Democracy & Diversity Institute, Wrocław, Poland

From 6-22 July, EDiTE researcher Beata Zwierzynska participated in 2018 Democracy & Diversity Institute organized annually by the New School’s Transregional Center for Democratic Studies. Beata took part in Agnes Heller’s open lecture, and a discussion on Kielce Jewish pogrom events and screening of Bogdan’s Journey documentary, and two courses (each one consisting of 12 meetings): “’Europe is dead,’ Philosophy, History, and Politics in the Thought of Jan Patocka” led by James Dodd – Professor of Philosophy, NSSR; and “Democratic Crisis and the Politics of Social Media” led by Claire Potter – Professor of Historical Studies, NSSR.

The first seminar focused on the philosophy of Jan Patočka, in particular to his conception of Europe, and its moral death. Patočka was a Czech philosopher who is also remembered for being one of the original signatories of Charter 77 – human rights movement in communist Czechoslovakia. He was interrogated by the police because of his involvement in the movement. During the seminar, the required readings included Patočka’s Heretical Essays, Plato and Europe, “Titanism”, “Masaryk’s and Husserl’s Conception of the Spiritual Crisis of European Humanity”, “On Masaryk’s Philosophy of Religion, Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, and many more. But most importantly for Beata’s interest in the Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless” (dedicated to Patočka and influenced by his thought) – a famous essay  first published in Poland, and an important text and inspiration for the Polish Solidarity movement leaders.

The second seminar was devoted to the history of democratic crisis mainly through the examination of different types of media, including the most influential ones: Facebook and Twitter, and the rise of a global digital public sphere. This sphere, and numerous counter spheres inspired both democratic, and anti-democratic actions; life—saving initiatives and destructive populisms: grassroot democratic organizing, but also cynical political influence on elections; communication between fleeing refugees, but also bots, fake news, or antivaccination movements. The discussions were not only theoretical, but also debates on the role of citizens and intellectuals to counteract such phenomena; understanding the mechanisms of the online spaces, but also finding the principles to create democratic spaces, rather that participating in provocation, misinformation, or information chaos by being unaware of the usage of attention economy and media manipulation. The discussions were based on the close readings of 4-5 articles for each class ranging from more traditional texts like Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, and Nancy Fraser’s “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy” to current analyses of cybermedia, political realms, and societies, for example: Sanjay Sharma’s “Black Twitter? Racial Hashtags, Networks and Contagion”, Anne Applebaum’s “Britain After Brexit: A Transformed Political Landscape”, and Wendy H. Wong and Peter A. Brown’s text “E-Bandits in Global Activism: WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and the Politics of No One.