“Home” – postgraduate CFP

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UCL Society for Comparative Cultural Inquiry

Fifth Annual Postgraduate Conference

26th-27th October 2017

‘It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’ wrote Theodor Adorno in Minima Moralia.

For Adorno, dwelling was impossible and the private life indecent following the violence of twentieth century totalitarianism and the rise of capitalist consumer culture. At the same time, Hannah Arendt distinguished the public life of the polis, characterised by speech and action, from the private life of the oikos, related to labour, the domestic and the body, or what Arendt termed the ‘dark background of mere givenness’. Historic and ongoing feminist struggles over housework and wages have exposed the political stakes of precisely this ‘background’. Indeed, the contemporary significance of the home, and homelessness, is acutely apparent at both a local and global level.

So, what is it to be at home and what does one have when one has a home? Home is a space of rest and refuge, but also a place of discomfort and disquiet. If there is home then there is also the unheimlich, the uncanny element that, like Kafka’s Odradek, unsettles any intimacy. Home is where we recover when we are ill, and when we are not home we get homesick. We associate home with security and sanctity, but to be at home is not necessarily to be free from violence, intrusion or oppression. It may even be because home is imagined as an apolitical place that ideology is able to take root in it.

This interdisciplinary conference invites 15-20 minute papers from all disciplines that explore the concept of ‘home’ as a site of contention, transformation and social reproduction, as a space in which different forms of agency are both made and revoked. Questions papers might like to consider are: How is home imagined and to what ends is it evoked? How are the thresholds of privacy regulated, and to whose exclusion? Is home in crisis? How might we re-imagine or re-work the home?

Proposals for panels, performances, installations and workshops are also welcome, as well as creative critical work. Topics could include but are not restricted to:

  • Philosophical approaches to home: ethics, ontology, the influence of philosophers’ domestic life on their work
  • The nation as home: nationalisms, sovereignty, postcolonialism, liberation struggles
  • Gender and sexuality at home: family, domestic and affective labour, the public/private divide, power dynamics
  • Refuge, exile, migration, displacement, diaspora
  • Representations of the home in film, theatre, television, literature
  • Architecture of the home: experimentation, innovative solutions to changing lifestyles
  • The place of home in different religious faiths and practices
  • Capital at home: contemporary politics and economics, gentrification, the housing crisis, austerity, Occupy, homelessness
  • Academic homes/homelessness in interdisciplinary work
  • Historical and cultural specificities: the changing nature and understanding of the home across time and cultures (e.g. in Antiquity, the Early Modern period, the Victorian period)
  • Psychology and affect of/at home: boredom, claustrophobia, loneliness
  • Care/Health at home: adapting homes for disabled people, end of life care
  • Alternative homes: institutions (prisons, hospitals, care homes), communes, kibbutzim, squats, foster homes, nomadism

    We invite submissions from all disciplines, including but not limited to:

    Anthropology; Sociology; Gender studies; Architecture and Town Planning; Literature; Critical theory; Film Studies; Photography; Politics and political theory; Economics; History; Modern Languages; Philosophy; Art; Psychology and Psychoanalysis; Cultural Studies; Translation Studies; Health and Medical Humanities.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words, plus 5 key words and a short biographical statement (50 words), to culturalinquiry.ucl@gmail.com by Friday 21st July.

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How to stop being boring in conference papers

I’ve not been going to conferences all that long: I’m only a first-year PhD student. However, in the short time I have been attending and speaking at conferences, I’ve already become a pretty vehement opponent of a certain way of presenting. You probably know what I’m talking about – the kind of conference paper where someone reads out an extract from an essay or article in a monotone, barely lifting their eyes from the page.

Now, when I’ve talked about this to people, they sometimes draw a dichotomy between reading a paper like this, and presenting in an improvisational, ad hoc style – the idea being perhaps that they have to read their papers, because they’re not able to present just from notes or slides. This is a false dichotomy! And I think it’s quite a damaging one, because it means people fall back on the monotone paper-reading because they don’t feel able to improvise. There’s absolutely a middle ground, though. I’d love to be able to present my work just from notes, but right now I don’t have either the confidence in my material or the skills at timing to do it. So I do use a script for my papers. But I don’t just cut an extract from previous work and read it out; instead, I edit it to make it more conversational in tone, and I try to present in an engaging way. In this post, I want to offer a quick guide to presenting a paper with a script, but without being…well, boring and difficult to follow.

