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Gendered Modernities in Motion

Gendered modernities in motion

Literary and cultural interrogations of gender and sexuality in a time of more pronounced transnational dialogue

joint conference of the Gender Studies Committee of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA), the Southern Modernities Research Group, Gender Research at the University of Pretoria ([email protected]), the South African Society for General Literary Studies (SAVAL) and the Literator Society of South Africa

at the Conference Centre, Hatfield Campus, University of Pretoria, 7-10 April 2015

all practical information can be found at the bottom of the page

for programme and abstracts scroll down to the bottom of the page

you can contact us on: [email protected]

please indicate you attendance on the individual conference days here:

Post-graduate Centre, Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria

Gender and sexuality are often the terrains where conceptions of personhood are contested as societies evolve towards variegated responses to modernity. Fresh perspectives on gender and sexuality are needed for a more comprehensive picture of modernities that in contemporary culture are not only in constant motion but also thoroughly fluid. Today the view of a singular modernity is countered by a view that the will to autonomy and mastery associated with modernity is, in fact, much more multidimensional in different parts of the world and at different points in time, and the insertion of gender and/or sexuality into new understandings of modernity becomes the critical site for comparison.

The increased mobility brought about by technological innovation and the rapid exchange of ideas across the globe lead to the development of new gendered subjectivities, or, conversely, the entrenchment of older conceptions of gender and sexuality. The question is how literary and cultural production are contributing to contemporary thinking about modernity, and, in particular, how gender in literature and culture is giving shape to a modernity (or, indeed, modernities) that can no longer be limited to a singular trajectory rooted in European thought. Instead, contemporary phenomena associated with modernity (e.g. migration, new relations between species and the growing importance of cities) are producing a variety of vernaculars characterised both by hybrids and new zones of signification with pretensions to purity. The conference on “Gendered modernities in motion” invites critical responses from scholars interested in gender, sexuality and queer studies to unpack modernity as it is evolving in different parts of the world.

Some of the questions related to literature and culture that the conference hopes to address include:

  • In what ways is modernity an ongoing phenomenon that conditions/interrogates intersections between race, class, gender and non-human animals?
  • How do literature and cultural practice in postcolonial societies and the global South deal with same sex desire in a modernizing world where long established traditions are brought into contact with new queer and other gendered identities?
  • How does migration to the more privileged North bring about new responses to variously configured gendered identities, including same sex practices?
  • To what extent do rituals of affiliation articulate with gendered practices in a modernising world?
  • What is the role of religion, belief and tradition in the formation of modern gendered identities?
  • To what extent have gendered urban geographies become the sites where modernities evolve?
  • How do gendered modernities articulate with the function of institutions, access to rights and citizenship?
  • What is the impact of hybridity on the evolving trajectories of gendered modernities in the North and the South?

The conference will articulate with the work of researchers in gender studies at the University of Pretoria (UP) and the Southern Modernities research project (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) based at the Faculty of Humanities of UP, and will welcome contributions from scholars who work in the fields of literature and culture.

The conference will be preceded by an excursion to the apartheid museum in Johannesburg ( on 6 April 2015 and will be followed by conference presentations on South(ern) African comparisons as outlined below.


South(ern) African comparisons

Literary and cultural comparisons in a time of more pronounced transnational dialogue

A lot has changed in South Africa since Charles Malan in the 1980s mooted the idea that South Africa with its many languages, cultures and literary traditions constitutes a unique literary and cultural research site. Since then the idea of comparative literature has all but disappeared from South African intellectual life, despite the idea that comparative literature thrives in situations where different traditions are seeking common ground in order to overcome divisions of the past.

Twenty years into democracy little seems to have been done to overcome the colonial apartheid castle (De Kock) as the teaching and research of literatures and cultures still seem to take place in separate language departments, journals and conferences and thus still sustain the divisions of apartheid.

A new comparative literature in South Africa requires, as Spivak argues in Death of a Discipline, new definitions of self and other and different ways in which self and other can live together on the planet.  It requires crossing institutional boundaries and redefining north-south relations in terms of greater respect for southern languages and cultures and learning from below. 

Some of the questions related to comparative literature and culture that the conference hopes to address include:

  • To what extent is comparative literature a viable discipline in South(ern) Africa?
  • Should the object of comparative study and the relations between self and other be redefined? If so, how?
  • How does literary and comparative work in South(ern) Africa relate to comparative literature on a global or rather a planetary scale?
  • How do literature and cultural practice in postcolonial societies and the global South deal with the increasing transnational contact?
  • To what extent is the city an important site for comparative research?
  • What is the role of religion and religious traditions in comparative work in South(ern) Africa?
  • What can the study and practice of literary translation contribute to a comparative praxis?

For more information about the conference please use our conference email address: [email protected]

Conference committee:

Prof Andries Visagie (University of Pretoria)

Prof William Spurlin (Brunel University London)

Dr Martina Vitackova (University of Pretoria)

Dr Polo Moji (University of Pretoria)

Prof Hein Viljoen (North-West University)

Dr Erika Lemmer (University of South Africa)

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Last edited by Martina VitackovaEdit