Rethinking the legacy of 1968:
Left fields and the quest for common ground

A day of discussions bringing together different generations of writers, researchers and activists to consider the political and cultural legacies of 1968, and their bearing on the future prospects for a more democratic, equal and participatory society. Our aim is to help rekindle the intellectual excitement that characterised the political counter culture of the Sixties but focused on contemporary issues.

Date: Saturday September 22nd
Host Organisation:
The Centre for Cultural Studies Research University of East London.
Delivery Partner: Livingmaps Network
Venue: University Square Stratford Campus
1 Salway Place, London E15 1NF


Tickets: Eventbrite


Please indicate your preferred workshops when you make your booking on Eventbrite.


‘Left field’ is originally a baseball term, but one which was taken up by commentators and critics in the 1980’s at the high point of post modernism to promote the originality of artists and thinkers whose work was not otherwise on the cultural map. In this context the term took on the connotation of ‘something coming suddenly out of nowhere’, through a singular, disruptive act of creative innovation. Yet, once uncoupled from po-mo ideology, Left Field might point us towards the un/common ground from which counter-hegemonic movements and ideas emerge and which they in turn help to create. It seems especially appropriate to apply the term to an understanding of the present conjuncture with its radical uncertainties, but also to grasp what was at stake in ‘May 68’ and its long aftermath.

Whatever else the sixties counter-culture may have represented for those who took part in it- and no movement has had its legacy more contested or hyped – it offered a fleeting glimpse of an alternative form of civil society, based on a moral economy of mutual aid, and a political vision of a world in which inequalities of class, race, gender and age had, more or less magically, disappeared. However Utopian, this principle of hope has continued to inspire the quest for a more open, participatory and democratic society; it has also led to the development of new forms of research, that attempt to challenge prevailing knowledge/power hierarchies in the Academy and elsewhere and sustain new spaces of representation to support voice and agency amongst marginalised and minority groups.

Half a century on, commentators are again talking about a ‘youthquake’, now linked to the advent of ‘Generation Rent’ as a radical new political force. It is tempting to make hasty comparisons, or conflate these two moments, if only to conjure up an image of the baton of revolt being handed on from the class of ‘68 to the class of 2018. But perhaps it is worth pausing to consider how the profound transformations, of geo-politics and the global economy, of technology and culture, of gender, class and identity have intervened over this half century to re-fashion our everyday lives, reshape our relationships and commitments, and re-configure the way we work and play, whilst at the same time many existing social inequalities persist and deepen.

Personal Statement from PhilCohen

East London dramatises many of these changes and I have been privileged to work with many local communities in the area over the past 50 years, documenting and analysing the impact of globalisation and neo-liberal policies on their livelihoods, life stories and life styles. As it happens 2018 is also something of a personal milestone for me, (or perhaps a millstone), in that it marks my 75th birthday. But this event is not a festschrift as such. Rather I have invited a number of friends and colleagues with whom I have worked on various projects over the years, and/or whose work has influenced mine, plus a younger generation of scholar activists, to join me in sharing their reflections on how the issues with which we have been dealing have changed over this period, and how our approach as researchers and activists has evolved in response. The aim is to unsettle accounts of the past, whilst mapping the patterns of continuity and change which mark our various fields of intellectual, creative and political endeavour and pondering what the future may hold.

In addition to the two plenary sessions, contributions are organised into a number of workshop themes, related to various fields of common interest while the panels represent a range of conceptual and generational perspectives. The morning sessions focus on what might be called the micro-politics of identity formation, in particular how coming of age stories have been restructured under the impact of de-industrialisation, globalisation and neo-liberalism. The afternoon sessions look at the social movements which have emerged in response to a profound crisis of representation in the contemporary body politid and explores their relation to the legacy of 1968.

Over lunch there will be a screening of a programme of short films generated by my work. The conference concludes with a reception and book signing.

9: 15 Registration
9: 45 Welcome
Stephen Maddison: Centre for Cultural Studies Research UEL

10: 0 – 11: 0 Opening Plenary (Lecture Theatre USG. 17)
‘1968’, Coming of Age Stories and the Quest for Uncommon Ground. Phil Cohen.
Introduced and chaired by Andrew Calcutt.

11: 0 – 11: 30 Coffee (Foyer)

11: 30 – 1: 0 Morning Workshop streams 
1 Rethinking the Youth Question: From Learning to Labour to Generation Rent (Room USG 19)
How has the framing of the youth question and the burden of representation that young people are made to carry changed over the past half century, what has been the impact on youth cultures and on strategies of transition from school?
Shane Blackman, Judith Burnett, Robert Holland, Rob MacDonald.
Introduced and chaired by Ben Little.

2 On the ‘Wrong’ side of the tracks: Class, Gender, Ethnicity and Identity politics ( Room USG 20)
How has the weakening of the patriarchal order, the re-shaping of class relations and ethnic identifications impacted on family and social relations, especially for those growing up on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks’?
Ann Phoenix, Valerie Walkerdine, Alison Winch, Avtar Brah.

