Call for Proposals

Human and non-human rights in comics

Comics and Society: Research, Art, and Cultural Politics 

Nordic Summer University Summer Session
26 July – 2 August 2020, Rönningen folkhögskola, Oslo

We invite scholars, students, artists, and other professionals working with comics to the fourth symposium of the network Comics and Society: Research, Art, and Cultural Politics (2019-2021). Comics and Society is an interdisciplinary three-year initiative that aims to cultivate our understanding of comics as a social and socially defined phenomenon and to strengthen the status of comic art and comics scholarship in the Nordic-Baltic region. Through academic discussion, artistic work, and social engagement we explore how comics take part in making sense of societies, social phenomena, and societal changes especially, but not exclusively, in the Nordic and Baltic countries. 

In our previous symposia we have included an artist roundtable on war and conflict in comics, as well as an exhibition by the language activist group Finnougric Comics, already touching upon the theme of our fourth symposium Human and non-human rights in comics. The symposium focuses on the possibilities of comics storytelling in dealing with human as well as non-human rights. 

Human rights are a central theme in comics journalism, starting from Joe Sacco’s depictions of people living in different conflict zones. Various forms of comics activism have been implemented to defend the human rights of different marginalized and/or vulnerable groups, such as sexual or gender minorities as well as refugees and asylum seekers. Furthermore, non-human actors such as animals have recently been portrayed in comics in a manner quite different to the traditional anthropomorphic style of Disney cartoons: for instance, in her historical graphic narrative Kannas (The Isthmus, 2016), Hanneriina Moisseinen shows what the war feels like from the perspective of cattle. In addition to animals, contemporary comics also foreground nature itself, an example being Metsänpeitto (2018) by Sanna Hukkanen and Inkeri Aula, which focuses on trees from different perspectives. Additionally, also many of the more popularized comics forms, such as comic books, include portrayals of monstrous beings consisting of both human and non-human features, such as DC’s Swamp Thing or the numerous wonderful creatures of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. What kind of rights do they have in their own storyworlds?

Ranging from themes such as depicting historical human rights issues in graphic histories, to environmental questions in contemporary comics, we aim to investigate the role of comics in the debates of human and non-human rights. Focal questions of the symposium are: 

  • What kind of representational strategies do comics offer for picturing human and non-human rights? 
  • How does graphic storytelling embrace the enmeshed relationship between humans and environment, including its different non-human actors? 
  • What kind of rights discourses can be found in graphic narratives dealing with non-human agents such as animals, aliens, monsters and the environment itself? 
  • How are past and current human rights issues discussed through documentary and/or testimonial comics? 
  • In what ways can comics activism promote and help to improve human and non-human rights?

The NSU Summer Session gathers all nine NSU study circles to the same location for a week of collaboration, exchange of ideas and getting to know new people from different fields of study. During the week, participants have the chance to develop their ideas and experiment with new forms of presenting them. The longer time period also means that everyone will get a chance to know each other better, and not only during the study sessions. The Summer Session includes plenty of free time and cultural programme during the evenings, as well as an opportunity to participate in the democratic processes behind NSU, or just enjoy some quiet time on your own.

We welcome proposals from scholars, students, artists as well as other practitioners working with comics. Proposals can be in all forms of presentations, for example participatory workshops, artistic workshops, reading circles, round table discussions as well as more traditional academic presentations with a 20 minute talk followed by 10 minutes of discussion. If you would like to organize a workshop, please discuss the details individually with the coordinators.

Please send a proposal (max. 300 words) and a short biographical statement to Laura Antola (lahean[at] and Aura Nikkilä (amnikk[a] by 1 May, 2020. This is also the deadline for the application of scholarships and grants (for details, see below). If you would like to attend the symposium without presenting your work, please send us a biographical statement and briefly explain your interest in participating. However, priority is given to applicants who will present their work. The preliminary programme will be announced in mid-May at There you will also find more information about NSU and can sign up for the newsletter.

Practical information about the Nordic Summer University Summer Session
The summer session is centrally organised by the NSU/ARRKOM. See more information on all NSU study circles here:

This summer marks the 70th anniversary of NSU, and the date will be marked with an Anniversary festival of exhibitions, performances, and film-screenings. On ​Thursday, the ​30th​ of July​, the whole day will be dedicated to exploring the fruits of the Anniversary projects, with live performances and special guests. You can follow the making of the projects already on

The Summer Session 2020 will take place from the 26th of July until the 2nd August at Rønningen Folkehøgskole in Oslo, Norway. Whether arriving in Oslo by train, plane, bus, boat or car, Rønningen Folkehøgskole is accessible by public transportation from the city centre. To learn more about the venue, visit

Registration and payment 
(1) Application closes on the 1st of May.
(2) Once your proposal has been accepted, you must go through registration and payment which close on 1 June. All registration and payment will be done electronically.

Scholarship program 
NSU offers two forms of funding options for which the participants at the Summer Session can apply. The scholarship is exclusively for Nordic and Baltic students, the grant is for anyone in need for support in order to participate. In addition to that, NSU also offers West-Nordic and Baltic travel grants. For more information, see NSU’s support page: The application period for scholarships and (travel) grants opens on the same date as the calls: ​15th​ of March​. Deadline is ​1​st of May​.

Keynote speakers
The first confirmed keynote speaker for the whole NSU Summer Session is ​Nora Bateson ​who is a filmmaker, researcher, writer, educator, and President of the International Bateson Institute. Her work brings the fields of biology, cognition, art, anthropology, psychology, and information technology together into a study of the patterns in ecology of living systems. She has written, directed and produced the award-winning documentary, ​An Ecology of Mind (2010), a portrait of Gregory Bateson, a celebrated anthropologist, philosopher, author, naturalist, and systems theorist. In her book, ​Small Arcs of Larger Circles​ (Triarchy Press, 2016) she updates our thinking on systems and ecosystems by applying her own insights and those of her team at IBI to education, organisations, complexity, academia, and the way that society organizes itself.

More keynotes will be announced.

PhD and MA students are eligible for up to five ECTS points for participation and presentation of a paper. See also:

Parents with children 
Families are more than welcome at the Summer Session. There will be a separate circle for children between 3 and 15 years. In the children’s circle, a variety of activities is offered for children and youth, running parallel to the other study circles.

See also:

The Nordic Summer University (NSU) is a Nordic network for research and interdisciplinary studies.NSU is a nomadic, academic institution, which organises workshop-seminars across disciplinary and national borders. Since it was established in 1950, Nordic Summer University has organised forums for cultural and intellectual debate in the Nordic and Baltic region, involving students, academics, politicians, and intellectuals from this region and beyond.

Decisions about the content and the organisational form of the NSU lay with its participants. The backbone of the activities in the NSU consists of its thematic study circles. In the study circles researchers, students and professionals from different backgrounds collaborate in scholarly investigations distributed regularly in summer and winter symposia during a three-year period. For more information: