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Encounters, Crossings, and Communities

Post/Colonial Port Cities : Place and Nonplace in the Ecotone

Information and Program

October 24 - 26, 2019

Concordia University
Location: Mileux Institute, EV 11.45
Language: English

In partnership with EMMA (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3), MIGRINTER (CNRS-Université de Poitiers) and La Maison Française d’Oxford

After conferences in Montpellier, Poitiers and La Réunion (France, 2015, 2016 and 2018), as well as Kolkata (India, 2018) and Purchase (NY, USA, 2019), this is the 6th opus of this conference cycle in Montreal, Concordia University. An “ecotone” initially designates a transitional area between two ecosystems, for example between land and sea. The “Ecotones” program (2015-2020) is a cycle of conferences which aims to borrow this term traditionally used in geography and ecology and to broaden the concept by applying it to other disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities. An “ecotone” can thus also be understood as a cultural space of encounters, conflicts, and renewal between several communities. This interdisciplinary conference will more specifically focus on colonial and postcolonial port cities as ecotonic dialectics between places and non-places.

Commonly understood, a port is the site where ships’ passengers enter or exit, and cargo is loaded or unloaded. Thus, it represents the flow of people and exchange of goods, in the age of sail, as well as in the contemporary globalized world. The unbounded space of the port offers opportunities to explore “discontinuous histories” of port cities, and “its interfaces with the wider world” (Gilroy 1993), as a site that decentres the nation through its slippery flows. In addition, port cities anchor urban development around shipping routes and international trade. Ports of call offer the hope of safe harbours for migrants, a refuge in a storm, or alternatively a vulnerable site for colonial concessions or gateways that must be regulated or controlled. Ports are also passages of communications. In computer networking, a port is a nodal point of communication through which data flows, a portal to information. Lastly port cities occupy that liminal space between land and water, an in-between ecotonic zone of transition.

Ports are often referred to as nonplaces – gateways subject to global forces that historically shaped trans-oceanic connections, expansion into hinterlands, and crossroads of historical and contemporary encounters. Nonplaces within cities are commonly perceived as liminal locations reduced to their function of transportation or commercial nodes, or as locations that crush the sense of individual empowerment. But artists, writers, critics and researchers have depicted them as multiple, paradoxical spaces, where new possibilities arise and new cultures emerge. Nonplaces may produce social flows and networks that are not only a defining feature of our “super-modernity”, but also, in the longue durée of urban and semi-urban dynamics, a matrix for identity formation, cultural transitions and environmental adaptation.

Port cities, however, are also placed. Cities such as Georgetown in Guyana, Shanghai, Dar es Salaam, Liverpool, Calcutta, Nantes, or Montreal among many others, may be viewed through longstanding geographic imaginaries, linguistic collectivities and/or colonial and postcolonial histories, suggesting an ongoing struggle over who ‘claims’ the city (in Montreal’s case, unceded territory), and gestures towards political, social, or economic insecurities apparent in the spatial configurations of urban life, with implications that potentially destabilize national narratives. For example, as an island in the Saint Lawrence River, the city of Montreal is not only connected to multiple elsewheres through migration, but also through trade. The Saint Lawrence opens on to the Atlantic ocean through which flowed a long-standing trade in bauxite from towns in the Caribbean to Quebec (following circuits laid by imperialism). Thus, ports shape material channels of profit and power, as well as modes of resistance that occur around these networks of control.

Downloadable content: 

Download the Ecotones Conference program [806 kb]

Download and read the complete list of presenter abstracts [1.2 mb]

Individual downloads for the keynotes:
Lisa Paravisini-Gerbert [445 kb]

Dr. Patricia Noxolo [402 kb]

David Chariandy & Shazia Hafiz Ramij [279 kb]

Conference Program
Day 1 : October 24, 2019

9:00 – 9:30

Registration and Coffee

9:30 – 9:45

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Judith Misrahi-Barak, Associate Professor at Paul-Valéry University Montpellier 3; Co-founder of Ecotones conference series

9:45 – 10:45


Introduction: Nalini Mohabir, Geography, Concordia University

Cruise ships and containers: towards a literary geography of the Caribbean port

Patricia Noxolo, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham; Chair of the Society for Caribbean Studies; Co-editor of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Respondent: David Chariandy, Professor, English, Simon Frasier University

10:45 – 11:00

Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:15

Chair: Sherry Simon, French, Concordia University

Aesthetics and Architecture in the Hold

The Azulejo as Colonial Symbol of Power: A Deconstruction through Sugar and Art

Shelley Miller, Artist, Montreal

Fantasy in the Hold: The Queer Logistics of Critical Mobilities and Container Architecture

Shauna Janssen, Assistant Professor, Theatre, Concordia University

Artist at Sea: cargo and codes, place and non-place

Kelly Thompson, Associate Professor, Fibers and Material Practices, Concordia University

12:15 – 1:30

Lunch and Artist’s tour.

Kelly Thompson’s woven works from the Artist at Sea series will be exhibited on the EV10th floor (near EV10.730) during the conference for independent viewing. A guided tour of the Milieux Textiles and Materiality digital loom will be available during lunch.

1:30 – 2:45

Port Cities and Oceanic Worlds

Chair: Jesse Arseneault, English, Concordia University

Lewis Nkosi’s Durban: a port city in flux

Lindy Stiebel, Professor Emerita, English, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Going against the flow. Transnational circulation of books in times of censorship

Rachel Matteau Matsha, Senior Lecturer, Communications, Durban University of   Technology.

