Call for Papers: “[…] The Secret in Contemporary Theory, Society, and Culture”

30th-31st May
University of Kent, Canterbury
Grimond Building, GLT3
Keynote Speaker: Prof. David Vincent (Open University)

With WikiLeaks and the Snowden case, the international newsreel has recently been increasingly concerned with revelations of secrets, allowing the confidential, private sphere to mix with the public, popular domain. In revealing the governmental practice of spying on millions of conversations, the Snowden case triggered a sudden upheaval in the definition of public and private spheres. It has also prompted us to question what constitutes a secret, and what function secrets have in society today.

This conference wishes to explore the structure and the conditions of the creation of a secret as reflected in contemporary theory and culture, as well as the role secrets play in society and in texts. Some of the questions in which we are interested include: How is a secret created? Which protagonists does a secret involve? Is there such thing as an absolute, as opposed to a relative, secret – in other words do secrets exist if others are unaware of them? Or do secrets only exist once they have taken on their structural position in relation to those who do and those who don’t know? How does the formation of a secret inform, and how is it informed by, the boundary separating the private from the public sphere? What ethical issues are involved in questions of transparency, concealment, and revelation? Does the conventional understanding of the secret – rightly or wrongly – presuppose a hidden ‘truth’ buried beneath the lack of meaning at the level of language? Is the secret itself a function of something like Derrida’s ‘différance’, and therefore an illusion or mere surface-effect of language?

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the following and their interrelations:

• Power relationships: what kinds of power relationships can exist between a secret holder and those who do not, or wish to, know it? Who does a secret alienate?
• Sociological and anthropological approaches to secrets: collective and individual secrets and the question of surveillance; how secrets vary across cultures.
• Language and communication: does interpreting a text reveal its secret(s)? Or is there a semantic void within any text, the lack of a fixed signified or ‘secret’, which nonetheless generates its apparent meaning(s)? What is a coded language?
• Secrets in Literature, and in the Visual and Plastic Arts.
• Secret Histories: subaltern and other marginalised histories; Nationalism, identity, and concealing or reinventing the past; the role of State secrets in history; how the definition and function of the secret has changed in history.
• Philosophical approaches to secrets (analytic and continental): do secrets exist? Are they logically possible? What relations are maintained between secrets, language, and intersubjectivity, and between secrets and the unconscious?
• Psychological and psychoanalytic perspectives on the structure and function of secrets. Emotional responses (guilt, shame, etc.).

Papers should last for 20 minutes and will be followed by 10 minutes of questions.

Abstracts (300 words) should be sent as a Word attachment to the conference organising committee at:

The email should include the name of the author, institution, and brief biographical details. You should also indicate in your proposal any audiovisual requirements you may have.

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 31st March 2014.

Funded by University of Kent, School of European Culture and Languages, and by K.I.A.S.H.

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