Workshop: Present Tense, Past Perfect? Narrative constructions of social representations in Central Eurasia – University of Copenhagen

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Workshop: Present Tense, Past Perfect? Narrative constructions of social representations in Central Eurasia

Copenhagen, 28-29 March 2019

This two-day workshop is the major event of a three-year research project, “Between homogenization and fragmentation: textual practices as strategies of integration and identity maintenance among the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China (20th‒21st centuries),” supported by the Danish Velux Fonden (start date: 1 September 2017).

In the extremely tense political context created by ongoing securitization and aggressive assimilation policies, this project explores textual strategies employed by the Uyghurs to demarcate and sustain their collective identity and negotiate their subjecthood within the Chinese polity in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Focusing on four distinct text corpora of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the project explores how Uyghur elites have used the leeway available to them through their status as a minority to produce knowledge about their group and construct identity.

The recent escalation of the “Xinjiang problem” lends the project a new significance, since this leeway is no longer available. Since the writing of the original proposal, the near-contemporary perspective of three of the sub-projects has metamorphosed into a retrospective due to the further escalation of the political situation. Researchers attend to multiple, cross-cutting loyalties, discourses of belonging and identity, indigenous subjectivity, and local practices and agency against the backdrop of sometimes stable, at other times changing historical circumstances. These may create tension in the present that in turn can lead to either an idealization of the past or to using the past as a social commentary on the present. The title of the workshop is intended to emphasize the importance of the historical context for knowledge production as well as our interest in textual strategies of all sorts.

We are particularly interested in the textual strategies employed by indigenous authors to construct group representations of all sorts (legal, ethnographic, fictional or historical, etc.), taking careful account of the interaction between texts and contexts. Through the presentation of diverse case studies, we anticipate stimulating discussions that will mark out new directions for the study of the representation of social identities.

Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Anna-Luise Kraayvanger, Rune Steenberg