The Zapruder World Project
Abraham Zapruder was the 58-year-old Ukrainian migrant tailor who filmed the killing of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Armed with an 8mm camera, he made history. From below.
Since 2002 Zapruder – published in Italy and in Italian – has served as a journal on the history of social conflict. Together with the association Storie in movimento (SIM – Histories in Movement), it was founded by historians and social activists who took part in the protest movement in Genoa (July 2001), and who were rooted in the experience of local social forums which emerged from the international demonstrations and meetings of Seattle, Göteborg and Porto Alegre. Their social activism has fed their research curiosity, broadened their intellectual interests, and pushed them to explore new methodological and theoretical perspectives. History – they felt during those months of continuous and inspiring mass actions and debates – was no longer (just) a series of words on a page, nor a sequence of institutional meetings and events. It was acted by bodies and written in acts of protest, resistance, and rebellion of ordinary people against hegemonic and oppressive structures of power anywhere, anytime.
Since their inception, the journal and the association have mirrored these experiences. They have been meeting places for academic and non-academic scholars, spaces of inclusive and anti-authoritative cultural creation, laboratories based on egalitarian and democratic participation. For instance, the topics of the journal are chosen through public assemblies and the Editorial Board and the Coordination Committee are elected by the members of the association.
Through a network of local groups, annual symposia and the journal Zapruder, SIM’s members have sought to develop critical perspectives beyond the sterile conceptual straightjackets of liberal progressivism, epistemological Eurocentrism, and methodological nationalism, as well as alternative to the celebratory approach of much historiography on the institutional organizations of the labour movement. Sustained exploration of new topics in radical historiography has been coupled with experimentation in research and communicative methods apt at dismantling monopolistic attitudes towards access to sources, the individualistic and solitary nature of historical work, the tendency to limit research to the academic market, and the hyper-fragmentation of knowledge. For all their originality, however, the experiences of SIM and Zapruder have not taken place in a vacuum. They have been rooted in the changing global geography and paradigm of history and related to the (re-)emergence of global movements.
New associations of historians have appeared in the last ten-fifteen years and much research has been done all over the globe, from Western and Eastern Europe to Brazil, South Africa, the USA and Canada, Turkey and South East Asia, just to mention the principal sites of production. These associations, journals, and the studies they have initiated, have addressed the interactions between different regions of the world throughout the modern era, providing new perspectives on global socio-economic history and suggesting new ways of understanding social movements.
Moreover, as new forms of workers’ protest, grassroots social movements and a growing collective consciousness of the diffusion of contemporary globalization have emerged all over the world, this new type of historiography has incorporated the histories of national and local insurgent movements and social conflicts in a more global, comparative, entangled and trans-local perspectives. Similarities, mutual influences and linkages among populations in different nation-states and land-empires have been explored. National boundaries have been transcended, networks within and beyond the national level investigated and repertoires of collective action, forms of resistance and insurgent movements researched in their interconnections and interdependency with the political and social changes arising within other world societies.
It is high time that this wealth of interconnected and socialized knowledge found a way to circulate on a global scale afforded by contemporary digital technology, and help scholars of the Global South and Global North to build bridges of collaborations and mutual inspiration as it has already happened on the squares of Cairo, New York, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro and Rome. Our call for the creation of Zapruder World is at one and the same time a call for bringing together researchers from around the world into a network of scholars and social activists wishing to exchange and diffuse their knowledge and knowledge practices, and to realize together a digital tool for the construction and maintenance of this network: An International Journal for the History of Social Conflict.
We imagine Zapruder World to be a digital journal and a network of historians and social activists spread through different places, countries and continents, which will explore the many forms of social conflict and reconsider the notion of social conflict itself. In so doing, our aim is simultaneously to transform the way we look at history, the way historical research is organized, and the way historical knowledge is transmitted from one generation to another.
We understand “social conflicts” in the broadest sense of the word, without spatial or chronological limits. We target the movements of conflicts – rather than their resolutions – and compare forms of conflict across time and space in order to connect our knowledge with current transnational cycles of protests. We consider “social conflict” as a useful interpretative category to address the structural and mutual relations between classes, genders, cultures and races, as well as technologies, the formation of identities, and nature. We explore social conflicts by producers as well as consumers, and stress the agency of historical actors, their memories, discourses, believes, and hopes. We seek to expand and redefine the meaning of insurgent practices beyond the privileged locus of the workplace, e.g. by looking at public ceremonies, celebrations, street theatre and bodily practices as ways to express complaints, demands and eventually ignite rebellion. We look at wage and subsistence workers, men, women and children, slaves and serfs, unemployed and lumpenproletarians and aim to question the traditional separation between “free” and “unfree” labour.
