Call for Papers | Heroes and Things

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on September 17, 2014

Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms
Transformations and Conjunctures from Antiquity to the Modern Day

Freiburg, 19–20 Nov 2015

Proposals due by 15 November 2014

The discussion in history and the cultural sciences usually views heroic figures and their deeds as manifestations of human autonomy and agency. The planned conference confronts this viewpoint with the question of how the heroic is intertwined with material objects across various epochs and cultures. The goal is to gain a new perspective on assumptions concerning heroic agency and inquire into the relevance of current theoretical approaches (such as actor network theory, assemblage theory, new materialism) for discussions on the heroic as well as on the challenge the heroic presents for the material turn.

By virtue of their physicality, heroic figures themselves have a material dimension that influences their actions. But the capacity for heroic agency is also linked to the world of things and determined in a positive and a negative sense by artefacts and other objects, technologies, and media as well as their structures. The basic thesis of the conference is that the capacity for heroic agency manifests itself in charged assemblages of human and nonhuman protagonists, in the complex interactions between heroic figures and the influence of things they make use of, take action against, or even fuse with: from Hercules’ club to “machine heroes.” The conference invites papers focused on history, society, aesthetics, and the media that explore the following central aspects of this premise:

1) Things as conditions, extensions, and potentialisations of heroic agency: How dependent are heroic figures on their material attributes (weapons, armour, other implements)? Are things what make the hero into a hero in the first place? What material attributes are associated with the charisma of heroic figures? How and under what conditions do things and technologies serve to extend or augment the capacity for heroic agency? When and how do such extensions become catalysts for characterising the heroic? Is it possible to make out historical trends for such processes?

2) Things as resistance to and limitation of heroic agency: Under what circumstances are the possibilities of heroic agency limited by material circumstances? What natural objects or artefacts must heroes clash with to prove their exceptional abilities? What does it mean when heroes are confronted with the agency of artefacts or natural objects? How do technological and scientific innovations affect the possibilities of heroic agency (e.g., weapons of mass destruction or surveillance technologies that limit autonomous agency)? Which technologies tend to promote individual heroism and which collective heroism? Under what social or political conditions did or does this happen? Can heroism be paid for or rewarded by material means?

3) Things as modifications, optimisations, or substitutions of the hero’s body: How does the materiality of the hero’s own body limit his or her capacity for agency, and how is it possible to compensate for this limitation through modification of the hero’s body? How far do imagination and reality go in this respect? When and with what consequences for our understanding of the heroic does the body of the hero finally itself become a thing (machine heroes, cyborgisation) and at what point is the hero substituted entirely by things (drones instead of soldiers)?

4) Things as heroes: Can nonhuman agency be heroised or become the hero’s antagonist? Under what circumstances and with what intentions are things themselves heroised in reality or in the imagination?

The conference will be held in English and German (with translations).

Please send your abstract of up to 300 words by 15 November 2014 to info@sfb948.uni-freiburg.de.

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