We hereby inform that due to unforeseen organizational circumstances the planned conference in Leuven has been canceled. The organizers apologize for any inconvenience this may cause to those interested in attending the conference.

CfP: Constructing a Collective European Imaginary (from the 1940s through the Present) (en français)

“The image, the imagined, the imaginary—these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in global cultural process:  the imagination as a social practice.” (Appadurai 1996: 31)

This conference is the final academic event in a series of scientific gatherings initiated by the Paris-based cultural association Lubliniana (holder of the 2008 Label of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue) and devoted to the construction of a collective European imaginary, from the late Middle Ages through the 21st century. While the previous editions of the project (Paris 2009, Lublin 2010, Gotha 2011) dealt extensively with cultural and artistic exchanges and interactions between the Roman, German, and Slavic parts of Europe throughout the early modern and the modern period (with particular attention to France, Germany, and Poland), the concluding symposium will shift focus to contemporary Europe and will look into the ways in which the continent currently acts—or fails to act—as a transnational site of cultural identification and imagination. Co-organized by the Lubliniana association, KU Leuven, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Université de Liège, the conference will take place in Leuven, September 25-27, 2014.

Aims of the conference

If we define the French concept of “l’imaginaire” as a “constructed landscape of collective aspirations” (Appadurai 1996: 31), then the postwar period and the post-Berlin Wall era have undoubtedly brought about a series of significant changes in the construction of Europe as an imaginary space of collective desires. It is difficult to overlook, first of all, the profound impact of the geopolitical East-West divide on the postwar outlook of the continent—in sociopolitical, economic, and cultural terms alike. As Gerard Delanty noted back in the 1990s, the aftermath of WWII and the subsequent Cold War led to the rediscovery of “a pastiche version of Old Europe with its centre in the West”, dividing the continent into two pieces and providing the so called West with a clearly demarcated Eastern border (1995: 116). In accord with Delanty’s argument, other scholars such as Larry Wolff (1994) and Maria Todorova (1997) have neatly uncovered the “invented” nature of (Western) Europe and its various internal Others (be it “Eastern Europe” or the “Balkans”).

While the emergence of homogenizing and mystifying concepts such as “Western” and “Eastern Europe” can be traced back as early as in the late 18th century, then the post-1989 process of political and economic unification has been instrumental in reshaping the sociocultural and political space of the continent. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the antagonistic relationship between Eastern and Western Europe has made way for new policies shifting the focus from ideological divergences and enmities to growing integration and homogenization (although economic and social inequalities continue to persist). In line with the European Union’s famous dictum of “free movement of people, goods, services, and capital”, the past two decades have seen numerous efforts to “Europeanize” the continent’s national spaces (e.g., through the Erasmus exchange program, the introduction of a common European currency, the enlargement of the Schengen zone, …). Along similar lines, significant economic trends (such as the emergence of low-cost airlines) and technological innovations (in particular the Internet and related digital technologies) have generated a strong increase in transnational mobility, circulation, and communication, both in real and virtual spaces. As Arjun Appadurai has indicated in his seminal Modernity at Large, mass mediation through electronic media and migration are key forces of globalization which work in tandem and which are likely to deepen the crisis of the nation-state and bring about a “post-national imaginary” (1996: 21). However, the case of the European Union—and the difficulties it experiences in generating an “imagined community” and fostering a European identity in a communal space without borders—indicates that far-reaching political and economic integration does not necessarily generate immediate changes in the social imaginary.

Therefore, if the most recent period in the European history saw the realization of the idea of a unified Europe, it  was also marked by the most profound critique of both its legacies and principles. Struggling between its claims to universal human values and the need to (re)define its specificity against the menacing “others”, European imagination can perhaps best be described by its ability to question and subvert its own core identity. As Ginette Verstraete observes in her study Tracking Europe: Mobility, Diaspora, and the Politics of Location (2010: 122), “[i]n recent years, many artists, filmmakers, intellectuals, and curators have tried to come to terms with the transformations, fissures, uncertainties, and extremes in Europe today. [Some of them] have concentrated on Europe as a space for critical intervention: as a geographical territory; historical arena; debilitating myth; racialized social sphere; and invented identity; but also as a critical device; a mode of thinking and imagining beyond borders; a space for translation, transferral, and reiteration; and a field traversed by different peoples and cultures.”

