: 15/11/2019
: Queen’s University Belfast
: British Comparative Literature Association


The British Comparative Literature Association invites paper and panel proposals for its forthcoming Triennial Conference, which is scheduled to take place September 15-17, 2020, at Queen’s University Belfast. The theme for this conference is ‘Randomness.’ Please read on for details and do send in proposals if the spirit of randomness moves you.


Randomness CfP

Queen’s University Belfast

15-17 September 2020




Accidental, arbitrary, incidental, slapdash, hit-or-miss, unplanned, unintended (e.g. consequences), unexpected, unanticipated, unpredictable, contingent, volatility, excitement, wonder, fantasy, imagination, creativity, serendipity.


Chance encounters, unforeseen opportunities, and impulsive decisions play a bigger role in our life and work than we wish to acknowledge. Is reading not always random to some extent? It is only retrospectively, in shifting scale from the individual to social or perspective from reading to interpreting, that randomness becomes regularity and can get explained away as purpose and design.


Randomness and chance play a leading role in historical accounts, in narratives of war and battles, victory and defeat, in biographies and travelogues, in narratives of arrivals, encounters and departures. They resurface in stories, setting characters onto a course or hurtling them into the great unknown, towards their fate. People’s bookshelves, readers’ memories, and second-hand bookshops can produce a similar, puzzling – even dizzying – sense of randomness.


Fortunes of literary works and theory are not immune to the dictates of chance. What are the forces that get literary works published, translated, circulated locally or internationally, and nominated for and winning literary prizes? When do managed search algorithms fail and serendipitous connections appear? How do chance encounters with a literary work, a theory, or lead to translations or adaptations, new creative adventures, or additional and alternative theories?


Artists and writers can be more comfortable with randomness than scholars; they break away from the space of the familiar and the already-known and place trust in the process of the work itself. Critics are driven by institutional pressures to present their work as an execution of purpose, design and method. But randomness persists even in grand geo-political schemes. Randomness overcomes censorship and solutions are always found to circulate books without the support of publishers or the state. Randomness happens despite control, and may be the more attractive for it. It is often random finds that are the most treasured with a sense of delight. Random encounters excite imagination and creativity.


Randomness is also openness; it stands more often at beginnings and turns of the road of many literary and critical careers. How do we cultivate a sense of wonder and open up our critical discourses and theories of comparative literature and world literature to more inclusive and elastic modes of thinking and writing? Can we use randomness in and outside texts and oeuvres productively, to our advantage?




We seek panels that will work with the idea of randomness, particularly in relation to:


  • Encounters with literary works, theories and cultural others

  • Adaptations, new writings, performances, visualizations within the same literary/cultural field, or outside.

  • Representing randomness through visualisations and digital interfaces.

  • Multilingualism, heterolingualism, plurilingualism, translanguaging

  • Performance, performativity

  • Politics of the literary/cultural market, including publication, translation, circulation, literary prizes and literary festivals (and book fairs)

  • Critiquing randomness in the age of search algorithms

  • Unpredictable futures

  • Ecocritical approaches to randomness and unpredictability

  • Translation and translation studies, choice of work and language, choice of method and style

  • Theories and Methods of Comparative Literature and World Literature


Deadlines: 15 November 2019 for Panel proposals and 15 December 2019 for Paper proposals.


Submit your proposal to: or through the conference website





Professor Ziad Elmarsafy

Research, Impact, and External Relations Lead
Department of Comparative Literature
King's College London
Virginia Woolf Building 6.13
22 Kingsway
London WC2B 6LE

Tel:  +44 (0)20 7848 1034



: Enrica Zanin