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First, best, greatest? Women and the philosophical canon

Margaret Cavendish was the first science fiction writer. Mary Wollstonecraft was the first feminist. And, according to this post that popped up on my twitterfeed this morning, Teresa of Ávila was the first to…well, it’s not actually all that clear.

The title of the post is “One of Descartes’ most famous ideas was first articulated by a woman”, and it’s based around a recent journal article by Christia Mercer. The Mercer article itself argues that there are significant methodological parallels between Descartes’ Meditations and Teresa’s Interior Castle which have hitherto gone unnoticed and suggest a line of influence. Mercer sets both texts within the context of “the meditative tradition that developed in late medieval and early modern Europe, a tradition to which women significantly contributed” (Mercer 2016), and argues that both stand out in their use of “the deceiver strategy” as an epistemological tool. In doing so, Mercer wants both to rehabilitate Teresa as a philosopher (not merely a “mystic”) and to draw attention to the originality of both her and Descartes’ uses of the meditative genre. It’s not clear to me, though, that Mercer is being so bold as to claim that Teresa was the first to use the “deceiver strategy”.

Regardless of Mercer’s actual claims in her paper, I have a real problem with the way that the Quartz post frames it. It’s the same problem I have with the claims I gave at the beginning of this post – Cavendish as originator of sci-fi, Wollstonecraft as originator of feminism. These claims, and the claim in the post that “it’s clear that Descartes’ work was shaped not by a great man, but a great woman” (Goldhill 2017), are part of an approach to women’s involvement in intellectual history or the history of philosophy which values them inasmuch as they can be claimed as the first, the best, or the most influential on some established canonical figure. This approach seems to pop up at its most reductive in posts like the one under discussion – articles aimed at the public offering a gee-whiz click-baity “this woman was the first person to do this thing and the only reason you don’t know is sexism” account of women thinkers.

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Sixteenth -century lesbian philosophy? Lucrezia Marinella and desire between women

Venice, 1600: a book called The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men is published. It’s by Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), the educated daughter of a physician. She’s written before – her first work was published in 1595 – and she’ll carry on writing into the 1640s, but it’s The Nobility and Excellence of Women that she’ll largely be remembered for, and it’s her most clearly identifiable philosophical work.

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Turning points: chance and decisions in the academic journey

Six and a half years ago – can it really be so many? – I was making decisions about where to apply to university as an undergraduate. At the time, I was one of those slightly odd teenagers who was weirdly into party politics. The sort that wants to be an MP one day, and goes on marches with the Young Labour faction (see this post’s picture). Pretty embarrassing to look back on. Anyway, I wanted to study politics at university. I also knew I wanted to apply to Oxford. So I applied for Philosophy Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford, and for straight Politics degrees at my other four choices. (Which were LSE, Leeds, Edinburgh and Queen Mary, incidentally). I got into Oxford. I did PPE.

I’m now doing a PhD researching early modern women philosophers. I also don’t want to be an MP any more, and in general try to distance myself from my seventeen-year-old-self as much as possible. What I find a little alarming and destabilising to think about, though, is this: if I hadn’t been lucky enough to get into Oxford back in late 2010, if I hadn’t ended up studying PPE rather than straight Politics, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have taken a paper in Early Modern Philosophy: indeed, the closest I would have come to philosophy at all might have been a political theory course.

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Anne Arbuthnot, Philosopher

The problem with trying to introduce people to Anne Arbuthnot as a philosopher is that the most obvious route of introduction is through her aunt, Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1674/9-1749), and most people haven’t heard of her either. Cockburn, however, is very much established as a member of an alternative canon of early modern philosophy – that consisting of a variety of women philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including Elisabeth of Bohemia, Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Damaris Masham and Mary Astell in their number. While obscure in a general sense, she is very much a known name in the field. (She’s also studied by literary historians on account of her role as a female Restoration playwright and poet.) Anne Arbuthnot, though, is not.

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