9th June

Sonia Baelo-Allué and Mónica Calvo-PascualVulnerability and the Posthuman in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The fourth industrial revolution is defined by its exponential speed, scope, and unprecedented impact on how we live, express ourselves, work, connect with others, and get information. It comes with a set of emerging technologies which make use of digital power and are organized around the physical, the digital and the biological domains which co-evolve, fuse and interact (Schwab 2016). This continuum between the physical, digital and biological domains also affects the definition of the human and fits well with the conception of the posthuman as seen by critical posthumanists who understand the human and the non-human (the machine, the plant, and the animal) as a continuum (Braidotti 2013; Herbrechter 2013; Nayar 2014). This nonfixed, mutable and co-evolving posthuman nature also brings new forms of vulnerability as the nonhuman becomes an essential part of the (post)human sense of identity. The dependence and entanglement of our organic bodies with the non-human brings both the unwillingness to accept but also the fear of losing this posthuman aspect of our previously autonomous selves. This talk will deal with two forms of vulnerability that have emerged from the fourth industrial revolution and our posthuman condition: the excesses of techno-scientific development and the consequent environmental degradation in the Anthropocene. Both types of vulnerability will be explored in the analysis of three recent dystopian novels: Don DeLillo’s The Silence (2020) with its aesthetics of melancholia caused by the sudden loss of technology and Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002) and The Tiger Flu (2018) and theirdepiction of the exploitation and resilience of the more than human world.

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Sonia Baelo-Allué (University of Zaragoza)

Sonia Baelo-Allué is a tenured lecturer at the Department of English and German of the University of Zaragoza (Spain) where she currently teaches U.S. Literature and British and American Culture. Together with MónicaCalvo-Pascual, she is co-P.I. of the research project “Contemporary North-American Fiction and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: From Posthumanity to Privation and Social Change” (PID2019-106855GB-I00).

Her current research focuses on contemporary U.S. fiction, trauma studies, 9/11 fiction, digital fiction and posthumanism. Her more recent publications include the chapter “Posthumanism and Trauma” in Palgrave Handbook of Critical Posthumanism (Palgrave, 2022) and the co-edition with Dr. Mónica Calvo-Pascual of Transhumanism and Posthumanism in Twenty-First Century Narrative (Routledge, 2021). She is also the author of Bret Easton Ellis’s Controversial Fiction: Writing between High and Low Culture (Bloomsbury, 2011) and co-edited with Dr. Dolores Herrero two books on the representation of trauma in literature: The Splintered Glass: Facets of Trauma in the Post-Colony and Beyond (Rodopi, 2011) and Between the Urge to Know and the Need to Deny: Trauma and Ethics in Contemporary British and American Literature (C. Winter, 2011).

From 2013 until 2017 she was the editor of Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies (Literature, Film and Cultural Studies volumes).

Mónica Calvo-Pascual (University of Zaragoza)

Mónica Calvo-Pascual is a tenured lecturer at the Department of English and German of the University of Zaragoza, where she graduated with honors in English, receiving an academic award. She subsequently obtained a competitive scholarship to carry on her doctoral studies at the University of Zaragoza, where she completed her PhD thesis on Stephen Marlowe’s historical fiction. Her current teaching at the Faculty of Letters includes twentieth-century U.S. literature and British history and culture.

Together with Sonia Baelo-Allué, she is co-P.I. of the research project “Contemporary North-American Fiction and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: From Posthumanity to Privation and Social Change” (PID2019-106855GB-I00).

Her current research focuses on critical posthumanism and the Anthropocene in twenty-first century U.S. and transnational-American literature. She is author of Chaos and Madness: The Politics of Fiction in Stephen Marlowe’s Historical Narratives, Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi (2011). Together with Dr. Marita Nadal, she has edited the volume Trauma in Contemporary Literature: Narrative and Representation (Routledge, 2014); and, with Dr. Sonia Baelo-Allué, Transhumanism and Posthumanism in Twenty-First Century Narrative (Routledge, 2021).

