CFP : Power and Counter-power to be held on 3, 4, 5 April 2014

The Department of English at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University of Tunis I, is pleased to announce its international conference on Power and Counter-power to be held on 3, 4, 5 April 2014.

Venue : Faculty of Human and Social Sciences (University of Tunis I, 9 Avril).


In social sciences, power is defined through the modus operandi of interaction between individuals within the same society. In accordance with the Weberian tradition, several writers define power as the ability of an actor to engender projected and desired impact on the conduct of other actors. On its most basic level “power”, in Robert Dahl’s words, is defined as follows : “[A] has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.” In political sciences, this definition has become archetypal. Robert Dahl refers to the wide ranging words defining the same phenomenon : power, influence, authority, control, persuasion, force, might, coercion...

Recently, with the clustering of economic and financial powers (“too big to fail”) in the hands of “the few”, power has not only considerably transformed the relationships between actors (groups, institutions, states), but it has also altered the decision-making process and the nature of the democratic system itself. This new state of affairs involves reassessing age-old problems of power distribution in society, interactions and competitions between social classes, interest groups, minorities or political circles. It involves the investigation of the concept of pluralism, distribution of political power and the righteousness of the decisionmaking process.

Hence the development of citizens’ groups, public interest organizations, social movements, surrogate media outlets and social networks to counterbalance the power of big corporations and financial institutions. Notwithstanding, groups endorsing ethnic, racial or religious or gender concerns have come to dominate the political and social spheres. They have a tendency to determine the terms of the political debate. This development leaves less and less space to groups that are mobilizing on the basis of claims of a vertical character, especially : social justice, the fight against inequality, poverty and economic exclusion and marginalization.

It is perhaps worthwhile to pause and pose the following questions : do citizens and public interest groups construct a genuine counter-power to business and economic interests ? Would the commitment of these groups ultimately lead to strengthening democracy and social justice and promote pluralism or, on the contrary, would it result in enlarging the fragmentation of society, or even undermining the system of representative democracy itself ? Last but not least, whether these new forms of social movements – which seem to overshadow socio-economic divides – have reached their limits and have fostered the reinforcement of the social order and the status quo that they are supposed to fight against ?

In civilisation, possible papers topics include, but are not limited to, the following :

  •  Political institutions and power
  •  Religion and power
  •  Social movements and power
  •  Gender and power
  •  Ethnic groups and power
  •  Media and power
  •  Interest groups and power
  •  Money and power...

    The Conference seeks to address issues of power and counter-power and how they operate within narratives. In literary works power and counter-power merge as one within the narrative discourse and diffuse resistance. A work of art accommodates a myriad of voices, characters and themes and its heterogeneous nature questions and undermines prevailing ideologies. Power/knowledge is the term Foucault uses to demonstrate the constructive and productive nature of power. This new departure from previous theories of power engages with the disempowered and the subaltern. Power, for him, is productive, it makes us what we are, it produces reality, generates truth and shapes identities. It is everywhere, in everyone, in every domain and ebbs and flows constantly from one group to the other.

    In literature, possible papers topics include, but are not limited to, the following :

  •  Speak truth to power
  •  Theories of power
  •  Power and empowerment in female writings
  •  Gender, sexuality and empowerment in the Victorian novel
  •  Discourses of power and truth
  •  Emerging and fading discourses of truth/power
  •  Post-colonialism/ resisting canonicity
  •  Power/knowledge and representations in cinema, theatre, and other visual art
  •  Poetry and resistance across history
  •  Theories of power and truths and their evolution

    In linguistics, possible papers topics include, but are not limited to, the following :

  •  The power of language versus the language of power
  •  Language and human behaviour
  •  Verbal communication and social influence
  •  Linguistic signs of power
  •  Language as a resource for creating power
  •  Language and power
  •  Language power and gender
  •  Language power and social class/ distance

    The international conference, “Power and counter-power” will thus focus on power and counter-power defined in as broad a way as possible. The conference organizers welcome proposals from different social science fields : cultural studies, history, literature and linguistics.

    Proposals of no more than 300 words accompanied by a short biography are to be sent to Hanene Zoghlami-Oueslati : and Awatef ben Smida : by December 20, 2013. Papers will be delivered in English. The scientific steering committee will notify the authors of their decision by January 30, 2014.