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Conference “Victim Narratives in Transnational Contexts” (Innsbruck, 25-27 January 2018)

The figure of the victim seems to be virtually unparalleled in its power to polarise contemporary societies. The discursively produced and judicially fixed victim status is highly desirable for individuals and groups because it accords moral superiority and guarantees legal rights and claims. Victims are considered to be essentially ‘good’; they stand on the right side of history and must receive special treatment. This desire for a victim status both at the collective and at the individual level has been cri­ti­cised by, among others, Esther Benbassa, Jean-Michel Chaumont, Peter Novick, and, most recently, Daniele Giglioli. They argue that the current ‘victim cult’ defends victims against any form of criticism and makes them virtually unassailable: Victims are perceived as objects and relieved of any commitment to individual responsibility. They are forever reduced to events in the past, which rules out any perspec­tive on viable future and renders it prac­ti­cally unnecessary. Lastly, and importantly, victims, in particular victims of war and violence in the 20th and 21st centuries, are always associated with the perpetrators and rarely seen as autonomous subjects.

The figure of the victim both constructs and destabilises national and regional historical narratives. These complex processes inspire international as well as transnational competition among victims and induce a revision of national cultures of memory. The reorganisation of Europe after 1989, the increasing globa­li­sa­tion of the world, and the emergence of new media technologies that facilitate the rapid gene­ration of images of victims and perpetrators alike, call for a transnational perspective on victim narra­tives.

The objective of this conference is to identify and analyse conceptualisations of ‘victimhood,’ in par­ti­cular with regard to cultural studies and memory research. It also aims at a critical discussion of vic­tim­hood/victim status in fictional texts (prose, poetry, theatre) as well as in other media (film, photography, etc.). The con­ference invites participants to discuss recent texts (post-1989) that challenge entrenched victim narratives and attempt to transcend the logic of retaliation and atonement without negating or relativising the victims’ suffering. The conference welcomes submissions from a broad range of discip­lines such as film, literary, and cultural studies, and is particularly interested in transnational and trans­cultural aspects.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

New conceptualisations of victim narratives: What could replace victim narratives?
Victim narratives in national memory discourses and their transformation through transnational and transcultural perspectives
A critique of self-victimisation and the subversive potential of self-victimisation
Competition but also solidarity among victim groups and ensuing consequences
Victim narratives and generational narratives
Victim narratives and gender
Victim narratives in postcolonial contexts
Victim narratives in the context of mémoires croisées, entangled history, etc.
The commercialisation of memory culture

The conference languages will be German and English. Please send abstracts in English or German (300–500 words) to along with a short biographical note and a list of publications by May 30th, 2017. Presenters will be notified whether or not their abstracts have been accepted by June 30th, 2017. Where possible, we will provide funding for travel and accommodation.


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