While the previous editions of the ICOPE project have explored the multidirectional political, historical, scientific, and philosophical exchanges which laid the foundation of the European constellation as we know it today, the final conference will look into the intricacies of the most recent period, from the early postwar years up to the present. In line with the transnational and interdisciplinary scope of the conference, we welcome contributions from a diverse set of theoretic and thematic angles (such as cultural studies, visual studies, identity studies, gender studies, post-colonial studies, memory studies, trauma studies, …). In an effort to address the growing complexity of the European imaginary in the period after WWII, we particularly solicit proposals dealing with issues and questions such as:

- (de)constructing collective dreams and visions of a new post-national community
- from shared traumas to communities of affect: can trauma be seen as a consolidating factor in the European imagination?
- the vision of universal human rights and its paradoxes: can Europe be defined by its adherence to the universalist values?
- Europe and its Others – enemies from within and without?
- the European core and its peripheries: what can be learned from the discussions on the “other” Europe?
- the legacies of avantguardism: can the most self-annihilating strand of avant-garde be paradoxically seen as a common denominator for the more critical European imaginaries?
- “provincializing” Europe: how is the European imaginary (re)defined by its post-colonial critics?
- time out of joint: investigating historicity as a marker of Europeanness

Submissions (in English or French) should be 600 words plus a working bibliography and short bio, submitted to the conference organizers (icope@arts.kuleuven.be) by November 30, 2013. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out in December 2013. Further details will be made available on the conference website .

Funding is pending approval, but the organizers will do their best to offer support for travel and accommodation costs.


On behalf of the organizing committee,

Katarzyna Ruchel-Stockmans (VUB, kruchels@vub.ac.be)

Dorota Walczak-Delanois (ULB, dorota.walczak@ulb.ac.be)

Leszek Kanczugowski (Lubliniana, lubliniana@yahoo.fr)

Katia Vandenborre (ULB, kvdborre@ulb.ac.be)

Kris Van Heuckelom (KU Leuven, kris.vanheuckelom@arts.kuleuven.be)


List of references and readings

Amin, Samir. Eurocentrism. London: Zed Books, 1989.

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Babias, Marius, ed. Das neue Europa. The New Europe. Culture of Mixing and Politics of Representation. Wien: Generali Foundation, 2005.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Europe. An Unfinished Adventure. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2004.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Delanty, Gerard. Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality.  London – New York: Macmillan – St Martin’s Press, 1995.

Groys, Boris. “Europe and its others.”  Art Power. London – Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2008, 173-82.

Hassan, Salah, and Iftikhar Dadi, eds. Unpacking Europe. Towards a Critical Reading. NAi: Rotterdam, 2002.

Hinderliter, Beth, et al. Communities of sense: rethinking aesthetics and politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2009.

Hlavajova, Maria, and Jill Winder, eds. Who if not we should at least try to imagine the future of all this? 7 episodes on (ex)changing Europe. Amsterdam: Artimo, 2004.

Macel, Christine. Les Promesses du passé. Une histoire discontinue de l'art dans l'ex-Europe de l'Est. Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2010.

Mazierska, Ewa. European Cinema and Intertextuality: History, Memory and Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

Mazierska, Ewa, and Laura Rascaroli. Crossing New Europe: Postmodern Travel and the European Road Movie. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

Sarkisova, Oksana, and Péter Apor. Past for the eyes: East European representations of communism in cinema and museums after 1989. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2008.

Steyerl, Hito. “Fiktion Europa / The Fiction of Europe. The Territorialization of an ideology.”  Das neue Europa. The New Europe. Culture of Mixing and Politics of Representation. Wien: Generali Foundation, 2005. 65-73, 133-39

Stojanović, Jelena. “Internationaleries: Collectivism, the Grotesque, and Cold War Functionalism.”  Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945. Eds. Blake  Stimson and Gregory Sholette. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 17-44.

Todorova, Maria. Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Verstraete, Ginette. Tracking Europe. Mobility, Diaspora, and the Politics of Location. Durham/London: Duke UP, 2010.

Wolff, Larry. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Wood, Nancy. Vectors of memory: legacies of trauma in postwar Europe. Oxford and New York: Berg, 1999.

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