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Journeys across B/Orders in Canadian Studies

International Conference (09 - 11 June 2022, University of Marburg, Germany)

It has almost become a truism that the Covid19-Pandemic has thrown the notion of borders into greater relief once again. While borders between states were closed to people and traffic, the virus was able to transgress geographical and political borders as well as bodily borders, thus not only journeying across borders but also effecting a change in ordering systems and apparently stable orders. Such transgressions, which revealed the vulnerability of b/orders, present an interesting contrast to people’s inability to travel that ties in with the general idea that journeys appear as a dynamic movement, whereas b/orders seem to be stable constructs. In fact, journeys and borders, as well as systems of order, can be considered concepts that determine one another when we regard journeys across b/orders as transgressive movements that highlight the existence of physical as well as conceptual borders. So, while the concept of the border is often understood as a principle imposing and maintaining order, a matter of stability, Johan Schimanski and Stephan Wolfeinsist on perceiving the border as “dynamic, a phenomenon constantly undergoing processes of both fixing and blurring” (2017). Moreover, journeys impact on the understanding/self-image of nation and individual, belief in liberal values, human rights, the other and the notion of belonging or the co-dependency between Global North/ South. Therefore, journeys across borders bring about unique narratives and questions.

Borders, as conceptual as well as highly visible lines that structure orders, realms and places,have always been at the heart of political, social or cultural endeavours and struggles. For example, only  
four years before the pandemic intervened in orders across the globe, borders and ideas of order became highly visible in migrants’ and refugees’ attempts to reach places they hoped would provide them with safety from war, hunger, and violence and with a better life. The interplay of bodies and borders in migration or their reciprocal definition and determination highlight how movements produce meaning and raise awareness of material borders and bodies. Such movements raise the question on whether the body of the migrant de/stabilizes the b/order–a question that cannot be limited to geographical journeys but that also includes metaphorical ones (inward/ outward).

Moreover, the legacy of the drawing of borders and establishing ordering systems during colonial times has not vanished from political and cultural debates; a fact that also connects to issues of settlement and land appropriation in Canada, which relegated First Nations communities to specific spaces and thus marginalised them within European ordering systems. The 49th parallel, famously the world’s longest undefended international boundary, which divides the USA from Canada, has always been highlighted not only as a political or geographical border, but also a border between systems. Both in recent history (think of the rather recent move to Canada by US-citizens after the election of Donald Trump) and in literature (Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels famously conceptualize Canada as a realm of hope) has this border gained fame. However, borders within Canada, e.g. cultural and linguistic borders and their interplay with order(s), or discourses as ordering principles as employed in and by the media, for instance, are also of interest in this regard and so are boundary lines of social conduct and morals. These became highly visible when, for example, photographs showed the young Justin Trudeau engaged in blackfacing before the election in the year 2019. Thus, even though Canada has internationally been considered a prime example of freedom and multiculturality, it can serve as a perfect study case with regard to the fragility of b/orders due to its (partially violent) history, its three-partite structures (First Nations, the Anglo-and the Franco-Canadians), its diverse society, its metaphors (the North, garrison mentality, wilderness) and its rich cultural and literary landscape. All these examples allude to the fact that concepts of order and borders are, just like other human categorisations, dynamic and subject to continuous change.

The conference hence pursues an at least twofold objective: On the one hand, it is interested in an exploration of journeys and borders as well as orders (in the manifold sense of the term) and in the interplay of these concepts in Canadian literature, culture and society, for example. On the other hand, it seeks to explore what Canadian Studies is interested in, how it has developed, what challenges it has been met with, who and what is included or excluded –in short: what borders has it travelled across, what journeys has it undertaken in the last twenty years and what b/orders might it cross in the future?

The conference includes panel sessions, a round table discussion as well as keynote lectures and a reading by acclaimed author Larissa Lai. Confirmed speakers are Prof. Eleanor Ty (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Prof. Astrid Fellner (Saarland University).