Borders and Ecotones: Alternative Social Configurations in Leaving Tangier

Mike Lehman, PhD Candidate, Emory University.

2:45 – 3:00

Coffee Break

3:00 – 4:15


Ports of Call: Black and Indigenous Experiences

Chair: TBA

Ontologies in ecotone: Comércio, port of Salvador de Bahia

Cécile Martin, M. Architecture, PhD student in Humanities, Concordia University.

Literary Opportunities: The Australian Black Atlantic

Kerry-Jane Wallart, Université d'Orléans

Intercultural dynamics in post-colonial European ecotones, Lisbon and Copenhagen

Cristiano Gianolla, ECHOES project (Horizon 2020)


Wine Reception

6:00 – 8:00

4th Space

Writers Read (welcome remarks, Sina Queyras, Writers Read)

Introduction: Linzey Corridon, MA student, English, Concordia University

Poet Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Finalist for BC Book Prizes: Port of Being

Introduction: Nalini Mohabir, Geography, Concordia University

Novelist and Professor of English David Chariandy, Recipient of Windham-Campbell Prize, Author of Soucayant; Brother; and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.

Day 2: October 25, 2019

9:00 – 9:30


9:30 – 10:45

Chair: Hsuan Hsu, English, Concordia University

Asian Port Cities + Postcolonial Metropole

Travel, Ports, and Imperialism: Delineations of Formosan Ports in Nineteenth-Century Western Travelers’ Port Texts

Li-Ru Lu, Professor of English, National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan

The Post/Colonial Port of Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma): Global Flows, Vehicular Modernity, and Im/mobile Bodies

Beth Notar, Co-Director of the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Trinity College, Author of Displacing Desire: Travel and Popular Culture in China.

Peter Ackroyd’s Sensuous Detective Methods in Hawksmoor (1985)

Ann Tso, English, Lethbridge College

10:45 – 11:00

Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:15

Canadian port: Montreal

Chair: Kevin Gould, Human Geography, Concordia University

Unsettling place through a ghost river (this used to be in the waterways panel below)

Tricia Toso, Ph.D. Candidate, Communication Studies, Concordia University

The Infrastructure of Emplacement: The Re-formation of Urban Living in the

Cradle of Canada’s Industrial Revolution

Elie Jalbert, PhD student, Anthropology, Concordia University

The Settler-Colonial Construction of Sud-Ouest Montréal

Devon McKellar, BA Honours student, Geography, Concordia.

12:15 – 1:15


  1:15 – 2:30

Water, Waterfront, and Liminal Flows

Chair: Manish Sharma, English, Concordia University

Towards residential real estate zones on the contested waterfronts of the Vancouver


Annika Airas, Post-doctoral Fellow, Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University

Ports, Privatization & Precious Water in Ondjaki’s Transparent City and Jamaica

Kincaid’s A Small Place

Sunjay Mathuria, City Planner, Toronto

A Ship Caught In-between”: Interrogating the Ecotonal Dynamics of the Port of

 Vancouver in the light of Komagata Maru Incident of 1914

Urmi Sengupta, Jadavpur University

2:30 – 2:45

Coffee Break

2:45 – 4:15


Urban Redevelopment of the Port

Chair: Pierre Gauthier, Urban Studies, Concordia University

Re-Enchanting the Post-Industrial

Kai Wood Mah, M. Arch Studio, McEwen School of Architecture, Laurentian University 

Graduate students: Chad McDonald, Daniel Everett, James Walker, Jennie Philipow, Kelly O'Connor, Kristin Aleong, Pascal Rocheleau, Sarah Cen, Sarah Fox, and Shiyan Pu.

4:15 – 4:30

Coffee Break

4:30 – 5:30


Introduction: Jill Didur, English, Concordia University

The Port of Santo Domingo: Tidal Debris, Metal Pollution, and the Perils of Poverty where the Caribbean Meets the Ozama

Lisa Paravisini-Gebert, Professor of Hispanic Studies on the Randolph Distinguished Professor Chair, and Director of Environmental Studies, Vassar College

Respondent: Amanda Perry, English, Concordia University

Day 3: October 26, 2019

9:00 – 9:30


9:30 – 10:45

Port City and the Nation: Traveler Narratives and Literary Representations

Chair: Judith Misrahi-Barak, English, EMMA, Université Paul-Valery

French Atlantic Ports and American Commerce During the French Revolution

Wayne Bodle, Senior Researcher, University of Pennsylvania

A Step into the Modern World: Revisiting Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising (1941)

André Dodeman, Associate Professor, University of Grenoble Alpes

The World in Sydney: Disruptive Repetition and Gail Jones’ Five Bells

Kris Singh, Assistant Professor, English, Royal Military College of Canada


10:45 – 11:00

Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:15

Capitalism, Migration, and Socio Spatial Divisions

Chair: Thomas Lacroix, CNRS / Maison Française d'Oxford

Life and Death in the Port: The Literary Representation of Globalization in Abdul

Rahman Munif’s Cities of Salt.

Ian Pemberton, PhD Student, University of Manchester

Calais:  Doorway or Wall?

John C. Hawley, Professor of English, Santa Clara University

Depo Pèpè: Networks of Labour and Resistance in Cap-Haïtien’s Secondhand Clothing Trade

Charlotte Hammond, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Cardiff School of Modern Languages


Closing Remarks and Lunch

Thomas Lacroix, CNRS / Maison Française d'Oxford; Co-founder of Ecotones conference series


Tour of Montreal (Sex Work Industry in a Port City) with Karen Herland

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