Re-Sounding Voices: Women, Silence, and the Production of Knowledge (CFP 15th January, Conference 8th March)

Great Books of the Western World, via Wikimedia Commons, reproduced under CC-BY-SA-2.0.
Great Books of the Western World, via Wikimedia Commons, reproduced under CC-BY-SA-2.0.

This one-day conference on 8th March will celebrate International Women’s Day 2016 by considering the ways in which women have been marginalised in the canon of arts, sciences, and the teaching syllabus. Please submit 300 word abstracts by 15th January 2016. This is the third Durham University conference to mark International Women’s Day, following the success of Literary Dolls and 50 Years of Sexism: What Next?

The celebrated history of the sciences and arts is dominated by the voices of great men, whereas the voices of women have often been marginalised. While much has been done to redress this imbalance, the sound of women’s voices is still not as prevalent as that of their male colleagues and counterparts. Not only does a male-dominated canon risk the erasure of the contributions made by women, it perpetuates gender injustice—a teaching syllabus populated by men deprives young women aspirants of role models and sends them a clear message: this is not for you. A history of silenced women contributes to the silencing of women now and in the future.

How can we break out of this oppressive cycle? This conference explores this question under four broad themes: silencing; women in parenthesis; covert contributions; and identity and disavowal. We invite abstracts from any discipline or perspective that address themes related to any of the following topics and questions:

  • Silencing: what are the mechanisms through which women’s voices are silenced and their contributions and ideas erased or distorted? Do these mechanisms differ across subject area and period? How do the (putatively) self-reflexive norms and practices of academic disciplines perpetuate failures to see and appreciate the exclusion of women? Once we understand silencing and its effects, how should we respond, as historians, theorists, and women?
  • Women in parenthesis: why are there so few women accepted into ‘the canon’? Who are the women relegated to the footnotes and parentheses of their field? How can we recognise their contribution? Should women be put into the canon, or is the very idea of a ‘canon’ itself problematic?
  • Covert Contributions: Correspondents, editors, wives, sisters and mistresses: silenced women find other ways to speak, and their ideas may find their way into a discourse other than through ‘official’ channels. Who were the women correspondents of the men in the canon? Are there women editors whose work changed or shaped ideas we now associated solely with their male ‘authors’? Who were the wives, sisters, and mistresses of ‘great men’, and which of them made contributions which went beyond that of domestic and emotional support?
  • Identity and Disavowal: Sometimes women have forced their voice into a literature by adopting a male identity or by disavowing their female identity. Cases include adopting male pen names, performing masculine identity, distancing from female peers, erasing identity through anonymity, addressing topics within a male-defined discourses and interests, and avoiding solidarity with other women. Does work on stereotype threat suggest that these mechanisms might in fact be legitimate? Who are the women who have adopted these strategies to find a place in the canon? What harm have these practices perpetuated, in terms of silencing and marginalizing women? Or, on the other hand, are there cases where this fluidity of gender and identity has had a positive impact on women’s contributions?

Proposals for 20 minute papers should be sent to in the form of 300 word abstracts by 15thJanuary 2016. Please indicate which of the four themes your paper addresses.

The first announced keynote speaker is Katherine Cockin (Professor of English at Hull University). She will be speaking about A Pageant of Great Women, a women’s suffrage play directed by Edith Craig and performed all over Britain in 1909-12. Performances included 50-90 local women’s suffrage activists taking the roles of ‘great women’, brought onto the stage in silence as visible evidence of women’s achievements in the past. For news on further keynote speakers and other conference details as they are announced, follow the website.

This conference is supported by and in collaboration with the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities and the Department of Philosophy. It continues the tradition of International Women’s Day conferences established by Literary Dolls (2014) and 50 Years of Sexism: What Next? (2015), which were organised in conjunction with the Department of English Studies.

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