Calls for papers – Conferences taking place in May 2021

Beyond Borders: Mapping Sexualities and the Sexualisation of Spaces
Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, France, 6-7 May 2021
Deadline for proposals: 2 November 2020

Institut d’Études Transtextuelles et Transculturelles (IETT), Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3

This conference will examine the relationship between the notions of boundaries and sexuality from an interdisciplinary, transnational and transcultural perspective. In particular, it aims to map the ways in which space determines sexualities and sexual practices, and to understand, in turn, how sex structures and limits the spaces in which we live, and how we relate to them.

At a time when walls and barriers are being erected around the globe with the stated goal of containing and separating populations, it seems urgent to question how these boundaries, whether physical or symbolic, political or social, condition sexual practices and shape representations of sexuality. Conversely, the crossing of these limits, while often allowing people to free themselves from certain limitations (discrimination, persecution, surveillance, etc.) by finding shelter elsewhere, is also sometimes motivated by the desire to break laws prohibiting the commodification of bodies and sexual exploitation, at a time when an ever-increasing number of people, whether tourists, migrants, loiterers, or workers cross the borders and frontiers that delimit public places and international space every day. Whether opened or closed, crossed or respected, borders define not only a geographical space or a cultural community, but also the laws and norms that regulate practices and gender identities that are considered legal or legitimate on a given territory.

Borders and boundaries define otherness, distinguishing between the “We” and the “Non-We” (Clifford Geertz, The Anthropologist as Author, 1988). Thus, they identify the foreigner, i.e. the migrant, the non-citizen. They also define the barbarian, the one who penetrates, with their difference, and all the dangers and stigmas associated with such a status (diseases, perversions, etc.). Borders determine our practices; they distinguish between “here” and “there” and limit the domain of the possible. Yet, it is often this dichotomy between what is “impossible here” and what is “possible elsewhere” (abortion, prostitution, medically assisted reproduction, etc.) that leads people to cross borders for sex-related motives.

For Michel Foucault, sexuality is particularly conducive to the creation of “heterotopias”, those spaces devoted to particular functions, those “nowhere” places that structure urban territories: brothels, red-light districts and strip bars map out an urban geography traditionally associated with debauchery and vice, opposed to middle-class residential suburbs or bourgeois town centers where moral order, family ideology and procreative sexuality are supposed to be norm. Conversely, peripheries are often stigmatized as places where homophobia prevails as opposed to progressive urban centers where sexuality can be freely expressed (e.g. gay neighborhoods in large cities). This raises the question of public policies on the matter: equating with intimacy and privacy leads to the erasure of the porous boundary between public and private space. The private sphere, like the public sphere, is governed by laws and injunctions that erase the boundary between the two, just as the development of the Internet has somewhat contributed to abolishing the boundary between what is hidden and what is seen or shown (dating websites, pornographic websites, online prostitution, etc.).

Art history, literary analysis, sociological investigation, historical archives, gender studies, philosophy, anthropology, migration history and urban planning are all disciplines and methodologies that will help us answer the following questions: what happens when sexuality moves, when sexual practices take place across borders? What happens to sexual norms and practices in the context of the globalization of trade, the development of the Internet, and sometimes disputed international law? How are sexuality and its representations affected by the increasing mobility of individuals, whether forced or recreational? Does crossing a border necessarily imply transgression or transformation? What are the reasons why individuals cross a border, go elsewhere, because of their sexuality?

Among the possible avenues for reflection, we will consider papers that fall under the following themes:

1/ Sexuality, globalization and transnational migration

– When sexual issues push people to cross a border: fleeing sexual repression in one’s country of origin; sex trafficking and sex used as currency to pay for migration; crossing the border to obtain an abortion, reproductive assistance, contraception or sexual reassignment;

– Weakening borders and sexuality: globalization and the standardization of sexual behaviors; STD epidemics linked to migratory phenomena, public health discourse and investigations into import pathologies; pornography in the age of the Internet;

– Attractiveness of sexuality from elsewhere: Sexual and matrimonial tourism; binational couples; sham marriages; sexual abuse from foreign workers assisting local populations (humanitarians, missionaries, etc.); occasional return to the country of origin in the case of genital mutilation.

