The modern idea of freedom and human and civil rights have been repeatedly (con)tested in the 20th century, together with the notion of modernity itself, and are again hotly debated at the beginning of the third millennium in response to new theories, needs, and changes in the contemporary world situation. The spread of fundamentalisms and the dramatic developments in what has been perceived as a new phase of confrontation between the western world and 'its others' are holding in check those who have seen in the postcolonial, postnational global context and in the attainment of fluid or hybrid identities the projection of a dream of universal democracy. Although we live in an increasingly mobile world of migratory flows and transnational movement, frontiers have become less and less negotiable, and freedom as a universally accepted human value is undergoing a deep crisis. Repeated threats to freedom of speech and creative expression have affected also the world of literature and the arts, which nevertheless continue to respond creatively to these tensions.

A complex theoretical debate has developed around such issues: while diaspora theory and globalization studies draw attention to the necessity of global citizenship and cosmopolitical rights that might accommodate the predicaments of migrants and refugees, and world capitalism points to new geo-political models and eco-environmental questions, the pragmatic approach of international cooperation and anti-global networks proposes a renewed attention to basic rights which precede those traditionally privileged in the West (the right to water, food, health care) and the right to live in a world of peace.

The aim of the conference is to explore and articulate the interest of postcolonialism in the discourses of/on freedom and human, civil and cosmopolitical rights. It encourages a rethinking of postcolonial theory's traditional emphasis on the ethics of engagement in view of the conceptual inputs of new theoretical approaches; it promotes reflections on how to practice postcolonial pedagogies in an increasingly uncivil public sphere; and above all it invokes culturally diversified responses to these questions from the literatures and the arts (theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, cinema…) of the postcolonial world. The overall effort involves active inter-disciplinary dialogue, and the presence of speakers across a range of academic disciplines.