Priors and Priorities: Conceiving Time and Other Bodies
April 20-21, 2018
Thompson Room, Barker Center

The Harvard University Mahindra Center for the Humanities announces the “Priors and Priorities: Conceiving Time and Other Bodies” graduate conference. This interdisciplinary two-day conference takes as its central problematic the temporal displacements that mark the colonial and postcolonial condition. Modernity for Europe in the 18th century inhabited a fundamental paradox, what Elizabeth Povinelli identifies as the “governance of the prior,” where social, political, and economic life relied on an imperial project invested in differential civilizational time. Our conference, building on this insight, explores the tense of the colonized Other, who is made to occupy a place of prior-ness without priority. Colonialism imagines colonized peoples as prior to the arrival of the modern, yet strips them of priority. It consistently marks colonized peoples as savage, primitive, traditional, categorically prior to the time of modern society – in the process, producing a queer subject who haunts the colonial present. Bodies in this tense are both queered and racialized—relegated to a sexually non-normative past, racially incommensurable present, and discursively impossible future.

“Priors and Priorities” is grounded in an intellectual commitment to consider colonized, racialized, and queered bodies and histories as intersecting and mutually constituted. Analyzing the temporalities of Black, Brown and Queer bodies and histories requires an interdisciplinary approach that bridges postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and queer theory in order to understand the reverberations of being prior without priority.

Call for Papers

We seek papers that investigate the tense of the Other by graduate students from diverse disciplines, including the too often fragmented and isolated fields of science and technology studies (STS), history of science and medicine, religious studies and history of religion, postcolonial studies, queer studies, women and gender studies, Indigenous studies, anthropology, history, and global geographic area studies. We especially invite contributions that engage with the following five themes and questions:

  1. Postcolonial (Trans)Modernity: How are transgender bodies cast in time in (post)colonial contexts? Are trans bodies always already modern? Postmodern? Are they nontraditional? Have they been taken up as part of a more “authentic” traditionalism?
  2. Indigenous Temporality: The governance of the prior and the multitude of colonial temporal contortions required to uphold it runs alongside, intersects, and exchanges with autonomous and consequential Native temporal schema. How do the epistemic and ontological resonances of Indigenous temporalities tense bodies that are out of place in colonial time?
  3. Old and New Materialities: The recent material turn in critical studies has overlooked how marginalized humans have already gone through processes of objectification and thingification, rendering them the “old materiality.” When are objects made and when are they deemed consequential agents? When do we locate the objects of the old materiality?
  4. Queer Inhumanism and Futurism: Where does queer time fall in the constellation of colonial, postcolonial, and Indigenous temporalities? If a sense of browness involves a constant striving for an impossible horizon, what relation could priors without priority have to futurity?
  5. Temporalities on the Move: How can we theorize postcolonial temporalities within the context of increased migration between the metropole and the postcolony? What is the interplay between a postcolonial condition that can be historicized and theorized as moving through temporal phases and a global turn that emphasizes “flows” and “network” thinking?

Submit your paper proposal

Contact conference coordinators Eli Nelson and Juanita Becerra for more information.

Recent Graduate Student Conferences sponsored or co-sponsored by the Mahindra Center: