Barcelona 28-30 June 2019 | Nau Bostik

Thinking emancipation. Radicalities and Social Movements in a Polarised World.


The last few years have been marked by major economic, social and political turbulences. They have been years full of hope, but also full of threats. Years when the range of the possible has expanded. Years when we have seen innumerable injustices within a growing polarisation. In the face of an unprecedented crisis of civilisation, political and social activism has flourished anew, in parallel with the renaissance of reactionary forces and movements.

Emancipatory practice needs times and spaces to reflect upon itself, deepen debates on the period and raise its sights beyond everyday urgencies and passing polemics. Spaces where multiple experiences of the present can be compared with those of the past. Spaces in which to think about present practices that point towards another future.

Taking Marx’s well-known phrase “ruthless criticism of everything existing” as our starting point, our aim is to create a framework of plural, unhurried reflection linked to the major problems of our time. We look forward to providing a space for researchers and activists working from a critical, emancipatory and materialist perspective to meet and discuss with each other.

We hope this first conference will help to create a transversal, pluralist and heterogeneous network of researchers and activists working to achieve emancipation and social transformation.

We want to break down walls. Between academic disciplines, between theoretical perspectives, between the academic world and activism, and between theory and practice. Break down walls to build new emancipatory bridges.

We invite researchers and activists to submit proposals for papers and/or panels to make this conference possible. The closing date for submissions is 31 March 2019.

In order to be able to group the debates, the conference will be organised around the following working topics:

  1. Popular movements history, historical memory and antifascism
  2. Feminism, LGBTQI
  3. Ecology, territory and the rural world
  4. Economics, globalisation and financialisation
  5. Resistances, strategies, movements, and the politics of the common
  6. New cultural and artistic practices and criticisms
  7. Power, sovereignty, State and democracy
  8. Classes, new subjects and new forms of exploitation
  9. Law, social control, the penal state and violences
  10. The city and urban space
  11. Education and the university
  12. Migrations, racism and postcolonialism

However, besides these themes, we also invite submissions on any other subject. Anything related to emancipation is welcome. We want to talk about everything; theoretical debates and practical experiences. We encourage the submission of papers on original topics or with original takes on classical topics.

Decisions regarding paper/panel proposals will be notified on 30 April. Accepted papers will be presented orally; there is no need to send a written text.

Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory is a Marxist journal, appearing four times a year, based in London.

Historical Materialism organises the annual HM London conference in mid-November. HM affiliated networks have also organised conferences in New York, Sydney, Toronto, Montreal, Rome, Beirut and Delhi. Apart from London, in 2019 Conferences are scheduled in Athens, New York, Montreal and, for its first time, Barcelona.

Programe & Abstracts

Stream call for papers

1.History of people’s movements, historical memory and anti-fascism

Global capitalism can not be considered, as was proclaimed in early nineties, “the end of history.” Since the 1830s, when the first workers’ organizations appeared in Spain, until now, social conflicts of all kinds have been happening, although with different features in each historical stage: from the introduction of Anarchism and Marxism in 1868, going through the intense social movements that took place in the years 1917-1923 or during the Second Republic, until today the popular classes have not stopped organizing. At certain moments they have played a key role in stopping Fascism. The historical memory of these struggles has to be, inevitably, a reference for the future. We encourage the presentation of communications of all kinds about the popular struggles of the past, its memory and its implications for the present. Not just about the history of popular movements in the Spanish State but all over the world. Comparative

2.Feminism and LGBTQI

Feminism could not be more urgent in the context of far-right resurgence across the globe as neoliberal hegemony continues to fray and working classes grapple with an unending horizon of precarity. The far right is propelled by – and in turn fuelling — misogyny, racism, anti-immigrant attacks, Islamophobia, and homophobia. We find evidence across the globe: from dangerous incitements against ‘communists,’ indigenous people, and ‘the ideology of gender’ in Brazil to Vox’s attack against the Gender-based Violence Law in Andalusia and the rest of Spain. Emboldened white supremacy and male privilege stoked by the far Right create a climate that justifies violence against women, people of colour, immigrants and queer people, while validating centrist homonormative and liberal identity politics as supposed alternatives.  Radical feminism – including Marxist feminism – refuses such a false choice between neoconservatism and neoliberalism, instead theorizing their intimate connections at the heart of the contradictions of capitalism. We seek to create spaces for advancing radical feminist and queer theory and action in this moment of abiding austerity and its clear political economic crisis. We welcome contributions on a variety of themes but particularly welcome submissions related to the following questions:

  • What sorts of responses can radical feminism offer to counter a neo-fascist offensive and its alliance with capital?
  • How can we advance social reproduction theory in current theoretical debates?
  • How can social reproduction theory be linked to current feminist struggles (e.g., around sex work, care, the feminist strike, education, motherhood)
  • What strategies can be developed by radical feminists against the co-optation of a transformative feminist agenda by neoliberal discourses and/or institutions?

