TRANSNATIONAL MODERN LANGUAGES
The Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8NX
Friday 2 and Saturday 3 December 2016
Teaching and research in Modern Languages are conventionally structured in ways which appear to insist on national or linguistic specificity. Work on the transnational inevitably poses questions on the nature of the underlying framework of Modern Languages: whether the discipline should be construed and practised as the inquiry into separate national traditions or as the study of cultures and their interactions. These structures seem inadequate at a time when the study of cultures delimited by the concept of the nation/national identities is becoming more difficult to justify in a world increasingly defined by the transnational and translingual, and by the material and non-material pressures of globalization. Challenging the assumption that cultures are self-contained units that correspond to sharply defined national boundaries must become an essential part of all disciplinary fields and sub-fields that make up Modern Languages, as they seek to avoid the risk of methodological nationalism and of participating in the very structures that it is their purpose to critique. At the same time, how might the transnational acknowledge the residual pull of the nation as a potent, albeit porous, container of cultural identity, and broker of citizenship?
A great deal of research within Modern Languages is already, albeit often implicitly, concerned with the transnational dimension of culture. In so doing, it poses questions about language, translation and multi-lingualism; about the set of practices that make up a sense of location and of belonging to a geographically determined site; about the notions of temporality that obtain within cultures; about modes of understanding subjectivity and alterity. All these questions are of fundamental importance for the study not only of the contemporary world, and its likely future, but for the study of the past.
The aim of the conference is to explore how the ‘cultural’ and the ‘transcultural’ cannot be studied in isolation but rather need to be seen as part of a complex system of circulation which goes beyond national boundaries, canons or linguistic discreteness. The conference aims to bring together researchers who are working on the transnational across Modern Languages and whose work poses questions both on how we study culture and how we produce a version of Modern Languages that is fully respondent to practices of human mobility and cultural exchange.