Comparing Violences, or the Violence of Comparativity? (ACLA, University of Toronto, 4-7 April 2013)

full name / name of organization: 
Miriam Novick (University of Toronto) and Jay Rajiva (University of Toronto)

This seminar seeks to ask what is gained and what is lost through the practice of drawing comparisons between and among cases, spaces, and systems of violence. Comparativity is a methodological watchword in a number of academic disciplines, a process through which we gain insights and draw connections as well as a tool for encountering unfamiliar and complex contexts. And yet the act of comparison itself can be fraught with ethical and political consequences: there are events some deem incomparable, such as the Jewish Holocaust, or comparisons others dismiss as unethical acts in themselves, such as between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and South African apartheid. Does the act of comparison, in its implicit assumption of a fundamental level of sameness, efface the singularity of a given act of violence? Does situating some cases or events as beyond the realm of the comparative place them, in effect, outside of history? What forms of metaphorical and literal inclusions and exclusions are required or produced by comparison? Does comparison presume ethical equivalence, or can we locate a comparativity that accommodates both singularity and commonality?

We invite papers that consider the question of comparison and comparativity broadly speaking, whether anchored in literature, film, theory, art, or otherwise. In keeping with the conference theme, focus on comparison across a number of borders is welcome: national (across space), historical (across time), or biological (across species), to name but a few possibilities.

Submissions should be made through the ACLA online form at by the November 15 deadline. Queries may be addressed to Miriam Novick at