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[UPDATE] International Conference "Barbarism Revisited: New Perspectives on an Old Concept" (Leiden, May 31-June 1, 2012)
full name / name of organization:
Leiden University (Netherlands) & The University of Bonn (Germany)
Organizing institutions: Leiden University (Netherlands) & The University of Bonn (Germany)
Confirmed keynote speakers:
The notion of “barbarism” and the figure of the “barbarian” have captivated the Western imagination and been a constant part of our vocabulary since Greek antiquity. In the age-old opposition between civilized and barbarian, the “barbarian” supports the superiority of those who assume the status of the “civilized.” “Barbarism” reinforces the discourse of “civilization” by functioning as its negative offshoot and antipode. Today, both terms figure prominently in political rhetoric, the media, historiography, and everyday speech, and their use carries an air of self-evidence: there appears to be a silent consensus on what barbarism means or who a barbarian is. However, while the persistence of the civilization/ barbarism opposition in Western history indicates the power and violence of this binary mode of thinking, the “barbarian” also carries different stories.
In history, there have been many reversals of the hierarchy between civilized and barbarian, as well as instances of critique and renegotiation of the concept of barbarism. From the Cynic philosophers of the Hellenistic era to Enlightenment thinkers, the “civilized” have often been projected as more corrupt and barbaric than those others, on which the label “barbarian” is conferred. In eighteenth century evolutionary models, “barbarism” does not only mark the “natural Other” of culture or civilization, but is also employed as a third term that both mediates and imperils the transition between nature and culture. Barbarism often functions as an ambiguous term that irritates clear-cut conceptions of time (cultural evolution) and of space (geopolitics). Furthermore, attempts to recast the “barbarian” in positive terms, as a force of invigoration and renewal of a decaying civilization, can be found in the writings of philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, as well as in the works of Dadaists and surrealists. Finally, contemporary critical theorists (e.g. Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri) have reconceptualized barbarism as a discursive challenge to predominant modes of exercising political power.
In this conference, we wish to bring together a wide range of perspectives on barbarism and the figure of the barbarian, in order to reclaim the complexity and versatility of these notions, revisit their genealogy, chart their diverse meanings and uses in history and in the present, and tease out their critical thrust. The scope of this conference is simultaneously broad and very specific: we wish to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogues on the “barbarian,” while putting the emphasis on the specificity of this category, as it intersects, overlaps, or clashes with other categories of otherness. By zooming in on the barbarian, we wish to follow its travels across historical periods, cultural contexts, discourses, genres, media, and disciplinary fields; follow the cultural and political implications of its various uses and abuses; place “barbarism” or the “barbarian” in unfamiliar discursive constellations; interrogate the binary opposition in which these concepts are implicated; and discuss new meanings and creative or dangerous uses of the “barbarian” today.
In this spirit, we invite scholars to submit proposals for papers, in which they lay out their research and ideas on barbarism and barbarians. The conference will provide a platform for comparative encounters, which will probe barbarism and the barbarian from diverse angles. Among the questions this conference wishes to address are the following:
What insights can we gain by retracing the uses of barbarism in history? What could be the implications of revisiting barbarism and its genealogy for our contemporary cultural and social realities? What strategies can we develop to counter the violent effects of this category? Can the concept contribute to, and critically intervene in, current debates on globalization, postnationalism, multiculturalism, post-sovereignty, and communication models?
How does the figure of the barbarian operate in literature, art, and popular culture? How does it function in language but also in other media? Can barbarism intervene in our discursive frameworks and inspire new modes of knowing and theorizing, as well as alternative (inter)disciplinary practices and methodologies that can help us rethink our roles as scholars?
Possible themes for papers include (but are not limited to):
We welcome proposals from a wide range of disciplines, including (but not limited to) literary studies, history, philosophy, cultural studies, film and media studies, art history, visual studies, gender studies, anthropology, sociology, and political science.