Truth be told, Parliament exists only when it is performing, […]. In fact, our mores and tastes have turned it into a parade of showmen in which the common actors designated by a crowned people wiggle, stamp their feet and declaim their speeches on a stage. Everything, in this regime, is sacrificed to theater, and by this I mean to speeches, and speeches appeal and gather crowds only when they are wielded as weapons.
Jules Delafosse, Psychologie du député, Plon, Paris, 1904.
In current descriptions of political practice, the metaphors of performance and theatricality take centre stage. Yet, as the above quote by Delafosse shows, it used to be deployed more often as a derogatory term in the past, and particularly in the nineteenth century. Viewed as obvious, blunt or even violent, theatricality was considered to be a dishonest ploy to manipulate the audience or was deemed almost ridiculous in its exaggeration.
Yet, representatives quite naturally resorted to theatrical elements when, for instance, they mirrored their rhetoric in gesture or even shouted and cried in the delivery of their speeches. In contrast to the theatrical ones, eloquent speakers were famous for their balanced displays of rhetoric and vocal skills in which they sometimes ran the risk of being carried away themselves. Whilst ‘theatricality’ may have been denounced, ‘delivery’ was central to practices of parliamentary speech in this period.
The differentiation between what was perceived as theatrical or eloquent in the oratory practices in Parliament served as a marker for efficiency and mastery. This had a selective impact on the conflicting conceptions of the roles assigned to MPs and the identity they themselves assumed. It also raises questions on the multilayered nature of the audience to whom the speeches were addressed, the multiple aims of these oratory combats, or even how oral political culture developed throughout the long nineteenth century. It follows that the oratory performances of parliamentary debates were not only defined by the organized communication between actors and audience on a topic or text but should also be acknowledged as a process in which rules, rituals, embodied practices and societal norms were enacted or challenged.
Whilst the idea that politics were and are always ‘performed’ and ‘performative’ has been thoroughly examined in scholarship, the particular practices connected to parliamentary ‘work’ in the long nineteenth century – and the practices of oratory and speech in particular - have received far less attention. Furthermore, due to the context in which these practices take place, they have been studied largely as part of particular national histories, which disregards the mobility of cultural practices such as oratory, gesture and ritual, especially amongst political elites.
This workshop aims to examine the rhetorical, behavioral and vocal discourses and practices in Parliaments or similar institutionalized political spaces during the nineteenth century from both national and transnational perspectives. In order to address these topics and encourage trans- and international comparisons and exchange, we would welcome contributions from a variety of parliamentary and (geo)political perspectives. Junior and as well as more experienced researchers are warmly invited to participate.
Contributors may wish to take any of the following themes as points of departures:
- Practices of eloquence and rhetoric
- Political transfer and parliamentary discourse
- Interactive aspects of oratory practices (obstructions, humor, duels…)
- “Natural” and “acquired” oratory skills
- Political performance and theatricality
- Embodied practices of gender, age, ability/disability, ethnicity, etc. in parliament
- Rituals and ceremony
- Artistic representations of parliamentary debates
- Orality in transcripts and parliamentary proceedings
- Colonial parliaments and assemblies
- Comparative parliamentary ethos
- Methodological aspects regarding the conduct of research on these topics
Please submit an abstract of 250–300 words and a short bio (max 100 words) using this online form by June 30.
Any questions about the call for papers or the workshop can be directed to Ludovic Marionneau (firstname.lastname@example.org).