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[Commlist] CfP: Roundtable on Witnessing -- Memory Studies Association conference

Thu Sep 10 09:53:42 GMT 2020

*The (Im)Possibilities of Bearing Witness:*

*The Intrinsic Value and Healing Power of Autobiographic Narratives*

The Witnessing Working Group of the Memory Studies Association (MSA) is organizing a roundtable during the forthcoming MSA annual conference in Warsaw, Poland, July 5-9, 2021. Due to Covid-19, virtual participation will be possible. This roundtable will discuss the role of the researcher and the ways in which his/her testimony with traumatic experiences influences the course of research, but also the way in which the individual traumatic experiences of the researcher affect his/her trauma research methodology and narratives produced. Besides that, we would like to explore ways through which witness testimonies can influence researchers and ordinary readers and if (and to what extent) such testimonies may help post-trauma healing and recovery.

According to the psychiatrist Dori Laub, a victim needs the presence of  a witness (an empathetic listener or reader), to confront the darkness of painful memories and to organize and process traumatic experiences. “‘Arousers’ of memories” helpedHolocaust survivor Primo Levi (1990) describe the horrors of Auschwitz and discover meaning in writing and literature. For him, the true witness is the one who does not survive. Hence the survivor bears the responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak, or to serve as a “moral witness,” to testify with a “moral purpose” (Margalit, 2002, 149). Often researchers are put in the position of the (moral) witness while investigating the impact of traumatic events. How does such implied moral purpose influence the scholarly endeavors? And how does the arousal of the scholar's own memories in the process of witnessing shape the course of the research conducted? Can a researcher turn into “a witness to himself”/herself (Laub, 1991, 58), potentially working through his/her own traumatic past while witnessing the trauma of others? And how can such self-reflections and self-explorations—of the survivor and/or researcher—be productively integrated into scholarly writings, possibly exploring paths of healing, which reach a wider audience than the ivory tower of academia?

This roundtable is meant as a forum for researchers from various academic fields (including but not limited to anthropology, history, psychology as well as literary, film and media studies). We seek papers of 10 minutes length allowing for an extended discussion.Please submit a paper proposal (not exceeding 250 words) in addition to a short bio (no longer than 200 words including pertinent publications) via e-mail to Alma Jeftic ((alma.jeftic /at/ <mailto:(alma.jeftic /at/>) and Stefanie Hofer ((hofer /at/ <mailto:(hofer /at/>) *by October 2, 2020*. Please note that we aim to submit panels to the organising committee of the Memory Studies Association *by 15^th October 2020* and the final decision will depend on this committee. As in previous years, all presenters have to be members of MSA.

For more information please consult MSA webpage: <>

Proposals not limited to the following topics are invited:

-How can traumatic narratives in scholarship be represented to adequately reflect the suffering of the victim?

-(Im)possibilities of bearing witness and how to be addressed in qualitative research?

-Witnessing and the dangers of appropriation

-The overwhelming nature of autobiographical narratives

-The healing power of trauma narratives

-Cultural representations of trauma and recovery as catharses

-(Moral) witnessing and activism

-Postcolonial witnessing and non-Western healing paradigms


Laub, D. (1992). Bearing Witness, or the Vicissitudes of Listening. In S. Felman and D. Laub, /Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History/ (pp. 57-74). New York: Routledge.

Levi, P. (1990). /The Sixth Day and Other Tales/. London: Simon & Schuster.

Margalit, A. (2002). /The Ethics of Memory. /Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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