Captivity and Culpability: The Disciplining Subject in the Literary and Cultural Imagination
14 December 2012, 10:00 – 15 December 2012 18:00
- Organised by: Human Rights Consortium
- Event Type: Conference / Symposium
- Venue: The Senate Room (Senate House, First Floor)
- Venue Details: South Block of Senate House, Ground Floor
Societies often have ambiguous and even conflicting attitudes towards state institutions that fulfil normalising, reformatory, punitive or disciplinary functions. This unease is frequently represented in an ambivalence or a hostility not only towards those disciplined or incarcerated but also, and perhaps paradoxically, towards the agents of those institutions, e.g. state incarcerators, the police, interrogators, soldiers, counterterrorist agents, or staff in mental hospitals. These figures tend to be conceptualised and represented in simplistic and often reductively negative terms. This demonisation reflects an unease towards institutions that are understood to be at once socially and politically necessary and saturated with threatening potential.
Connected to this is a complex social attitude towards state violence. At the same time as societies sanction it, figures such as executioners, torturers, and concentration camp guards are frequently despised. For this reason, while severe state violence is sometimes deemed to have situational or conditional necessity, expedience, or legitimacy, it often must also seek to conceal or disguise its own extreme nature as violence. Much as those perpetrating acts of state-sanctioned violence are disavowed, the violence itself is also surrounded by an apparent uncomfortable double standard.
This conference aims to interrogate literary, filmic, popular cultural and artistic representations of the agents of those institutions, specifically in terms of guilt and culpability. Why, for example, can we observe a tendency to hold at a cautious distance the disciplining subject whilst accepting (or even celebrating) the institutions they represent as socially and politically necessary? Why, when the actions of such agents become extreme, transgressive or criminal, is there a tendency to pathologise such actions in terms of individual perversity – as the actions of ‘bad apples’ – and thereby transfer culpability from the institution to the individual subject, rather than explaining such actions in systemic, structural or institutional terms?
Please see the Call for Papers
The conference is organised by Alex Adams (Newcastle University) and Cornelia Wächter (University of Paderborn, Bielefeld University) in cooperation with the Institute of English Studies (University of London) and the Human Rights Consortium (University of London). Please email 200-300 word abstracts for 20 minute papers to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by Sunday, 19th August 2012.