An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference in Celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture at Justus Liebig University, Giessen, to be held on 28-30 April 2016, with Keynote Lectures by Prof. Mita Banerjee (Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz) and Prof. Nicholas Brown (University of Illinois, Chicago).

The aim of this conference is to investigate the implications of sustainability as a concept used in the study of culture. Since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, there have been calls for sustainable development in almost every facet of life, but what assumptions do we make about the past and the present when we attempt to sustain something for the future? Used in a cultural context, the concept of sustainability often invokes the ideas of stewardship and heritage, of protecting and preserving values, traditions and works of art, alongside notions of change and development. It thus acquires a complex temporal dimension, which combines progressive elements with a kind of nostalgia (in the sense of ‘homesickness’, ‘longing’)—the desire to sustain past values and conditions for future generations. Positing this potentially nostalgic element within the culture of sustainability, we invite contributions which explore this entanglement from a variety of humanities and social science perspectives.

Another way to frame this debate is to consider cultural constructions of a sustainable present as offering a simultaneous link to a past worth preserving and a future worth realizing. As in the quote from Eliot (above), the sustainable present becomes the locus/moment in which both notions overlap: we are forced to position ourselves, both in relation to what we have been and to what we are becoming. The focus of this conference is twofold: firstly, to explore how the concept of sustainability draws on these potentially nostalgic cultural constructions of the present (including historical ‘presents’). Secondly, we aim to explore the evaluative aspect of such constructions of the past and the future. In particular, we are keen to analyze how they are used to establish perceptions of ‘nature,’ ‘reality’, or ‘facts’ in the present, and to answer the question: how do we prioritize which aspects of culture should be sustained, and which should give way to ‘progress’, ‘change’, or ‘development’?

We welcome papers from various disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, as well as interdisciplinary contributions. Thematic emphases may be related, but are not necessarily limited, to the following themes:

  • anthropocentrism and nostalgic views of the natural world as a ‘home’ for humanity
  • biocentrism and nostalgic perspectives of the natural world as a sacred space
  • (post-)humanist constructions of ‘human nature’ in historical narratives and utopias/dystopias, especially with regard to the role of technology
  • embodied sustainability, the role of aesthetics and sensorial perception in discussions of sustaining the (human) body and/or mind
  • ecological, economic and cultural perspectives on the move from ‘conservation’ to (and beyond) ‘sustainability’
  • nostalgic constructions of nature and landscape in literature and the arts (e.g. Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism)
  • archival and museological perspectives on stewardship, conservation, heritage, curatorship and the cluster of related terms
  • the importance of (post-)colonialism, race, class, gender and disability in academic and non-academic discussions of sustainability

This two-day conference is being hosted by the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) at Justus Liebig University, Giessen (Germany). It is organized by Research Areas 1 (Cultural Memory Studies), 2 (Cultural Narratologies), 3 (Cultural Transformation and Performativity Studies), 4 (Visual and Material Culture), 6 (Cultural Identities), and the Working Group (AG) OIKOS.

Abstracts (in English) should range up to 300 words. In addition, please send a short biography (continuous text, no bullet points, up to 150 words). Please submit both your abstract and your short biography to fwiw[at] Participants will be notified whether or not their abstracts have been accepted by 15 January 2016and will be invited to register by 15 March 2016. There is no conference fee, though speakers will need to arrange their accommodation.