From Agon to Agonistics

Conference 10-11 September 2021, London UK (online)

Submit proposals by end of May 2021 – 100-300 word abstract plus bio to or

‘Agon’ is a cultural trope – in Jungian parlance, perhaps it may be classified as an archetype – a figure with perpetual and universal application, if perhaps only fully codified in ways we recognise from ancient Athenian culture.

The word has many connotations. For instance, it is a rule-based ‘conflict’ applied to sports contests, and then eventually entering the public square in bouts of dialogical logic and ‘controlled’ affray, carefully orchestrated toward persuasive ends. ‘Agon’ also applies to Greek theatre, whose action is constructed around protagonists in dramatic conflict moving toward resolution.

As in the theatre, the ‘agon’ might well result in transformation. Even Heracles, founder of the Olympics, had to succeed in certain agones and suffer psychic turbulence and distress before becoming immortal. Such is the ‘agony’ of the ‘win’.

In the conference, we will broaden this word’s meaning out to include what Chantal Mouffe talks of as ‘agonistic pluralism’ as a better model than ‘deliberative democracy’ for political action. Could that be close to what ancient democracies, especially Athenians, engaged with in their public forums? These athletics, dramas, and political assemblage were also spaces and times of contested commercial, criminal, and character assessment – with neighbours and foreigners in their midst.

Depth psychologists: from Freud, Jung, Lacan, Klein, Winnicott and relational psychology, as several schools consider these issues – bringing dialectical or compensatory (in Jung’s case) contestation right into the personality as foundational: the psyche is a space of combative inclinations with biological and cultural constraints or adjustments in play.

Rhetorical tropes/figures – metaphor, elenchus and epideictic – not only enable such exchanges, but constitute them.

‘From agon to agonistics’ will be a place to explore these human encounters through a creative dialogue between classical Greek culture and modern depth psychologies.

Leslie Gardner ( or

Richard Seaford (University of Exeter), Paul Bishop (University of Glasgow), Maria Chriti (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Kurt Lampe (Bristol University)

April 2021


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