CFP: After Socialism: Forgotten Legacies and Possible Futures in Africa and Beyond (October 13-14, 2017, Bayreuth)

For readers interested in global histories of socialism and development, see this call for papers for a conference to be held from October 13-14, 2017 at the University of Bayreuth:

After years of neglect, a burgeoning scholarship has recently emerged on African socialism, Second-Third World relations, anti-colonial radicalism, and state-directed modernization. This new research turn has productively revisited the history of socialism in the postcolonial world from various angles to reassess its historical dimensions and significance.

This workshop builds on this scholarship with the aim of pushing this broad investigation further. We seek to explore the intellectual transformations that have occurred since the end of “scientific”, “African” or “Arab” socialisms—political ideologies that were once confident, but have since faded. Though neither a universal red line nor a mono-causal explanation exists, this decline gained momentum during the 1980s through growing disillusionment with socialist experiments and the New International Economic Order, the promising luster of East Asian economic achievements, China’s gradual turn to capitalism, and, finally, the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union, which dealt the strongest blow. This demise of a socialist utopianism left a big void. And yet the socialist option has remained an approach and strategy at the grassroots level, as seen in popular movements in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia against growing discontent over forms of ultra-nationalism and global inequality.

In light of these past and present considerations, the workshop intends to address two sets of questions.

The first aims to study how political actors, social groups, intellectuals, and artists experienced these developments during the Cold War period, reacted to their demise, and, at times, reinvented themselves after the end of the Cold War. We are particularly interested in investigating conversions from socialism to new futures or alternative utopias, including the options of religion, human rights, liberal/social democracy, and more broadly within the field of culture. We seek to understand these new rationales as embedded in particular historical settings. What new ideas and futures that filled the void of socialism and how did they relate to it? And how did socialism – for some a political religion, for others a secular master narrative – pave the way for what came next? How were these shifts reflected in the academia, the media, literature, and arts? Furthermore, we seek to examine whether the demise of forward-looking, future-oriented political ideologies, like socialism, fostered a change in time regimes and temporal orders in a broader sense.

For instance, did linear notions of time lose currency? Or did they remain in force, but geared toward another “end of history”? Was the space of the future and its horizon of expectations diminished in favor of the present, or of the past? To what extent were these changes in time regimes transnational or a global phenomenon? Beyond these questions related to temporal orders, we are also interested in concurrent geographical orders (respatializations) triggered by these wide-ranging processes.

A second set of questions focuses on the afterlives of socialism. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, this component of the workshop intends to reflect on the broader impact of the Revolution through Third World socialisms. Despite later disillusionment, Third World socialisms left an important and sometimes unexpected legacy. The democratic movement, Le balai citoyen, which brought down the corrupt government of Burkina Faso in 2014, drew inspiration from the socialist icon of Thomas Sankara. The Kurdish fight for democratic federalism in the Middle East and for the emancipation of women, which has historically drawn and still draws on Leninism, is another important example. Besides these political afterlives in social and national liberation movements, we encourage participating scholars to think of other connections and their complex legacies within present-day struggles for democracy and human rights, education and economic justice, as well as in the realm of popular culture, literature and arts. The question of socialist legacies and representation in current political, social, and cultural movements is a central topic, be it as fragmented symbols, such as the red beret in South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters party, or as direct reference to political icons such as Samora Machel and the usage of his speeches as mobile ring tone.

Following the path of our fellow historians and cultural scientists of Sudan (South Atlantic Quarterly 109, 2010), we wish to pursue the question: “What’s Left of the Left?”.

Practical information – Calendar

Abstracts (max. 500 words) and full papers (8,000-10,000 words including references) may be submitted both in English and in French to aftersocialism@yahoo.com. The workshop language will be English. The papers will be published in a special volume in the first half of 2018. Accommodation and travel costs will be covered (tickets may exceptionally be booked) by the Bayreuth Academy for Advanced African Studies.

Abstracts (max. 500 words, in English or in French) should be emailed to aftersocialism@yahoo.com by April 30 . Accommodation and travel costs will be covered by the Bayreuth Academy for Advanced African Studies.

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