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Figuring out Feeling seeks work that explores the place of emotion in the arts and literature

of the anglophone world (19th-21st c.), as well as in our own practices of creation, teaching and research.


Talking about feelings is no easy task, and yet it’s not for a lack of words. Feelings, emotions, affects, drives, humours, passions, sentiments? Labels don’t cut it: feelings are often confusing, elusive, overwhelming, inherently troublesome. Feelings are a thing of wonder: both palpable and hard to grasp (Naomi Greyser); communicative and illegible (Sianne Ngai); they are subjective, but prone to stick to objects (Sara Ahmed); intimate and yet profoundly public (Lauren Berlant); they look backwards and yet propel us forwards (Heather K. Love).


Figuring out feelings can often be an uncomfortable and confusing process — whether we are reading feelings in a text or an image, as our own or someone else’s, pedagogically (‘reading the room’ whilst teaching) or personally (reading needs, reading faces). Discomfort arises from a feeling’s hard-to-graspness, when emotions don’t align with our expectations; it lingers in noncathartic or antagonistic affects; it surfaces in the silences that surround the working out of feeling, in emotions that persist and refuse to let go. Feelings are historical. The changing perceptions of emotions are deeply embedded within the evolutions of both history of thought (or criticism) and material history, and prompt us to reconsider (or collapse) the boundaries between the inner life of the self and its environment. Feelings are political. They can build up, bubble and explode: they have the power to build and break communities, resist authority, and effect change. Emotions ‘move’ us, because they shape the course of our actions, how our bodies (individual and collective) act in a given situation. They can also leave us passive and paralysed.

Since the affective turn in the early 1990s, the humanities and social sciences have witnessed a profound and renewed interest in how feelings operate; their relationship to both the human, the nonhuman (or more than human), and other feelings. As researchers, teachers and artists, we often struggle with the place and status of emotions in creative processes, institutions, the workplace, classrooms, and in our own research. How do we feel about all of this?

The title of this conference favours the word ‘feeling’, because of its flexibility and ubiquity in everyday speech; we want to allow contributors the freedom to name, explore and redefine slippages and intersections between theoretical frameworks. ‘Figuring out’ suggests an ongoing process, a movement from the inside out, an attempt to image and imagine, to shape and bring into light; but it doesn’t carry the necessity of a resolution. This conference encourages you to stay with the trouble, sit with the discomfort, dwell in the in-between and embrace the slippage in a collective, open-ended process of figuring out feeling.


​We welcome papers on feeling across eras, genres and mediums, with a relation to the arts and literature of the anglophone world (19th-21st century)​.

Topics may include (but needn’t be limited to):

- Thinking about feeling​: theories and methodologies of emotions; the semiotics of emotions; emotions and the intellect (or the history thereof). Vague, fuzzy, confusing, ineffable and ungraspable feelings; irrational or ambivalent feelings.

- Sounding feeling​: emotions in music and poetry; emotional rhythms, echoes, and silences.

- Feelings and the body: ​feeling, touching and moving; emotionally loaded gestures; emotions and (dis)ability; the place of emotions in sense and perception studies.

- Feelings of intimacy​: relationships, communities, social networks, platonic feelings, family feelings and sexual feelings.

- Disturbing feelings: d​iscomfort, disgust, dismell, emotionally troubling texts or images.

- Disordered feelings​: mental illness, the pathologisation of emotions, the invention of madness, hysteria, numbness.

- Lingering feelings: e​motions through time and space, emotional memories, nostalgia, trauma, grief; persistent or haunting emotions.

- Slippery feelings: ​the relationship between feelings; layered, multiple, clashing feelings; sympathy, empathy, transfers of emotions; liminal feelings, emotional development; emotions in translation.

- Feelings in style:​ (anti-)sentimentalism, melodrama, soppiness; dryness, flatness; experimental approaches to feelings.

- Political feelings:​ emotions in the public sphere and power structures; (un)feminist, queer, intersectional feelings; emotional labour, activism.

- Ecologies of feeling​: post-human feelings, animal and more-than-human feelings; emotional objects; emotions and the built or natural environment, eco-anxiety.

We also encourage discussions of:

- Scholarly feelings​: the affects of research, critical objectivity and subjectivity, academic communities, the emotional burden of academic precarity.

- Teaching and feeling:​ collective vs. individual emotions within the classroom, (un)safe spaces, the growing role of expressing feelings in the advisor/advisee relationship.

- Creative & crafty feelings:​ obstructing, liberating, disturbing or comforting emotions in creative processes.

How to apply

Papers: ​individual papers should be 15 minutes long. To apply, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words along with a short bio (max. 100 words) to f​​ ​by 31st January ​2020​.


Panels and roundtables​: panels should consist of three 15-min paper presentations. To apply, please send a proposal of no more than 400 words along with short bios of participants (max. 100 words) to​ ​by 31st January​ 2020​.

Non-traditional formats (​performance, screening, small exhibition, workshop): please feel free to contact us ahead of the deadline (​31st January 2020)​ with any thoughts or initial enquiries.

If you would like to organise a panel or roundtable but are unsure who to contact, the Figuring out Feeling team are more than happy to retweet any Call for Participants or Call for Works. Please write to or tag @figuringfeeling on twitter.

Paper guidelines

Papers should be written ​in English,​ with oral delivery in mind, in a clear, easily digestible style. The approximate length of a 15-min paper is 6 to 8 pages (double spaced), or about 2,000-4000 words. If you would like to see examples of successful abstracts, check out the Modernist Review's Community Resource Pack. We look forward to reading your work!

Attendance and fees

We welcome contributions from all: students, researchers, artists, activists, academics, and enthusiasts!


Fees for the conference, and details of how to pay, will appear shortly.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us or tweet at us @f​iguringfeeling​.

We look forward to hearing from you!

With feeling,

Cécile, Polly & Constance

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