Call for Papers: ‘Have you Heard…? Navigating the Interstices Between Public and Private Knowledge’, deadline 15 February 2016

Have you Heard…?

Navigating the Interstices Between Public and Private Knowledge

The annual MHRA Conference on Friday 14 October 2016

 at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU

Keynote speakers: Professor Alison Sinclair (University of Cambridge) and Dr Filippo de Vivo (Birkbeck College, University of London)

One of the things that makes us human is language, both in the power of speech, and the production of written texts. How do ideas and opinions get into the public domain, and what is the nature of the sometimes fragile boundary between public and private?  The aim of this conference is to explore the power and vicissitudes of the transmission of knowledge, and of unofficial modes of communication.  Its intention is to go beyond the corpus of public elite literature and to bring into consideration the transmission of knowledge in a broad range of forms, including the trivial and ephemeral (as in pamphlets, chapbooks, street literature and newspapers). This range of material allows us to explore the cultural imaginary in ways that are many, various and erratically policed.  What we choose to suppress in terms of public knowledge may well be as significant as what we choose to propagate. This interdisciplinary conference aims to consider the interactions between public and private knowledge, and the ambiguous, unofficial space that lies between.

We invite proposals covering a range of periods (from the medieval and early-modern to the twenty-first century) and across different national contexts (including French-, Hispanic-, Germanic-, Italian-, Slavonic- and English-speaking cultures).  We hope to attract scholars working in different fields (Modern Languages, English studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural History, Film and Media studies and Digital Humanities, Performance and Reception History, History of the Book and of Print Culture, and others).  Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome.


Topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Unofficial production and consumption:  peddling, trafficking, barter
  • Purposeful or purposeless dissemination of news, ideas, opinion, images
  • Construction, regulation, censorship: public opinion, the cultural imaginary
  • Gossip, rumour and the power of hearsay
  • Gender and power in public and private knowledge
  • Private vs published materials: correspondences, diaries, the ‘hidden’ archive
  • Theorising the ‘unofficial’ (theorists might include, but are not limited to: Bakhtin, Bourdieu, Habermas, Foucault, Simmel, de Certeau)
  • Questions of power and pleasure in the reception and/or dissemination of knowledge

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers.  Please send your abstract – of no more than 250 words – accompanied by a short biographical statement on the same page, to by 15 February 2016.

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