June 14 - 16, 2018
The beach has recently become the site of important transformations: understood in the context of mass tourism for many years, nowadays we perceive the beach as bearing witness to the arrival of refugees, to pollution and climate change (e.g. tsunamis, rising sea levels), and to a growing number of sociocultural conflicts (e.g. over dress codes as in the case of burkini / nudist debates). As an area of unregulated movement as well as an institutional / institutionalized border, the beach receives growing media interest, but still remains at the periphery of maritime studies in academia. To do justice to the complex spatial concepts, dynamics, practices, and aesthetics of the beach, the international conference ›Narrating and Constructing the Beach‹ views it as a (border) phenomenon in its own right and sets out to analyze it systematically and historically.
The (European) »invention of the beach«, which Alain Corbin situates approximately in the 18th century, is connected to a myriad of discourses and practices which crystallize at, and are projected onto, the beach. In this respect, the conference will trace the manifold, changing, and at times competing representations and experiences of the beach in artwork, culture, and society as well as the many cultural imaginaries of the beach in their global and historical diversity. One focal point will concern the techniques employed to narrate, construct, and reshape ›the beach‹: it is our cultural, artistic, and perceptual practices that produce the beach as an ever changing aesthetic, sociocultural, political, historical, and also geographic space. As such, the beach is at once liminal and multiple, determined by the juxtaposition of land, ocean and sky as well as the blurring of the lines that separate them. It can turn from a representational space to a living space, and is at times perceived as a non-place or a heterotopia.
From differing and decidedly interdisciplinary research perspectives, the conference also inquires into how ways of experiencing the beach interact with sociocultural body practices and markers of difference (such as gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, age, dis/ability, etc.): locals and travelers alike can perceive the beach as a space of encounter with the – erotic or dangerous – other, leading to (transitory) loss or vehement demarcation of the self. Contributing practices include Grand Tours, medical / health retreats, beach pastimes (swimming, promenading, building sand castles, collecting seashells as well as flotsam and jetsam), (mass-)touristic colonization, gender specific productions of subspaces (e.g. through towels, gazes), or the artificial incorporation of beaches into cities. Contributions could investigate these and other aspects from the point of view of changing cultural, medial, or aesthetic forms.
But even when not thinking of such sociocultural ties, the beach remains a fluid and a non-localizable space which constitutes itself mainly via relations: for example, it is dependent on, yet also autonomous from, the sea and water, the harbor, urban structures, and other forms of the shore and the coast. The beach can be read in analogy or opposition to the harbor when representing the clandestine or the disturbances and disruptions in global systems of institutionalized trade currents and travel itineraries. To reach the beach might, thus, result from going astray, evading the harbor, or missing it – from being stranded. By analyzing the establishment of sanatoriums, the regulation of trade, tourism or migration, presentations could detail how processes of order and institutionalization remain (in)visible, how they (temporarily) establish structures, or even how they are in vain.
While the conference is interested in how these liminal and multiple border spaces are narrated and constructed by sociocultural practices, it also investigates how beaches are generated by literature, music, theater, performance, film, photography, and art as (aesthetic) spaces and in which ways ›the beach‹ shapes and transforms both poetics and aesthetics.
We thus invite contributions from all fields interested in cultural studies and pertaining to all epochs and places around the globe to analyze beaches as cultural artifacts or in cultural artifacts. Researchers can take into account the connections and interactions between the discursive conditions of the beach, its aesthetic dimensions, and its historical and cultural practices.
Abstracts in English or German (300-500 words) for a 30-minute presentation and a subsequent 15-minute discussion can be submitted with a short academic C.V. by January 14, 2018 to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should not have been previously published as we plan to publish the conference proceedings. Please indicate whether you might be comfortable speaking in English and/or German so we can find a balance between both conference languages.