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Lecture | PCNI Seminar

Nostalgia and the Politics of Emotion

  • Tobias Becker (German Historical Institute London)
Thursday 18 April 2019
PCNI Seminars 2019
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
2.60 (Conference room)

Both the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump have often been explained as a nostalgic reaction—particularly by older white male working-class voters, who, left behind and alienated by the modern world and globalization, are said to be yearning for an allegedly better past. In his book Retrotopia the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has even gone so far as to label our time an “Age of Nostalgia”, characterised by reaction and regress in all eras of politics and society. However, the use of nostalgia in political discourse is hardly new. It dates back to the 1950s and witnessed a first heyday in the era of Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher in the 1980s. In my talk, I will be discussing how the meaning of nostalgia changed over time, how it became part of political discourse and what ideological subtexts it carries. On this basis, I will re-examine the current debate. I will be arguing that nostalgia is insufficiently conceptualised, often obscuring more than it illuminates, and therefore should be used with caution and as part of a wider investigation into the role of emotions in politics.

Tobias Becker is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute London, where he works on the “nostalgia wave” since the 1970s. He also teaches history at University College London. He has published widely on theatre, the subject of his PhD, popular culture and urban history. As part of his new project, he has edited a “Forum on Nostalgia” in History and Theory, to which he contributed the article “The Meanings of Nostalgia: Genealogy and Critique,” History and Theory 57 (2018), No. 2, 234-250. The project is accompanied by the blog “Homesick for Yesterday”.

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