Conference reports Bakhtin as Praxis. Academic Production, Political Activism, and Artistic Practice
The purpose of the conference was to establish new points of contact between the actively developing traditional Bakhtin studies (in literature, language, and cultural theory), on the one hand, and those new directions in research that have discovered the importance of Bakhtin’s ideas in new applications in the humanities, social sciences, education, artistic research, and art practices.
Published on balticworlds.com on oktober 9, 2014
The 15th International Bakhtin conference, Stockholm, July 23rd-27th, 2014
The purpose of the conference was to establish new points of contact between the actively developing traditional Bakhtin studies (in literature, language, and cultural theory), on the one hand, and those new directions in research that have discovered the importance of Bakhtin’s ideas in new applications in the humanities, social sciences, education, artistic research, and art practices. For each of these directions, Bakhtin became a source of inspiration – but in every of them there evolves a new, quite special Bakhtin.
The idea of this conference – already the fifteenth event in the series of academic gatherings initiated and coordinated by the Bakhtin Centre at Sheffield University – was to start a dialogue across those front lines among the academics, the art world, and activists, all of them in their own way inspired by Bakhtin, to help producing knowledge and perspectives at the intersections and interfaces between those quite different forms of activity.
On the other hand, we sought to ask questions about Bakhtin’s present-day significance, almost half a century after his thought achieved an international breakthrough. Bakhtin’s afterlife in academic work and theoretical thinking has been a history of Poetic transformations: from symbol to text, from text to theory, from theory research practice in research, in social activism, in teaching and in art. Bakhtin is Praxis therefore became the motto and the agenda of the conference.
The conference was organized during five days, with over 200 participants who presented their work in over 50 discussion panels, round table discussions, and performances Well-established academic disciplines traditionally dealing with the study of Bakhtin’s life and work (such as literary, language, and cultural studies, Russian history and history of ideas) were mixed with those fields of knowledge that only recently discovered Bakhtin’s ideas or use his heritage in unconventional manners (e.g., pedagogics, philosophy, sociology, culture theory, political theory, and – importantly – art).
In terms of breadth in representation, the Stockholm conference was quite unique. But while planning the conference the organizing committee also wanted to represent the field in its complexity, its practical and theoretical diversity, which aim influenced in its turn the choice of keynotes. The conference was addressed by the truly outstanding personalities: Caryl Emerson (Princeton university), a literary scholar and author of fundamental Bakhtin research; the Italian semiotician and language philosopher Augusto Ponzio (Benvenuto — Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro), the historian of ideas Galin Tihanov (Queen Mary University of London), art historian and curator Ekaterina Degot (Akademie der Künste der Welt, Köln) and art theorist and curator Magnus af Petersens (Moderna Museet och Whitechapel Gallery, London).
Equally broadly represented was geography of Bakhtin research, with members of well-established research environments (from Russia, the USA, Germany, and the UK) alongside with colleagues from Scandinavian countries, Italy, Switzerland, and Israel. A great success of the conference was its ability to attract non-Western and as yet unknown national academic centers, like a very active and large group of Bakhtin scholars from Beijing, groups from Mexico, India, Iran, Turkey, Belorussia and Ukraine. An especially representative group arrived from Brazil –the country where Bakhtin seems to have found a second native land.
Still another important principle in forming representation, alongside the disciplinary and geographic diversity, was that of encouraging practical workers and activists, especially artists and those active in artistic research. To suit the various traditions of professional dialogue, we had to complement traditional formats (like panel presentations and round tables) with art displays, art installations, and performances. Alongside artists’ presentations in panels together with academic papers, the conference included other artistic contributions in the form of video art screening at the Modern art museum, two art installations on the presses of the Royal Institute of Art (which generously allowed its rooms to be used as conference venue, and a place specific artwork outside on the water front.
One of the conference’s central and most important events was a performance on which Mikhail Bakhtin’s defense of the thesis at the Institute of World Literature (IMLI) in Moscow in 1946. The minutes of the academic meeting have been recently published in full in the Russian edition of Bakhtin’s Selected Writings. The text was translated into English and adapted for stage by Lars Kleberg, who also directed a group of actors – Bakhtin scholars from among the conference participants – who played the roles of the members of the academic committee, official opponents, representatives of the public, and Mikhail Bakhtin himself in this theatrical performance in front of the public. Documentation of this event, as well as the video recordings of the key note addresses will be soon published on the website of the conference (www.bakhtinconference.com).* The conference was supported by Södertörn University and the Baltic Foundation, as well as the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and the Social Sciences, the Swedish Research Council, and the Swedish Academy of Antiquities, and the Royal Institute of Art. Special support was given by CBEES and the Criitical Cultural Theory at Södertörn university, as well as the Embassy of Sweden in the Russian Federation.