Panel on 'The Postcolonial Human: Canadian Perspectives' (24-26 Sep 2009)

full name / name of organization: 
Dr Emma E Smith / University of Leeds
contact email: 

Panel to be included at 'The Postcolonial Human': A Conference at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Leeds
Thursday 24 – Friday 25 September 2009

Abstracts are sought for papers which explore the theme of 'The Postcolonial Human' within the context of Canadian studies, for inclusion on a dedicated panel at the University of Leeds' Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies conference (24-25 September 2009). Like the conference as a whole (see full CFP below), the panel aims to be interdisciplinary in its engagement with the possibilities and limitations of ideas of the human. It seeks to investigate how questions raised by the conference theme – from human rights to theories of global modernity or the posthuman – might relate to specific cultural/socio-historical/geographical contexts of colonial and postcolonial Canada.

Papers from postgraduate researchers are especially welcome, and all papers presented at the conference will be considered for publication in Ex Plus Ultra. The University of Leeds Centre for Canadian Studies will offer a limited number of small bursaries to contribute towards costs for postgraduates delivering papers at the conference; and at least two of these will be awarded to papers on Canadian topics. Please email a 250-word proposal (for a 20-minute paper) and short biographical statement to the panel's coordinator, Emma Smith, by 20 July 2009. If you would like to be considered for a bursary, which will be awarded according to the merit of your proposal, please contact Emma for further details.

General Conference CFP:

'The Postcolonial Human'
A Conference at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Leeds, Thursday 24–Friday 25 September 2009,

Whether it is being challenged in disability and ecocritical studies as a normative descriptor, or applauded as a strategic universal in recent calls for a 'new' Saidian humanism, the human has always been a topic of concern for Postcolonial studies. Is it a useful category?

The human is the material basis for Agamben's 'bare life' as it marks the symbolic erosion of humanity. It is the often unspoken referent of 'suffering', and the most basic level of victimage in Hardt and Negri's characterisation of 'Empire' or Bauman's idea of 'liquid modernity'. It is also the basis for a dream of its utopian extension in the posthuman, and yet simultaneously an ontology and affect strategically withheld from persons and peoples in the imagining of the contemporary (Gilroy's 'infrahuman'). The human is more than a bone of contention; it is a category with material significance. The displacement of the migrant and the sans-papiers begins epistemically in their definition against normative understandings of the human; the global development of humanitarianism has increasingly involved the use of the human as an abstract intermediary between aid and the people who need it.

This conference seeks to further these discussions by interrogating several linked strands of debate regarding the human. It asks whether this concept retains usefulness with respect to a field that emphasises cultural plurality, and even questions the benefits and ethics of such a conceptual abstraction: to what end do we discuss representations of the 'human' while in the global South millions lead materially subhuman existences? Does the use of 'human' in calls for 'human rights' or against 'human suffering' not occlude the application of late colonial or neo-liberal ideas of the human to potentially incommensurable situations? More generally, how have humanist discourses responded to the accelerating advance of globalisation and uneven development? Topics for discussion will include but are not limited to:

- humans and humanism; postcolonial calls for a 'new humanism'
- humans and humanitarianism; invocations of the human in times of crisis, e.g. as a
means of rationalising humanitarian intervention
- humans, animals and machines; different modalities of the cyborg and the posthuman and their implications for postcolonial thought
- the colonial and postcolonial human; the human as created by the legacies of colonialism, including slavery and indentured labour
- perspectives on the human as universalising category and/or normative descriptor
- utopian or dystopian formations of the human, posthuman and 'infrahuman'
- human existence between 'biopolitics' and 'necropolitics'
- the ethics and material consequences of the human as conceptual abstraction

Keynote Speakers:

Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy at Middlesex and author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment (2007), Badiou: A Subject to Truth (2003) and Absolutely Postcolonial (2001)

Alan Lester, Professor of Historical Geography at Sussex and author of Colonial Lives Across the British Empire (2006) and Imperial Networks: Creating Identities in Nineteenth Century South Africa and Britain (2001)