Call for Papers

By many accounts, we are now living on a “damaged planet” (Tsing et al), and by the same token we are damaged as well. This “we” encompasses all earthly life forms, from animals and plants, the soil and natural elements, human beings, to various organisms invisible to the human eye. Environmental degradation and toxification, species depletion, dwindling biodiversity, threatened cultural knowledge and languages, and even recent pandemics are but a few examples of the injuries and losses sustained by earthlings. Arguably, these dynamics of risk, endangerment, and extinction have always been an intricate part of life, and thereby an incentive for survival. Yet, the accelerating pace and global scale of the damage in today’s era, which some call the “Anthropocene,” has sparked up much wider concerns, as human species will be no exception to the series of mass extinctions lying ahead. What kind of remains will human/non-human cultures and natures leave behind for some future dominant subject to discover (Pratt G170)? What will these ruins tell about all those that are gone?

Prefiguring such future excavations, the injured world we currently live in is already saturated with “absences/presences,” or “ghosts,” i.e. “the vestiges and signs of past ways of life still charged in the present” (Gan et al G1). Turning to Latin etymology, somebody or something that is “absent” does not occupy the same space as a given group: they are “away.” For millennia, human beings have devised ways to keep those absences integrated within day-to-day life and to preserve their memory for posterity. Absences are thus also presences in the sense that these entities do not disappear completely. Conversely, the presence of those that remain encodes the emptiness left by the departed: the survivors’ adaptation would not have taken place without the absence of their former “companion species” (Haraway; see Gan et al). They may also continue to perform their role in a collaborative task or behaviour, an enduring reflex through which the departed is made present again.

Thus, the constant absence/presence interplay implies a tense, dynamic interrelation between visibility and invisibility. A non-exhaustive list of such remains, vestiges, or “ghosts” and of the practices engendering them can include:

  • All forms of environmental exploitation (e.g. deforestation and the paper industry)
  • Species extinction, including humankind’s
  • Toxification of the soil and bodies
  • Waste, the discarded, and their politics
  • Physical and psychological wounding: disease, virus, physical disability, after-effects
  • Endangered traditional cultures, knowledges, and languages of the so-called “minorities”
  • Distancing measures and digital means of communication, especially videoconferences
  • Online teaching (e.g. the “camera-off syndrome” of some students)

On the occasion the BAAHE 2021 conference, we invite contributions that reflect on contemporary instances of absences/presences, either in nature, culture, or both, and on the possible means of voicing, narrating, and representing them in a wide sense. To paraphrase Donna Haraway, we have to live with the damage and the uncanny absence/presences it creates: “staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings” (Staying 1). In an echo of Mary Louise Pratt’s vision of the Anthropocene as a concept, absences/presences “enable reflection” on “how to live” this complex moment (Pratt G170). If this last question is “inseparable from the question of how to write” the damage (170), the issue of how to express various forms of absences/presences, or how to let their voice emerge, should be considered too. These strategies ultimately aim at affirming endurance against the forces of extinction, construed as “a breakdown of coordinations” (Gan et al G5), as well as foster an ethics of care, both pragmatically and imaginatively, for our world at risk (Heise).

In addition to the cross-disciplinary issues outlined above, specific questions and answers according to disciplines can be considered:

Literary and cultural studies: To what extent can we narrate life forms, cultures or languages which are less or no longer visible, both thematically and aesthetically? Is it humankind’s responsibility to give them a voice? What are the implications for the human writer’s own voice and agency? Can (eco)narratology (James & Morel) and ecopoetics (Rigby) offer possible strategies? Does the choice of medium, writing modes, and genres matter? How, in the face of threat and extinction, do texts balance humans’ process of “self-understanding” with “forms of multispecies justice and multispecies cosmopolitanism” (Heise 6)? To what extent can we – as a human collective or individual – imagine our own absence? What role do trauma and affect play in this scenario of planetary damage (Heholt & Downing; Kaplan; Weik von Mossner)? What cultural and ideological discourses underlie the representations of absences/presences and of damage in general? To what degree do instances of absences/presences reinforce either a postcolonial or decolonizing project or, on the contrary, a neo-colonial way of living in the world? How much visibility have gender and cultural “minorities” gained on today’s political and artistic scenes and what are current and future challenges?

