Call for Submissions | Tamil Studies Symposium

Bearing Witness: Unspeakable Crimes, Invisible Atrocities
York University, 6-7 May 2016

The most challenging paradox of the 21st Century may well be the saturation of our media with news of atrocities, even as many conflicts around the world are described as ‘wars without witnesses’. While news reports from ‘embedded’ journalists or social media prompt social media users to change their status updates in keeping with the flag or caption of the moment, the narratives of those most vulnerable to atrocities, or survivors of contemporary genocides rarely seem to surface. When they do, they are most likely to be heard if they are cast in the interests or the literary and/or ideological language of neocolonialism. At its most sympathetic, Western media coverage of atrocity often tends toward reductions and slippages that mischaracterize local struggles. At its most dangerous, Western media representation of conflicts in modes that serve the military aggression of their own states can have disastrous consequences for vulnerable populations, as fundamentalist states appropriate this language for their own purposes.

The characterization of the conflict in Sri Lanka as a ‘war on terror’, in alignment with Western paradigms post 9/11, sanctioned violence against Tamils as a patriotic duty necessary for the maintenance of national unity. While non-state actors must also be held accountable for their crimes, the state’s framing of the Tamil struggle for self-determination as ‘terrorist’ and separatist contributed significantly to the collapse of an ethnic identity into a singular militarized and antagonistic one. This helped bring about the deaths of thousands of civilians in violation of international law; their deaths deemed a ‘necessary evil’. In the wake of systematically planned and implemented ethnic extermination, narratives of development have served to further entrench Tamils as regressive and opposed to national progress.

While this symposium focuses on Tamil Studies, we hope to have a comparative panel on the themes, and welcome submissions from First Nations, indigenous peoples, and other racialized and marginalized groups whose claims to rights are often precarious, and whose experience of genocidal state practices remained largely hidden. Submissions are welcome in the form of academic papers, works of art, music, film and live performance. Abstracts must not exceed 250 words, or five minutes (if submitted in the form of a film or music clip).

Topics for exploration may include:

• Translations and modifications of literary narratives of trauma
• Artists’ explorations of subjectivity outside state constructs of the ‘human’ (literature, film, music and fine art as well as curated social media posts)
• Politics, geopolitics and international law (to what extent do geopolitics establish norms and/or serve as a barrier to the realization of rights)
• Interrogating forms of evidence sanctioned by states for establishing refugee claims as well as for international and/or domestic prosecutions of war crimes
• Accountability and non-state actors
• Developmental agendas in the service of genocide
• Denial of livelihood and displacement as genocidal practice
• Mourning and acknowledging trauma outside traditional spaces
• Therapeutic practice within and beyond borders (mental health discourse and culture revival in homelands and diaspora)
• Diasporic attachments and detachments (diasporic privilege, transnational responsibility and accountability)
• Exclusionary practices among the marginalized (ways in which religious, caste or queer identities further marginalize people from access to accountability, healing and/or mourning)

Note: Please alert us to media and/or staging requirements in your submissions. Submissions and a short bio must be emailed to

The deadline for submissions is 29 February 2016.