Social conflict is explored through an interdisciplinary perspective, addressed at any scale and looked at through constant jeux d’échelles. We use concepts and methodologies derived from history, ethnography, economy, geography, anthropology, and the humanities at large,, to explore the complex interaction between the “local” and “global”. We all practice “global history”, broadly defined as spatially-aware historiography, but intentionally leave its actual definition, contents and methods open for discussion.
Finally, we seek to integrate empirical research, theoretical insight and methodological self-reflexivity. In this way we explicitly aim to overcome the tendencies in social conflict studies towards fragmentation and thematic hyper-specialization that keep these three elements apart. In a word, we conceive Zapruder World as a laboratory for new forms of historiographical discourse aimed at matching our thematic focus on the movement of conflict with narrative forms that recapture the openness of outcomes, and the potentialities of conflict before resolution.
As researchers, we realize that addressing all these issues is a huge challenge. We are also conscious of the existence of other networks and journals created to accomplish the same task we have envisioned for ourselves. Yet, as social activists, we know that social movements necessitate proliferation of sites of knowledge production, dissemination, and resistance to hegemonic discourses. Our research activities are therefore located in the very historical context where we act. By focusing on social conflict, we aim to consciously contrast the normalization and dominance of “liberal thought”, which consistently downplays the tenor and causes of social conflicts, and is impotent in contrasting the spread of the Neoconservative world view. We see history as, essentially, an arena of conflicts that overtly challenge liberal-conciliatory descriptions of the past.
Besides answering old and new research questions, and exploring new methodological perspectives, we should also address the material conditions in which we perform our tasks. We know the present situation of research only too well: national and international “reforms” aimed at the marketization of research and education; cuts on public investments, and growing role of private actors; daily difficulties for independent organizations; strengthening of authoritarian nepotism; project-centred approach in funding, mainly driven by short term, market-related goals. The outcomes of these trends are also visible: the contraction of research and education opportunities; the sustained precariousness of contracts, extending to research and the lives of the researchers; the drastic limitations on independent research.
In opposition to this situation, Zapruder World intends to be a pluralistic open forum for social activists and academic and independent scholars from all related disciplines. Born within the wider project SIM, our initiative departs first of all from the desire to expand our own horizons beyond the national confines of Italian history. At the same time, it intends to valorize some key aspects of SIM’s experience, namely: its horizontal relationships, direct participation and self-funding principles; its providing a network for exchanges of critical knowledge; its coupling of individual study and collective discussion. From the original Zapruder we have taken its very successful “thematic” approach, which allowed it to collect and present to its readers perspectives on a specific form of social conflict coming from different disciplines, and researchers studying it in geographical scales and chronological spans very different one from the other.
Zapruder World, however, does not aim to be an international expansion of either SIM or Zapruder, but a new collective agent. In keeping with this goal, our first aim is to build a transnational network of militant researchers based on skills and methodological approaches in tune with the project, and open to exchange in a growing transnational perspective. We envision this process as giving birth to an ever expanding Advisory Community working in horizontal ways with the Editorial Board, consisting of scholars and activists willing to contribute to the peer reviewing process, co-edit issues of the journal, submit and solicit contributions, and participate actively to the building up of the journal itself.
The Advisory Community is not elective and we ask for a small fee to be part of it. This is not intended to create any income for us, but to sustain the association Storie in movimento and the Zapruder World project. The entire activity for the project is voluntary—except for some parts of the copy-editing process—and every utilization of funds will be regularly reported and transparently shared with all members in the Annual Accrual/Balance of the association.
The Editorial Board of the journal is elective. At the moment its members are the founders of the project but our aim is to enlarge and renew it over the next several months as willing candidates will emerge from the Advisory Community.
Elections to the Editorial Board will take place annually during SIM’s General Assembly usually held somewhere in Italy in November/December. Given the difficulty for most international members to be present physically at the assembly both the election of members to the Editorial Board and the presentation of/voting on proposals for new issues of Zapruder World will be conducted digitally on our website in the days preceding the Assembly. The Editorial Board will be the very heart of Zapruder World, in close collaboration with editors and authors, and in dialogue with the Advisory Community. In particular, the potentialities of the digital media will give successive Editorial Boards the opportunity to develop and give new directions to our website in keeping with the goals discussed here but also in response to the demands of the present moment.