Ugh! Disgust, Repugnant Matters and the Construction of Difference, 1700-1900.
The workshop aims at facilitating an international conversation between different disciplines, schools of thought and historiographies. The purpose is to explore transnational synergies in how disgust was defined, used, contested, represented, embodied and remembered across different spaces during the 18th and 19th century. This fresh angle should open up new avenues to question existing theories, connect with other methodologies and develop new comparative analyses.
Ugh! Disgust, Repugnant Matters and the Construction of Difference, c.1700-1900.
As Richard Twine notes, ‘disgust has been important to the emotional repertoire of the historical emergence of specific exclusionary and hierarchical deployments of the “human”.’ This set of two international workshops aims to further explore this process by bringing together scholars of various disciplines interested in disgust and its social functions as a marker of difference in the past.
Disgust is both omnipresent and culturally contingent. Accounted as one of the most ubiquitous and forceful affections of the human sensory system, disgust results from experiences of undesired and intrusive proximity with a perceived repugnant matter, which calls for a greater distance between the subject and the object of repugnance. Indeed, hardly any sensation is more suitable for defining and sensing out the limits of socially tolerable and acceptable behaviour. As such, and as Norbert Elias, Mary Douglas and Alain Corbin have shown, the expression of disgust can shed light onto complex power structures, cultural rituals and processes of social distinction. The workshops aim to examine this further by discussing how we can historicise manifestations of disgust, and what methodologies and approaches can help us explore its significance in constructing difference in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The two workshops will facilitate an international conversation between different disciplines, schools of thought and historiographies. The purpose is to explore transnational synergies in how disgust was defined, used, contested, represented, embodied and remembered across different spaces during the period. This fresh angle should open up new avenues to question existing theories, connect with other methodologies and develop new comparative analyses. Offering an international space for scholars to work on the question together can reveal how versatile disgust was in constructing boundaries at the time. Whilst Enlightenment ideas of Ekel and dégoût made disgust a philosophical and aesthetic category to discern the boundaries of beauty and taste, disgust could equally constitute a rhetorical weapon against political or religious opponents, be it in the form of individual shaming or collective practices of Othering. As a boundary marker, disgust was ambivalent in eliciting revulsion as well as fascination. This is particularly visible in slumming narratives of Victorian England and European travel and colonial accounts of eating habits in African and Latin American populations in the nineteenth century. In exploring these variables, the two workshops will help participants to present and discuss their research, while developing their own methodologies (central aim of workshop 1) and critically engaging with established chronologies of disgust (central aim of workshop 2).
The first workshop seeks to facilitate these discussions by inviting participants to reflect on a range of methodological questions on the relationship between disgust, matter and difference within a historical context. Questions will include, but are not limited to: how can we trace disgust in historical sources, may they be textual, material or visual? To what extent can disgust offer a prism to investigate fundamental social change, including colonisation, industrialisation, urbanisation and religious persecution? To what extent did space transform the characteristic features of disgust during the period? How far were manifestations of disgust entrenched in the body? Drawing on the work of Edward Royzman and John Sabin, should we approach disgust as an emotion or a ‘drive’ entrenching social boundaries during the period? How far did expressions of disgust emanate from what Barbara Rosenwein terms ‘emotional communities’?
Building on this, the aim of the second workshop is to turn our attention to identifying key transformative moments, documents and spaces in the history of disgust as a marker of difference. Questions may include: how transformative was the Enlightenment in shaping expressions of disgust and human responses to matter? Does this mark a shift from early modern understandings and uses of disgust? Did elicitors of disgust change in response to particular episodes of warfare, hardship, protest, violence, or long-term transnational shifts in sensibilities, mentalities and movements for social reform? To what extent did interest in defining disgust in Europe stem from colonial Otherness and/or global networks of ideas? How Eurocentric are chronologies of disgust in existing scholarship? In addressing these questions, the second workshop will enable participants to develop their contribution with a view to publish papers in an edited collection after the event.
We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers from any disciplinary background and on any subject that examines the relationship between disgust and difference in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We particularly invite topics related, but not limited, to:
– Otherness and Othering in colonial and global encounters
– Gender, class, and race
– The body, sexuality and the senses
– Shame, taboos, defamation vs politeness and morality
– Coexistence and cohabitation
– Health and sickness
– Crime and death
– Food and eating habits
– Waste and dirt
– Relationships with non-humans and the environment
– Religion and religious communities
– Material and visual culture
Proposals for individual 20-minute papers should include a 250-word abstract (in English), including five keywords and a brief 100-word biography with contact information.
Proposals should be emailed to the workshop organisers Franziska Neumann (University of Rostock, Germany) at firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr Elodie Duché (York St John University, UK) at email@example.com by the deadline mentioned above.
Please contact us with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you.
First workshop to be held at the University of Rostock (Germany) on Friday 3 December 2021 (there are contingency plans to move the event online if necessary due to the current pandemic).
Second workshop to be held in York (UK) in early December 2022 (Date TBC)
NB: Participants are invited to attend both workshops, with a view to publish their contributions in a collection edited by the workshop organisers.