A WORKSHOP AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
FRIDAY 14 MARCH 2008
The notion of evil permeates contemporary political discourse and has enjoyed a recent revival in the light of 9/11 and the ‘war against terror’. Once again, liberal societies seem to be confronted by extremes denying their most fundamental values. Far from being new, however, the politics of evil has a long history in liberal societies, which has yet to be examined critically. This conference welcomes reflections on how we might write such a history and the issues it raises.
Confirmed Participants: Dr Eugenio Biagini (Cambridge), Dr Stuart Jones (Manchester), Prof Tom Osborne (Bristol), Prof Daniel Pick (Birkbeck)
Agenda: The general orientation of the conference is cultural: rather than assume a universal or single (Western) definition of evil, the conference aims to explore the multiple ways evil has been constructed and contested in discourse and put to use by state and non-state agencies. The intention of the conference is not only to explore how evil prompted political debate and engagement; it also aims to examine the inherently political nature of evil as something which is articulated in particular circumstances and in relation to particular configurations of power and knowledge. Furthermore, it is particularly interested in the ways evil - much more so than the familiar topics of ‘deviance’ and ‘marginality’ - allows for a productive consideration of the limits of representation and governance. One key opposition in modern political discourse is that between barbarism and civilisation, which is saturated with absolute ideas of good and evil; yet certain acts are deemed so barbaric they provoke fundamental questions concerning the possibilities of human understanding. The conference is thus interested in different orders of evil and alterity: from forms of evil which can be comfortably conceptualised in binary opposition to the good, to radical forms of evil which seem to elude human rationalisation and expression - something akin to the indescribable ‘horror’ spoken of by Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899).
In order to enable fruitful comparisons of differing liberal regimes, the empirical focus is on Britain and France during a time of intense military and imperial engagement abroad and social and political contest at home. Amongst other issues, the conference will examine the politics of evil, its nature and alleged role, in relation to war, liberal governance, humanitarianism, moral degeneration, the human sciences and artistic modernism. We wish to encourage contributions from social, intellectual and cultural historians, especially those willing to cross disciplinary boundaries to engage with theology, anthropology and philosophy.
Format: The event will take the form of a public workshop: we would like the papers to be pre-circulated in a draft form of around 5,000 words.
Discussion will be organised around a number of thematic panels:
1. The Concept of Evil
2. Liberalism and Evil
3. Manichean Politics: Barbarism and the New Humanitarianism
4. Cultural Representations of Evil
5. Evil in the Social and Human Sciences
On the day we would like speakers to raise the salient issues of their papers in order to leave as much time as possible for discussion and feedback.
Please send a brief CV and a 500 word proposal by 20 September 2007 indicating the panel for which you wish to be considered.
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