CfP: Interdisciplinary Workshop “Celebrity and Protest in Africa and in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle,” Copenhagen 29-31 October, 2018


Interdisciplinary Workshop

“Celebrity and Protest in Africa and in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle”

29-31 October, 2018, University of Copenhagen

 The European Research Council Project APARTHEID-STOPS, “The Perception of Apartheid in Western Europe 1960-1990” Research Cluster, and the Centre of African Studies of the University of Copenhagen, invite submissions to an interdisciplinary research workshop focusing on the role of celebrities and celebrity culture in the anti-apartheid struggle, as well as on celebrity culture in relation to solidarity with or within Africa more generally.

Through circulating papers in advance, and through limiting the number of participants, we aim to provide a space for in-depth and exploratory discussions on the roles that celebrities have played in generating protest against the apartheid regime and creating solidarity with oppressed South Africans and with Africa more widely.

In contrast to the resolutely Northern or metropolitan orientation of the existing scholarship on celebrity culture and political protest, we seek to broaden the conversation both in terms of location and the range of topics. So for example, we ask how developments in mass media, travel and information technology as well as technologies of circulation intersected with celebrity engagement in the anti-apartheid struggle as a particularly intense arena of engagement.

In addition to scholarship focusing on celebrities from the entertainment industry, we invite proposals that adopt a broader perspective that also consider politicians, clergymen, journalists and activists as celebrities, even if at a different level of resolution. We welcome papers that examine both celebrated figures who harnessed their star power to the cause, as well as those whose work in the struggle against apartheid turned them into celebrities.

Although the neoliberal narrative of celebrity prevalent today pivots around the achievements of singular individuals, we aim to open the discussion to more networked stories of collaboration and solidarity. We ask presenters to consider the international and transnational networks and institutions that underpin celebrity protest and solidarity. Thus presenters are encouraged to think about African, Asian, Soviet, and non-Western celebrities and their investment in or contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle.

What can be said of the temporality of these engagements? Is there room to challenge the established chronology of celebrity and humanitarian celebrity-advocacy as only becoming widespread from the 1980s onwards? Lastly, we also seek to solicit papers that explore the more conflicted nature of celebrity involvement: Did celebrities from the North (or elsewhere) succeed in their quest to draw attention to the social evils of apartheid or did they divert attention from the daily acts of violence and suffering of the constituencies they sought to represent by focusing attention on themselves as individuals? Did this take agency away from activists on the ground and silence voices from the South?

While the focus on South Africa and anti-apartheid struggles remains primary to the conference, and is acknowledged as a particularly powerful case-history, the intention is also to open the conversation to include perspectives on celebrity and solidarity from broader Africa-related experiences. In this regard, a specific panel is planned that would explore experiences of celebrities’ engagements with Africa-focused concerns, be these related to key humanitarian, development or political/rights-based issues. Here too, we seek to address the various kinds of celebrity engagements and their consequences for different solidarity movements and for the causes and contexts these movements aimed to affect, including domestic politics more broadly conceived.

We also invite applications for a Special Issue of the journal Critical Arts on “Celebrity and Protest in the Anti Apartheid Struggle.” For more details follow the link:   

Deadline for submission: 30 November 2017

Confirmed Keynote speakers:

Prof. Lisa Ann Richey, Roskilde University, Denmark

Prof. Louise Bethlehem, The European Research Council Project APARTHEID-STOPS

 Submitting Applications

We invite scholars from a variety of disciplines variety of disciplines and fields (history, literature, sociology, ethnography, musicology, philosophy, literature, theology, art, African Studies, etc.) to apply. Applicants are requested to send in an abstract of their research project (300 words) and a short CV by 30 November, 2017. All accepted participants will be requested to send their presentations (no more than 3500 words) for advance circulation to the workshop delegates by no later than 15 September 2018. 

Presentations should be related to the topic “Celebrity and Protest in Africa.”

Possible themes include (but are not restricted to) the following:

  • The effects of celebrity involvement in framing crises such as apartheid 

  • Celebrities as intermediary figures between the state, the market and individuals

  • The changing forms of celebrity and protest – and celebrity intervention – over time,  especially in light of development of mass media and other technological changes 

  • The interplay between celebrity, solidarity and advocacy 

  • Celebrity and neoliberal protest/ ‘neoliberal optimism’  

  • The relationship between celebrity and exile (among South African performers)

  • The interplay between celebrity and religion

  • The role of celebrity in the sphere of moral diplomacy 

  • “Lifestyle protest” – what is the role and impact of protest activities such as protest concerts; the consumption of cause-related music albums, etc.

  • Celebrities as distractions offered by the culture industry  

  • The relationship between celebrity industries and the development of anti-apartheid organizations   

  • The role of public intellectuals as celebrities in the anti-apartheid movement

  • The role of celebrities in relation to contemporary Africa-related humanitarian, development or rights-based solidarity 

Apply Now

 Important dates: Applications should be submitted by 30 November 2017.  Decisions on acceptance will be issued by March 31, 2018. Please email submissions and any queries to:

A limited number of travel grants exist for participants from the global south.

For more detailed information contact:

Prof. Louise Bethlehem:

Prof. Amanda Hammar:

Prof. Detlef Siegfried:

Dr. Tal Zalmanovich: