Call for Papers

Complicities in the Second World War:

Literature of Occupation, Collaboration, and Impure Resistance

Date: 4-5 October 2024

Location: Monasterium Poortackerey, Gent, Belgium

Deadline to submit a paper proposal: 6 May 2024

The global impact of World War II has been profound and enduring. Narrated across the globe in a myriad of ways — as a just struggle by democracies against oppressive forces, as a testament to the resilience and heroism of nations, as a past that refuses to go away and demands confrontation, as the source of liberation from fascism, as the catalyst for the end of colonial domination, as the birth of new illiberal regimes and occupations, or as the acme of destruction and genocidal violence — World War II has constituted a cornerstone of collective memory leaving an indelible mark on the conscience of humanity.

As a result of its importance, the memory of World War II has acquired a strong ethical dimension and has become a source of metahistorical reflections, prompting questions about human agency and the burden of guilt and responsibility for injustices. These ethical considerations come into sharp focus in the context of military occupations. The territories occupied by the Axis Powers and the Allies during World War II constituted a “contact zone” (Pratt 1992) between people of different nationalities endowed with asymmetric power that confronted the members of the occupied communities with weighty choices of collaborating, resisting, or navigating the complex spectrum in between.

The ethical questions and dilemmas inherent in military occupations constitute a crucial component of the vast literary production that throughout the decades has represented the Second World War. Cultural memory scholarship reveals how literature holds a unique position in addressing the memory of occupations: not only can it configure the past in meaningful, memorable, evocative, and immersive ways (Erll 2011; Rigney 2008), but it can also challenge instrumental national accounts, break silence, and compel readers to grapple with the most unsettling and difficult aspects of history. Literature’s capacity to generate complex ethical reflections about occupations aligns with the interdisciplinary scholarship that has sought to address past and present injustices over the past twenty years. In doing so, scholars have emphasised the need to move beyond binary conceptions, such as the guilty-innocent or victim-perpetrator dichotomies, and they have advocated the use of nuanced understandings of the ideas of complicity (Afxentiou et al 2007; Sander 2003; Sanyal 2015), responsibility (Young 2011; Niemi 2021), and implication (Meretoja 2018; Rothberg 2019). Literature constitutes an extremely fertile ground for cultivating these complex perspectives on history and, as such, it stands as a crucial domain for addressing the ethical dilemmas posed by World War II occupations.

This conference invites scholars working on the literary representation of World War II across any cultural context and language to present case studies that, through the analysis of the complex positionalities that literature constructs, can address the ethical issues woven into the fabric of military occupations. In particular, scholars are encouraged to explore the complicities of collaborators, the responsibilities of implicated subjects, and the form of resistance that Mihaela Mihai (2022) calls “impure”, which rather than promoting idealised heroic models foster a multifaceted understanding of the ethical complexities inherent in the struggle against occupation.

Topics that scholars can address through the study of literature include, but are not limited to:

  • The agency of perpetrators under occupation.
  • The relationship between occupiers and collaborators.
  • Indirect participation in genocide and war crimes.
  • The thematisation of guilt and responsibility for collaboration.
  • Ethical dilemmas faced by collaborators and resistants.
  • “Impure resistance” and its manifestations.
  • The use of violence in resistance movements.
  • Multiple positionalities and cases of “complex implication”.
  • Narratives that challenge silence and taboos in a memory culture.
  • Self-serving representations that fail to engage with the complexity of occupations.
  • World War II occupations and decolonisation.


Please submit a paper proposal (300 words) and a short academic bio by Monday 6 May 2024. Please note that the working language of the conference will be English.

Submissions and any queries should be sent to Dr Guido Bartolini at




  • Afxentiou, Dunford, Michael Neu, and Robin Dunford. Eds. Exploring Complicity: Concept, Cases and Critique. New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2007.
  • Erll, Astrid. Memory in Culture, trans. by Sara Young. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011a.
  • Meretoja, Hanna. The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History and the Possible. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Mihai, Mihaela. Political Memory and the Aesthetics of Care: The Art of Complicity and Resistance. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2022.
  • Niemi, Minna Johanna. Complicity and Responsibility in Contemporary African Writing: The Postcolony Revisited. New York: Routledge, 2021.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992.
  • Rigney, Anne. “The Dynamics of Remembrance: Texts between Monumentality and Morphing.” Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook. Eds. Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2008. 345–356.
  • Rothberg, Michael. The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019.
  • Sander, Mark. Complicities: The Intellectual and Apartheid. Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Sanyal, Debarati. Memory and Complicity. Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance. New York, Fordham University Press, 2015.
  • Young, Iris Marion. Responsibility for Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.