- The conference timetable and information on the ancillary events on Friday 5th August are now available. Check out the Programme tabs!
Intersecting Geographies, Histories and Disciplines
2-4 August 2022
University of Mauritius
About the Conference
The concept of the “archipelago” has been increasingly discussed and deployed by historians, social scientists, literary and cultural studies scholars since the second half of the 20th century. The term originated in classical Greece to designate the Aegean waters binding the heart of European civilisation, but since the beginning of the overseas exploration and colonial expansion by European powers from the early 15th century onwards, and following a process of metonymy and metaphor, it came to identify any set of islands forming a coherent topographical unit.
It is indeed from the decolonising seas of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans that new meanings and theorisations of the archipelago began to emerge from the 1950s. While the newly independent countries of Southeast Asia developed an “archipelagic doctrine” as the integral principle of their claim to postcolonial nation-statehood, a number of Caribbean intellectuals mobilised the archipelago as an analytical framework for disrupting the notion of insularity and for thinking beyond linear narratives of historical, national and cultural development.
For Kamau Brathwaite, the shared histories, languages and structures of feeling of the Caribbean islands formed the fabric of a submarine unity premised on creolisation and cultural diversity. Also insisting on interconnectedness and rejecting a vision of islandness as being defined by isolation and uniformity, Édouard Glissant formulated the concept of “archipelagic thinking” as a trembling and vibrant epistemological alternative pivoted on the concept of relation, and not necessarily contingent on the material geographies of island groupings, for continents too, indeed the whole world, can be archipelagised and creolised. Moving from, as well as beyond, the Antillean sea, Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s “meta-archipelago” similarly resisted the taxonomy of centre and periphery and revealed the palimpsestic imaginaries connecting the many oceans of human experience. More recent theoretical and methodological paradigms have further transcended the terraqueous spaces of seas and islands to trace discontinuous yet interlinked geographies over a planetary scale.
The figurality inscribed in the notion of archipelago and the potential open-endedness of its corresponding theoretical frameworks invite us to take heed of what may fall through the fractures generated by the epistemic instability of archipelagic dynamics. Taking the Indian Ocean as a principal site for investigating new meanings and experiences of the archipelagic, the conference will marshal and build upon the different strands of archipelagic thinking in the Caribbean to explore connected histories across oceans and seas to instigate a theoretical dialogue on memory-production encompassing the Indian, Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans and their articulated spatiality.
The conference seeks to address what it means to remember the past in the present and how to consider future trajectories in individual, collective, as well as national identity in archipelagic spaces and cultures. What happens when local modes of articulating time, space and memory sit side by side with Western modernity and imperialism? When the present, just like the past, is conflictual in nature? If archipelagos are not simply objective geography, but culturally contingent and politically constructed, then the question of by whom and for whom certain spaces are conceptualised as archipelagos and others aren’t begs attention. What has not yet been thought of archipelagically? What has been enabled and what has been precluded by thinking primarily through the model of the Caribbean archipelago and its anti-mimetic patterns of repetition and difference? What if ethnic, national and archipelagic identities as well as spaces are in conflict with each other, or the constructed entity of the archipelago clashes with the geological construction of neighbouring islands that belong to different nation-states, resulting in fractured archipelagic identities? Where island communities are diasporic, how does the sea function as an imagined space that reduces or entrenches geographical and affective distance? How, indeed, does the sea enable an archipelagic relationship with the homeland left behind?
Simultaneously, the conference addresses the possibilities offered by an archipelagic approach to memory, one that is mobile and dynamic as much as entangled, in continental spaces (the political branding of France as archipelago in 2019 by Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Reunion Island and by Jérôme Fourquet in his book L’Archipel Français attests to a ubiquitous practice in certain contexts) and those geographical areas where water bodies act as a bridge between archipelagos and continents with oceanic or sea borders, and not least where archipelagos have been or are desired territories for continental superpowers seeking to extend their territorial dominion to oceans.
What, in effect, is the archipelagic memory project and how does it contribute to memory studies? If the past is memorialised as archipelagic, a series of fragmentary spaces, cultures and histories converging in a fluid space that can act as a symbol for other, larger connections, how can archipelagic memory enhance continental practices of articulating the past, de-centre or contribute to Euro-centric approaches to memory? Can memory as “innumerable but shared” (in Glissant’s terms) allow us to take heed of “the memory of the other” as well as partake in it? How can this “remembering together” create the conditions for solidarity, or are these conditions resisted and if so, why? How can archipelagic mnemonic projects be multidirectional, reparative and committed to justice, instead of competitive, suppressive or destructive?
This inter-disciplinary conference seeks to mobilise researchers, artists and cultural practitioners working on other archipelagic spaces lying in the shadow of imperialist control from more powerful political entities (whether islands or continents, in the past or present) to trace fresh trajectories in archipelagic thinking, situating an archipelagic approach to memory at its very heart to further underscore the epistemic dynamism of the archipelago.
Curtain-raiser seminar on
Conceptualising Archipelagic Memory
with Michael Rothberg and Vijaya Teelock
in conversation with Ananya Jahanara Kabir
Background image – Polynesian stick charts, a design by Halley Ross
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