Fictions and Frictions: The Power and Politics of Narrative

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Graduate Art History Symposium at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
contact email: 

Call for Papers—Fictions and Frictions: The Power and Politics of Narrative
Graduate Art History Symposium at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, March 1-2, 2019
Due: December 1, 2018

Keynote speaker: Dr. Hannah Feldman (Art History, Northwestern University)

The construction of a counternarrative can be a strategy for political resistance, revealing power structures by articulating a perspective on social reality alternative to the dominant or norm. Yet, alternative realities are not always positive or emancipatory, as demonstrated by the proliferation of claims of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” When multiple narratives collide into each other, they create friction at their edges. In that friction, we might find new perspectives and possibilities. As Jacques Rancière has argued in The Politics of Aesthetics, “Politics and art, like forms of knowledge, construct ‘fictions,’ that is to say material rearrangements of signs and images, relationships between what is seen and what is said, between what is done and what can be done”. This symposium will focus on narrative edges in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of the way that visual and performative fictions function politically. We seek 20-minute presentations from graduate students in any discipline that engage with the construction or deconstruction of power through oral, written, and visual narratives, or with the conflicts and congruences among competing narratives.


The symposium is not defined by any fixed period or geographic region but by several research questions: In what cases and for whom are the politics of narrative and counternarrative emancipatory (and/or oppressive)? How do narrative and performative fictions intervene in politics, disrupting and/or maintaining the status quo? How have artists, activists, and scholars tactically used “fictions” and “narratives” to create interventions? Following Rancière, how can we distinguish between fiction and falsity? Do fictions still have power to challenge us to imagine and enact alternative possibilities and experiences? What other modes might enable such alternatives?


Relevant topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Case studies of collective resistance to authoritarian power or cultural hegemonies
  • Documentary film and documentary fiction
  • Minoritarian world-building through performance and aesthetics
  • Minor gestures
  • Frictions that emerge from nonhuman and multi-species agencies and their experiences
  • Visibility and constructions of race and gender
  • Engagements with notion of “performative realism,” the “parafictional,” etc.
  • Unpacking methods of classification within archives, reading archives “against the grain”
  • The way in which accounts of sexual violence are often framed by mainstream media
  • Indigenous and settler colonial narratives, disputes surrounding property, land use and political legitimacy
  • Queer subjectivities and queer methodologies that refuse normative positionalities or accepted narratives
  • Performances of identity in the digital sphere, the internet as a tool for social change

Please send your 300-word abstracts and a 2-page CV, or any questions to Alyssa Bralower and Sarah Richter at by December 1, 2018. Applicants will be notified by early January.
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