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HomeWhat Matters in Contemporary Anglophone Cultures

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Published on Thursday, May 23, 2024


“What Matters” is an invitation to rethink the weight of habits, established structures and validated categories. Arguing that someone/something counts goes against economic/budgetary/financial accounting, which is typically the work of a dominant power that keeps precise accounts, compiling or capitalising, trying to contain or control. What matters” is an invitation to give an account of what does not seem to count, what is unthought of or invisible. What matters” is a response to what is challenging research, and a direct appeal to its agency to redefine the common space and what would be a (co-)habitable world. It invites us to grasp how research can make people act and react, and provoke awakening. We are looking for papers in linguistic, literary, dramatic, historical, sociological, political, film and serial studies and, more broadly, cultural studies.


The EMMA research centre is launching a call for papers for the conference “What Matters in Contemporary Anglophone Cultures” that will take place at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 in Montpellier, France, on 13 and 14 March 2025.

The full call for papers can be found here: https://emmamontpellier.hypotheses.org/3864 


Who/What Counts

“What Matters” is an invitation to rethink the weight of habits, established structures and validated categories. Arguing that someone/something counts goes against economic/budgetary/financial accounting, which is typically the work of a dominant power that keeps precise accounts, compiling or capitalising, trying to contain or control. What matters is an invitation to give an account of what does not seem to count, what is unthought of or invisible (Fricker 2007, Le Blanc 2009).

“What matters” therefore immediately raises a series of political issues relating to what counts/who counts: those whose lives count, in a singular way; those whose lives do not count or are not counted, or on the contrary, whose lives are counted only statistically (Bond et al. 2020, Butler 2009, De Leon & Wells 2015, Drakulich et al. 2021); the authorities (of various kinds) who carry out this accounting after encoding what counts/who counts or not (Callahan et al. 2006, Drakulich 2015, Thévenot 1983); the media(tisa)tions through which these operations of selection, differentiation, hierarchisation and discrimination circulate (Dixon 2004, Simmons 2017, Zhang et al. 2019); individual or collective actions aimed at ensuring that voices are recognized as counting, or on the contrary, at silencing them (Brown et al. 2021, Francis & Wright-Rigueur, Taylor 2016).

“What matters” is a question addressing the type of crisis that it reveals, or even triggers. During crises whose manifestations are directly accessible, “What matters” as a question is not immediately relevant because it presupposes that we are asking about what does not naturally appear to be important. “What matters” refers to the hidden or hollow presence, perhaps default-presence, of a problematic point. It is linked to the identification of blind spots. It attempts to determine the theoretical, ethical and political relevance of what matters even while it is not directly perceptible (Laugier 1999). It thus posits the very critical existence of a crisis characterised by a form of negative phenomenology (Le Blanc 2009).

In order to respond to “What matters”, one needs to be able to perceive what counts while not being visible, audible, touchable, etc. so as to make up for the harm caused by invisibility, inaudibility, etc. Asking “What matters” means enquiring about frames of perception and intelligibility, in order to realise that they exist, and also to question their relevance. One must also be wary of adopting an approach that favours the visual over the acoustic or the haptic, in order to avoid perceptual bias and the prevalence of the visual in the detection of vulnerabilities. The question of the witness arises in many ways.

Repairing, Incarnating

From this stems the remedial function of asking about “What matters”, which is concerned with a (lack of perceptibility affecting a) wrong done to someone or a group, and sets out to make up for it or rectify it. Faced with a perception deficit that creates a dispute, the ethical subject who asks what matters assumes responsibility for healing. From this point of view, the affinities with the ethics of care should not be overlooked (Tronto 2015). Asking the question of what matters (Diamond 1996) implies taking an interest in the other persons’ vulnerability, which means paying attention to particular situations and taking account of otherness in its singularity. Asking “What matters” means that we are driven by a desire to be concerned or responsible, which attests to a radical ethical stance.

Considering this affinity between “What matters” and the ethics and politics of care, one realises that the question of the body is central (Butler 1993, Dumouchel, Pfeifer & Pitti 2012). This perception/exposure of suffering and injustice is linked to a vulnerability that is ontological, embodied and situated. The body is not seen as sovereign, but as caught up in a web of interdependencies (or embeddings and entanglements, to borrow from the registers of the post-human, neo-materialism and environmental humanities) (Appleby & Pennycook 2017, Bogost 2012). Asking “What matters” therefore posits the relationality of the subjects, including and essentially that of the observer, the witness and the researcher.

