Hermes 2018 Summer School: Vulnerability

Hermes 2018 Summer School
University College London

For OSL PhD-candidates

18-22 June 2018
Italian Institute of Germanic Studies
Villa Sciarra-Wurts, Rome, Italy
Call for papers: Hermes 2018 Rome CfP

Invited Speakers
  • Giandomenico Iannetti (University College London)
  • Katherine Ibbett (University of Oxford)
  • Peter Leary (University College London)
  • Timothy Mathews (University College London)
  • Simona Micali (University of Siena)
  • Baldassare Pastore (University of Ferrara)
  • Ellen Sapega (University of Wisconsin-Madison) – tbc
General Information

University College London (UCL) is proud to be a founding member of the Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies, a long-standing collaboration of eleven doctoral schools in Belgium, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France, and the USA, with a proven record of international excellence in the field of Comparative Literary Studies. The Consortium’s annual summer school, hosted in turn by each partner institution, brings together specialists, delegates from the partner universities and 22 PhD students (two per university). Intensive training workshops and work-in-progress presentations focus on shared methodologies and themes and lead to the publication of an annual edited volume, published by UCL Press in the Comparative Literature and Culture series, co-edited by Prof. Timothy Mathews and Dr Florian Mussgnug. The 2018 edition of Hermes, jointly hosted by UCL and the Italian Institute of Germanic Studies in Rome [Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici], will take its timely topic from the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) ongoing research initiative for 2017-18: “Vulnerability”. We will explore the intrinsic ambivalence of this concept, which suggests both fragility and openness, and will pay attention to narratives of vulnerability but also to the ways in which texts and traditions may become vulnerable: to loss, censorship, editorial intervention, or interpretation. We will engage with shifting historical contexts and approach comparative studies as an opening to other fields of disciplinary inquiry, including neuroscience, which provides new perspectives on human perception and defence behaviour. Our philosophical and juridical understanding of vulnerability will be further advanced by the contribution of PRIN 2015 “Legal Entity and Vulnerability”, a large collaborative research initiative funded by the National Research Council of Italy.

Hermes aims to expand internationally collaborative research and research-based learning, and promotes international mobility and collaboration across Europe. Our summer school thus embraces the aims of the newly established UCL Rome Regional Partnership Fund, which facilitates and supports academic collaboration between UCL and institutional partners in Central Italy. We are delighted that this year’s summer school will be hosted in Rome and welcome this opportunity to open the Hermes network to the Italian doctoral schools associated with the Italian Institute of Germanic Studies.

Call for Contributions

Vulnerability, from the Latin vulnus (‘wound’), signifies a susceptibility to being wounded. It suggests both fragility and openness, and it is this ambivalence that we wish to explore.

Thinking about vulnerability often raises questions which are political and ethical in nature: who or what is vulnerable? What reactions does vulnerability provoke? What forms of responsibility does vulnerability entail? Vulnerability has been argued to be a defining characteristic of the human condition. The American philosopher Daniel Callahan writes that “we are as human beings intrinsically vulnerable. We are vulnerable to time and nature […] and we are vulnerable to each other”. Yet these vulnerabilities are shared not only by humans but also, for instance, by non-human animals. Indeed, the recognition that animals, too, are vulnerable is a key argument in animal rights. To recall a much-quoted phrase from Jeremy Bentham: “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

In literary studies, vulnerability can be approached from a number of different angles. It may concern characters and situations, and encourage us to reconsider literary expressions of suffering and woundedness on the level of plot, theme, and characterization. Then again, texts themselves may also be vulnerable: to loss, censorship, editorial intervention, or interpretation. How is a text made vulnerable by its readers and how are readers made vulnerable by certain texts?

In the context of this conference we want to explore the specific contributions that comparative literature can make to vulnerability studies. A comparative approach encourages us to consider whether vulnerability has a distinct form in literature from different times and different places. It also benefits from a recognition of the importance of other disciplines — philosophy, psychoanalysis, neuroscience inter alia — in understanding discourses of vulnerability. Finally, we propose that comparative literature might itself be understood to be defined by its own vulnerability, in the two senses of the term introduced earlier: fragility and openness. Like comparative literature, vulnerability is at heart a mode and form of relationality.

We welcome abstracts (150 words) related — but not limited — to the areas listed below. Each speaker will be allocated 20 minutes to give their paper. In addition to presenting on their own work and areas of expertise, speakers may wish in their papers to reflect on methodological questions raised by the general topic of vulnerability.

  • Figurations of vulnerability, in literature, art, humanitarian discourse, politics and poetics
  • The constitution/construction and representation of vulnerable subjects and groups, regions, languages, populations or communities
  • The vulnerability of text(s) and writing
  • The instrumentalizations of vulnerability in human rights discourse, humanitarian studies, refugee studies, public policy and politics
  • Vulnerability and victimhood: ethics, values, agency and moral judgement
  • Vulnerability and violence: epistemic, actual and strategic
  • The relationship of ‘vulnerability’ to ‘precarity’, ‘fragility’ or ‘risk’
  • Vulnerable forms: genres, mediums, practices, objects, structures, materials, modes of being, life-worlds
  • The gendering/ageing/sexing of vulnerability: vulnerability and intersectionality
  • Vulnerability and visibility, vulnerability and difference, vulnerability as image
  • Vulnerability and the law, discourses of protection, care and control, compassion and support
  • Vulnerability, performance and performativity
  • Vulnerability and power, vulnerability and strength/resilience
  • Comparative literature as a vulnerable discipline

Abstracts of no more than 150 words, accompanied by a short biographical presentation of similar length should be submitted by email to j. [and] by Monday, 5th March 2018.

Practical Information

Accommodation for delegates, speakers and student participants will be provided for four nights (18th June to 22nd June 2018) at Villa Maria Guest House, in the immediate proximity of Villa Sciarra-Wurts and within easy walking distance from the vibrant neighbourhood of Trastevere and the historical centre of Rome. Students will be hosted in shared double rooms with en suite bathrooms.

A conference fee of EUR 270.00 per participant, to be paid to the organisers on arrival, will include participation, accommodation, lunch on four days, conference dinner, and a guided walking tour of Rome.

Participants are requested to make their own travel arrangements. Please see here information on how to reach Villa Maria Guest House. In case of dietary or other special needs, please contact the organisers at your earliest convenience, at

Organising Committee
  • Florian Mussgnug (UCL)
  • Jennifer Rushworth (UCL)
  • Roberta Ascarelli (IIGS)
  • Lucia Corso (Enna)
  • Faculty of Arts and Humanities, UCL
  • PRIN “Legal Entity and Vulnerability”
  • University of Enna Kore
  • Italian Institute of Germanic Studies