9th conference of the international association of literary semantics

8-10 April 2021, Vilnius University

9th IALS conference: Game of theories

In Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, theories that replace former theories are characterised as better approximations to the truth: a better theory is a theory that explains a wider range of phenomena than a rival theory does and is not contradicted (falsified) by experimental results. Thus Einstein’s theory of general relativity is more powerful and encompassing than Newton’s theory of gravitation. Paul Feyerabend fundamentally questions such evolutionary logic in the course of knowledge and proposes instead that scientific discovery is made possible by a proliferation of theories, regardless of their current empirical support. According to this view, new theories pose new questions, and new questions lead to new observations – even produce new facts. Each theory is then worth exploring because of the potential gain in knowledge it can bring about.

From Text World Theory to Relevance Theory, from the theory of foregrounding to empirical and corpus methods, from a critical-ideological to a literary-aesthetic focus (and many more), the proliferation of theories, models, frameworks and approaches in the fields of linguistics and literary theory seem to support Feyerabend’s over Popper’s position: scholars should not necessarily conform to abstract standards of rationality or reach a creativity-stifling consensus, but rather feel free to experiment with whatever idea or analytical tool fits their purposes at a given time. Within stylistics, theoretical eclecticism has been advocated by Lesley Jeffries, who plausibly notices that ‘theories are not always completely discredited, even when the next generation of models and theories seems to have replaced them’ (2000: 5). More recently, Michael Toolan (2015) has uncovered (and occasionally problematised) a number of principles and assumptions invoked in stylistic practice, including the centrality of language, the prestige and complexity of literature, the conceptual boundaries of even basic grammatical categories and units of analysis. In particular, he argues that such principles are interpretive to a degree, and that a rigid application of scientific standards such as causation and falsification is ill-suited in the domain of textual analysis.

New, rigorous yet thought-provoking contributions in the tradition of the aforementioned papers seem called for nowadays, both because collective theoretical and methodological awareness is a sign of maturity in any scientific discipline, and because a number of models, hybrid applications and technological refinements have emerged in recent years which warrant closer scrutiny and are worthy of a wider audience. The 2021 IALS conference in Vilnius seems the ideal arena to do just that. After all, an open, critical discussion of these issues is the best precaution to prevent unconstrained freedom or wild eclecticism from turning into amateurish relativism and, conversely, to prevent one’s staunch support of a single framework or approach from turning into academic dogma.

As a consequence, we especially welcome the submission of abstracts that do not content themselves with exposing and applying a single theory or model, but rather

  • weigh the cons and pros of alternative approaches and frameworks, their overlaps and potential integration or else their fundamental incompatibility
  • showcase integrated models of analysis, reflecting on the ‘division of labour’ of the models involved
  • replicate, integrate or confute past analyses using new methods
  • discuss the assumptions and premises of various frameworks and how they impact, assuming they do, subsequent analyses
  • reflect on methodological challenges based on one’s experience in conducting research, and discuss possible ways to overcome or minimise them
  • summarise and evaluate a range of epistemological positions with regard to specific issues (e.g. the code-like vs. inferential conceptualisation of language as already addressed by Jeffries 2000) and explore their analytical/interpretive implications
  • assess the plausibility and strength of alternative hypotheses or explanations
  • trace the diachronic development of analytic categories (e.g. speech and thought presentation categories) or empirical practices (e.g. focus groups)
  • provide meta-analyses and systematic reviews of published papers
  • touch on any similar or loosely related theoretical or methodological issue which may benefit the IALS community at large

Abstracts should be sent in a .doc/.docx-file to ialsconference2021@gmail.com by 31st December at 23.59 (UK time). They should be 250-300 words in length and contain the following elements:

– A clear indication of your aims and research questions
– An explanation of your methodology/methodologies and analytical framework(s)
– An indication of your emerging results and conclusions
– A maximum of five keywords
– A maximum of five references

30 mins. will be allocated to each contribution: up to 20 mins. for the presentation and 10 mins. for the discussion.

Lastly, let’s not forget that textual analysis – and textual grounding more generally – will always remain the non-negotiable point of departure (and arrival) of our efforts, so that academic mumbo-jumbo will never pollute our discussion.