Narratives, Archives, Testimonies

What matters seems to be not so much about understanding as about listening again to what is inaudible/invisible (in the world), or too little highlighted (in research) or too visible and familiar to be seen/recognized (hidden in plain sight). The issues raised by “What matters” invite us to rethink what sometimes escapes the social world and what is the researcher’s task to reveal (Diamond 1995, Laugier 1999, Putnam 1996). It calls for a change in approach, bringing into play all the modalities of attention, particularly that of listening and its effects, in which mind and body are inevitably involved (Epstein 2016, Lanham 2007, Ganteau 2023).

The power of language to change the world, to obscure one part of it (backgrounding) in order to expose another in a (too) visible way (foregrounding), is of crucial importance for grasping what counts (for whom and for what purpose) and making one’s words count, but also for trying to free oneself from pre-established cognitive schemas (Khalil 2005, Talmy 2008).

Revealing what counts also means delving into the intimacy of stories of suffering from the internal viewpoint of their real actors. It means asking what power the narrative holds to redress injustices and bring people to account (Balkan & Masarwa 2022, De Leon & Wells 2015, Mbembe 2006). It means getting as close as possible to first- or second-person experience (Sorlin 2022) in order to show and hear what an apparently objective (third-person) approach cannot always grasp.

In this sense, archives are halfway between first-hand testimony and the fragmentation of a narrative whose contours are absent or dependent on what has been archived and what has not. They raise questions about what should count when looking at the history of individuals or social groups, and also make it possible to reconstruct, at the level of documentary sources, traces of the priorities asserted by individuals and groups in the social world (Boltanski 1990, Foliard 2022). At a time when literary forms are becoming increasingly immersive and participatory (Moslund et al. 2021), a phenomenology of reading and spectating needs to be established, highlighting the link between authors, actors, readers, researchers and the public (Caracciolo 2012, Hutto 2011). Is literature a counter-archive? Are the new possibilities for mixing and matching, particularly in poetry (source-based poetry), the key to a new understanding? If the traces of past violence left in the present are deciphered through investigative methods such as anthropology or forensics, literature and the arts also form an ethical commitment that accompanies, supports and even triggers political action rooted in the past but looking to the future.

Historicity, Singularity, Agency

The question of testimony leads to the question of timeliness. As a research topic, “What matters” also needs to be examined from a temporal angle by highlighting the urgency of social and environmental crises, but also their historical causes and possible effects. However, the temporality of What matters” may not be subject to a strictly linear logic: it involves effects of latency and aftermath, loops and repeats.

Finally, one of the characteristics of the subject is linked to the implementation of a doubly particularist approach (Wittgenstein 1953, 1958, Cavell 1964, Laugier 1999). Asking Whatmatters” implies an effort to detect singularities and describe them, but also implies an individual approach that calls on the responsibility of the ethical subject, the citizen and/or researcher. Far from any decalogue, the subject who asks Whatmatters” breaks free from the grip of dominant frameworks (Butler 2009) to contribute to an ethical and innovative approach.

Embracing the issue of Whatmatters” means taking a step to the side, questioning the various currents of thought and periodisations that have given shape to our productions, but also taking a step towards the experiential (Caracciolo 2012), as close as possible to the individuals in the concreteness of their daily experience.

Finally, Whatmatters” is a response to what is challenging research, and a direct appeal to its agency to redefine the common space and what would be a (co-)habitable world. It invites us to grasp how research can make people act and react, and provoke awakening.

We are looking for papers in linguistic, literary, dramatic, historical, sociological, political, film and serial studies and, more broadly, cultural studies.

Papers may address the following issues (non-exhaustive list):

  • the logics of making lives, individuals and groups, and experiences visible or invisible, and therefore also the political and artistic forms of struggle aimed at ensuring that voices are recognised as counting;
  • the mechanisms, operations, devices, bodies and authorities that select, differentiate, prioritise and discriminate between what counts and what does not;
  • the conditions and contexts that enable the very question Whatmatters” to emerge; the frameworks of perception and intelligibility of what is or is not audible, visible, touchable, etc.; attention and its modalities;
  • the power of language to change the world, to obscure one part of it and/or expose another; the power of narrative to redress injustices and render accounts; the role of sources and archives and that of literary counter-archives;
  • the ethical issues involved in questioning Whatmatters”, and in the attention to otherness, singularity and vulnerability; the interdependencies and relationality of subjects, including observers, witnesses and researchers; the temporal and contextual/particular dimensions of What matters” questioning and the way in which it challenges our categories of thought and research activity.

