The 2018 Holberg Debate: "Politics and Affects: The Dynamics of Social Mobilization"

Fifty years after the 1968 revolt, how important are affects in influencing the behavior of voters, activists and policy makers? Achille Mbembe, Kathleen Cleaver and George Galloway will meet in Bergen on December 1 to discuss these issues.

Half a century has passed since 1968, “the Year of Revolt.” Since then, numerous powerful social movements worldwide have arisen as popular responses to both electoral politics in general and to the controversies surrounding major political issues.

Social movements vary greatly in form. The issues range from the demand for political revolution, to racial, sexual and feminist liberation, anti-war efforts, national sovereignty and globalization, migration and presidential campaigns. Central to the dynamics of any kind of social mobilization is the question of how affects come into play in politics.

On the one hand, affects may play an essential role in the political process. On the other, affective polarization seems to have increased dramatically over the last few years, to the extent that it may dominate political discussion. The new politics of affects may be reflected in increased political awareness among the electorate, but also in increased animosity between political camps as well as between nations.

Looking at social mobilization in Africa, Europe and North America over the last 50 years, the Holberg Debate 2018 seeks to explore the relationship between politics and affects, and how it may differ over time and in various parts of the world. We ask:

  • What are some of essential insights from major social movements over the last five decades, and to what extent are they different or similar to current movements? Are today’s movements effective in addressing the pressing issues of our time, or is there a case to be made for a new kind of radical politics?
  • How important is the affective dimension in politics, and is it largely a force for good or for bad? Is affective polarization preventing a rational approach to resolving today’s major political issues, and is it primarily a cause for violence and destruction? Or does the presence of affects in politics constitute a positive force, necessary to achieve social change?
  • To what extent are our systems of knowledge and government still determined by a history of colonialism, racial antagonism and oppression, and is it fair to say that the issue of race still causes a delirium that undermines attempts to arrive at communicative reason? If so, what can be done about it?
  • Is there truth to the notion that today’s politicians may increasingly be seen as managers, rather than leaders, and how significant are affects in this context?
  • How do today’s identity politics compare to the liberation efforts of the 1960s and 1970s, and do they help or harm political struggles? Are some political arenas seeing a combination of affective polarization and increased sensitivity that may distract from efforts to remedy society’s most significant ills?


Portrait Achille MbembeAchille Mbembe is a Cameroonian historian, philosopher and political theorist who specializes in African history and politics. He is Professor at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Mbembe is particularly well known for his work on post-colonialism and race.



Portrait Kathleen CleaverKathleen Cleaver is Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Cleaver is well-known for her work on human rights and racial discrimintaion both as a researcher and an activist, and she was one of the central figures of the Black Panther Party.



Portrait George GallowayGeorge Galloway  is a British politician, activist, writer and broadcaster. He is a former Member of Parliament in the UK and has been a vocal participant in public debate over the last five decades, particularly in matters related to anti-war efforts, Middle East conflicts, racism and class struggle.



Portrait of Martine Dennis Martine Dennis (moderator) is a principal news presenter for Al Jazeera English. Before joining AJE, she worked for Sky News and the BBC World News for many years, with a particular focus on politics and current affairs in Africa.



About the Holberg Debate

The Holberg Debate 2018 is presented by the Holberg Prize in collaboration with Norwegian PEN Western Norway Branch. We are grateful to the Fritt Ord Foundation and the Univeristy of Bergen, whose support helped make this event possible.The Holberg Debate is held annually on the first Saturday in December, in memory of Ludvig Holberg's birthday.


to 17:30, CET.
The University Aula, Bergen, Muséplass 3
Practical information
Free admittance and free seating.

After the panel discussion there will be a Q&A session where members of the audience are welcome to ask questions.
The event will be livestreamed on this page. You are welcome to send in questions and comments on Twitter both before and during the debate. Please use the hashtag #Holberg18 in your tweets. If you have a question for the panelists, please start your tweet with “Q:”.