Workshop “The Tradition of the Oppressed”


The Tradition of the Oppressed

20 June 2015, 11:00 – 18:30 at
MaMa Multimedia institute
Preradovićeva 18
10000 Zagreb

As the proverb has it, “tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame.” This flame, however, has mostly been interpreted in a culturalist, humanist or conservative way. In his influential essay “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,” Friedrich Engels (1880) deemed tradition “a great retarding force,” “the vis inertiae of history.” This negative view became the dominant version of historical materialism’s take on tradition until today. Whereas the concept of tradition is often associated with continuity (derived from the Latin verb tradere: to hand down, to pass on, to transmit), this workshop takes its cue from Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “Tradition of the Oppressed,” which imparts collective experiences of political struggle, lost, and defeat. In his “Theses On the Concept of History” (1940), Benjamin argues that unlike bourgeois historiographies, the tradition of the oppressed is based on the idea of the discontinuum of historical experiences and memories. In other words, the idea of heritage and commemoration as a something that can be transmitted from the past to the present and handed over to future generations has to be radically modified if not abandoned. Following Benjamin’s reflections on the “problem of tradition,” this workshop seeks to challenge our notions of heritage, political legacy, and historical consciousness. How can the experience and tradition of the oppressed be narrated without relying on narratives? What is the fragmentary medium of this transmittability and how can we rethink the concept of heritage if the latter is not limited to official historiography of those who have been and are in power? Who are the oppressed today? Is there a non-space, a utopos, which can articulate the discontinuous tradition of the oppressed?

Conveners: Jana Tsoneva and  Sami Khatib


Session 1, 11:00 – 13:00

Cooper Francis: Awakening to the Past: Walter Benjamin’s Fairytale
Amanda Holmes: “Where we send black things”: Museums of Natural History and Les Statues Meurent Aussi
Damiano Roberi: Ecological Jetztzeit: Benjamin’s natural tradition of the oppressed

Session 2: 14:30 – 16:30

Spyros Marchetos: Greek Anarchism and the Tradition of the Oppressed (via video)
Emin Eminagic: Traversing the Three by Counting to Four: War Jokes as the Commons of the Oppressed in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tihana Pupovac: Whose Heritage? On the Actuality of Yugoslav Partisan Memorials

Session 3: 17:00 – 18:30

Sami Khatib: The Medium of the “Tradition of the Oppressed”
Jana Tsoneva: Labor theory of penury: Wo Arbeit war, soll Kommunismus werden

18:30 Drinks, pub reception

Cite this blog post
Sami Khatib (2015, June 13). Workshop “The Tradition of the Oppressed” ANTHROPOLOGICAL MATERIALISM. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

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