Narrative Enquiry for Social Transformation
6th NEST International Conference,
29th Sept – 1 Oct 2022, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
The Life of the Arts & the Art of Life
Celebrating the Work and Thought of Bhekizizwe Peterson
In a response to a roundtable on the film Zulu Love Letter, Bhekizizwe Peterson writes:
How do we maintain the ideas and live the forms of kinship and solidarities
(ancestral, familial, communal, continental and global) that remain crucial even though they may be fragile, suffocating and even deemed retrograde and transgressive? Zulu Love Letter, hopefully, is one entry into these vexing questions. It was created as a love letter to those who passed on and those still tasked with creating a better future for all (Peterson 2020).
In this powerful provocation, Peterson indexes layers of questions, genres and practices that lie at the centre of his scholarly, artistic and activist work. Here, he nods to the world-making power of narrative and the arts. He wrestles with the forms of critical humanism that can craft relationality in the present and liveable futures. He reckons with the promise of art in generating inter-generational dialogues. He alerts us to the poly-temporalities that infuse our life worlds. He challenges us to construct bridges between pasts-yet-to-pass and futures in the making. This conference in honour of Bhekizizwe Peterson’s work and thought, is a
response to his invitation to think and live along these narrative lines, engaging in the work of meaningful world-making in landscapes of human fragility.
The many commemorative tributes written on the passing of Peterson invite us to “think of the intellectual love letters we can write about his work and how we can take his vision for the black humanities forward.” They urge that we collectively recognise the many ways he
“occupied a Black intellectual and creative tradition and its hopeful futures.” They salute his scholarship as generative for trans-disciplinary dialogues. They remember his injunction to attend to archives, cultural practices and genealogies of knowledge as resources that can lend
us new ways to grasp the present and imagine futures.
The 2022 NEST Conference accepts these invocations to critically engage with the full range of Bhekizizwe Peterson’s work. We invite submissions that engage directly with a clearly identified strand of Peterson’s work and thought. As an award-winning film-writer, producer, theatre practitioner, literary and cultural critic, his portfolio of scholarly, artistic and activist work spans African theatre, cinema, popular music, life writing, visual arts, black intellectual history, trauma and memory studies, and youth culture, among other areas. The conference convenes a platform for rigorous meditation on the expansive range of questions, genres and practices that preoccupied Peterson across the realms of creative, scholarly and activist practice in which he participated, within and beyond the walls of the academy. A deep concern with trans-disciplinary conversations is one of the recognizable hallmarks of Peterson’s work, perhaps most explicit in his ruminations on the place of narrative at the intersection of trauma and memory, and what a rigorous braiding of conceptual resources drawn from artistic imaginaries, African cosmologies and psychology enables us to see.
In response to the remarkable breadth and depth of his legacy, the conference invites submissions that offer thoughtful engagement on any aspect of the content and form of Peterson’s work.
Potential threads of thinking that emerge from Bhekizizwe Peterson’s work for exploration:
• Black public humanities and the interface between the academy and
communities • Black intellectual traditions in South Africa, Africa and the Black Diaspora • Spectrality, hauntology, memory, loss
• Black interiority, relational subjectivity, narrative identities
• The politics and possibilities of archives and archive-building
• Critical humanism and the ethics of personhood, radical love and the politics of care
• Intergenerational dialogues, genealogies of knowing, knowledge and being in the world
• Collaboration, interdisciplinary dialogues and muti-modal knowledge production
• Modes of scholarly practice, politics of value, slow scholarship
• Artistic, activist and scholarly integrity, on being ‘at large’
• Cultural and community organisations, making and sustaining intellectual praxis
• Local print media and the development of (South) African literary genres/
• Narrative imagination, freedoms, futures and world-making
• Activism, pedagogy, the horizons of institutional life
We invite papers, panels, roundtables and artistic projects that critically engage these threads and others, in Bhekizizwe Peterson’s work. Submissions may reflect on his work (scholarly, artistic and activist practice) or draw on these as conceptual frameworks that enable
generative engagement with selected, but resonant texts/practices drawn from elsewhere.
Please submit your paper abstract, panel proposal or artistic outline of up to 200 words to: Jill.Bradbury@wits.ac.za and Grace.Musila@wits.ac.za by 30 July 2022. Acceptance notifications will be sent out by 30 August 2022.
NEST was launched in July 2015 at the first international conference, Narrating Lives and Living Stories of Socio-political Change, held at the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof. Bhekizizwe Peterson was principal investigator on the project alongside Prof. Jill Bradbury and the network includes leading scholars from South African universities (The Universities
of Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, Cape Town, Pretoria, and UNISA) as well as from West and East Africa (Ibadan, Moi, Cape Coast, Lagos and Olabisi Onabanjo) and beyond (CUNY and UCL). NEST (Narrative Enquiry for Social Transformation) is informed by the principle that
narrative is one of the defining features of what it means to be human. Personal and collective senses of self, experience, desires, fears and hopes are developed in and through narrative meaning-making, providing recognition and validation, and deepening our sense of human dignity across lines of difference and existence. The transformative possibilities of
narrative lie in the ways in which it enables people to: give coherence to their lives and the world around them; develop forms of critical consciousness and thinking; imagine possible alternative social realities and futures; and, ultimately, not only to read them-selves and their
place in the world but also to be read by others. Narrative offers us the tools to create, resist and transform understandings and subjectivities in the private and public spheres. It is people who make culture and culture that in turns remakes us, and this process is always political and
Convening Committee: Jill Bradbury, Hugo Canham, Lindelwa Dalamba, Sharlene Khan,
Peace Kiguwa, Khwezi Mkhize, Moshibudi Motimele, Grace Musila, Noor Nieftagodien.