CfP: Challenging order - protest, commitment, encounters and social openness in 1968, before, during and after

Call for papers, deadline 31 October 2017


Conference - University Rouen Normandie, June 7-8, 2018

First, there were the university and high-school students; then, there were the workers; and finally, the political authorities trying to channel the former’s mobilizations in order to regain control of the situation. This is the pattern generally used to describe the 1968 events in Germany, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Senegal, Mexico, Brazil or Uruguay: a sort of a three-count dance, a perfectly synchronised choreography. Yet, this mechanical tri-partition does not resist a closer examination, whether in terms of chronology (each moment offering, in fact, a vast possibility of dialogues, solidarities and encounters between social worlds previously unaware of each other) or in political terms (given that a vital project that the 1968 did put into practice was built on the longing for social decompartmentalization). This conference is at odds with the collective memory that often underpins the years 1968, meaning the aforementioned separation – both chronological and political – between different protest actors, but also the “missed opportunity for a students-workers alliance” theory drawing upon evocative imagery, such as the Renault-Billancourt workers closing their factory’s doors on students. Instead, we intend to focus on the “social crossbreedings” (Bernard Pudal) and the “improbable encounters” (Xavier Vigna et Michelle Zancarini-Fournel) that marked the 1968 events, giving them sufficient breaking force to disrupt the social and symbolic order. 

In all the countries where wide protest movements took place during “the 1968 years”, social space was a priori differentiated and stratified and did not seem to predispose to any sort of social decompartmentalization. Indeed, both students and workers – and among them sometimes immigrants, according to each country’s situation – knew that their everyday life, as well as their working and cultural conditions were separate. In Western Europe and the United States, the former were in small minority, representing around 10% of their age group and therefore still a “privileged class”. Most of the students largely ignored the realities of wage labour. Yet, the category evolved and its perimeter expanded along with the increased periods of compulsory education and the university enrolment expansion. This evolution, impressive in historical terms, went hand in hand with limited social opportunities. That being said, workers’ children did not represent – in most cases – more than 10% of the students. As for the workers, they were numerous, had representatives and constituted a considerable social force, both in relative and absolute terms. As regards peasants, whose children were a tiny minority among students (less than 10%), they were profoundly affected by rural exodus and consciously vulnerable. Of course, those proportionate figures varied according to locations in the national territory.

Thus, our aim is not to propose a smoothed out vision of the social world. Instead, we will be asking the following question: on which terms and conditions did those social groups, which were seemingly so far apart from each other, ended up converging? Clearly, this happened in the wake of events. Events suspend time, end work and daily routines, thus creating new forms of availability. Events energized actors with the desire to escape socially binding roles, division of labour which hierarchizes and divides, distribution of positions and tasks which assigns rigid social identities. In other words, the desire to disrupt the social, symbolic, and thus political, order emerged – and generally, also the gendered order. This did not erase class-consciousness or pride associated with social class. “Workers, peasants, we are”: this sentence resounded in the 1968 years as loudly as it did a century before. By suspending daily life and occupations, and by questioning social belongings and identities, the 1968 mobilizations enabled protagonists to imagine how different these social routines and assignments could be. It is true that in Prague or in Paris, in Tokyo or in Berlin, the student movement was the spark that set on fire the spirit of customary times. But the workers were not only there to back the students up or to take over them. In many cases, they were already present at the very start of the event, as were other social categories. And all these social worlds, all these distinct professional universes, were not present only to pursue their own social agenda or to march in dispersed order. They established contacts, drew inspiration from each other, discussed, and engaged in very concrete solidarity actions, beyond words and ideas.

This facet of the 1968 years is still rather unknown and not sufficiently documented. Academic research in the last twenty years have allowed a more complex picture of the mobilisations to emerge, taking into account the standpoint of those who actively took part in the events, but also the multiple geographic scales, repertories of collective action or ideologies. Indeed, the protest movements were not exclusively a matter for the nations’ or the regions’ capitals, they also concerned medium-sized cities. As for the protest sites, they included streets, universities, factories or neighbourhoods. At the same time, recent research has proposed a much more diversified and entangled approach to protest geographies by shifting focus away from the West towards non-Western transnational circulations of revolutionary ideas and agency. 1968 has now become an “international space of protest” (Robert Frank), a “World event” (Jean-François Sirinelli), and a “transnational moment of change” (Gerd-Rainer Horn, Padraic Kenney). Despite these advances, the connections between university or high-school students, workers, employees, peasants and artists appear only sporadically, and have received the attention they deserve. This is precisely the aim of this conference: to place these connections at the very heart of our analysis.

