Ravenstein Winter School: Literature, (Neo)liberalism, and Public Culture

Amsterdam | 19-20-21 January 2022 
[NB: The event is planned as hybrid, but will move online if necessary]

Organizers: Prof. Dr. Maria Boletsi (Leiden University / University of Amsterdam), Dr. Marc Farrant (University of Amsterdam), Divya Nadkarni (University of Amsterdam), Dr. Marco de Waard (Amsterdam University College).

Confirmed keynotes:

  • Sarah de Mul (Open University NL), “Feminist and Postcolonial Artistic Responses to Burnout Culture”
  • Rachel Greenwald Smith (Saint Louis University), “Compromise: The Aesthetics of Liberalism and Liberal Aesthetic”
  • Pieter Vermeulen (KU Leuven), “Swarms, Trees, Fungi, Markets, and Other Fictions of Spontaneous Order”
  • Johannes Völz (Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main), “The Post-Liberal Aesthetic, or: Can Literary Studies Help Unsettle Polarization?”

Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access.

Credits: 5-6ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

Registration for the event will open November 15, 2021
PLEASE NOTE: When registering, please let us know your study programme and potential research interests.

Against the rapidly accelerating ravages of neoliberalism across the globe, the term “liberal” has, more than ever, come to be contested in public debate. Yet the idea of the novel as a “liberal” genre – dating to the heyday of nineteenth-century realism – persists, even as it may (at times) struggle to break free of its Western heritage. In the effort to imagine alternative forms of social organization and political community beyond an individualist ontology, and to come to terms with new modes of reading and critique beyond the neoliberal imprint, fiction writers are developing modes of expression that innovatively negotiate continuities with older forms and literary traditions – precisely as they seek to respond to what is new. In tracking and mapping the new forms of literary expression and practices of critique that are emerging in and for (late, neo,- or post-)liberal times, this winter school aims to hold the different meanings of “liberal” – indeed, the full spectrum – in play: from political and economic (neo-)liberalism, on the one hand, to literary or aesthetic liberalism (especially in the context of old and new realisms in the novel) on the other, while also making room for decolonial and critical race approaches.

The winter school will focus on the kinship between the novel and its liberal heritage along two theoretical axes: the question of critique (in theory and practice) and the question of political community in the public sphere. Revisiting the valence of critique today, in proclaimed “post-critical” times, the school seeks to explore new critical grammars to address the challenges of our neoliberal “now,” including the shrinking of public space, rising inequality, the so-called culture wars, and the polarization of discourse in contemporary politics of language. Concerning the question of publicness, it seeks to examine how contemporary literatures across the globe represent, negotiate, or otherwise respond to tensions and contradictions at work in today’s public spheres – seen, for instance, in terms of new forms of protest and contestation around post-truth politics, putatively “liberal” notions of freedom of speech and expression, and the challenges posed to public assembly in times of a global pandemic. Insofar as today’s public spheres are being hollowed out by neoliberal dynamics of depoliticization, what new possibilities for political speech and action are being created, proposed, or (re)imagined in literary writing? And what function or role (if any) is being played in this by the “liberal” as a site of discursive contestation and a persistent historical referent?

Topics we will discuss include:

  • Literature (esp. the novel) and liberalism (cf. Nancy Armstrong, 2005: Amanda Anderson, 2011)
  • Neoliberalism, late liberalism, postliberalism
  • Literature and public culture, public spaces, the commons
  • Critique and postcritique
  • Politics of language, speech acts, identity, and community in contemporary cultural texts
  • The “contemporary” in literature, alternative temporalities, futurity
  • Literary responses to contemporary challenges (the pandemic, post-truth, environmental destruction)
  • Decolonial and critical race approaches to liberalism and literature

More details on the programme and assignments will follow soon.

This event is sponsored and co-organized by OSL with generous support of ASCA (Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis).



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