Conf/CfP - International Cultural Responses to Wartime Rape: Ethical Questions and Critical Challenges, 19-20 June 2017, Maynooth University, Ireland

Publish Date: Dec 21, 2016

Deadline: Jan 15, 2017

Event Dates: from Jun 19, 2017 04:12 to Jun 20, 2017 04:12

About the conference

The role played by cultural producers in remembering and combatting wartime rape has been at the forefront of the public agenda in recent years. In October 2013, Jeremy Szumczyk courted controversy when he erected a life-size statue of a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman in a public square in Gdansk. In 2015, conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s tribute to survivors of sexual violence in Kosovo, ‘Thinking of You’, grabbed headlines around the world. Likewise, Angelina Jolie’s involvement in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence has been much discussed. The UNESCO ‘Culture of Peace’ programme and Creative Community Outreach Initiative further indicate the perceived links between creative culture, conflict prevention, reconciliation, and remembrance.

This conference seeks to explore this conjuncture through an analysis of international cultural responses to wartime rape and their impact. How have cultural works shaped, supplemented, intervened in, or challenged public discourses about sexual violence in conflict zones? In what way are creative works able to expose gaps, challenge biases, and illuminate ambiguities within official human rights narratives?

A further aim of this conference is to explore the role of cultural advocacy in post-conflict situations. How do creative exercises address and potentially attenuate the lasting effects of wartime sexual violence on individuals and communities? What contribution can art make to long-term processes of truth-seeking, justice, and reconciliation? And to what extent is the aesthetic experience particularly suited to provoking remembrance, empathy, and activism?

References to the aesthetic in the context of atrocity are always uncomfortable and raise unavoidable questions about the ethics of representation. This conference wishes to foreground these issues by addressing, amongst other things: representation and the potential for sensationalism, ideological appropriation, and obfuscation; unintended audience responses and the limitations of cultural representation or advocacy; the power dynamics of representation; and the risks of re-traumatizing and reifying victims inherent in acts of representing trauma.

About the project

Sexual Violence in German Memory since 1945: Metaphor, Metonymy and Political Discourse

The UN ‘Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ (2014) confirmed that understanding and preventing wartime rape remains an international priority. This matter also generates a great deal of public outrage, as attested by the 31,000 people who follow the American media project ‘Women Under Siege’ on twitter. As political and social interest focuses on present conflict zones, however, previous cases of wartime rape (especially during World War II) remain under-researched. Redressing this gap in knowledge is crucial. The more we know about the legacy of mass rape, the better we will be able to respond in the future. This project seeks to analyse evolving cultural and political discourses surrounding wartime rape in Germany, where hundreds of thousands of women were assaulted by Allied soldiers in 1945. Due to Germany’s status as perpetrator nation, the mass rapes were not the topic of sustained public discussion until the twenty-first century. The project will address the thorny moral and political issues raised by this topic, which complicates terms such as ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ that are often treated as mutually exclusive concepts. It will thus extent recent scholarly efforts to ethically refine the concepts that have traditionally defined German memory discourse.

Drawing on a wide range of cultural material, this project will examine how and why discourse about mass rape in Germany has changed since 1945. Dominant political discourses will be compared with autobiographical, fictional, and film engagements with the mass rapes of 1945. My expertise on post-war literature and film will allow me to reveal new sources on the evolving public memory of wartime rape, showing how it has circulated in fragmented and distorted ways throughout the post-war period — and in ways not captured by political and historical discourses.A focus on cultural works also enables reflection on the gaps between political and private memory as well as the areas where they overlap in their understanding of wartime sexual violence.The reception of wartime rape in the German context is especially thought provoking because the mass rapes functioned as a powerful political trope in the post-war era, even though they were long ignored as a topic in their own right. For example, conservative politicians in occupied-Germany cited the mass rapes to evoke the threat of communism. More recently, revanchists have used the mass rapes to emphasize the unjustified suffering of innocent Germans during the war, purposefully glossing over the German crimes that precipitated it. Such tropes obscure the personal meaning of wartime rape. Indeed, limited support was offered to the victims — despite the fact that politicians exploited the rhetorical power of their experiences. Accordingly, this project will also probe the assumptions underlying metaphorical and metonymic uses of mass rape in political discourse and investigate their social and ethical implications. Due to their openness and formal complexity, creative engagements with the past are uniquely positioned to illuminate and challenge political uses of memory that privilege clear-cut arguments over historical and ethical complexity.

The use of mass rape as a metaphor in political discourse manifests an on-going reluctance to take sexual violence seriously. The urgency of this project derives particularly from the prevalent use of rape as a metaphor in contemporary vernacular and political discourse. Examining a variety of cultural works in their historical contexts, this project seeks to contribute to international popular debate about the social, political and historical implications of metaphorical narratives about sexual violence.

This conference aims to generate discussion and new insights by drawing together researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines, including: international relations; peace studies; cultural, literary, and film studies; art and art history. Papers might explore topics including, but not limited to:

  • art and consciousness-raising, remembrance, and reconciliation;
  • art therapy, cultural advocacy, civic art, and strategic approaches to arts-based peace-building;
  • the power dynamics of representation and remembrance;
  • key concepts of human rights discourse such as victimhood, dialogue, testimony, reconciliation, truth, and universalism;
  • the celebrification of human rights discourse, art and the mass media, art and commercialization, art and "genocide fatigue";
  • the ethics of representation.


Please submit proposals for papers (300 words and 3 keywords) along with a brief biographical note to by 15 January 2017. Please note that submission of a proposal does not guarantee its acceptance. Proposers will be informed by 1 February whether their proposal has been accepted.

Keynote Speaker

We are delighted that Professor Elizabeth Swanson (Goldberg) will be opening the conference with a keynote presentation (title tbc).

Elizabeth Swanson (Goldberg) is Professor of English at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She is a pioneering scholar at the intersection of cultural studies and human rights research. Professor Swanson has played a key role in opening up this interdisciplinary field through edited volumes such as Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature (2012) and Teaching Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies (2015). She specifically addresses sexual violence in conflict in her monograph Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights (2007), which demonstrates how struggles for social justice and peace are waged in the realm of representation. As part of this work, Professor Swanson serves on the Global Advisory Board for Made By Survivors, an international non-governmental organization empowering survivors of slavery by providing shelter, education, and empowerment.

Conference program and other details will be uploaded in early 2017.

For more official information click "Further official information" below.

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