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Archaeology, Psychoanalysis and Colonialism: The Return of the Repressed in the Modern Age

Friday 17th May 2024, University of Warwick, The Oculus Building, room OC0.01

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Prof Stephen Frosh (Birkbeck, University of London)Link opens in a new window

Dr Gianmarco Mancosu (School of Advanced Study, University of London)Link opens in a new window

Attendee Categories:

Delegates and those presenting papers - £5.00 - Register here 

Organisers, Keynotes, Chairs and Helpers - Free - Register here

Terms and Conditions - please read before booking

This conference aims to explore the different forms that the idea of a ‘return of the repressed’ has taken over a broad chronological period ranging from the early 18th century through to the Second World War. The notion of an area, inaccessible to rational consciousness, where memories, thoughts, and images could be ‘stored’ and re-activated without any agency of the conscious mind, is largely credited to Sigmund Freud, whose theoretical model of repression, return and ‘compromise formation’ has been highly influential for a vast part of the 20th century. The idea of the ‘return of the repressed’, however, has a remoter and more ramified history, and its pervasiveness extends far beyond the spheres of psychology and psychoanalysis.

In bringing these areas of research together, this conference ultimately seeks to examine the multifaceted presence of the ‘return of the repressed’ – as a polyvalent metaphor, a philosophical concept, and a theoretical method, or as all three simultaneously – throughout cultural modernity as a whole. In particular, we aim to examine three distinct discourses: that of archaeology, in which the ‘return of the repressed’ applies to the physical exhumation of the past; the discourse of psychoanalysis, covering individual memories; and, finally, that of post-colonial theory, exploring the ways repressed colonized voices are subject to a re-emergence and a haunting return in collective spaces, discourses, and praxes. In doing so, the conference employs the notion of ‘return of the repressed’ as a quintessentially inter- and trans-disciplinary tool, enabling us to cross-fertilize different domains and research practices, provoking questions such as: Does the notion of ‘repression’ change in different historical, geographical, and broadly cultural contexts? To what extent, if at all, can psychoanalysis’s view of the repressed be disentangled from its original cultural context? What role has the repressed played in the legitimation, maintenance, and deconstruction of colonial powers? What was the role of physical excavation in the creation, manipulation, showcasing and exploitation of cultural memory? (e.g. the discovery of ancient ruins and archaeological searches for the garden of Eden)?

Bringing together academics from diverse disciplines and fields (including but not limited to (post)colonial studies, archaeology, literary studies, film studies, media studies, psychology and anthropology), this conference aims to attract the attention of academic staff, postgraduate research students and early-career researchers working in the UK and beyond.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers with different methodological approaches and temporal focuses. Topics may include but are not restricted to:

  • Pre-freudian concept of unconscious in literature and media;
  • The notion of the civilized/uncivilized in colonial discourses;
  • The representation of personal and collective pasts;
  • Return of ‘primitive’ beliefs, i.e colonial engulfment;
  • Social and cultural repression;
  • The uncanny, memory and trauma;
  • Archaeology of the mind: mind as colonial territory;
  • Exoticism, orientalism and racism in literary/cinematic discourses;
  • The return of the surmounted;
  • Colonial literature and cinema;
  • The role of archaeology in the legitimization of colonialism.

Those interested in presenting a paper should send a short abstract (max. 300 words) and a biographical note (max. 150 words) to by 15 December 2023. Participants may also be invited to publish their contributions in an edited publication as part of the Warwick Series in the Humanities, published by Routledge.

This conference is sponsored by the Humanities Research Centre (HRC) at the University of Warwick.

We look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the organizers, Gennaro Ambrosino and Kerry Gibbons at

Conference Poster

Call for Papers