Event Date/Time: Oct 18, 2007
Abstract Submission Date: Jan 25, 2008
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Tenth Annual Graduate Student Research Conference
Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE/UT

Can the Subaltern Speak?
On Otherness and its Consequences

“What I am calling for, against either universalism or cultural relativism, is politics that is premised on closer encounters, on encounters with those who are other than 'the other' or 'the stranger' […]. Such a politics based on encounters between other others is one bound up with responsibility - with recognising that (labouring) relations between others are always constitutive of the possibility of either speaking or not speaking. […] It is the work that needs to be done to get closer to others in a way that does not appropriate their labour as ‘my labour’, or their talk as ‘my talk’, that makes possible a different form of collective politics. The 'we' of such a collective politics is what must be worked for, rather than being the foundation of our collective work.” (Sarah Ahmed, 2000)

“The Other does not affect us as what must be surmounted, enveloped, dominated, but as other, independent of us: behind every relation we could sustain with [her], an absolute upsurge. It is this way of welcoming an absolute existent that we discover in justice and injustice, and that discourse, essentially teaching, effectuates. The term welcome of the Other expresses a simultaneity of activity and passivity which places the relation with the other outside of the dichotomies valid for things: the a priori and the a posteriori, activity and passivity.” (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961)

Saturday, March 29th, 2008 – 8:30am to 5:30pm

“Our” immediate contemplation finds its origins nestled within Gayatri Spivak’s evocative and invaluably pertinent inquiry, “…can the subaltern speak?...”. The hope for this encounter, both academically theoretical in tenor and politically charged under the specter of praxis, is that we might convene on the notion of an Otherness as a site for critical and ethical socio-political, literary, and cultural exploration. In contemporary times, there have been an overwhelming slew of conversations and calls, important and necessary nonetheless, that bequeath us to consider “something” or the other (not the Other, just “something else”) under the rubrics of title headings, such as, “…in the Time of Empire”, “…in an Age of Empire”, or “…under the Specter of Empire”. While considerations of Empire and how it seeps through, manifests itself, and manipulates the everyday lives of people, both locally and globally, are essential for our continued scrutiny, and while it is difficult and impossible for us to ignore the ways in which Empire affects subjectivity and subject formation, determines it, negotiates it, and manufactures it, something is lost, perhaps, and this “something else”, might be the notion of an Other. The imperative and desire, here, is thus to relocate the global dialogue and discourse about and from Empire, without ignoring its affectations on the large scale materiality of everyday existence, to this “elsewhere space” that attends to the narrative of an Other. This call is, thus, to think both globally and locally, both in the context of political mobilization and cultural production. This is not a jest against revolutionary theory or revolution per say, but a hopeful suggestion that perhaps allows “us” to consider that that which can be called “revolution” resides with and originates from the Other’s, at present and perhaps always already, inaudible voice.

Moving into the realm of the inaudibility of the Other’s voice, “we” encounter the question of presentation, re-presentation, and narration. Those of us in the Humanities and Social Sciences, often times, lay claims on the notion that academic privilege enables us to represent the Other in all her/his bodily totality, as a way in which justice can be inscribed, served and handed out piecewise through the moment of representing her/his vulnerability. But, what about the incommensurable possibility that this voice of the Other is always and already impossible to represent? What would it mean for representation when representation is marked by an ethical failure on the part of our selves, thinkers, writers, activists, and artists? How can “we” come to terms with this ethical failure toward representing? Perhaps, the desire might be to think of this failure as not a failure on our part as cultural producers or knowledge seekers, but rather as being a generative and productive tension that allows us to be more ethical in the moment of narrating the Other through our inscriptive and prescriptive practices. Knowledge, then, might be considered as something ethical that comes into being from this pre-acknowledged possibility of and for failure. This is not to say that “we” are to remain politically passive and not represent at all, or to take the road already taken of representing in manners, both problematic and violently elusive, but rather to come to representation as an on-going attempt in understanding both ourselves and others, and seeing this failure, claiming witness to it, on the grounds of a continual ethics in the practice of representation itself. Ethics, justice, equity, politics – as all originating from the impossibility to absolutely represent, to represent in the absolute. The failure is not a failure per say then, but the origins of a possible ethical way to relate to an Other, to see in this the beginnings of a community, a collectivity, and a sociality that comes to be, allows the “coming-to-be” to occur, in the mutual telling and re-telling of one another’s inaudible narratives.

It is with these concerns and considerations in mind that the Graduate Student Conference Committee of the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto invites you to submit either single paper or panel presentations on the broad topic of Otherness and its relation to cultural representation, politics, ethics, and everyday lived experience. The Committee will consider some of the following expansive spaces of inquiry as relevant to the overarching concerns of the conference, but, please also note that the list below is by no means an exhaustive or conclusive one:

• Otherness and/in Cultural Representation
• Explorations of Otherness in Cultural Production
• Otherness in Space, Place, and Time
• Otherness and Racial Subjectivity
• Otherness and the Engendering of Gender
• Otherness in Queer Theory
• Otherness and Bodily Subjectivity in Critical Disability Studies
• The Labour of the Classed Other in a time of Capital
• Gaze, Discourse, and the Other – Anthropology and Sociology Revisited
• Otherness and the Body, both proper and general
• Writing Otherness in Literature and the Literary
• Otherness and Political Mobilization
• Otherness in the concept of the Human
• Ethics and the Other
• The Philosophical Other
• On the Voice of the Other and the Encounter
• Memory, History, Trauma, and Otherness
• Otherness and the possibility of/for the Social
• Theorizing Others
• Otherness and Violence
• Annihilation of the Self – The Other and Responsibility
• The Other at the Borders of the Nation-State
• The Global Other in the Context of the Diaspora
• Otherness, Performance, and Performativity
• Otherness and Psychoanalysis

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to seseconference@oise.utoronto.ca by Friday, January 25, 2008.
Graduate students from various disciplines, including but not limited to, Comparative Literature, Sociology, Philosophy, Political Science, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Education, History, and other fields within the realm of the Humanities and the Social Sciences are highly encouraged to apply. Please observe the following procedures to enable blind peer-review:
1) Attach a short biographical note on a separate page.
2) Do not include your name on the same page as the abstract.
3) Type “abstract” in the subject line of your email.
Papers may be given in English or French, with citations in any language.

Ahmed, S. (2000). Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. London: Routledge.
Levinas, E. (1961). Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA : Duquense University Press.
Spivak. G C. (1988). Can the Subaltern Speak ?: Speculations on Widow Sacrifice. In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. (C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, Eds.) Chicago, IL : University of Illinois Press.

(This “Call for Papers” was written by Ricky Varghese and edited/amended by the Conference Committee)

Graduate Student Conference Committee (2007-2008)
Ricky Varghese (Ph.D. candidate, Committee Chair)
Anna Kim (PhD. candidate)
Laura Thrasher (Ph.D. candidate)
Omisoore Dryden (Ph.D. candidate),
Hannah Dyer (M.A. candidate)
Angela Robinson (M.A. candidate)