Victims, Perpetrators and Implicated Subjects: Rethinking Agency at the Intersections of Narrative and Memory

Roosta, Estonia, 28 July–4 August, 2019

As we move into an age in which, on the one hand, the violent histories of the 20th century are increasingly remembered by people who did not participate in them directly and, on the other, we are challenged by new forms of political but also economically and environmentally induced suffering that occurs at a geographical distance but in which we are indirectly implicated, issues of our positionality and agency in relation to these historical and geographical horizons is becoming more and more pressing. How to make sense of different subject positions at the scene of historical violence and the ways in which they delimit our ability to identify and address different forms of suffering? How to conceptualize our responsibility in relation to new contemporary forms of violence at a geographical distance?  This symposium will deal with questions of positionality and agency in relation to violent histories in the past and present as well as in relation to current debates in narrative and memory studies.

In recent years many scholars of cultural memory have drawn attention to the inadequacy of the perpetrator-victim dichotomy that has shaped much of the research on violent histories and consequently our ability to understand them. Michael Rothberg (“Trauma Theory, Implicated Subjects, and the Question of Israel/Palestine”, 2014) has argued that the dichotomy has polarized these positions without allowing for blurred situations or for other forms of positionality present in different historical contexts. Moreover, scholars like Laura Brown (“Not outside the Range: One Feminist Perspective on Psychic Trauma”, 1995), Stef Craps (Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma out of Bounds, 2013) and Rob Nixon (Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, 2009) have drawn attention to the ways in which an event-focused notion of trauma has hidden from our view other everyday, structural forms of violence. As an alternative to the positions of the perpetrator and the victim Rothberg has offered the concept of implicated subject that helps us “to think how we are enmeshed in histories and actualities beyond our apparent and immediate reach, how we help produce history through impersonal participation rather than direct perpetration” (2014). Other scholars, such as Ann Rigney and Anna Reading, have drawn attention to how the notions of trauma, violence and suffering have dominated cultural memory studies and to the need to look at the past from the perspective of agency, focusing on such previously marginalized issues as the cultural memory of hope (Ann Rigney, “Remembering Hope: Transnational Activism Beyond the Traumatic”, 2018) and of non-violent struggles (Anna Reading and Tamar Katriel, eds., Cultural Memories of Nonviolent Struggles, 2015).

Recently, narrative scholars have also become increasingly interested in issues of agency. From Molly Andrews and Michael Bamberg (Considering Counter Narratives,2004) to Klarissa Lueg and Marianne Wolff Lundholt (Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives, forthcoming), narrative scholars have explored how agents position themselves in relation to counter and master narratives, analyzing the dynamics of power and resistance involved in such positioning. Bringing together debates in narrative and memory studies, Jens Brockmeier (Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process, 2015) has explored the narrative aspects of the autobiographical process, and Hanna Meretoja has analyzed the ethical dimensions of narrative agency, seeking to lay out a “narrative ethics of implication” (The Ethics of Storytelling, 2018). How do we, as agents, perpetuate, reinterpret and challenge culturally dominant narratives, and how do our ways of positioning ourselves in relation to them affect our actions and inactions? Contributing to the dialogue between narrative and memory studies, this symposium continues to reflect on the ethically important issues of agency and the conditions of possibility for good and evil.

We invite theoretical and creative research on these and related issues as well as papers that explore these theoretical concepts through particular case studies. Relevant questions include (but are not limited to) the following: How do possible subject positions restrict our ability to recognize and deal with different forms of violence and conceive of our responsibility and agency in relation to them? What are the differences between diachronic and synchronic implication and what are the possible links between them? Which kinds of positionalities are produced by prosthetic remembering of past violence in different media of cultural memory such as literature, film and art? How do contemporary museums deal with the question of positionality and agency? How does the concept of implication relate to other concepts such as complicity (Sanders) or vulnerability (Butler)? How does our thinking about positionality and agency change once we move from European violent histories to legacies of genocide, slavery, and indigenous dispossession in other parts of the world and to contemporary effects of globalization and climate change?

The keynote speaker of the symposium is Anna Reading, Professor of Culture & Creative Industries, King’s Collage London.

We encourage participants to craft their presentations in the format that they find most suitable. We expect to have 20 minutes for each presentation. Those who wish to attend the symposium without making a presentation are welcome to apply, but we encourage everyone to contribute actively to the group by reading participant papers and taking part in collective discussions. Priority is given to applicants who will present their work.

Please send a proposal (max. 300 words) and a short biographical statement to Eneken Laanes ( by 1 May 2019. This is also the deadline for the application of scholarships and grants (for details, see below). If you would like to attend the symposium without presenting your work, please send us a biographical statement and briefly explain your interest in participating. The preliminary programme will be announced in mid-May at There you will also find more information about NSU and may sign up for the newsletter.


The symposium is organised in collaboration with the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallinn, Estonia and SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory, University of Turku, Finland.

Practical information about the Nordic Summer University Summer Session

In the summer session, all the study circles of the NSU hold their symposia at a shared location, which offers additional possibilities for cross-fertilisation and dialogue between the thematic networks. The summer session is centrally organised by the NSU/ARRKOM.

The summer symposium takes place at Roosta Holiday Village (, Haapsalu, Estonia. It is located on the west coast of Estonia, 100 kilometres from Tallinn. The nearest airport is Tallinn Airport (TLL). NSU will arrange bus transfers from the city center of Tallinn and Tallinn airport to Roosta on July 28, 2019.

Registration and payment 

(1) Application closes on the 1st of May.

(2) Once your proposal has been accepted, you must go through registration and payment which close on 1 June. All registration and payment will be done electronically.

Scholarship program 

NSU provides a number of scholarships for students and grants for others in need of a subsidy in order to attend the summer session. The deadline for the applications for the scholarships and grants is 1 May, 2019. For information see :

Please note that people who receive grants and scholarships are expected to help ARRKOM with small tasks like writing blog posts, sharing their experience, distributing information if needed, and helping out with setting up and cleaning up the picnic.

PhD and MA students are eligible for up to five ECTS points for participation and presentation of a paper. See also:

Parents with children 

We welcome families at the Summer Session. As in previous years, there will be a separate circle for children between 3 and 15 years. In the children’s circle, we offer a variety of activities for children and youth, running parallel to the other study circles.

See also: