Dynamics of Exemption : 'Gang' Ethos in Literature and Film

full name / name of organization: 
University of Durham
contact email: 
claudia.nitschke@durham.ac.uk

International Conference, Durham University, UK

26/27 September 2013

Dynamics of Exemption: 'Gang' ethos in Literature and Film
The question of what individuals expect from societies and what concepts of justice they endorse has a long-established aesthetic, philosophical and political tradition. Against this backdrop, this conference sets out to explore alternative constructions of justice occurring within socially cohesive groups which expressly defy dominant customs and standards: from Schiller's Die Räuber to the syndicated criminals in Fritz Lang's M, from the Chanson de geste to Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète, from various 'gangs' in Dickens to the 'soldiers' of Rap culture or in The Wire, 'gangs' are counterclaims to distributive practices, mores, and prevalent political and social order, and therefore an effective analytical tool in dissecting society and its (dys)functions.
This conference seeks to investigate this aesthetic/political interface by addressing the following aspects:

Identity
Rituals and creeds demarcate the groups as such and indicate both active opposition to social norms and the related deliberate effort to establish the group's identity, thereby departing from concepts of passive suffering and victimhood (in a melodramatic sense) – this conference seeks to explore the explicit or implied narrative (and its inherent myths/prehistory) that explains and legitimates their outsider status. This topic will also touch on issues of masculinity between performativity (in Butler's sense) and corporeality: in the twenty-first century, Rap culture sports the cult of masculinity most palpably; however, male gangs have always drawn on gender-coded images of independence, strength, and power as stereotypical ideas of virility. It is essential to survey the intricacies/dialectics of this nexus with a particular focus on the question of whether the texts/films in question devise the counter-morality of the gangs as intrinsically 'masculine'.

Spatiality/Mediality
This conference will look at physical (e.g. Ghettos) and medial manifestations of liminal 'space' (Internet, Social Networks, forests, inns etc.) from a theoretical angle ranging from Foucault's concept heterotopy to Bhabha's Third Space, investigating the dangers and the creative potential of these 'spheres' of exemption.

Power
Any successful form of dissent is bound to lay claim to dominance: it is imperative to follow up on these dialectics in the self-explaining narratives of the respective gangs: to what extent are their anti-social statements imbued with political will and/or formative desire?

Justice
The social construction of reality becomes particularly tangible when we encounter deviations from commonly accepted or tacitly assumed standards. Every action departing from rules is bound to be a morally relevant statement that comments on ruling social norms: aesthetic representations, while subject to their own inherent laws, appertain to this 'political' process (in Jacques Rancière's sense, i.e. the "distribution of the sensible"). Aesthetically presented aberrations that repudiate common, behaviourally and conceptually ingrained, moral practices thus prove to be an integral part of the social negotiations of morality and, tied to this, ethics (in the sense that moral obligations to others are intrinsically connected to our ethical convictions as to what constitutes a 'good life'). The collective attempt to set oneself apart renders this process especially salient.

Conference language is English. Please send a 250 word abstract and a short CV to either Dr Claudia Nitschke (claudia.nitschke@durham.ac.uk) or Dr Luke Sunderland (luke.sunderland@durham.ac.uk) by 25 February 2013.
Selected contributions will be published as full papers in the proceedings of the conference.

cfp categories: 
american
cultural_studies_and_historical_approaches
eighteenth_century
ethnicity_and_national_identity
film_and_television
interdisciplinary
international_conferences
popular_culture
theory
twentieth_century_and_beyond