Our goal is twofold. First, we aim at gathering material and analyzing social decompartmentalization and encounters at a very empirical level. Though depending on places and countries situations can vary, existing sources and archives (meeting reports, tracts, militant brochures and journals, letters, movies and programs, circulars from prefects and other officials, police reports, intelligence files, ministerial texts, memoires and newspapers) enable us to gain insight into the active protagonism that during the 1968 years generated new connections between different social fields in the year 1968. Therefore, it is possible to explore the “improbable (social) encounters”: their causes and their impediments, the places where they occurred and what the protagonists said, the practices they fostered and the emotions they triggered, the ideological cross-fertilizations they stimulated and the conflicts they brought about. We are particularly interested in delving into a wide range of international examples. Indeed, the likelihood and the properties of social decompartmentalizations greatly vary depending on the country’s industrialization, the working class access to secondary and higher education, the proximity between the working class and students from a social and/or a geographic standpoint. They also depend on the structural and practical relationships between social groups, the internal social plurality of families, the repressive degree of political regimes, the integration between unions and governments, the more or less multi-sectorial nature of the contentious events, the traditions of militancy, the existence (or not) of rural guerrillas, and so on. We will thus strongly welcome proposals not exclusively focused on Europe and North-America, but also on the communist world, Latin America, Asia, the Middle-East and Africa. Likewise, papers connecting different scales (from the very local and monographic to the national and transnational), as well as comparisons between geographically distant cases, are most wanted.

Thus, the papers are expected to provide new insights into unexplored case studies, and to strengthen our empirical and theoretical understanding of the emergence, structuring, properties and effects of both the improbable encounters and the social decompartmentalization. By addressing both the international and the social dimension of protest events, the conference wishes to shed light on one of the least explored facets of the 1968 years. 


  • October 31, 2017: Deadline for submission of proposals
  • December 15, 2017: Notification of the participants
  • April 30, 2018: Deadline for submission of full papers (5-7,000 words) 

Proposals (English, French or Spanish) should include:

  • The title of the paper
  • Abstract (500 words max.)
  • A short CV including affiliation, list of publications and contact information (email) 

Conference's functioning

This two-days conference will take the form of workshops that will discuss the papers which will pre-circulate in early May at the latest (5-7,000 words). Thus, participants are expected to read all the material, in order to meet and engage in fruitful discussion. The working languages will be French and English.

Organizing committee

  • Ludivine Bantigny (Université de Normandie Rouen),
  • Boris Gobille (École normale supérieure Lyon),
  • Eugénia Palieraki (Université de Cergy-Pontoise)

Scientific committee

  • Ludivine Bantigny (Université de Normandie Rouen),
  • Françoise Blum (Université Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne),
  • Andrea Cavazzini (Université de Liège),
  • Marie-Laure Geoffray (Université Paris III - Sorbonne Nouvelle, IHEAL, IUF),
  • Boris Gobille (École normale supérieure Lyon),
  • Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey (Université de Bielefeld),
  • Nicolas Hatzfeld (Université d’Évry-Val-d’Essonne),
  • Burleigh Hendrickson (Boston College),
  • Gerd-Rainer Horn (Sciences Po Paris),
  • Julian Jackson (Queen Mary University, Londres),
  • Aurore Merle (Université de Cergy-Pontoise/ Institut d’Asie orientale),
  • Eugénia Palieraki (Université de Cergy-Pontoise),Bernard Pudal (CNRS/Université Paris Ouest Nanterre),
  • Malika Rahal (IHTP/CNRS),
  • Donald Reid (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill),
  • Caroline Rolland-Diamond (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre),
  • Xavier Vigna (Université de Bourgogne),
  • Polymeris Voglis (Université de Thessalie),
  • Michelle Zancarini-Fournel (Université Claude-Bernard Lyon I)