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Reading for and from the Hinterland

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Organizer: Esther Peeren

Co-Organizer: Pamila Gupta

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This seminar proposes the concept of the hinterland as a crucial tool for understanding the present as inhabited by the legacies of colonialism, increasing labour precarity under late capitalist regimes, and looming climate disasters. Defined as a remote area situated away from coasts, riverbanks, or cities, the hinterland was traditionally seen to serve a (colonial) port or market town by providing it with food, natural resources, and labor. This caused it to be mainly associated with the rural and the wilderness. With the distinction between what are seen as society’s central and peripheral spaces no longer understood as clear-cut or stable, and with many urban areas also being assigned hinterland functions, the concept is being rethought, also in terms of the tensions between its literal meaning as a space with resources whose availability is taken for granted and its metaphorical association with that which lies beyond what is visible or known. In contemporary global capitalism, hinterlands harbor natural resources and infrastructures crucial for global trade, including data farms, distribution centers and waste processing plants, as well as for (renewable) energy generation. While they are often sites of political abandonment – “sacrifice zones” in Steve Lerner’s terms – people also live lives in hinterlands, involving new forms of care and commoning, and a complex range of affectivities.  

Building on Phil A. Neel’s Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict (2018), Maria Topalovic et al.’s Architecture of Territory – Hinterland: Singapore, Johor, Riau (2013), and the edited volume Planetary Hinterlands: Extraction, Abandonment and Care (Gupta, Nuttall, Peeren and Stuit, 2023), this seminar seeks to push the conceptualization of the hinterland by reading for and from it. Contributors are invited to consider hinterlands, historical and contemporary, as stretching across urban, rural and wilderness, traversing land, water and air; from perspectives including but not limited to the environmental and oceanic humanities to posthumanism, affect theory, new formalism and new materialism; and in media from literature, film and television to the arts. Especially welcome are contributions connecting hinterlands across the Global North and Global South; theorizing what it means to read for and from the hinterland; and combining humanities and social science approaches. 

Possible questions to address are:
• How can the concept of hinterland help to think rural, urban, suburban and wilderness spaces as entangled?
• What conceptual architecture(s) of the present might become visible by connecting hinterlands in different parts of the world?
• Can hinterlands be thought to reroute the spatial and temporal reach of (post)coloniality?
• What forms of (more-than-human) communality arise in hinterlands?
• Can hinterland epistemologies and ontologies give shape to more sustainable, inclusive and just futures?

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