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Petitioning on the Move

Datum uzávěrky
31. 5. 2023

Prague, September 19-20, 2023

Petitions and addresses to higher authorities offer a unique look into people whose voice is hard to find in the material historians mostly use. Wishes or complaints addressed to places and representatives of power or appeals against decisions from the above was a tool of those marginalised, discriminated against or exposed to violence on account of class, ethnicity, gender, citizenship, migration history, political identity and other factors. Historians, scholars in cultural studies and social scientists recently delved into listening to these individual voices, often left in archives unattended by those who examined state policy and preferred to read or listen to richer autobiographic material. They noted the difficulty of interpreting such “writing upwards" (Martyn Lyons) produced in a context that inevitably reaffirmed hierarchies and expressed loyalties as citizens and refugees were learning “speaking national” (Theodora K. Dragostinova), although subversion of the existing order is not alien to these documents too.

The workshop will focus on petitioning and other forms of making claims in specific situations of liminality: when people and/or borders were on the move. The interwoven processes of migration and changes of state sovereignty presented specific challenges to pleading individual cases to the authorities by requiring to reassess biographies and reframe acts of migration to fit the constraints of loyalty. Focusing on petitioning in these settings offers insights into how the relationship between the individual and the state or other actors, such as humanitarian organisations, corporations, professional associations etc. was reestablished in moments of political breaks and disputed ethnic, confessional, political and other loyalties.

At the same time, the workshop aims to reassess this promising research in a comparative way spanning across languages and specific historical moments, situating Central and Eastern Europe in a broader comparative perspective. Can we read these documents as a larger transnational corpus and what methodology is useful in that regard? How much the act of petitioning is context bound or does its embeddedness into basic hierarchical relations create commonalities across space and time? Can distant reading and methods of computational linguistics help in analysing the vocabulary and argumentation in different national and historical settings?

We invite contributions which are focused on, but not limited to, following areas:

  • methodological impetuses to advance comparative reading of “petitions on the move”,
  • promising archival or other collections of petitions of refugees or people who were displaced by moving borders,
  • formal and informal forms of claims making of people on the move,
  • gender, age, class and other factors structuring the language and process of petitioning,
  • petitioning as a social process (including who assists claims writing),
  • the language and sociolingustic context of petitioning.

We expect papers of 20 minutes and ample space for discussion. In addition to regular panels, we envision one or more interactive hands-on sessions in which participants will flesh and test new approaches to reading and interpreting their documents together and comparatively, using linguistic and digital, or other, methods.

Paper proposals (max. 250 words) and short bios (200 words), as well as any questions, should be directed to unref-public@mua.cas.cz.

Submission deadline: May 31, 2023

Decision on acceptance will be communicated by the end of June. The organizers are working on pooling funds to offer financial support for travel and accommodation.

The workshop is organised in cooperation between the Unlikely refuge? and Nepostrans ERC-funded projects. 

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