Literary Networks and Cultural Collaborations: From 19th Century to the Present Day

Birkbeck, University of London, Saturday 29th October 2016

Confirmed keynote speaker: Dr. Joanne Winning

Pierre Bourdieu’s work on an ‘expanded field of cultural production’ has done much to widen our understanding of the full range of cultural practitioners who ‘make’ a text, including publishers, patrons, reviewers, salonnieres as well as the writers themselves. The shift away from focusing on the work of the singular artist to a more collaborative understanding of cultural production has  also served a recuperative, often feminist agenda that has helped to bring the works of obscure or “lost” cultural practitioners to light. For example, Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia L. Smyers in Writing for Their Lives (1987) explore the ‘hidden network’ of women who formed an alternative cultural alliance to the well-documented Bloomsbury Group in the first half of the twentieth century.

Yet there remains more work to be done to fully understand and conceptualise the strategies, technologies and spaces that enable cultural and literary networks to operate. How can we map and make sense of these relationships and the enabling forces that brought them into being? How have these changed over time? After the intense ferment of activity, collaboration and mutual service and reciprocity that is known to have characterized modernist relationships in the early 20th century, how do networks of writers and other cultural figures operate in today’s digital, hyper-global, fast-paced world?

For this one-day conference at Birkbeck, we will hear from a range of speakers who seek to inspire new thinking about how we imagine, understand and position the network in relation to literature and other forms of cultural production. Papers will cover topics such as cross-cultural and transnational networks, the new role of cultural intermediaries in a digitally networked age, and what it means to think of a doll’s house as a ‘networked’ object.

Conference organisers: Leonie Shanks and Laura Cushing-Harries