2/ Sexualities, regional spaces and national migration

– Changing space to fully embrace one’s sexual identity: moving from a rural to an urban space, from a small town to a big city, from the provinces to the capital for LGBTQI+ people for instance;

– Borders and prohibitions: “prohibited” relationships in specific regions of a given country for racial, religious, cultural reasons (anti-miscegenation laws in the South of the US, etc.); sexual practices accepted only within a prescribed group but condemned from the outside (polygamy among Mormons, etc.).

3/ Sexualities, local migration and urban space

– Urban organization and spaces assigned to sexuality: gay neighborhoods, red-light districts, mapping of prostitution in each city; spaces reserved for marginality (SM or swingers’ clubs, brothels, woods reserved for prostitution; bourgeois neighborhoods as a framework for acceptable, normative, reproductive sexuality; spaces reserved for infidelity (Michel Foucault and American motels as heterotopias for example).

4/ Mental frontiers: here and elsewhere, exoticism, orientalism, idealization, stereotypes and projections

– The figure of the foreigner as an object of fascination and attraction; representation of the foreigner as importing diseases, threatening integrity and embodying sexual danger (rapist, pedophile, etc.);

– Remaining within one’s group for an acceptable sexuality: meeting spaces set up within a given social, cultural, or religious group, such as fraternities, ballrooms and voguing, etc.

– National identity and the “exoticisation” of homophobia: strategic opposition between sexual progressivism in Western nations and urban centers, and “barbaric archaism” on the matter in Southern nations and suburban areas (Jasbir K. Puar, Homonationalism in Queer Times, 2007)

Papers may be written in English or French. Proposals (around 300 words) accompanied by a short biography should be sent before November 2, 2020 to the two organizers: Pierre-Antoine Pellerin (pierre-antoine.pellerin@univ-lyon3.fr) and Marie Moreau (marie.moreau1@univ-lyon3.fr)

Scientific committee: Sophie Coavoux (Lyon 3), Sibylle Goepper (Lyon 3), Georges-Claude Guilbert (Le Havre), Gregory Lee (Lyon 3), Hélène Quanquin (Lille 3), Corrado Neri (Lyon 3), Christabelle Sethna (Ottawa)

(posted 20 July 2020)


Representing Catastrophe in Contemporary Arts and Letters: Conceptual and Formal Reevaluation
Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Étienne, France, 18-19 May 2021
Deadline for proposals: 4 January 2021

Organized by ECLLA (Études du Contemporain en Littératures, Langues et Arts)

9/11 marked, in a spectacular way, the entry into the 21st century, inaugurating “the eruption of the possible into the impossible.” (Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Pour un catastrophisme éclairé) Since then, the rise of declinist theses or collapse theories has generated a proliferation of discourses and images which predict the end of our civilization, anticipate the modalities of its disappearance, and urge us to think about the notion of catastrophe along new lines. Indeed, it seems the time for conjecture or forecast is over as catastrophist discourses – in science, in the media or in politics – alert us to the multiplication of catastrophes, thereby inviting us to reexamine a notion which, until recently, was characterized by its unique, unprecedented, and unpredictable nature. The evolution of its meaning is definitely under way since ‘catastrophe’ is now seen less as a dénouement or an endpoint than as a series of phenomena which, repeatedly surging in our daily lives, place it in a state of permanent topicality. Paul Virilio noted that a society which privileges “the present – real time” and “sets immediacy, ubiquity and instantaneity to work, brings accidents and catastrophes on to the scene.” (Paul Virilio, The Original Accident)

Used in the singular, catastrophe encompasses a plurality of phenomena which may or may not be attributable to humans, including natural disasters, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, or even pandemics. It does not refer to “a single event, but a system of discontinuities, of critical threshold crossings, of ruptures, of radical structural changes.” (Dupuy) Indeed, catastrophe is not so much regarded as an outcome or a prospect as a state of permanent alert and vigilance with regard to phenomena that are already under way. If its iteration transforms hazard into certainty, it is also because the border between the natural and the cultural, established by Western modernity, has been dissipating, more particularly since the term Anthropocene (Paul J. Crutzen) was coined within the Earth sciences to describe this pivotal moment when human beings, by their actions, have become the main generators of disasters, at the risk of  eliminating the role of contingency. In turn, arts and letters are exploring the conceptual, ethical, and practical issues raised by this “great acceleration” (John R. McNeill, The Great Acceleration), and in doing so, are encouraging a re-articulation of our relation to time, space, images, and narratives.

