CfP: Life Narratives: Self-Representation in an Age of Human Rights, 14 June 2017, Johannesburg, deadline: 10 May 2017

Call for Papers

Life Narratives: Self-Representation in an Age of Human Rights

A One-Day Symposium for Postgraduate Students and Early-Career Researchers at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre (JHGC), Wednesday 14th June 2017

Featuring a keynote address from Mark Gevisser, author of Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (2007) and Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir (2014)


The last decade has witnessed a proliferation in scholarship exploring the relationship between human rights and forms of self-representation. The universal subject presumed by human rights discourse, as well as the important role of witness testimony in uncovering human rights abuses, raises a particular set of concerns surrounding subjectivity and personhood.


By considering ‘life narratives’ rather than the more conventional genres of autobiography and memoir, recent studies have been able to productively compare written texts with other visual and oral mediums (Whitlock 2007, Jensen and Jolly, 2014). How do these diverse forms of life narratives respond to the twentieth-century formulation of human rights? In these self-representations can we see, as Joseph Slaughter claims, that ‘ours is at once the Age of Human Rights and the Age of Human Rights Abuse’?

The JHGC is dedicated to Holocaust and genocide education and memory, and, as we explore how diverse forms of life narrative engage the public with human rights issues, we are keen to consider the role that institutions can play in contributing to this engagement. With this in mind, we invite papers that explore how representations of lives lived across cultural, geographical and national borders have become powerful forms of testimony in relation to the 20th- and 21st – century’s traumatic histories of genocide, exile and displacement. We encourage considerations of how autobiographies, autofictions, films, poetry, photography, comics, oral testimonies and other multifarious forms are used to tell life narratives across the globe. These self-representations frequently complicate established understandings of genre, gender, national identity and personhood. By forcing us to reimagine our rights and responsibilities in the present, how do they ask us to reconsider what it means to be human in an increasingly interconnected age?

We invite abstracts of 250-400 words for 15 minute papers interested in, but not limited to:

* New and hybrid forms of representing lives, including photography, graphic memoirs/comics and other visual forms of autobiography, performance/slam poetry

* Witnessing and testimonies of human rights abuses

* Life narratives representing gender fluidity and/or intersectionality of gender inequality and racial discrimination

* The history of women’s rights in human rights, especially in regards to cosmopolitanism, globalisation, nationalism and social resistance movements.

* Considerations of human rights in: educational centres, the classroom, autobiographical practice,pedagogy and forms of community engagement

* Depictions of migration/lives across borders; autobiographies of exile; trauma narratives; auto-fictions, particularly those dealing with transnational experiences

* Oral testimony, including considerations of forgiveness and reconciliation

* Reconfigurations of the human, particularly in postcolonial, feminist and/or trauma studies

* The role played by the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and others, in documenting traumatic histories and human rights abuses

Please email your abstracts to by Wednesday 10th May 2017. A number of travel bursaries will be made available to support costs of travel to Johannesburg. Please state in your application if you would like to be considered for these bursaries.

Categories: Calls for & opportunities, Research, Studies, Teaching

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