10th June

Jean-Michel Ganteau and Susana OnegaTowards an Ecology of Attention: Considering Human and Environmental Vulnerabilities (Embeddings, Embodiments, Interdependences)

In the contemporary economy of attention, various types of vulnerability are on show. The SARS-COVID19 pandemic has been instrumental in revealing the global reach and nature of vulnerabilities, of the human type, clearly, but also of our non-human environment. The mediasphere is full of instances of precariousness: physical, social, economic, environmental, etc. Still, despite a permanent exposure that does not shy from the spectacular, the everyday attentional regime that we are submitted to is one in which our attention as the rarest of commodities on demand is permanently solicited by the plethora of messages and alerts transforming natural rhythms into permanent emergency and submitting our apprehension of vulnerability to a model that is cut off from direct experience. In other terms, our contemporary experience of vulnerability is mediated, generic, and remains abstract despite our being bombarded by images and reminders.
Against this tyrannical model stands one that is represented by literature and, more specifically perhaps, by the contemporary fiction that literary scholars are intent on promoting. In other terms, our contention is that the novel is a privileged apparatus for paying attention to ordinary vulnerabilities of various types, whether they are physical, social, economic, environmental, in that it provides ways to generate attention to what matters. This it does either by drawing attention to invisibilities or to ordinary elements of our social or natural environment that are too visible to be perceived. In other terms, the novel trains our attention so that we envisage perception not as a given but as a capacity that has to be built up. This is does through various specific devices (like the incarnated event of the character, focalisation, the use of special rhythms, etc.) that are instrumental in getting the reader to attend to singularities as opposed to abstractions. In so doing, fiction promotes an ethics of the particularist type that works hand in hand with an ecology of attention taking into consideration human and natural interdependences and providing an experience of the vulnerabilities that they present. We will attempt to justify this contention by providingtextual evidence taken from various examples from contemporary British fiction, with special reference to Artificial Intelligence, disability and new nature writing.

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Jean-Michel Ganteau (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3)

Jean-Michel Ganteau is Professor of Contemporary British Literature at the University Paul Valéry Montpellier 3 (France) and a member of the Academia Europaea. He is the editor of the journal Études britanniques contemporaines. He is the author of three monographs: David Lodge: le choix de l’éloquence (2001), Peter Ackroyd et la musique du passé (2008) and The Ethics and Aesthetics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Literature (2015). He is also the editor, with Christine Reynier, of four volumes of essays: Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Literature (Publications Montpellier 3, 2005), Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Arts (Presses Universitaires de la Méditerrannée, 2007), Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Literature (PULM, 2010) and Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Arts (PULM, 2011).

He has also co-edited, with Susana Onega, The Ethical Component in Experimental British Fiction since the 1960s (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), Ethics and Trauma in Contemporary Narrative in English (Rodopi, 2011), Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Literature (Routledge, 2012), Contemporary Trauma Narratives: Liminality and the Ethics of Form (Routledge, 2014), Victimhood and Vulnerability in 21st Century Fiction (Routledge, 2017) and Transcending the Postmodern. The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm (Routledge, 2020).

He has published extensively on contemporary British fiction, with a special interest in the ethics of affects trauma criticism and theory, and the ethics of vulnerability, in France and abroad (other European countries, the United States), as chapters in edited volumes or in such journals as Miscelánea, Anglia, Symbolism, The Cambridge Quarterly, and so on.

Susana Onega (University of Zaragoza)


Susana Onega is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the Department of English and German Studies of Zaragoza University and a member of the Research Institute of Employment, Digital Society and Sustainability. She was granted the Miguel Servet Award for Research Excellence by the Government of Aragón in 2021, and the title of Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College (Univ. of London) in 1996. She is a coopted member of the Academia Europaea (AE) since 2008, the former President of the Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies (AEDEAN), the former Spanish Board member of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE), and the former Head of a competitive research team working on Contemporary Narratives in English.

Onega has written numerous book chapters and articles (in Anglia, Anglistik, Atlantis, Connotations, Journal of Literary Theory, Symbolism, European Journal of English Studies, Miscelánea, Recherchesanglaises et nord-américaines, The European Review, Twentieth-century Literature, The European Legacy), on the work of contemporary writers (such as Peter Ackroyd, Julian Barnes, A. S. Byatt, J. M. Coetzee, Eva Figes, Jon McGregor, Tom McCarthy, Anne Michaels, David Mitchell, Bharati Mukherjee, Charles Palliser, Graham Swift, W. G. Sebald, Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterson), on narrative theory, and on ethics and trauma, among others. She is the author of a monograph in Spanish on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (Pórtico 1979), and of Form and Meaning in the Novels of John Fowles (U.M.I. Research Press 1989); Peter Ackroyd. The Writer and His Work (Northcote House and the British Council 1998); Metafiction and Myth in the Novels of Peter Ackroyd (Camden House 1999); and Jeanette Winterson (Manchester UP 2006). She is also the author of monographic sections on “John Fowles in Focus” in Anglistik 13.1 (Spring 2002: 45-107), “Intertextuality”, in Symbolism: An International Journal of Critical Aesthetics, 5 (New York: AMS. Press, 2005: 3-314) and on “Structuralism and Narrative Poetics”, in Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide (2006).

