Conference: Cultural Enclosure and Literary Form, University of Oxford, 30 September 2022 (deadline 11 May 2022)

Please submit abstracts (300 words max.) for fifteen-minute papers to: by 11th May 2022. Speakers will be notified of decision by 31st May 2022. Limited funds are available for speaker travel expenses – please enquire using same email.

It is now something of a commonplace that post-Fordist value production revolves increasingly around ‘intangible […] cultural products or products of experience’ (Massumi, 2003). Continued resource extraction notwithstanding, cultural marketability – the marketability of place, heritage, and collective self-representation – is a major economic force. As economies continue (unevenly) to transnationalise, cultural and heritage industries have become a central pillar of development for diverse communities, ranging from cities to nations to ethnic groups. This is a double-edged sword: it deepens unequal dependencies upon external validation of cultural identity – specifically validation via consumer desire. But it also bears potential to mobilise and preserve important ‘strategic essentialisms’: to ‘help articulations of racial/ethnic/cultural identity survive’ (Hollinshead, 2004: 7). This conference seeks to investigate the links between cultural commodification, globalisation, and literary form.

Keith Hollinshead writes that heritage industries are today ‘a vital medium of being and becoming which not only talks about worlds, but decidedly makes (or, at least, helps make) worlds’ (2004: 38). This function has also been ascribed to literature. Literature’s ‘peculiar ontological status’ allows it to ‘open up a world and envision itself as being part of this world that is in the making’ (Cheah, 2008: 34); it is an artform invested in ‘the “physics” of aesthetic worldedness’ (Hayot, 2012: 7). Taking as its premise, then, the notion that cultural commodification and literature have in common procedures of worldmaking and enclosure – the containment and arrangement of symbolic forms – the conference asks how literature might productively interrogate cultural commodification projects.

We invite papers that examine the role of literary form in depicting, endorsing, and subverting cultural commodification phenomena – understood broadly to include e.g., tourism and heritage enterprises, ‘ethno-preneurialism’, gentrification and branded cities, and patenting of ‘cultural knowledge’. Does literary form reproduce the dimensions, boundaries and affects of the ‘worlds’ envisioned in such projects? Or does it challenge them?

Papers are welcomed from scholars working across a wide range of literary forms – novel, poetry, drama, and other genres – and by scholars working on periods outside of the post-Fordist era. Papers are especially welcomed from scholars working on Global South literatures and/ or based in Global South institutions, for whom provisions will be made for virtual participation.

Possible topics include:

  • the ‘narratology’ of tourist/heritage sites
  • the imbrication of ‘intangible’ cultural products with tangible issues of land and resource management
  • literary constructions of ‘local colour’ and of the touristic ‘gaze’
  • the relationship between literature and advertising materials
  • the relationship between cultural identity and leisure/pleasure
  • tensions between heritage and invention in constructing cultural identity
  • difficulties/ impediments in delivering cultural products to market
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