Call for papers

Politics of Vulnerability in Contemporary Women’s Writing and Creative Practices

Centre for Contemporary Women’s Writing (CCWW)

Abstracts deadline: 19 January 2022
Conference dates: 19-20 May 2022, online
Organisers: Sandra Daroczi (University of Bath);  Adina Stroia (Newcastle University)

Questions of vulnerability abound in current women-centric literary, cultural, and social discourse focussing on a broad spectrum of areas including the body, affects and emotions, sexuality, and health. Within a current political and critical climate which invites us and even insists on us revealing and working through our vulnerabilities, this conference wishes to interrogate the effects that a continuous and persistent self-excavation has on modes of being and on cultural production in the contemporary era. Following on from developments such as the contemporary memoir boom, the increased popularity of the personal essay, or the interest in body-based performance art, this conference takes a two-pronged approach: we are not only interested in exploring notions of vulnerability, but we are also seeking to interrogate the potentially nefarious logic as well as damaging discourses subtending a politics of vulnerability. We are thus asking a series of structuring questions, chief among them: How do you preserve a self that is continuously on display as being vulnerable? Can the display of vulnerability through artistic creation become a political force? When does vulnerability lean into performance? Is female-centric cultural production at risk of using and abusing notions of vulnerability?

This conference freely interprets ‘writing’ as ‘creation’, and we thus invite proposals pertaining to the spheres of literature, visual art, film, philosophy, critical theory and beyond. We also welcome proposals from activists and practitioners. Proposals are invited for both individual papers and fully constituted panels. Below, we suggest a series of themes and questions that could be used as a springboard. The list is by no means exhaustive, and we invite proposals from themes outside the ones listed below, belonging to a variety of cultural backgrounds. If your paper follows one of the themes listed below, please feel free to indicate this in your abstracts. 

  1. Online/offline: translating vulnerability
    At a time when large portions of our lives have been forced to shift into an online mode and when we are paradoxically both hungry for and sated by narratives of the self and their displays of vulnerability, a salient question is imposing itself: How does social media contribute to our contemporary constructions of vulnerability, be it in the social or the artistic realm? 
  2. Consenting to uncertainty: a vulnerable point of view
    Following on from Katherine Angel’s assertion that ‘desire isn’t always there to be known. Vulnerability is the state that makes its discovery possible’,  we are keen to explore the thorny notions of consent, desire, self-knowledge, and uncertainty before and after the #metoo era.
  3. Age vulnerability: a cradle to grave question 
    Notions of age vulnerability have been at the centre of our attention throughout the pandemic across the temporal spectrum. With children, youth, and the elderly living under the spectre of potential loss (be it of health, life, opportunities, ‘innocence’, or self-governance), this particular strand wishes to interrogate the potential hierarchy of vulnerabilities that questions of age may set in place. 
  4. Humour and vulnerability 
    This strand aims to explore whether there are limits to using the vulnerability of the self, whether corporeal, emotional, or psychological as the focus of humour in media as diverse as stand-up comedy, cinema and television, art, and literature. If so, what happens beyond those limits?
  5. Technology: how vulnerable is the human?
    Women’s relations to technologies are fraught with contradictions. We wish to look at the ways in which literature, visual arts, and critical discourses may help us make sense of the current and future relations between the human and the technological. We would furthermore be keen to explore the ways in which the feminisation of AI and AI-powered devices could contribute to patriarchal notions of female servitude.
  6. Success and failure
    Taking our cue from recent debates around women’s successes and failures, pertaining to athletes such as Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, or Emma Răducanu, or to authors, such as Sally Rooney, we ask whether being in a position of success is a more vulnerable venture than ‘failure’, if these notions can even be considered oppositional. We are particularly interested in how achieving success may lead to pressure to replicate the effect and the ways in which this can influence the creative process.

Please send a 250-300 words abstract for papers (15-20 minutes) as well as a short author bio to both organisers, and by Wednesday, 19th of January 2022. If you would like to submit a full panel, please add to the above a reasoning of approx. 150 – 200 words. 

Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing (CCWW)
School of Advanced Study • University of London
Room 239 | Senate House | Malet Street | London WC1E 7HU | UK |

The School of Advanced Study at the University of London is the UK's national centre for the facilitation and promotion of research in the humanities and social sciences.