3. Environmentalism, territory and rural world

Political action aimed at counteracting the multiple links between injustice and environmental degradation cannot be postponed. On both sides of the political spectrum socio-ecological problems are no longer seen as secondary issues, for they have become an arena of global and local struggles. In recent years there has been mounting evidence that partial answers (be they local or global) are unable to tackle the diversity of problems that we are facing, both from a political and a biophysical perspective. In this stream we want to gather proposals, analyses and case studies that can help understand our current predicament and advance towards the democratic management of the environmental commons.

More concretely, we think that questions like the following ones should be addressed: What kind of approaches to socioecological problems can give rise to emancipatory projects and scenarios? What can we learn from current and past struggles around land and the environment in order to build those emancipatory responses? How should the dialog between global frameworks and local struggles be approached in order to build emancipatory sociopolitical projects articulated around the democratic management of the environmental commons?

This stream calls academics and activists to submit papers that can nurture panels and round tables to critically reflect around the questions described above. The ultimate goal of the stream is to generate analyses and alliances that can foster a political action able to transform our socio-ecological reality

4.Economics, globalisation and financialisation

The global financial and economic crisis that erupted at the end of 2007 has led a profound loss of legitimacy of the institutions and values ​​of neoliberalism. However, the left has not consolidated an alternative able to overcome neoliberalism, let alone capitalism.
The conferences of Historical Materialism Barcelona want to bring together academics and activists of the social movements to explore the dilemmas and debates that any radical alternative must face to confront the status quo.
Papers will include a thematic bloc tagged Economics, Globalization and Financialization, with the intention of addressing the following issues:

1)The role of the state in the process of transformation and social emancipation: it is one of the most controversial and important points in the debates within the left:
-The roles of the State and the Market
-Basic Income and/or Job Guarantee?
-Cooperativism and Social and the Social Economy and/or large-scale social planning.

2)Causes of the crisis, particularly in the Eurozone:
-Asian savings glut and/or European and American banking deregulation
-Global imbalances: competitiveness gaps and/or financial flows from deregulated finance.
-Alternative proposals.

3)Challenges in the EU and the Eurozone:
-Is the EU neoliberal from the start ​​or it has progressive values?,
-Coping with debt, the case of Greece; Debt, especially sovereign: what to do?
-The case of the UK: Brexit, the Corbyn&McDonnell project.
-Gradual reform or “Exit”
-The financial system: current state and alternatives.

4)World market, regional blocks and insertion/disconnection in the trade, financial and productive globalization:
-Globalist reform and/or nation/state sovereignty
-Possible alternatives: capital control, import control and substitution, reindustrialization policies.
-Doing the ecological transition and confronting neoliberalism.

5)History and Economics: historicizing neoliberal globalization:
-History of political economy
-Economic history
-History of the political consequences of economic ideas
-Lessons of the past for an understanding of the present context.

5.Resistances, strategies, movements, and the politics of the Commons

Faced with an unprecedented crisis of civilisation, political and social activism has flourished anew. The multiple experiences of struggle of recent years have led to many discussions, illusions and disappointments. We encourage the presentation of papers on any topic that helps to deepen contemporary strategic discussions, e.g.

  • What remains of the legacy of the 15M?
  • What is the role of municipalism in a strategy of social change and what assessment can be made of the “city councils of change”?
  • What is the politics of the Common(s)?
  • What are we talking about when we talk about “popular power”?
  • Elections, institutional work and social movements.
  • Historical assessment and current situation of the “Bolivarian” experiences in Latin America.
  • What does (the) Revolution mean today?
  • Capitalism, racism and patriarchy. What alliances can be built?
  • Gramsci and hegemony.
  • Cooperativism and social economy as tools for social change.
  • Solidarity and internationalism in times of global crisis.

6. New practices and cultural and artistic criticism

I.Cultural diagnosis and critic

Neoliberalism has implied a deep transformation of social and institutional relations in the cultural field. In the institutional sphere, it has modified the management of cultural institutions, its social role and the way they conceive and present themselves. On the other hand, it has implied a new manner of resources managing that, at the same time, has stimulated the generalized precarization of this sector.

