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Literature, Art and Culture in an Age of Global Risk


An international, interdisciplinary conference

2-3 July 2009

Location: Cardiff University

Keynote speakers: Prof. Karen Pinkus (University of Southern California), Dr Charlie Gere (Lancaster University, UK)

What are the cultural implications of living under conditions of global, manufactured risk?

In the twentieth century, the possibility arose for the first time that a crisis of planetary proportions might result from human activities. By the early decades of the century, global economic and financial interdependence was such that a crisis unfolding in one location could radiate outwards to destabilize the entire socio-economic world-system. Through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the risk of pandemic upheaval has been heightened by an array of phenomena: the expansion and acceleration of media and telecommunications networks; the integration of financial markets and the instantaneous ramification of market fluctuations via programme trading; nuclear proliferation; international terrorism; rapid population growth; unsustainable consumption of natural resources; overload of electricity grids, leading to cascading power failures; pollution of the ecosphere and resulting climate change; computer viruses and ‘cyber-warfare’; genetic engineering; cloning; nanotechnology; artificial intelligence; bioweaponry; the emergence and rapid spread of new strains of infectious disease; and the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Scholars speak of ‘systemic risk’ (Anthony Giddens), ‘simultaneous crisis formation’ (David Harvey), a ‘general disaster’ (Brian Massumi), ‘worst imaginable accidents’ (Ulrich Beck), ‘total risk of catastrophe’ (François Ewald), ‘global’ or ‘integral’ ‘accidents (Paul Virilio), ‘global catastrophic risks’ (Nick Bostromand Milan Cirkovic), and ‘modernist events’ – ‘events whichnot only could not possibly have occurred before the twentieth century but the nature, scope, and implications of which no prior age could even have imagined’ (Hayden White).

Such occurrences hover indeterminably somewhere between the possible, the probable, and the inevitable. This conference will explore how writers, artists, filmmakers, dramatists, philosophers, and critical and cultural theorists have responded to the prospect and reality of global crisis. Moreover, it will ask how the methodologies of textual and cultural criticism might offer new insights into our age of global risk.

Topics might include, but are by no means limited to:

For further information, please contact the conference organizer, Dr Paul Crosthwaite, at