Submission guidelines

Deadline for submission of 300-word proposals (+ bibliography):

8 November 2024. 

Proposals to be sent to the organisers:

  • jean-michel.ganteau@univ-montp3.fr
  • marc.lenormand@univ-montp3.fr
  • sandrine.sorlin@univ-montp3.fr

Notification to authors: early December 2024.

Selected papers will be considered for publications.

Keynote speakers

  • Marco Caracciolo (Ghent University)
  • Sandra Laugier (Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)
  • Fiona McCann (Université de Lille)


Jean-Michel Ganteau, Marc Lenormand et Sandrine Sorlin, EMMA, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3

Organising team

  • Isabelle Brasme (Université de Nîmes, EMMA)
  • Anne Crémieux (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Karim Daanoune (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Florence Floquet (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Jean-Michel Ganteau (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Marc Lenormand (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Théo Maligeay (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Eric Mélac (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Nancy Nalbandian (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Niaz Pernon (ENSCM, EMMA)
  • Constance Pompié (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)
  • Sandrine Sorlin (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA)

Advisory Board

  • Rosario Arias (Malaga)
  • Giuditta Caliendo (Université de Lille)
  • Samuel A. Chambers (Johns Hopkins)
  • Claude Chastagner (Montpellier 3)
  • Vincent Dussol (Montpellier 3)
  • Marianne Drugeon (Montpellier 3)
  • Jane M. Gaines (Columbia)
  • Monica Michlin (Montpellier 3)
  • Judith Misrahi-Barak (Montpellier 3)
  • Claire Omhovère (Montpellier 3)
  • Susana Onega (Zaragoza)
  • Alexandra Poulain (Sorbonne nouvelle)
  • Claudine Raynaud (Montpellier 3)
  • Olivier Tinland (Montpellier 3)
  • Pascale Tollance (Lyon 2)
  • Pieter Vermeulen (KU Leuven)