Linguistics: Do today’s health and ecological crises go hand in hand with a crisis in/of language, especially with regard to communicating the damage? How are crises which are not readily visible or fathomable (e.g. remote ecological disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change) both affecting and affected by our discursive representation of them, in terms of linguistic structures and rhetorical devices for instance (Anand; Hudson; Zhang & Li)? In human interactions, is the interlocutor’s physicality or visual presence necessary to ensure smooth, productive communicative acts? How are the latter impacted and/or re-assessed in online contexts where AI and chatbot software replace the human contact person? What insights can gesture studies and semiotics (along with eco- and bio-semiotics) bring to these debates? In terms of socio-linguistics and linguistic typology, what is the current state of “language endangerment”? How present/absent are vernacular Englishes, world Englishes, and other “non-standard” linguistic varieties today? In an effort to address inequitable under-representation, what research, teaching, and institutional strategies can potentially tend both towards a “revitalization/reclamation” of “minoritized” languages and their users (Charity Hudley et al e210) as well as towards an “environment of greater inclusiveness” (Montoya e236)? 

Translation studies: Is the human translator, or “bio-translator” (Loock), a species at risk in today’s era of automated translation? Can the human and machine translators co-exist? How are the translating arts, and by extension one’s perception and relation to language, influenced by this specific absence/presence tension? Do the concepts and realities of our “damaged planet,” along with the issues delineated above, translate equally in various languages?





Submission guidelines:

Please send your abstracts (300 words) to Jessica.Maufort@ulb.be and Marc.Maufort@ulb.be by 1st September 2021 (extended deadline). Please also specify in the abstract whether you will be presenting a paper in the fields of literature, cultural studies, linguistics, or translation studies, or a combination of them. Acceptance notification will be sent by 15th September 2021.

Should you have any question, please feel free to contact the conference convenors (email addresses as above).

Works Cited:

Anand, Madhur. “Language matters when the Earth is in the midst of a climate crisis.” The Conversation. 6 July 2019. https://theconversation.com/language-matters-when-the-earth-is-in-the-midst-of-a-climate-crisis-117796 Accessed 21 March 2021.

Charity Hudley, Anne H. et al. “Toward racial justice in linguistics: Interdisciplinary insights into theorizing race in the discipline and diversifying the profession.” Language 96.4 (2020): e200-e235. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/lan.2020.0074.

Gan, Elaine et al. “Introduction: Haunted Landscapes of the Anthropocene.” In Tsing et al. G1-14.

Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke UP, 2016.

—. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm P, 2015 [2003].

Heholt, Ruth and Niamh Downing, eds. Haunted Landscapes. Super-Nature and the Environment. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Heise, Ursula K. Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meaning of Endangered Species. Chicago UP, 2016.

Hudson, Mark J. “Socio-Ecological Resilience and Language Dynamics: An Adaptive Cycle Model of Long-Term Language Change.” Journal of Language Evolution 4.1 (Jan 2019): 19–27. https://doi.org/10.1093/jole/lzy008 Accessed 21 March 2021.

James, Erin and Eric Morel, eds. Environment and Narrative. New Directions in Econarratology. Columbus: Ohio UP, 2020.

Kaplan, E. Ann. Climate Trauma. Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2016.

Loock, Rudy. « La plus-value de la biotraduction face à la machine : Le nouveau défi des formations aux métiers de la traduction. » Special issue : « La formation à l’honneur. »  Traduire 241 (2019): 54-65. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02424964

Montoya, Ignacio L. “Enabling excellence and racial justice in universities by addressing structural obstacles to work by and with people from racially minoritized communities: Response to Charity Hudley et al.” Language 96.4 (2020): e236-e246. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/lan.2020.0075.

Pratt, Marie Louise. “Coda: Concept and Chronotope.” In Tsing et al. G169-74.

Rigby, Kate. Reclaiming Romanticism: Towards an Ecopoetics of Decolonization. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.

Tsing, Anna, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt, eds. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2017.

Weik von Mossner, Alexa, Affective Ecologies: Empathy, Emotion and Environmental Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2017. Zhang, Jie and Jia Li, eds. “Special Issue: Linguistic Diversity in a Time of Crisis: Language Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Multilingua 39.5 (2020) https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2020-0136 Accessed 21 March 2021.

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