Work & Research Interests: 'Philosophy of Protest'
I am a political philosopher researching contemporary protest movements. I completed my PhD at the University of Bergen in 2023, under the supervision of Anat Biletzki (Quinnipiac), Jesse Tomalty (Bergen), and Chris F. Zurn (Boston). In the Fall 2021, I was a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the US.
My research stems from a great interest in the study, critique, and transformation of the concepts through which we evaluate and respond to phenomena of intra-societal political conflict like protest movements. Since political philosophy, in this description, is a matter of critical reflection upon our self-understanding as actors, my work has focused on the nature, conditions, and justifications of extra-institutional, joint political action, and why and how we ought to resist injustice, as well as on the relationship of such action to subjects like political inequality, globalized markets, and liberal democracy. My points of reference in thinking about these issues have included philosophical traditions that trace their roots back to Hegel, Marx, and the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory, and, in particular, the normative and conceptual resources from recognition-struggle theory.
In my doctoral thesis Occupying a Square? A Recognition Theory of Social Movements in the Age of Wealth-Induced Political Inequality (2023), I provide a philosophical method for gaining new insights into the global protest phenomenon of square occupation movements. I encourage a shift in focus by analyzing these movements—with an emphasis on Western offshoots like Occupy Wall Street in the US and the Indignados in Europe—as multidimensional struggles for recognition, reconstructing three axes along which they express normative claims: 1) as correction struggles for defending valid recognition of previously assured social rights and accustomed levels of esteem and status-respect; 2) as inclusion struggles to build a more participatory democracy, extending the circle of the recipients of rights and deepening processes of society’s recognition for equal political agency beyond representation; and 3) as transformation struggles that resist wealth-induced political inequality and related structural disrespect, and as fighting for altering the normative order of the market-economy.
Conference Presentations & Invited Talks
- "AI and the Future of Protest Politics", Invited Talk, Research Group Event 'Les Chantiers du Sphiapol', Philosophy Department, University Paris Nanterre, December 2022.
- "Can Struggles for Recognition be Evil?", Invited Talk, International Hybrid Workshop 'Hegel (anti)colonial', Philosophy Department, University of Bergen, June 2022.
- "Recognition Theory, Political Economy, and Occupy’s Class Struggle", Invited Talk, Philosophy Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, December 2021.
- "Recognition Theory, Political Economy, and Occupy’s Class Struggle", Invited Talk, Recife-Bergen Online Workshop on 'Normativity and Social Ontology', Philosophy Department, University of Bergen, July 2021.
- "Transnational Protest in the Age of Post-democracy", Invited Talk, Workshop 'Resistance and Democracy', University of Vienna, November 2019.
- "How to Understand and Justify Social Movements? Three Philosophical Approaches", Invited Talk, International Workshop 'Conflict and Communication', Norwegian University Center, Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme Paris, March 2019.
- "Movement Impact on Society. West Germany in 1968", Invited Talk, Conference 'Den intellektuelle arven fra 1968', Research Group for Radical Philosophy, University of Bergen, September 2018.
- "The Normative Claims of Square Movements. Social Conflicts and Human Rights in the Age of Austerity", Presentation, International Conference 'The Diversity of Human Rights', Inter-University Center Dubrovnik, September 2018.
- "The Morality of Social Conflicts. Analyzing Square Movements in Political Philosophy", Presentation, Annual Conference of the Research College Critical Theory, Department of Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin, February 2018.
- "Science as an »Organ« of a Movement: Conflict Theory Thinking with Marx", Presentation, Summer School Critical Theory 'Progress, Regression, and Social Change', Department of Philosophy, Humboldt-University Berlin, July 2017.
- "Science as an »Organ« of a Movement: Conflict Theory Thinking with Marx", Presentation, Conference 'Marx und die Kritik im Handgemenge', Department of Political Theory, University of Osnabrück, March 2017.
Fall 2019 & 2020
"Examen Philosophicum". Undergraduate Course. Argumentation, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Hermeneutics. (Seminar Leader: weekly seminars, supervising and assessing final assignments). Faculty of the Humanities, University of Bergen, Norway.
"Examen Philosophicum". Undergraduate Course. Argumentation, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Hermeneutics. (Seminar Leader: weekly seminars, supervising and assessing final assignments). Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway.
"Contemporary Political Theory". Graduate Course. (Guest Seminar: leading a seminar session). Philosophy Department, University of Bergen, Norway.
Senf, Christopher (2018). Wissenschaft als »Organ« der Bewegung: Konflikttheoretisches Denken bei Marx [Science as an »Organ« of a Movement: Conflict Theory Thinking with Marx]. In Matthias Bohlender, Anna-Sophie Schönfelder, Matthias Spekker (Eds.), »Kritik im Handgemenge«: Die Marx'sche Gesellschaftskritik als politischer Einsatz. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, (pp. 73–94). https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839441503-004
Senf, Christopher (2018). "The Impact of Social Movements on Society". In Comma. Magazine of The Democratic Institute Israel. July 2018 (in Hebrew). DemocraticInstitute - Senf
Senf, Christopher (2017). "Was tun? Europakrise und Rechtspopulismus" [What to do? Euro-crisis and right-wing populism]. https://berlinergazette.de/rechtspopulismus-europa
"AI and the Future of Protest Politics" (in prep.)
Over the past decade, we have witnessed astonishing protest events, with activists using social-media platforms to mobilize masses and bring about change. Occupy's Facebook Movement or MeToo's hashtag activism shifted the public's attention to urgent matters, politicized everyday life, and supercharged democratic participation. However, there is increasing debate about the flipside of these forms of joint action. The ever-growing datafication (i.e., tracking, monitoring, and assessing) of our media behaviour for profit purposes, raises the issue about how AI-driven platform companies affect the ways actors experience, discuss and resist injustice, and, ultimately, what the future of protest politics in the age of digital transformation and surveillance capitalism will look like.
Important research questions include: how ought we to evaluate a protest movement's uprising when the business model driving their means of communication aims at driving up engagement and grow network interaction by using smart algorithms that, increasingly, predict and base content on what attracts users? What about protesters' political responsibility if they largely rise up as they expect group confirmation and infotainment, rather than an open, public dialog that requires serious attention, sustained claim making and long-term commitment? Further, how can we form critical and meaningful political debates needed to bring about positive change and overcome crises that are not bound by platform companies' commodification, outrageification as well as gamification of protest?
I am currently planning to pick up these and related pressing normative and conceptual issues in my new research project "AI and the Future of Protest Politics", by employing the yet-untapped normative and conceptional resources from recognition-struggle theory.