Select bibliography

  • Appleby, Roslyn, and Alastair Pennycook. “Swimming with Sharks, Ecological Feminism and Posthuman Language Politics.” Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 14-2.3 (2017): 239-61.
  • Balkan, Osman, and Yumna Masarwa. “The Transnational Afterlives of European Muslims”. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 42.1 (2022): 221‑36. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-9698255
  • Baron, Jaimie. The Archive Effect. Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History. New York and Oxon: Routledge, 2014.
  • Bogost, I. Alien Phenomenology; Or what It’s like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Boltanski, Luc. « Ce dont les gens sont capables. » L’amour et la justice comme compétences. Paris : Métailié (1990): 13-13.
  • Bond, Chelsey J., Lisa J. Whop, David Singh, and Helena Kajlich. « Now we say Black Lives Matter but… the fact of the matter is, we just Black matter to them .»  Medical Association Journal 213.6 (2020): 248-251.
  • Brown, Nadia E., Ray Block Jr., and Christopher T. Stout. The Politics of Protest: Readings on the Black Lives Matter Movement. Oxon : Routledge, 2021.
  • Butler, Judith. Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of sex. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is life grievable? London: Verso, 2009.
  • Callahan, Kathe, Melvin J. Dubnick, and Dorothy Olshfsky. “War Narratives: Framing Our Understanding of the War on Terror.” Public Administration Review 66.4 (2006): 554-568.
  • Caracciolo, Marco. “Narrative, Meaning, Interpretation: An Enactivist Approach.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 11.3 (2012): 367-384.
  • Cavell, Stanley. “Must We Mean What We Say?” In V. C. Chappell (ed.), Ordinary Language. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964 [1958], 75-112.
  • Chambers, Samuel A. Capitalist Economics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.
  • De Leon, Jason and Michael Wells. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland:University of California Press, 2015.
  • Diamond, Cora. The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1995.
  • Dixon, Wheeler Winston. Film and Television After 9/11. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.
  • Drakulich, Kevin M. “Explicit and Hidden Racial Bias in the Framing of Social Problems.”  Social Problems 62.3 (2015): 391–418.
  • Drakulich, Kevin, Kevin H Wozniak, John Hagan, and Demon Johnson. “Whose lives mattered? How White and Black Americans felt about Black Lives Matter in 2016.” Law & Society Review 55.2 (2021): 227-251.
  • Dumouchel, Paul. Emotions. Essai sur le corps et le social. Paris : Les Empêcheurs de tourner en rond, 1999.
  • Epstein, Andrew. Attention Equals Life. The pursuit of the everyday in contemporary poetry and Culture. Oxford: OUP, 2016.
  • Foliard, Daniel. The Violence of Colonial Photography. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2022.
  • Francis, Megan Ming, and Leah Wright-Rigueur. “Black Lives Matter in Historical Perspective”. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 17:1 (2021): 441-458
  • Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice. Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford and New York: OUP, 2007.
  • Gaines, Jane M. Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? Champaign, Illinois:University of Illinois Press, 2018.
  • Gaines, Jane M. “Documentary Radicality.” Revue Canadienne d’Études Cinématographiques / Canadian Journal of Film Studies 16, no. 1 (2007): 5–24.
  • Ganteau, Jean-Michel. The Poetics and Ethics of Attention in Contemporary British Narrative. New York and London: Routledge, 2023.
  • Hutto, Daniel D. “Understanding fictional minds without Theory of Mind.” Style 45.2 (2011): 276-282.
  • Khalil, Esam N. “Grounding between figure-ground and foregrounding-backgrounding.” Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 3.1 (2005): 1-21.
  • Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention. Style and Substance in the Age of Information. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.
  • Laugier, Sandra. Du réel à l’ordinaire. Quelle philosophie du langage aujourd’hui ? Paris: Vrin, 1999.
  • Le Blanc, Guillaume. L’invisibilité sociale. Paris: PUF, 2009.
  • Macé, Marielle. Sidérer, considérer. Migrants en France, 2017. Lagrasse: Verdier, 2017.
  • Mbembe, Achille. « Necropolitics ». Raisons politiques 21.1. (2006): 29‑60.
  • Michlin, Monica, Jean-Paul Rocchi (eds). Black Intersectionalities: A Critique for the 21st Century. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013.
  • Moi, Tori. Revolution of the Ordinary. Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin and Cavell. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017.
  • Moslund, Sven Pulz, et al. How Literature Comes to Matter? Post-Anthropocentric Approaches to Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2020.
  • Pfeifer, Rolf, and Alexandre Pitti. La Révolution de l’intelligence du corps. Paris: Manuela, 2012.
  • Putnam, Hilary. Realism with a Human Face. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996.
  • Simmons Alicia D. “Whose Lives Matter?: The National Newsworthiness of Police Killing Unarmed Blacks.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 14.2 (2017): 639-663.          
  • Sorlin, Sandrine. The Stylistics of ‘You’. Second-Person and its Pragmatic Effects. Cambridge: CUP, 2022.
  • Talmy, Leonard. “Aspects of attention in language.” In Peter Robinson and Nick C. Ellis (eds.), Handbook of cognitive linguistics and second language acquisition. New York: Routledge (2008): 37-48.
  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago : Haymarket, 2016.
  • Thévenot, Laurent. « L’économie du codage social ». Critiques de l’économie politique 23-24 (1983) : 188-222.
  • Tronto, Joan C. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Vermeulen, Pieter. Literature and the Anthropocene. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2020.
  • Vermeulen, Pieter. Contemporary Literature and the End of the Novel: Creature, Affect, Form. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. (tr. G. E. M. Anscombe). Oxford: Blackwell. 1953.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig. The Blue and Brown Books. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
  • Zhang, Yini, Dhavan Shah, Jordan Foley, Aman Abhishek, Josephine Lukito, Jiyoun Suk, Sang Jung Kim, Zhongkai Sun, Jon Pevehouse, and Christine Garlough. “Whose Lives Matter? Mass Shootings and Social Media Discourses of Sympathy and Policy, 2012–2014.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 24.4 (2019): 182–202.


  • Montpellier, France (34)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Friday, November 08, 2024


  • archive, attention, care, compter, langage, perception, réparation


  • Marc Lenormand
    courriel : Marc [dot] Lenormand [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr
  • Jean-Michel Ganteau
    courriel : jean-michel [dot] ganteau [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr
  • Sandrine Sorlin
    courriel : sandrine [dot] sorlin [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Marc Lenormand
    courriel : Marc [dot] Lenormand [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« What Matters in Contemporary Anglophone Cultures », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, May 23, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11pm4

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