CFP: The Politics of Representation: Human Rights Violations, Witnessing, and Transnational Readership (11/1/06; ACLA, 4/19/07-4

full name / name of organization: 
Basuli Deb
contact email: 

Call for Papers
American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting
April 19-22, 2007 in Puebla, Mexico

Deadline for abstracts: 1 Nov. 2006
(to be submitted through the ACLA website at

The Politics of Representation: Human Rights Violations, Witnessing, and
Transnational Readership

        In the discussion of human rights violations, the emphasis on violence and
repression often portrays the violated as victims needing to be rescued by
the “west” or by the rich “north.” Scholars and members of violated
communities have challenged this representation to show how “victims”
can be the site of both oppression and resistance. The drive is toward how
texts, with their transnational readership, became sites of revitalization
of the image of different victim groups as agents of their own history.
Targets of human rights violations have turned against the elite politics of
representation of human rights abuse which have depicted the violated as
mere “victims.” In a classic example, the lower caste woman turned
bandit turned Parliamentarian “Phoolan Devi” attempted to block the
release of a film about her life produced by Channel 4 in the UK.
In light of the vehement criticism of the cultural politics of the
elite-subaltern relationship, this panel seeks to examine the politics of
representation. Instead of confining ourselves only to the text, the panel
will also examine how such representational politics inflects the political
in the material world of human rights activism. Thus papers might also
consider the influence of these texts on legal and public opinion, as seen
in the courts, political discourse, and media. In other words, we would like
to situate texts and textual traditions in the material politics of human
rights and explore how textual representations of violence enable the
disenfranchised to exert “pressure on sign systems that uphold existing
political and moral hierarchies,” as Bishnupriya Ghosh says. Well-known
examples include such texts as I, Rigoberta Menchu and India’s Bandit
Queen whose circulation marked and influenced the real world of activism,
but the panel is open to discussions of texts from any cultural or
linguistic context.

Although we are looking forward to examining new interventions in this
topic, the following questions might also suggest possible routes of

• How do we responsibly archive violence in postcolonial contexts so that
we do not strengthen the imperial claim that certain juvenile nations need
to be parented by others?

• How do we avoid commodifying violence for a global market thriving on
profit from texts on postcolonial violence that enhance the self-righteous
claims of the discipline of the “north”? Instead, how are we to mobilize
sensitivity and accountability in a transnational readership that rallies
against such violence? How can that readership co-operate in acts of
resistance with the disenfranchised, thus avoiding a patronizing ideology of

• Is there an ethical imperative for writers and scholars depicting and
studying violence in postcolonial contexts to trace how postcolonial
violence is generated out of cumulative structures of oppression that place
the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial in a continuum as agents of

• Can the representation of violence in Northern Ireland, indigenous
Australia, and the 9/11 and post-9/11 United States take us further than the
literal and geopolitical connotation of “post-colonial” to re-signify
the term itself?

• How does integrating the “small” voices of women in the project of
historical violence galvanize a politics of human rights representation that
makes audible the “smaller” voices of children, the aged, and the
disabled during geopolitical upheavals?

• Can historic injustice against certain communities be addressed within
the boundaries of the post-conflict nation-state, or is the only forum for
reconciling the rights of violated groups with those of the state the
transnational venue of human rights politics?

This panel will meet on two or three consecutive days (depending on the
number of papers), and presenters are strongly encouraged to plan to attend
all sessions of the panel. This is a unique conference format that allows a
small group of researchers to pursue a particular topic in depth within the
context of a larger conference.

For questions about the panel, please contact the seminar organizers:
Annedith Schneider (
Basuli Deb (

For more information on the conference and to submit paper proposals, please
visit the official conference website at

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Received on Sat Oct 14 2006 - 20:53:22 EDT