“Issues of culture and identity have come to the forefront of international relations. This is not a passing phenomenon and thus provides new opportunities for sustained dialogue and mutual understanding.”
(Irina Bokova, current director of UNESCO, in a report on the trafficking of cultural artifacts)
In a 2012 UNESCO report on the circulation and proliferation of cultural artifacts, Irina Bokova advocated for a steady increase in the free flow of commodities, individuals, and cultures. Yet in so doing, she merely reiterated a mantra associated with globalization discourse. According to the latter, technological breakthroughs as well as new transportation and communication systems have resulted in both tangible and intangible commodities circulating more openly and freely within an increasingly diversified global market.
Since the 1990s, terms and phrases such as “globalization,” “the global cultural industry” or “postcolonialism,” and littérature-monde have become part of contemporary literary criticism’s common lexicon. This is undoubtedly the way in which scholars have sought to address the tangible impact of the increased mobility of ideas, goods, and populations on contemporary cultural and artistic practices. And thus, younger generations of Francophone minorities in France, who are heavily invested in continental Africa, are now categorized under the rubric “cosmopolitan” or “cosmopolitical” subjects.
However, another factor must be taken into account as it is as much of a game changer as the heightened levels of exchange and circulation on a global scale. Even the staunchest advocate of globalization must admit that borders around the world are neither free nor indiscriminate. Rather, borders and movement are orchestrated in accordance with political, economic and cultural criteria that by their design intrinsically marginalize an overwhelming majority of the world population.
Granted, no one can deny the claim that in this our age of extreme mobility – of people, information, ideas, narratives, researchers, concepts, and the like – new configurations are emerging, particularly in terms of modes of production, reception and distribution of contemporary cultural commodities. Yet despite the way that concepts such as “cosmopolitanism,” “globalization,” and tout-monde have been fast-tracked and integrated into our shared critical vocabulary, the fact remains that cultural productions from the so-called peripheries continue to be critically engaged along the paradigmatic lines of the (post)colony as theorized by Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, among other founding figures of postcolonial studies. Africa remains the product of a vertical relationship between the West and its Other(s) and the modus operandi of this overarching institutional and commercial framework is considered largely through terms of globality. A dual process is therefore at work, whereby widespread, putatively unbridled mobility is coextensive with exclusionary dynamics, thus giving rise to glaring contrasts.
The colloquium “Africa and the New Networks of Cultural Mobility” aims to go beyond such disparities, so as to better define Africa’s relationships with other emerging markets or that are embedded within other new configurations, alongside or beyond the postcolonial paradigm. A dual model has always shaped geographical patterns of movement in and out of Africa, both in the past and in the present day: a continent-wide circulatory model (trans-African migratory waves) and a tricontinental dispersive regime (diasporic Africas), with both contradicting any logic of territorial closure. This model reflects an existential attitude that nicely coincides with a cosmopolitical project heralding, in more than one respect, the emergence of the postcolonial as such.
The colloquium seeks to build interdisciplinary bridges and foster a constructive dialogue between scholars from the humanities, social sciences, literary studies, film studies, and the visual arts. We encourage participants to address a number of interrelated issues grounded in the following overarching theme: How do the practices and representations of mobility patterns that characterize “Africa,” as a research constellation, offer a unique opportunity to both reflect on the various modes of trafficking Africa on a continental or global scale as well as reevaluate cultural processes and theoretical grids?
If special emphasis is placed on the delineation of mobility patterns and migratory phenomena, this is for two reasons: on the one hand, the point is to question current predominant models (transnationality, hybridity) as explanatory frameworks suited to the task of elucidating the layered meanings of African cultural artifacts; on the other hand, this conference will provide an opportunity to examine alternative models in terms of the representations, practices and negotiations of border zones and fluid spaces.
The ultimate goal of the colloquium is to provide a satisfactory answer as to whether globalization can engender a truly “brave new world” or if it is condemned to merely reproduce deceptive and delusional mirror images. More concretely, it is important not only to consider the relevance of “rediscovering the infra-ordinary” in African literatures, as a counter to normativizing metadiscourses, but also, and above all, to rethink the arts and literatures of Africa in terms of their relationship to both “globalization” and “the worlding of the world,” to borrow Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinction in La Création du monde, ou la mondialisation (2002).
Relevant topics for presentations on literature, film, and the arts include:
Littérature-monde and the prestige economy
African writers and the metrics of popularity
Theories of cultural network formations
“Africa” in contemporary literatures and cinemas
Theoretical strengths and weaknesses of Littérature-monde
Literatures, cinemas, and the arts in Africa: case studies in reception criticism
“Writing, painting or filming Africa”: an exclusive artistic ethos or an exclusively African categorical imperative?
African literatures, cultures and cinemas at the intersection with contemporary trends: dynamics and challenges
The theoretical and political stakes behind diasporic and transnational productions
“Only the West can save the rest”? other networks, figures, and modes of figuration
Events will include various group discussion activities, in addition to traditional conference panels consisting of workshops and 20-minute presentations. Researchers from all relevant fields are invited to submit a 250-word abstract by April 1, 2017. Please enclose the following information in your proposal:
Title of your presentation
Language of delivery (French or English)
Short academic biography and some bibliographical references
April 1, 2017: Submission deadline for proposals
Please send your 250-word abstracts, along with the information specified above, by April 1, 2017 to the following address: email@example.com
May 1, 2017: Notification of the scientific committee. Please indicate in your proposal if you need to be notified earlier in anticipation of visa application procedures with Canadian Immigration Services. The committee will make provisions for a diligent and timely review of your proposal.
October 6-7 2017: Colloquium activities held at the University of Toronto
Participants will be provided with further details regarding a possible publication. There will be no conference registration fee. Coffee or sandwich will be served. However, participants will be expected to assume all other costs.
Marie-Pierre Bouchard, Ph.D., Postdoctoral fellow, Department of French Studies, University of Toronto: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexie Tcheuyap, Professor, Department of French Studies, University of Toronto: email@example.com