GAPS 2022 – Contested Solidarities: Agency and Victimhood in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures

32nd Annual Conference of the Association for Anglophone Postcolonial Studies (Gesellschaft für Anglophone Postkoloniale Studien / GAPS)

Contested Solidarities: Agency and Victimhood in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures

Goethe University Frankfurt | 26-29 May, 2022

Keynotes/Plenary Speakers/Writers:

Sinan Antoon (Iraq/USA) | Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria) | Blessing Obada (Germany/Nigeria) | Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya) | Michael Rothberg (UCLA) | Arundhati Roy (India)

If Anglophone literatures and cultures worldwide once sprang from a contested terrain of solidarities emerging in the shadow of colonialism, many of them have been struggling with the legacies of these solidarities, with ideals of liberation that turned into new forms of oppression, and with the clamorous or muted appeal of old and new victimhoods for more than half a century now. Ethnic, racial or national victimhood and solidarity have been invoked in a cynical politics of exclusion all over the globe – from an aggressive assertion of Hindu hegemony in India to the militant Buddhism in the guise of nationalism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the abuse of anticolonialism as an ideology of oppression in Zimbabwe. In a quite different setting, victimhood has also become a mainspring of the anxiety-infested xenophobia spawned by right-wing populism in contemporary Europe. At the same time, the oppression of minorities and the plight of political, economic and environmental refugees has generated new forms of sociality as well as solidarity.

While the 21st century has seen the exhaustion of ‘enchanted’ or ‘unconditional’ solidarities rallying around idealized images of oppressed ‘postcolonial’ or ‘third world’ collectivities, sections of academia continue to see ‘resistance’ as form of catharsis, or even a panacea for a myriad of victimhoods and grievances. Yet, Anglophone literary texts and cultural productions themselves have long since engaged in self-reflexive encounters that have undermined trite formulations of perpetrators and victims and have explored the tribulations of what Michael Rothberg has recently called ‘implicated subjects’ (2019): all modern subjects are involuntarily implicated both in the history of oppression and victimhood, often simultaneously – not only in the formerly colonizing, but also in the formerly colonized regions of the world. More often than not, these implications, which call for a ‘disenchanted’ or ‘conditional’ solidarity that holds the abuses of victimhood in the name of agency accountable, cut across habitual East/West or North/South divides: as large parts of the world are rightly admiring civil resistance against the current military rulers of Myanmar and deploring the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi, the memory of how her own government was complicit with the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Burma seems to be waning. At the same time, European admonitions to respect democracy and protect the Rohingya refugees are timely but hardly beyond reproof given the background of calculated misery in its refugee camps in the Mediterranean and unceasing daily deaths at its external frontiers.

The 2022 Annual Conference of the Association for Postcolonial Anglophone Studies (GAPS) will engage in a wide-ranging reassessment of implicated subjects, of the uses and abuses of victimhood, of different forms of agency, and of the manifold implications of English as a medium of literary and cultural expression in anglophone literatures, cultures and media. Participants are invited to scrutinize fictional encounters with ‘internal’ forms of oppression, with the ‘enemy within’ (Nandy) and ‘the danger of a single story’ (Adichie), or the excessive display of wealth and power by local bourgeoisies (Mbembe). They are also encouraged to engage in a self-reflexive discussion on the role of ‘unconditional’ and ‘conditional’ solidarities in Anglophone literary cultures and on the role of victimhood in recent debates on globalization, world literature and the Anthropocene. Furthermore, participants may wish to tackle the new solidarities expressed through concepts such as cosmopolitanism (Appiah), Afropolitanism (Selasi), conviviality (Gilroy) or environmental justice and to explore the role of anglophone literatures and cultures as ‘resources of hope’ (Raymond Williams). Participants are further welcome to focus on transitions from a politics of victimhood to a poetics of agency in anglophone literatures and cultures and to scrutinize the role of English in plurilingual contact zones across the world.

Conference convenors: Dr. Pavan Kumar Malreddy and Prof. Dr. Frank Schulze-Engler, Institute for English and American Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt.

Contact: info@gaps2022.com

Please find out more on the conference’s website.