3 Only Create ! Working Identities and Youth Cultural Industry (Room US2. 41)
How has the growth of creative industries and the gig economy impacted on the youth labour market and on the distribution of cultural capital?
Angela Mc Robbie, Orson Nava and Carolina Bandinelli.
Introduced and chaired by Tony Samson.

4 In a white unpleasant land: New ethnicities, old racisms before and after Brexit (Room US1. 09)
How has the racist imagination of the nation re-invented itself and been challenged in contemporary popular culture and in the debate over Britain’s future?
Nira Yuval Davis, Anthony Gunter, Anoop Nyak, Ash Sharma.
Introduced and chaired by Syd Jeffers.

5 Queerying the Labourhood: Redundant Masculinities, Gender Fluidity and the sexual politics of the working class city (Room US 2. 44)
How has the re- composition of gender identities in both workplace and community affected class formation and its urban configurations? What are the implications for youth politics?
Darren Nixon, Daisy Payling, Emma Spruce.

6 ‘Nothing about us, without us’: Recognition, representation and knowledge/power in participatory research (Room US. 2. 48)
From Mass Observation to Citizen Social Science, researchers have attempted to empower informants who are otherwise marginalised or at least ensure that they are not further exploited. How effective are participatory or dialogic methods of social research and how far is it possible to produce valid data while suspending or overturning existing knowledge power? 
Aura Lounasmaa, Marta Welander and Samer Moustafa.
Introduced and chaired by Phil Cohen.

Lunch 1: 0 – 2: 0
There are a number of good and relatively inexpensive places to eat within short walking distance of the campus, including Stratford Circus and The Theatre Royal. Bar.

1. 15 Short Film Programme (Lecture theatre: USG 17)
144 and all that // Playgrounds of Prejudice // Tricks of the Trade // Not for the Likes of Us: Young People talk about ‘Regeneration’ in Newham // Speaking out of Place: Voices and Vignettes of East 20 // Our Kind of Town: the Making of a Citizens Atlas for London.

2: 0 – 3: 30 Afternoon Workshop streams 

1 Re-placing the local: navigating landscapes of material change in the global city (Room USG 19)
How has our perception of the environment and material culture been transformed by the re-scaling of the local ? What new possibilities for civic engagement has this made possible
Jonathan Gardner, Bob Gilbert, Hilary Powell, Ken Worpole.
Introduced and chaired by Nicole Crockett.

2 Living the Dream? East London, Gentrification and the 2012 Olympic Legacy (Room US1. 09)
How has London’s turn to the east associated with the London 20123 Olympics impacted on its local host communities? Is there more to regeneration than social cleansing ? What are the prospects for an urban social movement that connects issues of housing, employment and welfare to cultural and environmental questions.
Penny Bernstock, Debbie Humphry Juliet Davis, Alberto Duman.
Introduced and chaired by Phil Cohen

3 Spaced Out: Frontline cartographies between map and territory (Room US 2. 41)
How far can strategies of counter-mapping enhance voice and agency amongst groups marginalised in the planning process, demonised by the corporate media and targeted by austerity policies ?
Mike Duggan, Debbie Kent, Jina Lee, Sol Perez, Debra Benita Shaw.
Introduced and chaired by John Wallett.

4 Me Too? Self Disclosure, Celebrity Culture and the deregulation of moral economy – a feminist perspective (Room US2. 44)
How far can identity politics break with or transform the culture of self possessive individualism? Do strategies of naming and shaming leave deep structures of power and inequality intact, and even legitimate them? Can peer cultures create their own democratic norms of social regulation?
Anna Bull and Catherine Rottenberg.

5 After 68: Political memory and the legacy of counter culture (Room USG 20)
How successful has the Left been in creating an alternative memory politics, and how far has the political legacy of 68 been renewed, ignored, or challenged both by those who lived through these events, and by a later generation of activists?
Anders Hoeg Hansen, Mica Nava, Dick Pountain, Nora Rathzel.
Introduced and chaired by Garry Whannel.

6 ‘We are the Writing on Your Walls’: changing media of political discourse from agitprop to ‘fake news’ (Room US 2. 48)
How has the advent of social media changed the idioms of popular democratic struggle, and to what extent has the performative aspect of direct action been reinforced or recuperated by these new digital platforms ? Can communities of practice emerging from network culture, especially amongst young people, replace entrenched hierarchies of power?
Iain Boal, Dan McQuillan and Pat Holland.
Introduced and chaired by Jonathan Hardy.

3: 30 – 4: 0 Tea (Foyer)

4: 0 – 5: 30 Concluding Plenary ( Lecture theatre USG 17)
To at last create a legacy in which there is no turning back: the politics of memory and hope in uncertain times
Anthony Barnett, Darren Ellis, Jeremy Gilbert, Kenan Malik, Mike Rustin, Anne Querrien, Lynne Segal.
Introduced and chaired by Phil Cohen.

5: 30 – 7: 0 Reception and book launch in the Foyer: Archive That, Comrade! Left Legacies and the Counter Culture of Remembrance  by Phil Cohen published by PM Press and Regeneration Songs: Investment and Loss in East London edited by Alberto Duman, Dan Hancox, Malcolm James and Anna Minton published by Repeater Books.
During the conference there will be several bookstalls featuring relevant literature.