Classics in the Modern World - a Democratic Turn?
The Reception of Classical Texts Research Project has developed an international collaborative research initiative to investigate the notion of a ‘Democratic Turn' in Classical receptions practice and research. A research conference will be held on 18-20th June 2010 at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. The aims will be to map and evaluate the conceptual parameters of a ‘Democratic Turn', to analyse the critical practices of classical reception scholarship, to explore classical receptions in creative work (film, literature, theatre) and to assess the relationship between theory, practice and the wider world. We hope the discussions will lead to a more informed evaluation of the role of classics and classical receptions in the wider field of cultural change.
Since our international collaborators are from many continents we have approached the project in three stages:
First, we invited expressions of interest and contribution of ideas from individual and group research projects. This received a very strong response and a number of seminar and colloquia organisers contacted us to discuss how their work might feed into the conference.
Second, we held an email seminar from October-December 2009 to take the discussion to the next stage. It was planned so that each of the three sessions would discuss one or more of the themes that had emerged from the first stage. We then invited a few participants to take the lead in introducing particular themes, but the discussion was genuinely open to everyone as it was important that there be a wide range of views offered for debate. All contributors were asked to confine their remarks to no more than 500 words (rather than semi-papers!) to encourage healthy debate. The aim was to identify at an early stage some of the key research issues and overarching questions, so that conference speakers could reflect on them when preparing their papers and to facilitate genuine and constructive discussion at the conference. The session topics were:
Session One (which ran early-mid-October): The debate and its terms (e.g. concepts and issues - popular/mass/elite/democratic/ authentic; what would constitute an argument against the idea of a 'democratic turn'?); Scholarship (aims, methods and processes)
Session Two (which ran late October-mid-November): Case Studies: How can these contribute to understanding and critique of the debate? (e.g. case studies focussing on topics such as receptions in women's writing; contexts for language and identity; education and learning)
Session Three (which ran late November-early December): Media and Modes (e.g. theatre/film/documentary/comics/art/humour/ poetics/political rhetoric)
Third, we have now invited formal proposals for Conference panels, based around the themes discussed in the Eseminar, to be sent to the Conference committee for consideration in early January 2010. The conference programme will be decided and circulated by the end of January. It was felt this would give plenty of time for speakers to liaise with each other. When considering panel proposals the committee will especially welcome those that involve collaboration between researchers from different institutions/countries/career stages.
There will be a small number of plenary speakers who will be invited to address wider issues of theory and/or practice. There will also be a workshop for research students and poster displays of research (individual and group). We are also considering the possibility of an international 'round-table' to comment at the end of the conference. Many thanks to those who have already offered to contribute to the conference in those ways.
Our aim is to ensure that the conference is more than the sum of its parts. We would like it to support the role of individual and group research as providers of a rigorous basis for promoting the discussion of over-arching questions. All sessions will be plenary and plenty of time for discussion will be built into the programme. The working language will be English. We expect that the conference itself will lead to a substantial publication and also hope that it will stimulate future collaborations. Researchers will be welcome to bring their research students and there will be a workshop for these students before the full conference begins, plus a work in progress session for them to make poster presentations on the final day.
Background to the idea of a ‘Democratic Turn':
Classical texts, material culture and ideas seem in the last thirty or forty years to have become more widely and radically used and re-used among many groups and communities, irrespective of whether or not they have had a classical education of any kind. Furthermore, such rewritings and re-imaginings of classical material have frequently been used as part of the advocacy of liberation and emancipation or in social and political critique. Discussions about the relationship between classical languages and the vernacular or the demotic continue, as do debates about whether ancient historiography and philosophy provide a usable basis for decision making today. Such contested appropriations are not new and there is a long history of examples in which classical referents have been used by all sides in struggles for power and in aesthetic debate.
The word ‘Turn' (which has also been applied to cultural studies, translation studies or performance) usually signals a redressing of balances, a pendulum swinging away from perspectives that were thought to be too dominant. So a ‘Democratic Turn' might be seen as turning the focus away from the association of classical texts and the study of antiquity with elite groups with the necessary education, wealth and leisure. However, the concept of ‘Turn' can also indicate more persistent changes in perceptions of how texts are constituted and how meaning might be ascribed and transmitted. A ‘Turn' might even imply lasting transformations of various kinds.
Then there are some important caveats. The word ‘Democratic' carries contested meanings and resonances. Pluralism and diversity are not necessarily accompanied by democracy. Liberation movements are not necessarily ‘democratic' either in intention or effect. ‘Popular' or ‘mass' cultural forms may be manipulative rather than enabling. There may be aspects of classical texts, material culture and ideas (and the accretions that they attract on the way) that transmit ideas that are far from democratic (even in some cases repulsive). What is being transplanted covertly or being received unknowingly? Above all, how and by whom can such processes be explained? What is involved in becoming a reflective reader, viewer, spectator or practitioner? Does a ‘Democratic Turn' emphasise becoming a member of a deliberative community rather than a consumer or an adherent of a particular ideology?
The 2010 conference will provide a forum for vigorous review and debate of these and other knotty questions.
If you would like to be kept informed of the Conference as it progresses, and are not already on the emailing list, please contact Carol Gillespie (firstname.lastname@example.org) giving very brief details about yourself (e.g. student/academic/practitioner).
Eseminar Convenor: Lorna Hardwick
Eseminar Coordinator: Carol Gillespie