In that conjunction, it becomes necessary a detailed analysis of those new institutional practices in order to achieve a specific diagnosis of its ways of operating and reproducing itself. Furthermore, it is imperative to open a new sphere of experimentation and transformation inside and outside the institutions that can help us define and explore not only new forms of organization and cultural management, but also ways of conceiving and experiencing culture

  1. Cultural institutions and neoliberalism
  2. Precarization in the cultural sphere
  3. Resistance and transformation experiences inside and outside the institution

II.Imaginaries, fictions, utopias

Culture represents a symbolic, semiotic and material battlefield as long as it produces and reproduces collective imaginaries on which we build our life in common. In the last decades, those imaginaries have revolved around crisis and catastrophe (ecological, social, material), and in which the future, far away from the Ithaca promised by the progress rhetorical, appears as a place of anxiety and uncertainty. Dystopias, much more than utopias, seem to convene our collective imaginaries. Opposite to those imaginaries appear, as answers, regressive and reactionary constructions that recreate a mythicized past, as an order to be reappropriated. It is necessary, then, to discuss experiences and strategies that allow non apocalyptic imaginaries, habitable fictions and utopias in present.

This nexus interweave can only be operative by counteracting the inertias that soften the meaning conditions. The imagination openness it is not opposed to the feeling of reality; on the contrary, both dilute when only the amorphous or stereotyped prevails. In opposition to this, opening the variety of possibilities implies opening meaning fields, by using languages rigorously, and attending its limits and its ideological contents.

  1. Fictional work as a political and emancipatory task
  2. Present imaginaries beyond dystopias
  3. Critical production of meaning through art and culture

7. State, nation and sovereignties

The struggle for Catalan self-determination has become an issue of international relevance. It has maintained and intensified mass mobilisation while the level of social protest has declined, unmasked more than ever the authoritarianism of the post-Franco ‘democracy’, and been blamed by some on the Spanish left for the rise of the new and extreme right. Often the issue is discussed in relation to passing polemics on the latest political development and handled in a polarised and even bunkerised way. For this reason, and because of the notable disorientisation of activists in Catalan movements, a space has been created in which to fraternally share and compare meditated thoughts and experiences in this and related areas. Presentations by activists, researchers, leftists and others would be welcome on a) the history of national and democratic movements, b) experiences in other countries and regions, c) the relationship between class/social struggle and national movements, d) Marxist and other critical theory on national questions , e) territorial politics in the Spanish state.

We also would like to reflect on the distribution of political, economic and ideological power in today’s world, asking what kind of territorial sovereignty can be created in our globalised and finance-dominated world? Can it be exercised meaningfully within the European Union? And what other sovereignties (energy, financial, ecological,…) must be brought about in order to break with the current order of things? We also would welcome contributions on all of these areas.

8. Class and new subjectivities

The section on class and new subjectivities aims to deepen our understanding of class struggle in the C21st . Even though there has been an emergence of new subjectivities beyond labour relations, we are looking for proposals which place the labour-capital relation at the centre of the analysis. We think that it’s necessary to both on reflect and think of the big challenges that the current phase of capitalism places on this relationship. Therefore, we invite proposals which consider the following themes:
The strike as an essential tool in the struggle of the working class against capital. How have strikes evolved? How the violation and curtailment of the right to strike is affecting the working class? What can we learn from the recent general strikes?
Processes of trade union renewal. Trade union organising at the community level. Trade unions as the backbone of class struggle. Building a rank-and-file and autonomous trade unionism. Challenges to trade unionism, the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism in the governance of the relations of production.

Processes of global (and regional) governance, for example the European Union or NAFTA, and labour rights. The impact of economic globalization on labour rights. The liberalization of services and competitiveness as threats to the power of labour. Strategies of struggle.

New subjectivities and identities. How do we identify as a class? The working class as the articulation of emancipatory and intersectional identity. How can we connect the diverse identities and material experiences of the working class?
The aim of these sessions is to look at opening up new spaces for reflection and debate around the challenges we have identified. We encourage submissions for papers, debates, current and historical experiences and polemics designed to help develop theoretical and practical tools to advance the emancipatory character of the struggles between capital and labour.

9. Law, Social Control, Penal State and Violence

The contents of this Working Group will be organised into three distinct but connected areas (borders, cities and detention), three main logics (criminality, criminalization and penal management), and the two main two cross-cutting fronts (feminist and decolonial) regarding any anti-capitalist perspective. We welcome research works, theoretical communications, and/or testimonies from political struggles complying to such contents in order to add different voices and arguments to the final round table. This last session will discuss the political hypotheses of a new paradigm in the government of populations and the theoretical validity of the “neoliberal” framework, in order to understand and to combat the current deployment of a “global civil war”.

