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Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics: Why Objects Matter in Protest, Revolution and Resistance

Online, Tuesday 8 November 2022, 16:00 – 17:30 GMT



Benjamin Abrams University College London

Peter Gardner University of York


Panel Chair

David Swartz Boston University


Organised in collaboration with our Standing Group on Political Sociology

When we observe protest marches, strikes, revolutionary crowds, and insurgent movements in the world today, our gaze is drawn to two things: the people, and the problem. However, amid the crowds, regiments and mobs of contentious politics, litanies of objects are also visible.

Symbolic objects act as powerful signifiers and potent motifs. They can divide and unite social groups, tell stories, make declarations, spark controversies, and even trigger violent upheavals.

In this talk, editors of the forthcoming Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics (The University of Michigan Press, 2023) drew from the book's findings to develop what they see as the promise of studying symbolic objects in contentious politics.

The 90-minute discussion encouraged us to:

  • Consider the scope of symbolic objects in contentious politics as an area of study;
  • Explore key theories about how symbolic objects tend to present across cases;
  • Examine how studying symbolic objects can enrich our understanding of contentious politics.

Free and open to all

The talk aimed not to proscribe how objects in contention must be interpreted, but to offer some of the most promising parameters for analysing these fascinating empirical phenomena, inspired by a wide array of cases and comparisons including Germany, Poland, Iran, the United States, Nigeria, and Lebanon.

About our speakers

Benjamin Abrams

Benjamin Abrams is Director of Studies in Sociology at St Catharine's College, and an affiliated Lecturer in Sociology in the Faculty of Human, Social and Political Sciences. He is currently conducting full-time research at University College London, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship.

Benjamin's research focuses on exploratory macro-causal comparisons and case studies, designed to generate new, durable theoretical insights. His approach fuses these macro-level techniques with in-depth investigative within-case methods, with a specialism in the analysis of ethnographic interviews and archival sources. His research covers

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Peter Gardner

Peter Gardner holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge, an MPhil in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict from Trinity College Dublin, and a BA in Economic and Social Studies also from Trinity College Dublin.

After completing his PhD, Peter worked for two years as a teaching fellow at the University of Aberdeen. At Aberdeen, he was a member of the Institute for Conflict, Transition, and Peace Research. In 2019, he joined the University of York as Lecturer in Sociology.

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About the House Series

The House Series is open to both ECPR Member and Non-Member affiliates. 

Harbour House, our HQ in the UK, is a literal and metaphorical ‘home’ for the ECPR community.

The Series is designed to provide platforms and spaces for discourse, reaching out beyond academe and shining a light on the work of our discipline.

Each talk seeks to open doors to some of the most pressing issues across the discipline, and is followed by an extended Q&A session.

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