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Exoticism in Contemporary Cinema and Culture

An interdisciplinary project on exoticism, understood as an alluring form of alterity and a highly Water_cropped_Indigo 2(003)contested discourse on cultural difference, in contemporary cinema and culture.

This interdisciplinary HARC Fellowship is led by Professor Daniela Berghahn (Media Arts) and Professor Anna Morcom (Music)

Contemporary Western societies appear to enjoy an insatiable appetite for the exotic, be it in the shape of ethnic fusion food, world music, Asian cool, global adventure travel, yoga, ethno chic, prize-winning postcolonial literature and world cinema. The evident fascination with the exotic in contemporary culture stands in stark contrast to the pejorative public discourses surrounding it in the west, which can be traced to anti-colonial politics, and in the academy, particularly to the work of Edward Said (1978).

When the British rock band Coldplay released its music video ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ earlier this year, it instantly triggered a heated debate on social media about cultural appropriation and the legacy of colonial representation. The music video was shot in India and features the white British band performing in Mumbai during the colourful Holi festival; it also features the black American singer Beyoncé in Indian clothes and jewelry starring in a Bollywood film. In a similar vein, Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-winning Slumgdog Millionnaire (2009) was harshly criticised in the academic community for ‘perpetrating Orientalism’.

In the last few decades, the collapsed distances of globalisation and the transnational flows of media and people have resulted in a decentring of the exotic, which can no longer be exclusively understood as the projection of Orientalist fantasies of the ‘other’ from one centre, the West. Instead, it is necessary to expand the scope of its usage beyond the traditional East-West binary by taking into account that contemporary manifestations of the exotic emanate from multiple localities and are multi-directional in perspective. Exoticism operates in large and socially or ethnically stratified countries such as China and India in ways very similar to the west. There is generally not a critical mass of public discourse that rejects exotic representations of particular ethnic, religious or social groups within a particular nation-state. Instead, the ‘ethnic’ and ‘exotic’ are consumed enthusiastically in music, film and fashion.

This project aims to re-assess exoticism, understood as a highly contested discourse on cultural difference, in the wider context of cultural globalisation in which the Global South has emerged as an increasingly influential player in both economic and cultural terms.


Exoticism in Contemporary Transnational Cinema: Music and Spectacle

International Conference at Senate House, London

Date: 16 June 2017

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Professor Rachel Dwyer (SOAS, University of London)

Professor Song Hwee Lim (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Dr Laudan Nooshin, Reader in Ethnomusicology, City, University of London

Exoticism in contemporary transnational cinema privileges sensory experience over rational knowledge about other cultures or social groups. It relies on vibrant colours and deploys the visual spectacle of cultural difference alongside aesthetic strategies such as synaesthesia and haptic visuality in order to evoke an alluring alterity. However, music, sound and silence are typically overlooked, despite their powerful semiotic and sensual representational power. The interdisciplinary collaboration of film studies and ethnomusicology (which has a particularly rich legacy of exploring intercultural representation and translation) will yield new insights into the synergies of visual and aural strategies in the aesthetics of exoticism.

Click here to see the final Conference Schedule

Click here to book your place at the Conference

Click here to see the Call for Papers.


Reassessing the Contemporary Exotic: Interdisciplinary Approaches to a Contested Form of Cultural Representation

An interdisciplinary symposium

Date: 30 November 2016

10am-6pm (refreshments and buffet lunch included)

Venue: Royal Holloway, Egham Campus, Gowar & Wedderburn Common Room

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Professor Charles Forsdick (James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool and AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for Translating Cultures)

Royal Holloway Speakers and Respondents: 

Prof Robert Hampson (English)

Prof James Williams (SMLLC)

Dr Julia Gallagher (PIR)

Prof Matthew Cohen (Drama, Theatre and Dance)

Prof Daniela Berghahn (Media Arts) 

This multi-disciplinary symposium aims to shift the terms of the debate around exoticism beyond dominant scholarly discourses such as (neo-)Orientalism and (neo-)imperialism by bringing it into dialogue with alternative frameworks, notably cultural cosmopolitanism, cultural translation, globalisation and hybridity. Drawing on research expertise from across the College and including staff, creative practitioners and PGR students, the symposium encourages new critical approaches to analysing intercultural encounters and their cultural representations.



PLEASE NOTE: Attendance is free but registration is required.

To register, please email: harc@rhul.ac.uk by 20 November 2016




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