Catastrophe seems to be the object of a renewed desire today (Henri-Pierre Jeudy, Le Désir de catastrophe). We will therefore interrogate what is at stake in the very use of the term and how contemporary artistic practices appropriate it for reflections on catastrophe as well as through catastrophe.

Be it the continuing success of disaster movies or the growing number of “ecodystopic fictions” (Frederick Buell, From Apocalypse to Way of Life), the imaginaries of catastrophe seem to be proliferating, notably in the fiction industry. Quite often, they draw on a familiar dramaturgy which takes the catastrophic event as a pretext for the unfolding of a story hinging on a causal, before/after logic. How can a work of art, whatever its medium, circumvent and/or counter such dramaturgy? How to envision art not merely as translating catastrophe but as performing it? As a disruption which, however briefly, defeats intelligibility, catastrophe prompts us – compels us even – to reexamine the ways in which we apprehend the world. Beyond the topoï of the unspeakable and irrepresentable, the etymology of the term refers to morphological changes. Understood thus, catastrophe may be regarded as generating aesthetic potentialities, which can lead us to ponder the specificities of its poïetics.

Restoring the emotional and sensory charge of catastrophe, its power of stupefaction may be all the more pressing as its proliferating imaginaries seem to have resulted in a certain uniformization. The ubiquity of catastrophes is partly related to the omnipresence of images, pictures taken by witnesses and circulated on social media with increasing speed. The multiplication of possible points of view, however, seems to falter over the codes of the spectacular which give some images their iconic value – Dantesque visions of megafires, scenes of desolation after tsunamis, hurricanes, or explosions. Social media experts have tried to create “disaster emojis” (emerjis), the closest thing to a global language in their view. Underlying the project is an effort towards standardization, a desire to break down linguistic barriers in the name of communicative efficiency, both of which renew the old rivalry between text and images described by W.J.T. Mitchell as “a war of signs.” (Iconology) More broadly, intermedial studies, notably the reevaluation of the notion of remediation introduced by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in 1999, offer a lens through which the issues raised by the representation of catastrophe can be productively studied.

Reassessing the relation between catastrophe and the spectacular may also lead to reconsideration of the former’s relation to place. The importance given to ruins and memorials testifies to the intertwining of time and space, both subject to the same disruption of the sense of place. One may think of the Ground Zero Sonic Memorial Soundwalk narrated by Paul Auster. Interactive multimedia projects like this one extend the experience of catastrophe to those who were neither witnesses nor victims. One may wonder whether they participate in the monumentalizing of place: the circumscribing of a sense of place in an effort to palliate or counter the overflowing nature of the catastrophic event. The disrupting of the way we inhabit space suggests another line of enquiry. The precariousness common to the human species and all other living beings indeed raises issues relating to practices of inhabiting, and more fundamentally to habitability itself. This, in turn, calls attention to the conceptual and aesthetic approaches contemporary artists have devised to reflect those issues and reflect on them.

We are inviting papers on 21st century artistic practices. Proposals may address but are not limited to the following:

  • narratives of catastrophe (cinema, TV shows, literature): criticism and reevaluation of its dramaturgy and storytelling
  • the work of art as catastrophe: practices and reception
  • the scenography of catastrophe in photography and in the visual arts
  • media coverage and mediation of catastrophe
  • representing and reclaiming places of catastrophe (wastelands, ruins …)
  • the relations between the arts and scientific discourse
  • the language of catastrophe (linguistic evolutions and lexical creations …)

Proposals (400-word abstract + short bio) should be sent before 4 January 2021 to the organizers: Sophie Chapuis (sophie.chapuis@univ-st-etienne.fr), Anne-Sophie Letessier (anne.sophie.letessier@univ-st-etienne.fr), Aliette Ventéjoux (aliette.ventejoux@univ-st-etienne.fr)
Notification of acceptance by 29 January 2021.
Papers (presented in French or in English) should not exceed 20 min.

Given the current climate of uncertainty, we will arrange for videoconferencing if the need arises.

(posted 12 October 2020)