CFP WS 2019: Uses and Abuses of Storytelling: Theorizing the Intersections of Narrative, Memory and Identity

CFP WS 2019: Uses and Abuses of Storytelling: Theorizing the Intersections of Narrative, Memory and Identity

14-16 February 2019, University of Turku (Finland)

While both interdisciplinary narrative studies and cultural memory studies have boomed in the twenty-first century and are continuing to expand in new directions, there is lamentably little dialogue between them. This symposium aims to bring discussions in these two fields into a more intensive dialogue by theorizing the intersections of narrative, memory and identity. One of the common denominators of narrative and memory studies is the interest in issues of identity work. The conference explores this connection by asking: how are narratives used and abused in the construction of collective memory, on the one hand, and in shaping collective and personal identities, on the other? What social mechanisms do such memory work and identity work involve and what kind of normative conceptions of narrative identity do various social practices of memory and identity work perpetuate or challenge?

The conference seeks to address the theoretical implications of the ethical, aesthetic, and political dimensions of the interaction between cultural narrative practices of sense-making, the need for a sense of self, and the shaping of cultural memory against the backdrop of the current world situation. Literary and other artistic narratives shape cultural memory by interpreting the past from the perspective of the present, but this memory work is never merely a matter of representing and understanding the past; it also shapes how we perceive our possibilities in the present and for the future, and it involves negotiating both collective and personal identities. In particular, the legacy of twentieth-century totalitarianisms is fundamental to our sense of who we are in the present historical world. Divergent ways of interpreting and narrating this legacy inform different perspectives on the present “age of terror” and current political ruptures, such as the wars in Ukraine and Syria, the refugee crisis, debates that revolve around the future of the European project after the UK vote to leave the European Union, and the global concern about the threat to democracy and human rights presented by Trump’s administration.

Narrative studies, especially in the fields of narrative psychology and the social sciences, have for a long time discussed the way in which identity is constituted in the temporal process of storytelling. Over the past few decades, the notion of “finding one’s own narrative” has pervaded the culture at large, and it has been put to commercial use in advertising so that almost anything, from make-up to cars, is now sold as a contribution to “your story”. Contemporary narrative fiction, in turn, is increasingly reflecting on the ways in which identities are built on the basis of cultural narrative models and practices of narrating the past from national, transnational and global perspectives. This symposium examines the interrelationships between narrative, memory and identity from a variety of different perspectives, including (but not limited to) the following:

–      What productive avenues are there for more intensive dialogue between narrative studies and memory studies?

  • What perspectives do narrative studies and memory studies provide on rethinking identity and agency in the contemporary world?
  • What potential and dangers do different instrumental uses of narrative in contemporary society involve, when narrative is used for the purposes of promoting wellbeing, identity work and memory work?
  • How do contemporary literature, visual arts and media culture reflect on the uses and abuses of cultural narratives in storying lives?
  • How should we conceptualize the dynamics of narrative, memory and identity in ways that articulate the power of narrative engagement to open up new possibilities of thought, experience, and action?

–      What critical perspectives on conventional or normative notions of narrative identity (as linear, coherent etc.) do contemporary literature and visual arts open up and how does this criticism allow us to reconceptualize narrative identity and agency?

We invite proposals for 20-minute presentations. Please send a proposal (max. 300 words) and a short biographical statement to the conference secretary Eevastiina Kinnunen ( by 15 November 2018. If you would like to attend the symposium without presenting your work, please send us a biographical statement and briefly explain your interest in participating. The preliminary programme will be announced in mid-December at www.nordic.universityand

Confirmed keynote speakers

Mark Freeman

Jakob Lothe

Greta Olson

Andreea Deciu Ritivoi

Registration fee (includes coffee and lunch)

Ordinary participants: 120 €

Students: 80 €


Hanna Meretoja, Professor of Comparative Literature; Director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory, University of Turku

Eneken Laanes, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Tallinn University; Senior Researcher, Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences

The symposium is organised in collaboration with the University of Turku, SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory, and the research consortium “Instrumental Narratives: The Limits of Storytelling and New Story-Critical Narrative Theory” (Academy of Finland, 2018-2022).

Narrative and Memory: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics (, a three-year international research initiative (funded by the Nordic Summer University/Nordic Council of Ministers) with the aim of investigating how different storytelling practices of literature, audiovisual arts, social media and oral testimonies address the legacies of twentieth-century European conflicts and how they travel across national borders. It is an interdisciplinary network that brings together scholars of narrative and memory from the Nordic and Baltic countries, Great Britain, and around the world.

The Nordic Summer University (NSU, is a Nordic network for research and interdisciplinary studies. NSU is a nomadic, academic institution, which organises symposia across disciplinary and national borders. Since it was established in 1950, Nordic Summer University has organised forums for cultural and intellectual debate in the Nordic and Baltic region, involving students, academics, politicians, artists and intellectuals from this region and beyond. The backbone of the activities in NSU consists of its thematic study circles (, in which researchers, students and professionals from different backgrounds collaborate in scholarly investigations distributed regularly in summer and winter symposia during a three‐year period.

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