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CfP: Navigating Diversity: Narratives, Practices and Politics in German-Speaking Europe

Deadline: Nov. 10 2015
Conference Venue: Université de Montréal/Université du Québec à Montréal / Conference Organizers: IRTG Diversity PI Till van Rahden, Université de Montréal; Anthony J. Steinhoff, Université du Québec à Montréal; Richard F. Wetzell, GHI, Washington DC / Dates: 13.04.2016 - 15.04.2016

Organized in collaboration with the IRTG “Diversity: Mediating Difference in Transcultural Spaces,” Université de Montréal, Universität Trier and Universität des Saarlandes, the German Historical Institute, Washington DC (http://www.ghi-dc.org), and the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Co-sponsored by the Centre canadien d’études allemandes et européennes, and the Canada Research Chair in German and European Studies, Université de Montréal.

Diversity has been central to political and social life in German-speaking Europe, but also one of its ongoing challenges. For much of the modern era, diversity was viewed as a problem that had to be solved via the marginalization, suppression or even elimination of differences in order to realize visions of unity that lay at the heart of the nation-state, and - even more so - of the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft and the East German “Peasants’ and Workers’ State.” As observers such as Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel have noted, the passage from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft created new options for individual autonomy, above all in the context of the modern metropolis. And yet, as Alexis de Tocqueville stressed in Democracy in America, democratic polities could be at least as hostile to difference as traditional rural or urban communities.

The debates and conflicts that have ensued from diversity’s fate at modernity’s hands in the German lands since the Reformation have received ample attention from scholars working from many perspectives. What would happen, though, if we were to view diversity as constitutive of modernity itself? In this light, diversity might perhaps be more fruitfully understood as the inevitable effect of individual freedom rather than as a specter of alterity that haunts (liberal) modernity. How might this shift change our thinking not only about modernity, but also about how we as scholars have endeavored to make sense of difference and the narratives, practices and politics it has engendered since the religious crisis of the late Middle Ages? Indeed, how might attention to the conceptual history of “diversity,” as a category that is continually negotiated and navigated, enable us to move beyond the binary oppositions - insider/outsider, majority/minority, particular/universal, secular/religious - that have long dominated scholarly and public discourse on the subject?

The conference aims to bring together scholars to discuss and reflect on diversity, particularly in the context of German-speaking Europe from the Reformation era to the present. This framing follows directly from a desire to rethink narratives about the relationship between modernity and diversity that presuppose strong distinctions between the early modern and modern eras. Moreover, it acknowledges the innovative contributions that historians of the early modern period have made to our understandings of diversity. We also hope to foster conversations about diversity that connect perspectives that have emerged in particular (sub-)disciplinary contexts, from migration, gender, queer, and religious studies, to legal, labor and economic history and political theory. Our aim is not to fetishize difference as something inherently valuable, but to recognize it as an irreducible, omnipresent force within modern societies and to explore the benefits (and limitations) of a paradigm that puts diversity at the center of our understanding of the past and the present.

The conference will be organized around three broad themes, with the precise composition of the panels to be determined by the paper proposals. The first of these themes, narratives, aims to encourage discussions about how Germans have talked about diversity and the challenges it seemingly poses to state and civil society. How has such discourse been framed? In terms of law? Custom? Morality? Economics? Even if the word itself is not used, what do these different strategies for arguing about diversity reveal about how Germans have considered diversity, both in general and in the case of specific types of diversity. For instance, are questions of ethnic difference addressed in ways distinct from that of gender? Similarly, how might we identify conceptual changes that help us to trace shifting articulations of legal and constitutional norms? How, for example, might we situate notions of diversity vis-à-vis theories of the Ständestaat, the liberal Rechtsstaat, or even democracy? Finally, is it possible to discern peculiarly German strands in European conversations over diversity?

The second theme, practices, seeks to explore how diversity has been experienced, manifested, represented, indeed navigated. We are interested in how Germans have identified and acknowledged difference and in how they have responded to and acted on that knowledge. This includes groups living in particular places, say French Huguenots in Berlin or Polish miners in the Ruhr valley; but it would also be interesting to think about how diversity plays in smaller social settings, for instance foreigners in German free cities—as well as the national level, such as homosexual men in twentieth-century Germany. In this context, we also invite reflections on the role of agency and choice: to what degree does diversity, either at the individual or the group level, reflect a conscious choice on the part of the individual or group concerned? How does the elective or ascribed nature of a type of difference affect one’s place in civil society? Indeed, to what degree does social practice itself transform “neutral” difference, such as the biological distinctions between men and women, into statements about diversity (here, “gender”) with profound consequences for social life and even notions of self worth?

With the final theme, politics, we wish to focus on a central space where the narratives and practices of diversity intersect, namely political life. We are interested in examining how Germans have used politics to negotiate – define, channel, accept, tolerate, condemn, or embrace – diversity. Why, for instance, have German constitutions historically treated members of Christian churches (“confessions”) differently than members of other religious communities (including Christian sectarian movements)? Is it more effective to work within established political institutions or pursue subversive or revolutionary strategies to achieve recognition for certain types of difference? Why have political institutions and groups found some expressions of diversity more threatening than others? Indeed, to what degree should we understand the anxieties that have arisen around diversity—its presence and its toleration—as reflecting more the insecurities attending to particular constructions of power than the problem of diversity itself?

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Diversity as a theme in German legal, political and economic discourse and practice

  • The evolution of how Germans have navigated diversity

  • Informal versus formal strategies for contending with diversity

  • Comparisons between different types of diversity (e.g., religious,

political, gender, ethnic, economic) and their social, cultural and political consequences

  • The particularity (or non-particularity) of German approaches to and experiences with diversity

  • Diversity, tolerance and discrimination

  • Diversity and modernity

  • Representing/acting/enacting diversity

Submission guidelines:
Scholars interested in participating the conference should send a proposal (in English, French or German) that includes a title; a single-spaced, one page abstract of no more than 500 words; and a short (1-2 page) CV. We recommend including a header with your name on every page of your submission.

Please send your proposal as an email attachment (.pdf or .doc file) to both steinhoff.anthony(at)uqam.ca and till.van.rahden(at)umontreal.ca, using “Navigating Diversity 2016” as the subject line.

The deadline for submitting a proposal is November 10, 2015.

All applicants will be notified by mid-December. If accepted, you will be asked to submit your paper by March 15, 2016 for pre-circulation among the participants. We intend to cover all (economy class) travel, accommodation costs, and most meals, pending the availability of funds.

Questions regarding the conference may be directed at any time to:

  • Till van Rahden, Canada Research Chair in German and European Studies/Centre canadien d’études allemandes et européennes, Université de Montréal: till.van.rahden(at)umontreal.ca

  • Anthony Steinhoff, Associate Professor, Department of History, Université du Québec à Montreal: steinhoff.anthony(at)uqam.ca

  • Richard F. Wetzell, German Historical Institute, Washington DC: wetzell(at)ghi-dc.org

Anthony Steinhoff

Département d'histoire, UQAM, Case postale 8888, succursale centre-ville
Montreal, QC, Canada H3C 3P8
+1 514.987.3000 X8130
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