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Imperial Kinships

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Organizer: Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda

Co-Organizer: Andrew Leong

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How have empires managed, reinforced, or proscribed particular forms of kinship or intimacy in order to legitimate their rule? How are desires and intimacy shaped by coloniality, inter-imperial conflict, and social constructions of race and ethnicity? What impact do queer and non-normative forms of kinship have on constructions of genre and generational time? And how do the afterlives of empires continue to make themselves felt at the level of the everyday, the intimate, and the sensory, especially as they relate to familial ties?

We invited papers that examine literary forms or representations of kinship and their ties to empire, broadly understood. We were particularly interested in hearing from scholars who work on less commonly studied empires, or who wished to theorize empires and kinship in less traditional ways. We called for papers in pre-modern or early modern contexts that might examine kinship and empire at the most literal level: writings produced by or about imperial families, courts, or lineages. We also asked for papers in modern contexts that examine representations of kinship (e.g., family dramas, transnational/transracial adoption, gendered labor and social reproduction) within literary works produced in and across the metropoles, peripheries, or interstices of modern empires. Other approaches we suggested were examinations of forms of kinship and intimacy in imperial or post-imperial practices of literary production and succession. Since the scope of this call was, by necessity, historically and geographically expansive, we encouraged comparative work that reflects upon what is at stake when thinking about family resemblances between and across different stages, sites, and formations of empire.

We are pleased to note that this call has attracted interest from a broad range of early and mid-career scholars: two graduate students, two postdoctoral fellows, four lecturers, two assistant professors, and three associate professors. The geographical range of the seminar also makes good on commitments to expand comparative literary studies beyond the North Atlantic. The proposed papers examine imperial and post-imperial kinship formations across Armenia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and Vietnam in addition to the United States and the British West Indies. Five of the twelve papers address Japanese empire and kinship structures, due in part to the seminar organizers' backgrounds in Japanese literary studies. However, these papers are notable for their commitments to moving beyond a nation-centric understanding of modern Japanese literature, as they turn to premodern and early modern imperial kinship structures, literary production in or beyond the peripheries of twentieth-century Japanese empire, and contemporary legacies of post-imperial memory.

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