CfP: “Rethinking Genre in the Islamicate Middle East”

Petr Kucera's picture
September 5, 2019 to September 6, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Area Studies, Islamic History / Studies, Literature, Middle East History / Studies

Call for Papers: “Rethinking Genre in the Islamicate Middle East” (Conference)

University of Hamburg, September 5-6, 2019

Deadline: January 15, 2019

Studying the nature, development and formation of genres belongs to one of the most important disciplines within literary studies, since “genre is a universal dimension of textuality” (J. Frow). As scholars have noticed, genres exercise immense influence on the production, articulation and organization of knowledge and thus are closely tied not only to our perception of the world, but also to power. Every piece of writing is molded by a generic structure, a normative framework that enables the reader to decode the meaning by placing it into a certain context and giving him or her “clues” as how to relate this particular piece of writing to other texts. It has been assumed that classical Middle Eastern – Arabic, Turkish and Persian – literatures, by their immense concentration on poetry as the true expression of “literaricity” and the fixation on the continuity and stability of artistic expression were characterized by a strong adherence to genre norms and a preference for normative poetics. The gradual adoption of Western genres from the first half of the 19th century onwards meant a critical distancing to the inherited genre canon, its total refusal, playful reworking, or cross-breeding of genres on the one hand, and the domestication of foreign generic structures on the other. New genres, as for instance the novel or the theater, were sometimes considered a “technology” that like other technologies borrowed from the West could lead the society to reach the level of contemporary civilization, to achieve progress and modernity; and, more recently, genres have been also used as tools of ideological battles (like in the Islamists’ critique of Western genres or the socialists’ instrumentalization of the realist novel), revealing the political dimensions of genre. Looking into the genre in the Middle East opens up the possibility of gaining new insights into the intellectual universe of Middle Eastern societies, into the questions of production of meaning, of what it meant “literature” in different historical periods, of the underlying epistemology of producing knowledge and of how this epistemology has changed over time.

We understand genre as a dynamic structure that is never fixed and static, but continuously interacts with the reading public, the social environment, the literary canon, and with other texts and changing world-views. Instead of focusing on one period or juxtaposing the classical genres and the West-induced development of “modern genres”, we would like to apply a broad diachronic and synchronic perspective, which should shed new light on the sociocultural and narratological dimensions of genre in the Middle East. It is one of the goals of the conference to overcome the dichotomist approach to genres that is still being applied when it comes to Middle Eastern literatures: classical vs. modern, intratextual vs. extratextual explanations for the formation of new genres, focus solely on the domestic sources of genres vs. overemphasizing the influence of genealogy etc.

The conference aims to bring together scholars with expertise in Arabic, Persian and Turkish narrative traditions who are interested in the manifold facets of the history, sociology and poetics of genre and generic structures underlying the literary production of the respective traditions. We are especially looking for contributions that work comparatively and focus on theoretical underpinnings, either considering together the evolution and overlapping of different genres in two or more Middle Eastern traditions, or focus on the adoption of certain genres from other literatures. Moreover, we are also interested in the theory of or reflections on genre and generic/normative structures in Middle Eastern narrative traditions. Rather than looking into the problems of taxonomy, we are more concerned with the question of how certain generic structures shape the meaning of texts, what is the underlying knowledge behind genres, how are these reflected upon, contested, discussed, enforced, turned into norms, adopted from other traditions, domesticized and hybridized.

Possible topics include (but are not restricted to):

● the historical development of certain genres

● comparison of genres and their formation in different literary traditions

● conceptual history (“Begriffsgeschichte”) of genres

● conceptions and theories of genre in the Arabic, Persian and Turkish narrative traditions

● historical importance of certain genres dominating the literary field over other genres

● adoption of genres from the West and their domestication

● the influence and adoption of non-Western genres (like Chinese and Japanese poetic forms)

● genre as a norm producing discourse: the connection between law and literature

● how have genres been connected with authority, truth, plausibility

● political uses of genres

● the relation of genres to the changing world-view and the changing social horizon

● how do genres contribute to the social structuring of meaning

● genre and language

● genre and gender

● the influence of the reading public on genre formation


Short proposals (no more than 300 words) along with a short academic CV are invited for twenty-minute papers that deal with the above mentioned topics. We plan to publish the contributions in an edited volume.

The language of the conference is English.

There is no conference fee. Moreover, we have applied for additional funding to cover the travel costs of selected participants. If approved, participants outside of Germany would be eligible for substantial help with travel and accommodation expenses.

Details on the venue may be found at

Please send proposals to or by January 15, 2019.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Petr Kucera, Asia-Africa-Institute, University of Hamburg