“The Political Life Story and Social Media”
Roundtable within the framework of IABA Europe 2017: Life Writing, Europe and New Media

June 7-9, 2017, King’s College London, Strand Campus in Central London
Organizer: Alex Belsey


This roundtable seeks to bring together life-writers and critics working across fields including literature, politics, history and cultural studies to discuss the extent to which social media has inscribed life stories into contemporary political debate. We will consider the prevalence and influence of personal history and anecdote in the debates surrounding major political events including: Brexit; last year’s U.S. presidential election; and forthcoming elections in Europe.


Social media can be considered a realm of strong and identifiable characters who attract considerable attention and support. Many of the most controversial voices present their sources and arguments as trustworthy on the basis of the authenticity of their personality: in the U.S., they are often charismatic professionals, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, whose claims to having defied orthodoxy and liberated suppressed knowledge provide the justification for deliberately causing offence and shutting down opposing arguments; in the U.K., they are more likely to be figures from the entertainment world, for example Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan, who claim to be in touch with public opinion yet unmuddied by direct political affiliation. The common characteristic of these personae is the pronouncement of an outsider status.


This discussion will engage with questions including, but not limited to, the following:


–       To what extent has Twitter, and social media more generally, participated in the overwriting of political discourse with personal life stories?


–       How can comparatively faceless institutions and ideals, for example the European Union, compete with compelling political ‘characters’?


–       What happens when such personal stories seem to be overwriting previous stories written by/about their author?


–       How are narratives of personal struggle or progress employed as synecdoche for political narratives, for instance of nostalgia or overcoming?


–       How does mainstream news media – newspapers, television, online – provide a paratext that selects and frames the choicest selections from lives lived online?


–       Do life stories told online feed into an identity politics that privileges some identities at the expense of others?


–       How can users of social media and online life-writers use the possibilities of digital technologies to represent socially and politically conscious lives whilst allowing for constructive dialogue between differing viewpoints?
The roundtable panel will ideally consist of 5 or 6 participants, including the moderator, who will each speak for 5 minutes, leaving sufficient time for exchanges amongst the panel and with the audience.

Please send an expression of interest, including a suggestion for a political ‘personality’ to present as a case study, along with a short bio note by April 14, 2017 to the roundtable organizer and moderator Alex Belsey atalex.belsey@kcl.ac.uk.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent shortly after the deadline.