Deadline for submissions: March 31st, 2022
Submissions are now closed.
In Vancouver and synchronous over Zoom
The Graduate program at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication invites submissions for our annual conference, CONDUITS, this year entitled Contested Freedoms.
Freedom has been at the heart of liberal democracy for well over a century — understood as a principle, or core value of subjectivity, it traces its genealogy back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Freedom, in this view, is something one possesses. As members of social bodies, however, liberalism’s freedom takes shape through the social contract (Hobbes 1651), wherein subjects are granted rights and protections derived from governing bodies by means of tacit or explicit consent. Lockean theories on the social contract, for example, have come to form state-granted rights and freedoms within liberal democracies that continue to operate. State granted individual rights such as these are alive within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), outlined in seven categories that stretch from fundamental freedoms to language rights. As with all freedoms assured by the state, however, they are not guaranteed. As Hannah Arendt posited, state sanctioned rights are not inalienable; citizens of nations are granted “the right to have rights” (Arendt 1951, 296), ultimately leaving those who are stateless unprotected.
Freedom, then, as signifier and social practice, cannot be described as a universally defined or definable ideal, but one that has, in its liberal understanding, always excluded large swathes of people. As much critical work over the past several decades has demonstrated, freedom has modeled its ideal subject on the beneficiaries of capitalist, colonial, racial, and gendered forms of oppression. As such, freedom is an actively political question, and its contestations have always been immanent. This critical political-theoretical tradition might be traced to Marxism, in which freedom would begin with sociality, with the freedom of association unmediated by the fetish of commodity exchange (Marx 1844/1932). In other words, a Marxist conception of freedom would, in its historical development, be a material effect (at its nadir in capitalism and finding its apotheosis in communism) that can only come from the collective and positive reorganization of social and material relations towards an imperative, rather than in illusions of free subjective action (Marx and Engels 1848/1969; Sartre 1988). This imperative to freedom, which might be called liberation (Marcuse 1971), has been variously imagined and pursued — individually, politically, sociotechnically — by those subject to unfreedom.
Feminist, queer, Indigenous and Black studies are often interrelated hallmarks of critical theory that espouse liberation. Queer and feminist theories of liberation, often within the radical tradition, share distinct intellectual throughlines that are built upon unfreedom; that is, restrictive phenomena (Hirschmann 2002) that shape one’s experiences with the world. Queer and feminist theories address this through anti-essentialist thought that critiques gender and sexual binaries. These critiques continue with analyses of socially enforced controls that are enacted on the body. For example, queer theory critiques institutions that inhibit self-expression, such as heteronormativity (Warner 1991) and compulsory heterosexuality (Rich 1980); whereas feminist theory engages with questions of bodily autonomy as well as the phenomenological experience of ‘womanhood’ (Marion-Young 2005). Freedom in these contexts then becomes freedom from regulatory, hegemonic norms, both for individuals and for communities (Hirschmann 2002). Black and Indigenous studies, in a similar vein, imagine freedom beyond regulative modes (Moten 2004; Tuck and Yang 2012). By historically interrogating conceptions of freedom as placed in opposition to (often violent) racialization (Karenga 2001), such work has emphasized radical modes of liberation that escape that dichotomy (Robinson 1983/2020; Kelley 2002). Indigenous liberation extends the field of decolonization to land-based political struggles of self-determination against settler-colonialism (Coulthard 2014). Such significance for liberation echoes through many other radical traditions, for example, in Ambedkarite (Patankar and Omvedt 1979) and Periyarist (Manoharan 2020) scholarship in India that works against religious and caste oppressions. The work on intersectionality (Crenshaw 1987) has also pointed to the need to recognize the many oppressions that curtail subjective freedom. Black feminist voices (Neville and Hamer 2001) and theorists such as Angela Davis (2012) have emphasize the racialized and gendered valences of freedom. Anti-caste traditions have had strong feminist tones embedded since their genesis (Geetha 1998; Velaskar 2012).
Such rich, inter- and multi-disciplinary work has echoed in media studies’ grappling with freedom (especially against cyberlibertarian notions exemplified by John Perry Barlow’s (1996) Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace that distinguished individual freedoms from those accorded by nation states and other groupings). Theorists such as Baudrillard (Rojek 1993) and Virilio (Cubitt 1999) asserted the insidious power and seductions of media technologies. However, the flow of information — which cyberlibertarians define as the mark of freedom — and digitally-mediated life could never be separated from the structures of life otherwise. This is especially true for racialized and gendered people, for whom technology was originally thought of as a site of utopic freedom through which one could enter without the constraints of identity; in reality, it is a site through which differences are intensified and compounded (Nakamura 2002). The digital subject, then, moves between the poles of control and freedom (Chun 2006, Galloway 2004) — here, freedom does not stand by itself, as something individuals possess, but is rather something which exists as an imperative to consider our entanglements with others. Nor is control pervasive in digital media — to assume so would assume that freedom itself necessarily relies on security. Still, the digital-liberal person is always marked by the informatic dynamics of racial capitalism and its digital media technologies (Franklin 2021). Their accordant values of freedom always are, and have been, contested.
These symbolic and material struggles over what freedom means, and what work it does in the world, have become more pressing over the past few years, with right-wing movements taking an absolutist view of freedom against the relational view that, say, radical movements for liberation have espoused. The politics of COVID-19 has made especially clear how the liberal-individualist notion of freedom fails. At the School of Communication, we are especially interested in how these discourses of freedom have emerged socially and historically, particularly through and on digital media. We are therefore interested in inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches to understanding conceptual and political contestations over ‘freedom,’ including, but not limited to, themes such as:
Freedom in the platform age, under (state and private) surveillance
Intersectional (re)definitions of freedom in the digital age
Liberation movements’ engagement with digital media
CONDUITS ‘22 will be a hybrid conference, with an in-person component at Simon Fraser University’s campuses in Metro Vancouver, as well as Zoom panels and presentations.
We welcome individual and co-authored proposals for paper presentations as well as artistic interventions:
Submissions should include an abstract of approximately 200-250 words (PDF or DOCX), providing a brief description of the topic’s relevance to the conference theme, keywords, a title, and the authors’ full name(s), as well as institutional affiliations, if any. We also ask for a short biography of 50-100 words, and contact information of the presenter(s). Paper presentations must plan to accommodate, at maximum, 15-minute individual presentations.
Art works can be audio-visual, up to 10 minutes in length (mp3 or mp4), or up to 10 images (JPG, PNG, or GIF). Submissions may take the form of a short excerpt, upto a third of the length of the final submission. Please include a short (50-100 words) description of the topic’s relevance to the conference theme, keywords, a title, and the authors’ full name(s), as well as institutional affiliations, if any. We also ask for a short biography of 50-100 words, and contact information of the presenter(s).
Please make all submissions to the Google form, or email us at the CONDUITS conference email address, email@example.com, before midnight (11:59pm PST) March 31st, 2022.
Please visit our website for further details, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions/comments/suggestions.
The conference will have a hybrid format. We are committed to creating an accessible conference for everyone. For participants attending the conference in-person, we are pleased to welcome you at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver Campus at the Harbour Centre. We will also facilitate Zoom panels, discussions, and presentations for those unable to make it to the SFU campus. If you have any questions or requests for accommodation, please reach out to us at email@example.com .
Simon Fraser University has three campuses. We acknowledge the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples on whose unceded traditional territories our three campuses sit. By having a hybrid format, it is vital we continuously think about our role in on-going settler-colonialism and engage in material action.
Submit your abstract here.