SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

"Comparative Perspectives on Gender in the (Post)Colonial Literatures of North India, the Horn of Africa, and the Arab World"


Date: 20 March 2018Time: 10:00 AM

Finishes: 20 March 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: MBI Al Jaber Building, 21 Russell Square Room: Seminar Room

Type of Event: 0

Organised by the MULOSIGE ERC Research Project

In her seminal Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, Joan Scott (1986) called for a constant interrogation of historical gender relations and identities, as well as of particular gender symbolic invocations (which, how, in what context, and by whom these were made). Following her insight, this workshop aims at exploring gender representations, themes and debates in the literatures of India, the Horn of Africa, and the Arab world. The workshop – organised within the umbrella of the ERC research project MULOSIGE –  primarily aims at tracing comparisons among these world regions. Are there common topics, literary debates, strategies and tropes related to gender among the three regions? What are the understandings of what it means to be and act as a man or a woman in the (post)colonial literary oeuvres of these regions of the Global South – or are gender binaries not present, or irrelevant? Are the literary works of North India, the Horn, and the Arab world which deal with gender part of the canon, literary history, and translation practices?

Access to education, free time, and financial resources has often been more restricted to women, and that has influenced in the way in which women and men could participate in literature as writers, readers, translators, critics – even as characters. Besides, as certain genres were more contingent on education than others, genre and gender could be conceived as connected. Thus, considering female authors may influence well-established notions of literary history and processes, and it can feminise the still overwhelmingly male canons. Gender, as a primary socio-cultural category, in relation to class, religion, sexuality, and race, is critical in shaping many aspects related to literature, and its study. Yet gender does not only affect women, despite the widespread tendency to approach male authors and characters as if they were a-gendered. For that reason, this workshop intends to shed light onto notions of masculinity, and how they played out in different types of literary pieces in the different MULOSIGE regions.

The femininity and masculinity models that emerged from within nineteenth- and twentieth-century reformist trends often drew on ‘classical’ figures (positive religious characters, rulers; and negative ones, such as the ‘omni-sexual women’, so prolific in Islamicate and Indian literatures). Resistance to the imposition of colonial knowledge and science was often put in the form of cultural authenticity, frequently associated with women and the feminised realm. In the 1930s and 1940s in the Maghreb women’s bodies became the locus of a struggle between colonial and indigenous sources of authority. More broadly, in times of pronounced socio-political historical change, gender has symbolically marked and reshaped anxieties related to shifts in power, but it has also set the path for the emergence of subversive ideas. What genres were conceived to be more suitable to convey such notions? And what significant geographies can we trace in the literatures that discuss or represent gender, both in the local and the trans-local realm?

The papers will explore:

  • Gender representations in theatre plays, historical oeuvres, novels, poetry, media, and oral literature
  • Gender (particularly masculinity) in relation to both colonialism and modernity
  • Literary depictions of the tropes of gender reversal (emasculation of men, masculinisation of women), homoeroticism (also as “lesbian continuum” [Rich, 1980]) and rape, and how they articulate questions of both colonial and postcolonial power
  • Women writers, their place in the local and trans-local literatures (in terms of circulation, literary and translation practices)
  • Feminist/queer writings in relation to previous/other literary gender representations and pieces
  • The significant geographies that these writings suggest: the relationship between the local and the trans-local realm
  • Relationship/forms of multilingualism and gender


10-11.30 Panel 1: Constructing Modern and Heroic Masculinities
Marilyn Booth: “Training Boys to be Men in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Egyptian Conduct Literature”
Sara Marzagora: “‘We have not inherited your spirit”: intergenerational tensions and the crisis of masculinity in 1960s Ethiopian theatre”
Nora Parr: “Figuring the Fighter: Masculinity, Plot Drivers, and Impotence in Arabic Literature on the ’67’ divide”
11.30-11.45 Coffee Break
11.45-12.45 Panel 2: History (Herstory), and Literary Circulations of Gender(ed) Notions
Itzea Goikolea-Amiano: “Gendering al-Andalus and Andalusifying Gender in Moroccan Colonial Literature”
Gretchen Head: “Literary Circulations and Gender Disruptions: When Egypt Writes and Morocco Reads”
12.45-1.30 Lunch Break
1.30-3.20 Panel 3: Women of Letters and Characters: Resistance, Multilingualism, and Space
Ruixuan Li: “Being heard as Somali women: an examination of poetry by Somali women in the nomadic society, in the nationalist struggle, and in the diaspora”
Jack Clift: “‘I did not move, I did not scream’: Reading gender, violence and silence in Hindi and Urdu fiction”
Poonkulaly Gunaseelan: “Resistance through writing (?): Writing and representing rape in Shashi Deshpande’s The Binding Vine (1992) and Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (2017)”
Chinmay Sharma: “Who speaks the story?: Gender and Narrative in the Mahabharata”
3.20-3.35 Coffee Break
3.35-4.15 Keynote
Kumkum Sangari: “The gendered politics of reversal: An (extra)literary formation”
4.15-5 Final Discussion

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