cfp: transgressing racial boundaries, cape town


Transgressing Racial Boundaries, 1857 to the Present Day

Institute for Humanities in Africa

University of Cape Town

28-29 November 2014

For a long time imperial historians writing on relationships that transgressed racial boundaries wrote almost exclusively of sex. More recently this work has started to open onto wider concerns, framed around the family, intimacy, emotions and affect. This symposium aims to think in new ways about relationships that cross racial bounds. These relationships were – variously – pragmatic and political, transactional, instrumental and, sometimes, deeply emotionally entwined. Most often, they combined elements of all of these. Almost always they contained conflict, not least because they were liable to stretch or subvert the same imperial or colonial ideologies from which they were produced.  Sometimes these relationships were long lived; at others they were so fleeting they can scarcely be described as relationships at all.

We welcome contributions that adopt counter-intuitive approaches to the relational history of race and empire – from any part of the imperial and post-imperial British world. Our starting point is 1857, the year of the Indian rebellion when, according to a well-worn historical narrative, a new and deepening racial consciousness began to take hold amongst Britons both at home and abroad. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, so this story goes, racial borders were embryonic and deeply porous. Europeans ‘went native’ with frequency and élan. But from the mid-nineteenth century, racial attitudes became more entrenched. Boundaries hardened. Distance and difference separated citizen from subject, white from black.  This symposium looks to complicate this linear narrative by considering the kinds of human contact that can exist within social landscapes forged from empire and its attendant racial codes. By working through the period of decolonisation, we hope to provide new opportunities for rethinking aspects of continuity and change across the colonial/postcolonial  divide.

We are particularly interested in work that speaks to the following themes:

• Emotional currencies: Besides fear and loathing, what was the emotional content of relations between European ‘colonisers’ and those they claimed to rule? What does it do to talk of love combined with hate or of kindness as an ancillary to colonial domination?  How did racial theory convert to racial practice? And what kinds of visceral energy did race possess?

• Disaggregating race:  colonial encounters were configured differently according to historical context and social locale.  What kinds of contacts developed during war-time, for example, as opposed to during peace? How did economic depression or flux shape the nature of cross-racial intimacies? And how can we adequately capture the porosity of racial borders that were themselves in constant motion?

• Shifting boundaries: How did changing racial ideologies alter the ways in which boundary-transgression was perceived and acted upon? To what extent did the very idea of transgression dissolve during decolonisation?  And how does a focus on race-as-practice advance existing understandings of imperial ideology during the long imperial decline?

To enter a proposal, please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a 1-page CV to Will Jackson  before 1 July 2014. Accepted papers will be notified by 15 July 2014.

The symposium forms part of a collaboration between the School of History at the University of Leeds, the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA). It is enabled by support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and HUMA

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