Satire Across Borders

International Conference, January 17-18, 2013, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

To conclude the research project The Power of Satire: Cultural Boundaries Contested the research group The Power of Satire will host the international conference Satire Across Borders, at Utrecht University on January 17 and 18.

Satire has the ability to contest cultural boundaries in several ways. By addressing political topics or touching upon sensitive issues within a society (e.g. religious and sexual taboos), satirical works intervene in on going cultural debates. This is but one of the reasons why these works can be considered as interculturally charged. By mixing multiple media within one work, or by creatively transposing styles and techniques from one medium to another, satire shows that it can also contest medial boundaries, i.e. that it can be considered as intermedially charged as well. These two conditions, interculturality and intermediality, have framed the functioning of satire in the past and continue to do so in the present. They turn satire into a rather ambiguous phenomenon, for both its producers and its consumers. This assumed ambiguity of satire forms the point of departure of the international conference Satire Across Borders.

Satire’s ability to cross borders will be addressed from five different perspectives

1) Time
In a historical perspective, satire seems to manifest itself at very specific occasions, for example during officially sanctioned festive activities (carnival, harvest rituals) or in moments of political crisis (during revolts, civil wars, religious upheavals etc.). How do these temporal conditions influence and define the functioning of satire? Is satire bound by such conditions, or does it also contest them?

2) Space
Although western society today seems to be rather tolerant towards satire, controversies still occur every now and then and censorship is sometimes called for. This suggests that the freedom of satirical expression is limited to certain zones, like the ritual context of carnival or the performative space of the television screen or, more generally, the (ideal) public space as one which establishes reciprocal understanding between its participants. What happens if satire crosses the borders of these zones? And can the establishment of these zones also lead to the inclusion or exclusion of certain audiences?

3) Target
One characteristic of satire is that it is always aimed at someone or something, i.e. that it has one or several targets. These can vary from royal figures and political/religious authorities to social taboos, cultural practices and moral values. Are there any general patterns to be discerned in the qualities of these targets themselves, and in the manner in which they are approached by satire? Does satire always contest its targets, or can it also legitimize them in one way or another?

4) Media
Satire is not bound to one medium or genre. On the contrary, it often combines multiple media or refers to the conventions of several styles or genres at the same time. How does this intermediality influence satire’s functioning in society? Does it limit or instead extend the potential audiences of satire? And what role do the material forms (manuscript, printing press, television, internet) of specific satirical works play in all this?

5) Rhetoric
Certain techniques, tactics and rhetorical figures recur time and again in satire, such as humour, irony, parody, burlesque and caricature. Such rhetorical techniques seem to play a pivotal role in the production and reception of satire. Historically speaking, to what extent can the use of them be called cyclical? And in what way do they contribute to satire’s ability to contest cultural boundaries?

The four keynotes / plenary lectures
Satire and dignity.  By professor Giselinde Kuipers (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
A satirical assessment of the Arab Spring. By professor Ilan Danjoux (University of Calgary, Cananda)
Migrating frogs: the mutability of national stereotypes in visual satire. By professor David Bindman (University College London, UK)
Television satire and the liberal ironist: where we’ve been and where we are going. By professor Jeffrey Jones (Old Dominion University, US)

The 20 minutes lectures in the parallel sections

  • The topics of the lectures will fit within one of the five perspectives listed above.
  • If modern/recent satire is the focus, the lecture will also contains a historical component and vice versa.

The Power of Satire is hosted by Utrecht University and funded by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
For more information about the research programme The Power of Satire. Cultural boundaries contested:

Conference organizers
Lars Kloet (Utrecht University; conference assistant):
Sonja de Leeuw (Utrecht University)
Marijke Meijer Drees (University of Groningen)
Ivo Nieuwenhuis (University of Amsterdam)