Ethnographer and filmmaker Professor Jesse Weaver Shipley presents for the Anthropology Department Spring seminar series at Goldsmiths College, the University of London: "The Aesthetics of Politics: A Practical Guide to Coups d'Etats."
"In the early hours of 4 June 1979 in Accra, Ghana, junior officers and soldiers broke Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings out of military prison just before his scheduled execution for treason. The jailbreak became a coup d’etat as the leaders took over state run radio to announce their actions and overran key military installations to consolidate power. In the following weeks, they set up the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a populist revolutionary interim government made up of junior officers, young intellectuals, and citizens fed up with corrupt military rule and foreign economic manipulations. In this paper, I examine this revolutionary moment from the perspective of the aesthetics of political leadership and the public, spectacular contestation of power. I explore the bodily practices and technological forms through which meaning and power are challenged and legitimated. Examining Ghanaian political history from the perspective of this key rupture in 1979 has implications for rethinking post-independence transformations of politics and culture. The Ghanaian case shows that 1979 was a critical moment of global change when radical critiques of Western capital arose across the globe one final time to be met by the rising Reagan-Thatcher doctrines of free market economics and Cold War covert coercions. I argue that examining this moment through an ethnography of political aesthetics situates affective, lived experience within structural and institutional frames in a moment of crisis. The aesthetics of this coup provide a contradictory framework that both set the cultural conditions for critiques of market-oriented political freedom and the conditions for their inversion."
(February 1, 2017)