Who are provocateurs, what are provocations, and what do they provoke? This panel investigates the provocateur as both narrative figure and actual instigator, and attends to the idea of provocation in 'revolutionary' movements, political, artistic, scientific, or otherwise.
During the early December protests in Ukraine, a band of masked men drove a bulldozer down a demonstrator-filled street, throwing flares and Molotov cocktails at the riot police, who, two nights before, had beaten bloody dozens of activists. Confusion reigned: whose side were these anonymous troublemakers on? Were they a fringe unit of the pro-European movement, or thugs hired by the ruling party? Both protest organizers and the ruling party quickly disassociated themselves from the masked men, labeling them 'provocateurs,' illegitimate actors whose sole mission was to incite trouble.
The idea of the 'provocateur' has a long history in discourse regarding political action; its applications in the current waves in anti-governmental protests in Eastern Europe are rampant. However, the provocateur, whether as archetype or as actuality, pops up in other environments, stirring up controversy in popular culture, academia, late night comedy sketches, even religious movements. This panel investigates the idea of the provocateur as a narrative figure, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Who counts as a provocateur, and what role do they play in the identity constitution of the movement they allegedly disrupt? What counts as a provocation, and what is the role of media in its narrativization? How is provocation a rhetorical instrument deployed in struggles in political (or other) fields? Does provocation necessarily involve some level of deception or misrecognition? Finally, is provocation...necessary? Keeping with the conference theme, we pay particular attention to the idea of provocation in 'revolutionary' movements, political, artistic, scientific, or otherwise.