Coming-of-age in the Contemporary World: New Directions 2017

Country: Netherlands

City: Utrecht

Abstr. due: 23.09.2016

Dates: 06.07.17 — 09.07.17

Area Of Sciences: Humanities; Cultural science;

Organizing comittee e-mail:

Organizers: Utrecht University


Bildungsroman, a term used in literary criticism to refer to a novel of formation or education, became widely used near the end of the 19th century to refer to texts in which the protagonist is central and the theme involves his or her development from childhood and/or adolescence to adulthood. From early, classical examples such as Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796) to more recent, popular iterations such as the Harry Potter series, the coming-of-age story has provided not only an in-depth relationship with the text’s protagonist, but also an understanding of the cultural critiques of the author, examined through the protagonist and his or her peers.

The evolution of the genre is a fascinating one. In many ways, the traditional bildungsroman can be seen as a product of European modernity. As such, it reflects the situated and historical conjuncture that gave rise to the centripetal and exclusionary construction of the nation-state, buttressed by a unitary vision of the subject, her language, her sexuality, her religion, and so on. In contrast, the contemporary bildungsroman has become a de-centered (and at times decolonial and/or post-national), globalized genre that often serves to interrogate the crisis of subjectivity. Initially focused on the teleological development and the social opportunities of a white male protagonist, the bildungsroman now portrays identity formation from a diversity of positionalities and as a contingent, performative, and layered process that is very much influenced by existing and emerging categories, norms, and power relations (Butler 1990; Braidotti 1994; Walker 2001).

This seminar asks: What is the contemporary bildungsroman, and how is it different from classic definitions of the genre? How have the debates and events of the 20th and 21st century shaped the narratives of protagonists whose Bildung (formation process) they affect? As populations grow ever more transient, how does the (dis)connectedness of narrators to their communities of origin influence the story they tell? What is the place of technology in the stories that narrate growing up in today’s world? Finally, while stories of Bildung emerged in the literary, novelistic realm, how have new and older media (e.g., cinema, graphic novel, video games, social media) contributed to redefine the genre?
We welcome proposals on (or related to) the following topics:

-    Bildung and/in crisis
-    differences in language and/or cultural origin
-    technology
-    new and older media
-    minority status (gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, racial, etc.)
-    youth subcultures
-    resistance to or attempts to fit the “mainstream”
-    new or changing social demands and norms

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