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Maria Tomlinson gives an overview of this postgraduate student-led conference held on 19 and 20 January 2018 in Birmingham


Conference organisers (l-r): Antonia Wimbush, Polly Galis, Maria Tomlinson

The interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and bilingual conference ‘Imagining the Body in France and the Francophone World’ took place at the University of Birmingham on the 19th-20th January 2018. It was organised jointly by Maria Tomlinson from the University of Reading, Antonia Wimbush from the University of Birmingham, and Polly Galis from the University of Leeds. The event was generously supported by the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), the Society for French Studies (SFS), the University of Birmingham and the University of Leeds. During the two days, delegates presented papers on a variety of different disciplines and cultural contexts. It was a celebration of the rich culture and diversity of the Francophone world. Topics ranged from Algerian women’s writing, eunuchs in 20th-century France, and dancing in the Moulin Rouge, to the photographic exploration of transgender identity. The conference included parallel sessions which each explored a different aspect of bodily experience. The papers sparked interesting debate which often continued into the coffee and lunch breaks. The conference also comprised of keynote presentations as well as artistic performances.

Dr Jacqueline Taylor’s plenary session on écriture féminine

Once the delegates picked up their custom-made complementary conference tote bags, everyone settled down to watch the first plenary session. Dr Kate Averis gave a thought-provoking talk about how ageing is imagined within contemporary women’s writing. Kate offered a fascinating insight into Douna Loup’s novel Les lignes de ta paume which celebrates the new forms of intimacy and creativity that women can enjoy in later life. Following Kate’s talk, there were various parallel sessions throughout the day. These included panels such as ‘Abject Bodies? Zombies, Eunuchs, and Menstruating Women’, ‘The (Fe)male gaze’ and ‘Breaking the Binaries of the Body’. Before the conference dinner at Côte Brasserie, the audience were treated to an engaging and interactive performance by Dr Jacqueline Taylor. Jacqueline encouraged the audience members to take off their shoes and sit in a circle around her. She performed her own version of ‘écriture féminine’ by reading from a hand-written scroll, pouring out a box of her personal notes, and showing images of artwork behind her.

The next day included a mixture of parallel panels and plenary sessions. Panel titles included ‘The Exoticisation of the Body’ and ‘Queer(y)ing the Body’. Artist Fiorenza Menini screened her sensual and captivating film Les Attractions Contraires. This was a privilege for all who attended. It was the first time Fiorenza had ever screened her film. The day ended on an absorbing and informative keynote talk by Professor Lisa Downing about right-wing women such as Marine Le Pen and Anne-Marie Waters.

Polly, Antonia, and Maria would like to say a big thank you again to the IMLR and our other sponsors, without whom the conference would not have been possible. They would also like to thank everyone who presented and contributed to the conference. This lively participation ensured that it was an event to remember! The organisers are currently planning a publication.


Maria Tomlinson, Teaching Fellow, University of Reading