a spectacular retrospective of this landmark text in political and cultural theory.
Workshop: Call for Participation
During this two-day symposium, we seek to (re)engage with Debord’s pivotal work and attempt to delve into not only its historical significance, but to also ask new questions about the book’s contemporary relevance. On the morning of November 24, we will organise a student-led workshop, a space for emerging researchers to share their thoughts, ideas and work related to The Society of the Spectacle.
We invite proposals for short, 10-minute papers which engage with the notion of the ‘spectacle’ with both its contemporary and historical relevance and on its use as a theoretical or practical tool. Motivations for papers may include, but are not limited to, the following disciplinary themes, interests and topics:
- Literary theory and criticism
- Modernist and postmodernist philosophy
- Post-war French intellectual theory
- Media studies and the critique of media
- The critique of everyday life
- Migration and the centrality of the image in its contemporary portrayal
- Political theory
- Activism and the relationship of research to politics, policy and practice
- Visual culture and its epistemologies
- Urban topographies and political spaces
- Ethnographic approaches to the experience of spectacle
Abstracts (250 words) and a short biographical note should be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com , including title, name, contact details and institutional affiliation.
The deadline for submission is 27 October 2017.
For further information or questions, please contact one of the organisers: