Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
University of Amsterdam
CALL FOR PAPERS
“IDENTITIES AND ALTERITIES”
Amsterdam, March 24-26, 2004
Keynote speakers: Peter Hitchcock, Brian McHale, N.N.
The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) invites proposals for an international conference on Identities and Alterities, to be held in Amsterdam on March 24-26, 2004.
The conference will explore the concepts of identities and alterities, their interrelations and their relevance in current academic, public, and political discourse and practice. The usability of the concepts of identity, identities and identity politics is highly disputed, but it nevertheless functions as an important term for the self-definition, articulation and emancipation of individuals and groups. The concept of “identity” has been much-criticized for its presumed tendency to essentialism, where identity is primordial, given and determinate, as well as for its alleged positing of the subject as a complete, centered, being in complete control of his or her actions. However, as Paul Gilroy has pointed out, “we make our identities, but with inherited resources and not under the circumstances of our own choosing.”
In recent years, identity has ceased to be an individual, internal term for subjectivity, but has evolved into a collective term with an inextricable link to alterity, making it a highly useful tool for political and historical analyses. Identities are continually re-constructed, re-invented and re-interpreted in the light of political developments (such as decolonisation), in the light of interactions with the actual, external other (intersubjectivity), and in the light of our position in a postmodern discourse.
We want to approach the concepts of identity and alterity from three different angles:
Postcolonialism: Formation as Representation/Representation as Formation
This angle explores the concepts of identity and alterity in changing societies in terms of Stuart Hall’s ideas on the politics of articulation and representation, and their tactical value for establishing identity in terms of shifting alliances and a continuous redefinition of boundaries. The very nature of the postcolonial necessitates an approach that takes its complexity into consideration. The colonial experience is diverse in space and time and should not be essentialised as a unifying force between different communities. As Richard Werbner puts it: “The postcolonial describes at once a presence and absence. The now in tension with the not-now, which creates a politicized reality.”
In the contemporary postcolonial context we are faced with numerous identity formations and representations. The question arises whether and how these can be systematically accounted for. How do we deal with identity formations that are “open-ended, productive and fraught with ambivalence” (James Clifford), yet constitute and represent communities with regard to cultural politics and global economies? And if identity is dependent on history and culture, what are the effects of colonization and decolonization on its conceptualization? Can indigenous identities transcend colonial disruptions in terms of a shared past? In what way can a non-essentialist theory of identity engage with the reality of conservative manifestations of identity politics?
Intersubjectivity: Identities in-between self and other
We want to explore how identities are established and re-established in and through intersubjectivity, in and through relations between self and other, both individual and collective. The empirical, external other emerges as a crucial force in relation to subjectivity, embodiment and identity in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and in Peter Hitchcock’s elaboration of Bakhtin’s concept of exotopy, which posits “outsideness as a form of affirmative alienation.” Similar priority to the other as a positive force has been given in various recent psychoanalytic approaches (Jean Laplanche, Kaja Silverman, Jessica Benjamin).
Questions we want to raise are: Can there be a subject or self without the other? Is there identity without alterity (without difference, otherness, the other)? In which ways can the other form and reform the self, both in line with and contrary to dominant cultural representations? What role do language, vision, the body, space-time, and translation play in the process of establishing identities in-between self and other? How can we formulate an ethics or politics of intersubjectivity? How do we conceptualize intersubjectivity on the collective level of social or political groups and/or in relation to postcolonialism and transnationalism?
Postmodernism: after and beyond the “death of the subject”
Postmodernism, understood as a discourse (Brian McHale), is preoccupied less with the formation of identities than with their fragmentation and ultimately, dissolution. However, the talk about the “death of the subject” has by now grown somewhat stale and it also cannot account for those individuals and groups who are not granted identity and subjectivity in the first place. The third panel will therefore raise the following question: how can we theorize the identity of individuals and groups within a postmodernist discourse, but in such a way that they retain or gain agency?
Postmodern theories have to a large extent been preoccupied with the epistemology of subjectivity as it had already been envisioned in German idealism, and have neglected the active and narrative processes involved in identity formation. We will therefore consider what role the performative and performativity (Mieke Bal) play in producing identities and alterities. It is in this context that the concept of alterity can develop its full analytic potential, because it allows for an intersubjective interplay between real, empirical groups and individuals. Questions to be asked include: what is the relation between identity and alterity, between self and other in postmodernist discourses, artworks and political practices? How are identities and alterities produced, performed, and challenged?
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Participants should outline what conception(s) of identities and/or alterities they are proposing, as well as their theoretical, political, practical or cultural relevance. The concepts may be addressed together or separately and they may be correlated with cultural objects such as film, artworks, television, literature, photography, music, museums, scientific objects/practices, religious objects/practices, etc.
This conference is the latest in a series of ASCA graduate conferences and is inspired by the Theory Seminar organized by Mieke Bal in 2002-2003 on “How to do Cultural Analysis.” Participants will be expected to explain how their work connects to the practice of cultural analysis. Papers should aim to establish a dialogue between theory and cultural objects, asking not only what the theory says about the object, but also what the object says about the theory, how it prompts theoretical reformulations – what Mieke Bal calls “letting the object speak back.”
Please send your one-page proposal, accompanied by a short CV, by October 1st 2003.
Proposals will be selected according to their relevance to the topics of the conference.
The workshop format of the conference is designed to stimulate the discussion in the panels. Participants will be asked to send the final version of their papers (4000 word maximum) by January 25th, 2004. A reader will be prepared for each of the panels, which will be circulated before the conference.
Instead of “reading” their papers at the conference, participants will be asked to give a 15-minute presentation on their work, connecting their paper to the other papers in their panel and to the overall concerns of the conference.
Please send your proposal to the ASCA office: address below
Organizing committee: Dr. Silke Horstkotte, Anette Hoffmann, Saskia Lourens, Esther Peeren
Dr Eloe Kingma, Managing Director ASCA
1012 VT Amsterdam
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