She has edited and translated John Fowles’ The Collector into Spanish (Cátedra 2000); has edited “Telling Histories”: Narrativizing History: Historicizing Literature (Rodopi 1995); and has coedited, with José Ángel García Landa, Narratology: An Introduction (Longman, 1996); with John A Stotesbury, London in Literature: Visionary Mappings of the Metropolis (Carl Winter 2002); with Christian Gutleben, Refracting the Canon in Contemporary Literature and Film (Rodopi 2004); with Annette Gomis, George Orwell: A Centenary Celebration (Carl Winter 2005); with Constanza del Rio and Maite Escudero-Alías, Traumatic Memory and the Ethical, Political and Transhistorical Functions of Literature (Palgrave 2017); and with Jean-Michel Ganteau, The Ethical Component in Experimental British Fiction since the 1960s (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), Ethics and Trauma in Contemporary Narrative in English (Rodopi, 2011), Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Fiction (Routledge 2013); Liminality and The Ethics of Form in Contemporary Trauma Narratives (Routledge 2014), Victimhood and Vulnerability in Twenty-first Century Fiction (Routledge 2017), The Wounded Hero in Contemporary Fiction: A Paradoxical Quest(Routledge 2018), and Transcending the Postmodern: The Singular Response of Literature to the Transmodern Paradigm (Routledge 2020).

She is currently co-editing with Jean-Michel Ganteau The Poetics and Ethics of (Un)grievability in Contemporary Fiction and the Brill Handbook of Literary Criticism and Ethics.

Patrick BrownHoping as Coping amid Vulnerability: a Post-Formal Perspective

Hope is a fundamental and enduring process by which individuals, organisations and communities cope amid conditions of vulnerability and uncertainty. Whereas some perspectives on hope, for example in theology and the caring sciences, have tended to emphasise its positive impact on motivation and endurance amid suffering, critical work in sociology and anthropology has also indicated a ‘dark-side’ to hope. In this keynote I will explore some of these important insights into hoping in late-modernity, first drawing upon a wider literature and, in particular, developing insights from the sociology of risk and uncertainty, which help us to conceptualise hope in relation to other social processes of coping amid vulnerability and uncertainty, such as trust, risk and magic.
From this conceptual basis, I will then draw upon research in different healthcare contexts, including treatment for psychosis and for advanced-stage cancer, to explore in more detail what it means to live with hope. I especially want to illuminate some of the inherent tensions and contradictions that are very much apparent within vulnerable individuals’ narratives of hoping. Indeed, I will argue that these tensions are central to the nature of hope and, moreover, grant us important insights into related processes of coping such as faith, magic and rituals. Social scientists have created a number of obstacles to understanding these everyday forms of coping amid vulnerability. I will conclude my lecture by considering some useful techniques for working round these obstacles, which I characterise in terms of adopting a ‘post-formal’ perspective.

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Patrick Brown (University of Amsterdam)

Patrick Brown is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam and director of the research group on Political Sociology, within the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research. Patrick has twice been the Chair of the Research Network on Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty (RN22) within the European Sociological Association (2009-2013; 2019-2021) and is the editor of Health, Risk & Society

Patrick’s research mainly focuses upon social processes by which individuals, groups and organisations cope with vulnerability and uncertainty – including risk, trust, hope, rituals, and faith, among others – and the way these processes shape one another, wider organisational dynamics and the everyday practices of professionals and patients. In researching and conceptualising these phenomena, Patrick has engaged with a range of social and political theory, particularly work by Mary Douglas, Norbert Elias, Jürgen Habermas and Alfred Schütz. 

On a more applied level – Patrick has worked on or coordinated a number of projects funded by, or carried out in cooperation with, organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, the European Commission, the UK Government (Department of Work and Pensions) and the European Medicines Agency. These studies have looked at various features of citizens’ lived experiences, (dis)trust, the engagement of patients and professionals, and the implications of these for policy-making.

Patrick recently finished a book On Vulnerability (Routledge 2021) and he is currently working with colleagues at Århus, Leiden and Vienna on the REACTOR project, financed by the DFF (Independent Research Fund Denmark).