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Injustice, Violence, and Witnessing

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Organizer: Claudia Hoffmann

Co-Organizer: Lisa Propst

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In this seminar we seek to explore stories and representations of injustice and violence that probe audiences’ ethical responsibilities and complicities.  What representational strategies have writers and artists used to challenge discursive frameworks that underpin erasures and exclusions and to invite readers and viewers to assess their implication in systematic injustices? What historical and contemporary responsibilities are excluded by current political discourses on violence and reconciliation? For example, how do the frameworks of mainstream western news and political discourses exclude discussion of North American and European roles in the conditions that precipitate current refugee movements?

These questions spring from the recognition that bearing witness to injustice can create solidarity across boundaries of power and privilege but can also re-inscribe such boundaries. Narratives of witness may confer recognition on suffering or resilience in ways that ignore one’s own position in power structures that promote suffering. In this way, witnessing that strives to challenge injustice can paradoxically foreclose social transformation, for example, enabling well-meaning audiences to condemn specific acts of injustice without addressing the broader power structures that make them possible. Thus we invite papers that probe the nature of ethical witnessing through attention to the ways in which witnessing texts position their readers and writers.

We welcome discussions of texts in all genres and media, including literature, film, photography, and visual art. Please submit a 250-word abstract and a short bio through the ACLA website,, by 9 AM EST on Thursday, September 20. 
Co-Chairs: Claudia Hoffmann, Lisa Propst,

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