The Sixties in National and Transnational Perspective: Communications and Protest Movements, 1956-1973

Conference | 16 September 2010, St Andrews

Convenors: Chris Hill, Gillian Mitchell and Bernhard Struck

The societies of post-war Western Europe and the U.S. underwent a number of common developments which can be considered beyond the framework of the nation state.  The rise of affluent society, the post-war ‘baby boom’, the expansion of communication channels, and the almost universal fear of nuclear warfare all signify broad trends which can be considered transnational.  It was in the sixties (circa 1956-1973) that the lived experience of these common developments gained expression, usually in outbreaks of protests which have found their most enduring symbol in the year 1968.

The ways in which activists attempted to communicate their shared grievances across national boundaries is the central theme of this workshop.  It will build upon Arthur Marwick’s epic account of ‘cultural revolution’ in Western Europe and the U.S.  Instead of merely stressing the similarities between protest movements in nation states, however, it aims to emphasise the communicative links between them.  In this respect, it is inspired by Martin Klimke and Joachim Scharloth’s 1968 in Europe (2008).  This edited collection of essays has emphasised key changes to the historical space in which radicals across Europe participated.

The workshop will focus upon one aspect of social and cultural change in particular, the rise of mass and global media.  More than any other development, it is arguable that this altered the scale and nature of young people’s perceptions: both of their own socio-political aspirations and those of their comrades in other countries.  It will be considered how far activists were able to participate in this extension of communications to advance their interests.  From another perspective, the role of the media in shaping the historical agency of protest movements will also be assessed.  An attempt will be made to delineate between those situations in which the media reinforced national experience, and those in which it encouraged transnational exchange.  Gerhard Rainier-Horn and Padraic Kenney have included 1968 in their edited volume Transnational Moments of Change (2004): this workshop will consider whether such an epithet is justified.

Guiding questions

  • Did the rise of mass communications facilitate or impede transnational relations between protestors?
  • What were the dominant forms of communications used by social and political movements?
  • What was the role of music and popular entertainment in fostering national/transnational solidarity?
  • In what ways did the use of the mass media commercialize the message of protest?
  • Did the rise of mass communications help ‘peace’ become a transnational issue?
  • What were the communicative links between the national terrorist organizations/ women’s lib movements/ environmental organizations which were to come out of the sixties period?