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VAL Symposium: “Reading in theory and in higher education practice”

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Location: VUB, Etterbeek Campus
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The Flemish Association for Literary Theory and Comparative Literature (VAL) brings together literary scholars who are active in Flanders and Brussels, inviting them to convene around themes of common interest and across linguistic, generational and institutional divides. The annual VAL symposium serves as a platform for both individual researchers and research groups. The 2021 edition will take place at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and concentrates on theories of reading and their relation to the practice of higher education.

View the programme: pdf fileVAL symposium 2021 Programme.pdf (108 KB)

Over the past few decades, the field of literary studies has increasingly been interested in the question of how we read (Bennett 1995; Littau 2006). Developments in cognitive and cultural studies, hermeneutics, reception theory as well as digital humanities have contributed to enlarging our understanding (of theories) of reading and have gradually brought together pre­viously separated domains of study such as reader-response theory (Iser 1976), narratology (Genette 1972/1983), sociology of reading (Bourdieu 1979) and history of reading (Manguel 1996). While, initially and most influentially, approaches to reading in the context of literary studies have viewed reading as a cognitive process and focused on the content of texts, cog­nitive literary studies and narratology (Herman 2002) shifted the focus to the mental pro­cesses by which readers make sense of texts. More recent approaches have pushed further in this direction by conceptualizing reading as social cognition and exploring it as an embodied act (Caracciolo 2014; Kukkonen 2017, 2019). In distinction to the field’s tradition of ‘close reading’, different ways of reading have also engendered methodological innovations, telling­ly called ‘distant reading’ (Moretti 2005, 2013; see also Bode 2017) or ‘hyper reading’ (Hayles 2012), which, in turn, have played a role in the current rise of interest in the future of reading in the attention economy (Berg/Seeber 2016; McLean Davies et al. 2020; Sommer 2020).

The symposium gathers contributions that either deal with reading as a cognitive process, physical activity, social behaviour or institutional practice, or blend those aspects by looking at their interaction. The plenary session in the morning will focus on the links between university education and literary research. Four experts from different backgrounds respond to a position paper by Benjamin Biebuyck on literary education published last year in the new Literature and Society section of the Cahier voor Literatuurwetenschap (Cahier for Literature Studies) (2019) and then engage in a debate with the audience. After the lunch break, individual researchers (both juniors and seniors) will have the opportunity to present their research to colleagues and experts from diverse backgrounds. The day starts and ends with a keynote. If you would like to attend the VAL Research Day, please register before Monday 8 November by sending an email to: symposium@vval.be. Participation for VAL-members is free of charge.