EVENT Jul 01
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Monstrous Ontologies: Politics, Ethics, Materiality

Organization: University of Roehampton
Categories: American, Comparative, Interdisciplinary, British, Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, Literary Theory, Women's Studies, African-American, Colonial, Revolution & Early National, Transcendentalists, 1865-1914, 20th & 21st Century, Medieval, Early Modern & Renaissance, Long 18th Century, Romantics, Victorian, 20th & 21st Century, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy
Event Date: 2019-07-01 to 2019-07-01 Abstract Due: 2019-03-01 Abstract Deadline has passed

Call for Papers

Fantastic animals, evil criminals, notorious neighbourhoods, mysterious objects, invisible ideologies, unspoken laws: monstrosity can take different shapes, crossing the boundaries between the visible and the thinkable, reality and imagination human and nonhuman; as an uncanny atmosphere always on the verge of being materialised and individualised in the monsters that populate collective imagination, biological taxonomies, legal discourses, and moral panics. Contemporary critical thought has done much to frame monstrosity as reflecting the cultural anxieties of the contexts from which it is drawn. Accordingly, much of its wider significance has been located in the affective impact and emotional salience of monsters: the ability to become fearsome, to provoke feelings of disgust, but also to agglomerate desire around a not fully-explored alterity, and create curiosity towards their embodied transgression. Insofar as a purely cultural construction depending on the transgression of given (social, cultural, moral, biological) norms, monstrosity has been critically demystified, by challenging its insidious categorisations of the other (species, body, race, gender) as monstrous. While, as the current climate forcefully shows, it is necessary to challenge these monstrous otherings and their perverse socio-political effects, we do contest the consequent reduction of monstrosity to a mere cultural construction of the other. Against this dialectical definition, we do claim that monstrosity is not a merely epistemological construct, but that it has an ontological reality.

There is a more that the monster embodies and communicates, a monstrous excess that materially resists being ingested within an order (it is this very resistance that is unbearably shown and viscerally exposed by the disgust the monster elicits), and yet cannot be placed in a negative, dialectical opposition to that order either. Reason, Language, Law, Science and other conceptual mechanisms do not simply produce monsters (as their dialectical counter-part), they rather capture, domesticate and naturalise them within their own system, denying their monstrous excess. As George Canguilhem suggests, the sleep of reason does not generate monsters: it liberates them. While monsters may be said to be the end product of discursive rhetorics, normative pressure, and bio-political apparatuses, we suggest monstrosity to be inherently excessive to them. As such, understanding monstrosity means to radically challenge not only the (legal, social, political) categories we use, but also the very mechanisms of categorisation through which reality is framed and acted upon. Here lies the profound ethical and political dimension that monstrosity forces us to acknowledge, one that cannot be unfolded by merely deconstructing monstrosity, and requires facing its uncomfortable, appalling, and revealing materiality. This is the challenge this symposium addresses, encouraging participants to do so by engaging with questions such as (but not limited to):

·     What makes a monster a monster?

·     What is the material reality of monstrosity?

·     What is the advantage of approaching monstrosity ontologically?

·     What would a monstrous ethics look like?

·     What is the political potential of a monstrous ethics?

·     Human, nonhuman, inhuman monsters.

·     Monsters, fear and the politics of affect.

·     Invisible monsters: atmospheres, ideologies, structures.

·     Is gender monstrous?

·     Monstrosity, violence, resistance


We welcome trans-disciplinary contributions, from legal, sociological, legal, psychological, philosophical, political and cultural studies, as well as from the arts. This symposium will compile the research papers presented into a book to be published in 2020.


Please e-mail a 250-word abstract to Caterina.Nirta@roehampton.ac.uk by 1 March 2019



Caterina Nirta, University of Roehampton

Andrea Pavoni, DINAMIA’CET, ISCTE-IUL, University Institute of Lisbon


Caterina Nirta