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June 19-20 2015, Bonner Universitätsforum

Originally a concern primarily of social studies and economics, poverty has increasingly been discussed in literary and cultural studies in recent years. This growing interest may be attributed not only to the mediatized awareness of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor across the globe, but also to a shift in definitions of poverty. While poverty was for many years restricted to material deprivation, social scientists such as Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have argued that it is in fact often linked with social capabilities. This approach implies that poverty must be understood "not only as (relative) material deprivation, but also as an encompassing socio-cultural exclusion and a lack of agency, opportunities and access (to knowledge, traditions, rights and capabilities)," as Barbara Korte and Georg Zipp claim in their book Poverty in Contemporary Literature (2014: 2).

Seen in this light, fictional representations of poverty in anglophone literatures and other media become an issue that can be approached by using the conceptual frameworks of Postcolonial Studies. Since the representational appropriation of disenfranchised subjects with usually limited access to self-representation poses both an ethical and an aesthetic challenge, investigations therefore address the power of and over representation, questions of agency and voice, of authenticity and essentialisms, of marginalisation and subalternity. Poverty is a central issue of growing importance on a global scale; our focus will therefore be on literature, film and other cultural representations from the contemporary anglophone world, with due attention to widely differing contexts and representational practices. We invite everyone interested in joining the conference on June 19 and 20 at the Universitätsforum.

Some of the questions we will discuss are:

  • How does poverty relate to social justice in a postcolonial context?
  • What are the links, in fictional representations of poverty and the poor, between poverty and factors such as age, disability, gender and ethnicity?
  • How is poverty linked to, and how is it separated from, questions of social class?
  • What are the ethics of representing poverty? Who stages it for whom and to what effect?
  • What narrative and visual modes are appropriate to reflect the discrepancy of discursive power between the observer and the observed?
  • In which ways do representational practices and devices contest and/or reify stereotypical images of poverty and the poor?
  • How do changing conceptualisations of the subaltern impact on representations of poverty?
  • How do representations of subalternity relate to an aesthetics of the abject?
  • What are the potentials and limitations of representing poverty and the poor in different modes and media?
  • In which ways do visual and narrative traditions impact on the representation of poverty and the poor?
  • How can academic knowledge seek to represent the disenfranchised subject when that knowledge is itself implicated in the practices that construct this subject in the first place?
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