Breaking the Mould: Political Interaction from Ancient History to the Present

The research group Breaking the Mould studies the interaction between the governed and those who govern from ancient history to the present.

How can citizens and societal groups make their voices heard in politics? How do they gain access to political institutions and can they influence the political agenda? But also: how are political institutions shaped in the first place, and who is involved? How do hierarchies shift within political institutions and do political newcomers claim their place?

Methodological focus

Our researchers develop concepts and strategies to analyse the perspectives of subalterns, broader socio-political movements and political institutions. In particular, the focus on non-institutional and non-singular actors requires new and creative research methods. In addition, we explore the wide range of (historical) sources available to reconstruct the interaction between formal and informal politics. In doing so, we reflect on the issue of representativity and encourage interdisciplinary cooperation, in particular between history, literature, political science and political philosophy.

Our research specifically focuses on:

  • the construction and contestation of the governed/government binary: we study how past and present societies reflect on, conceptualise and upend the distribution of political power
  • discourses: we analyse conceptions and perceptions of political representation among the governed and those who govern (e.g., access, proximity, presence)
  • the communicative practices: we explore a series of political interactions, ranging from organised forms of protest to pamphlets and petitions, from statues and state portraits to parliamentary photography, from vox pops in the market square to the political use of social media. A broad range of (historical) sources – text, (moving) images, sounds and material culture – lies at the heart of our research
  • practical organisation: we discuss the social and organisational contexts in which the governed and those who govern articulate their political opinions and express their agency in the political sphere offering a diachronical and comparative perspective on political interaction from ancient history to the present