Call for papers: Ecstatic States of the Body and Social Group Cohesion

This year’s CSMCH-IASH Fellow, Kristoff Kerl, is organising a conference in March 2020 as part of his fellowship. The call for papers is below – please circulate it widely!

Ecstatic Communitarization/Sociation: Ecstatic States of the Body and Social Group Cohesion from the 19th Century to the present

Having sex, using intoxicating substances, listening and dancing to music, making sports, driving fast, experiencing pain, getting into religious trance or committing acts of violence – all these body practices have been used by different groups of actors in different times, at varying places and in manifold and changing ways to create and experience ecstatic states of the body. Doing this, they aimed at the intensification of emotional and bodily experiences, at transcending the self or just at having a relaxing and joyful leisure time.

Furthermore, the practices of getting ecstatic and the experiences of ecstatic/intoxicated states were in manifold ways linked to processes of sociation and communitarisation and, thus, contributed to the shaping of social groups, milieus and societies. For instance, during the Third Reich, the Nazis used techniques and events to create states of mass ecstasy that aimed at the strengthening of political allegiance and the ‚Volksgemeinschaft;‘ during the 1960s and 1970s, Western counterculturists conceived of ecstatic states as liberating the body and the self from the shackles of western capitalist societies and they drew on manifold practices of getting ecstatic in their striving to create new forms of society; and in milieus such as the Burschenschaften (student fraternities) drinking alcohol has very often constituted an important tool of male bonding and of consolidating group cohesion.

However, it is not only the (common) experiencing of ecstatic states that constitutes an important factor of communitarisation/sociation, but also the (shared) opposition towards (specific) forms of intoxication and ecstasy. For instance, the antagonism towards sex, drugs and rock ‘n‘ roll was an important driving force in the context of the conservative turn that took place in the United States during the late 1960s and that contributed to the election of Richard Nixon.

It is the aim of the workshop to shed light on the relationship between ecstasy/intoxication, the users’ self and processes of sociation/communitarisation. Possible topics for papers presented at the workshop are, amongst others:

    • Ecstasy and social cohesion: How did common experiences of ecstasy/intoxication contribute to the shaping of social groups and societies? In which way did the shared antagonism towards certain kinds of ecstasy/intoxication constitute a factor in processes of strengthening the sense of belonging to a social group?
    • Ecstasy/intoxication and societal conditions: How did different social actors link ecstatic states of the body to social conditions, for instance, by conceiving of ecstasy/intoxication as a means that contributed to social change or the conservation of social conditions? How did different political regimes draw on ecstatic states to stabilize the social order and, thus, their political power?
    • Ecstasy and social categories such as class, race, gender, (dis-)ability or age: How did social categories such as class, race and gender shaped the experiences of ecstasy? How did the doing and experiencing of ecstasy/intoxication contribute to the stabilization or undermining of social and cultural stratifications and power relations?
    • Settings and spaces of ecstasy: Which role did certain spaces and their design play for the practices of getting ecstatic? For example, how did material and spatial arrangements influence the creation and shaping of mass ecstasies?
    • Objects and technologies: What kind of objects and technologies were used to create or to prevent certain states of (mass) ecstasy?

Please send proposals (max. one page) and a short biographical note to the organizer of the workshop, Kristoff Kerl ( Deadline for applications is December 15, 2019. The workshop will take place at the University of Edinburgh on March 26, 2020.