10. August 2014

Spectres of Justice: The Aesthetics of Dealing with Violent Pasts

In the ever broadening field of Transitional Justice the Arts have received scant attention. Yet, it is frequently artists, authors and intellectuals who are to be found at the forefront of civil society efforts to come to terms with a troubled past. Be it in Serbia, Lebanon, Cambodia, Argentina or South Africa, literature, film, theatre, visual arts, music and popular culture are deeply marked by the violent conflicts of the past and the present. While individual pieces of work have been the subject of academic inquiry in a number of disciplines, the relations of cultural production to processes of Transitional Justice have hardly been explored.


On the one hand, artists, authors and film-makers intervene in political debates on the past by creating spaces of potentiality and ambiguity which contrast with the judicial and documentary aspects of Transitional Justice and their focus on establishing consensual truths. On the other hand, narrative conventions and aesthetic forms shape the discourse of Transitional Justice and human rights as well as the implementation of specific instruments such as truth commissions or tribunals. By examining Transitional Justice as a cultural form and enquiring into the role of art and literature in phases of socio-political transition, this conference seeks to elucidate the interconnections and exchanges between these two spheres.


The conference aims to investigate specific cultural products and situate them in their respective social and historical context. It will consider how notions of truth, justice, reconciliation and memory are constructed in works of art and literature, by the authors and artists, and in the reception of these works and artists in the media. Finally it will explore how this wider discourse on and practice of Transitional Justice is in turn shaped by cultural production.


This endeavour calls for a transregional perspective. While our focus lies on the Middle East and North Africa, we expressly welcome case studies from different cultural and historical contexts to probe the ways Transitional Justice is connected to cultural production. We invite papers from a broad range of disciplines, such as anthropology and sociology, literary and cultural studies, film and media studies, museology and musicology, art history and performance studies, politics and gender studies which address issues pertaining to one—orseveral—of the following four sections:


A) Aesthetics of Transitional Justice:
- How do activists, NGOs, governments, international organisations make use of aesthetic forms?
- What kind of narrative conventions do they follow?
- What tropes and metaphors do they employ?
- What media do they use?
- Howis the hegemonic discourse on Transitional Justice being adapted to local aesthetic conventions or how is it being contested?


B) Cultural producers (film-makers, authors, musicians, artists):
- Who are the people who deal with questions of Transitional Justice in the field of cultural production?
- What is their social, economic, or intellectual background?
- How do they relate to government, (international) NGOs, civil society groups and other actors in the process of transition?
- How do they conceive of themselves and their work?


C) Cultural products (film, literature, music, visual arts):
- What genres are used?
- What formal/stylistic features are prevalent?
- How do these features relate to local/global artistic or literarytraditions?
- Whose stories are told?
- What kind of narrative strategies are being deployed?
- How do the narratives of the past compare to those developed in non-fictional spaces (e.g. reports of truth commissions, or tribunals)?


D) Political Impact and Reception:
- How do cultural products influence the political discourse in post conflict or post authoritarian societies?
- What narratives—or counter narratives—about the past have been told?
- Who has access to spaces of ambiguity, who 'consumes' art and literature?
- What role are artists and writers ascribed by local and international media?


This conference will form a part of the activities of the Re-Configurations research network. The network - “Re-Configurations. History, Remembrance and Transformation Processes in the Middle East and North Africa” - was founded by the Philipps-Universität, Marburg, in the spring of 2013 with funding from the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF). Its founding was triggeredby the developments in the MENA region commonly subsumed under the term “Arab Spring” which highlighted the need for a partial re-assessment of scholarship on MENA countries, for developing new perspectives, and deepening our understanding of the events unfolding in the region, their underlying reasons, historic roots, and future perspectives. In order to systematically analyse these ongoing transformations in the region we have identified four research fields: History from below, Re-configurations of cultural memory, Political transformations and Transitional Justice, Transregional entanglements.


Please send an abstract including your affiliation and a brief biographical note (max. 300 words) to cnms-soj(at) Deadline for the submission of abstracts is 1st October 2014. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered for people presenting papers.


Organising committee:
Dr. Jamal Bahmad, Prof. Dr. Thorsten Bonacker (Sociology), Prof. Dr. Susanne Buckley-Zistel (Peace and Conflict Studies), Prof. Dr. Malte Hagener (Film and Media Studies), Felix Lang, Prof. Dr. Rachid Ouaissa (Politics), Prof. Dr. Friederike Pannewick (Arabic Literatureand Culture), Dr. Achim Rohde, Alena Strohmaier.


Postal address: Center for Near and Middle EastStudies (CNMS), Deutschhausstraße 12, 35032 Marburg, Germany