10. City and urban space

At present, cities play a leading role in surplus generation and the accumulation of capital. As Henri Lefebvre noted half a century ago, industrial society is succeeded by urban society. In fact, cities have become commodities that, accompanied by powerful symbolic resources, are offered in a global market dominated by huge flows of capital and that are currently based on urban relations of oppression and exploitation. This unequal development of capital in the built environment results in processes of segregation, marginalisation and internalisation that clearly reflect the present cartography of power. And, nevertheless, these processes of contemporary neoliberalism are not exempt from conflict, contradictions and resistances that manifest deep implications for class struggle, insisting on its extension from the field of work onto that of inhabiting. The “City and Urban Space” theme puts forward a panel that brings together, among other aspects, some essential questions that allow to analyse, from a materialist perspective, the current situation of an increasingly urban planet. The topics to be discussed are:

  • Privatisation of public space.
  • Control practices and security discourses.
  • Urban governance and entrepreneurial town-urban planning.
  • Territorial stigmatisation.
  • Gentrification.
  • Turistification processes.
  • Heritagisation, theming and spectacular transformation of urban landscapes.
  • Citizenism and urban co-optation.
  • Residential organisation and urban social movements.
  • City, labour and social reproduction.
  • Financialisation processes of the urban (housing, infrastructures, etc.).
  • Mobility and transportation systems.
  • Urban-rural and urban-industrial interfaces.
  • Planetary urbanisation.
  • New theoretical approaches to the study of urban space.
  • Methodological reflections on social research in the city.

11.Education and university

In recent decades, neoliberalism has become hegemonic, and its doctrine has inspired the reform of the Welfare State and the public administration in many countries worldwide. Like so many other sectors, education has been colonized by the ideological doctrine and political reforms of neoliberalism, which have penetrated in all its aspects: organizational, pedagogical, financing, and professional identities. In this working group, we will try to analyze the causes and impacts of neoliberalism in education: What is its relation to globalization and the global educational agenda? What impact does the commodification and privatization of education have? What have been the principles, values and methods of the private sector that the public system has adopted? And how, in this context, pedagogical innovation has become a non-transforming element? Nevertheless, this expansion and neoliberal colonization has been also challenged and resisted. That is why we also want to take a historical look at the struggles against this neoliberal offensive over the last decades. And also, in doing so, we want to discuss the limits (in the tension between reformism and escapism) and potentialities (transformatives and revolutionaries) of resistance to neoliberalism. That is why we want to expose historical experiences and the possible alternatives to the neoliberal model.

12.Migrations, racism and postcolonialism

Today we are witnessing a phase of unquestionable empowerment of migrants, be that in communitarian terms, by becoming a new political subject, or by participating individually in old or new political formations. However, at the same time, the field of migration studies seems stagnant, while in general it essentially attributes migrants the role of object-subject of research, thus constituting what some have called an epistemological and methodological racism.

This apparent contradiction justifies that, in these moments, the debate is declining in postcolonial, decolonial or, in short, antiracist terms. However, while these emerging forms of agency are articulated mainly through what some authors such as Charles Taylor and Nancy Fraser have called politics of recognition, the visibility attributed to these claims tends to hide the other dimensions through which the sociability of these people is expressed; thus, reducing our capacity to identify some of the sources of inequality that, in short, we all suffer. In this sense, the ‘tyranny of representation’ seems to act as an escape valve that prevents an explicit and central debate on the problem of the redistribution of wealth.

If the first step necessary has been to recognize the agency of these migrants, othered, racialized, excluded and inferiorized, that of the subjects which De Sousa Santos places in the zone of ​​non-being, the next step should be to recognize that they are also workers, tenants, and neighbours. And, ultimately, that because of their condition they experience in particularly cruel terms the various tensions that are piercing the social body. An increasingly urgent issue given the evident capacity for mobilization and social support that the European far-right seems to have.

At a time when we are witnessing a double process of closure: externally, through the erection and establishment of externalized material walls practiced in bordering countries; and internally, through the establishment and reproduction of interpersonal borders within the political and civil society of the member states, including in it processes of legal and material dispossession, as well as the social exclusion of the othered subjects.

Therefore, we seek contributions that arise both from the experience accumulated by social movements and critical researchers that address some of these issues:

  • Latent racism (in any of its expressions) in the social sciences
  • Alternative research-participation methodologies linked to the field of migration
  • Anti-racism and historical materialism
  • External and internal border processes