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Call for Papers


13-17 January 2019, Longyearbyen, Svalbard

This multidisciplinary conference explores cultural and environmental aspects of darkness.

Darkness is a recurring motif: as chaos and void in mythological narratives; as an aesthetic choice or driver of adaptation in architecture and design; as a marker of hidden activity on the dark web; as a source of dread, beauty, or awe in literature and film; as an ambiguously attractive quality in dark tourism; as an ideal threatened by light pollution; as a symbol of otherness in colonial encounters.

Darkness and the impossibility of visual orientation often connote danger, uncertainty, malice, even moral ruin. Indeed, darkness plays so central a role in our understanding of terror that it is deemed worthy of note when a horror film succeeds in terrifying us in the daylight (The Wicker Man (1973), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)). Both in the past and today, Western colonialism has addressed its own anxieties by projecting them onto the non-European “dark places of the earth,” as Conrad puts it in Heart of Darkness (1899).

Darkness can also be appealing. Tourists are drawn both to the illicit thrill of visiting sites of tragedy and violence and to the humbling majesty of the polar night. In a densely populated world, natural darkness is an increasingly rare experience, leading to the establishment of International Dark Sky Sanctuaries where the stars of the night sky remain visible.

How to make a presentation.

15-minute presentations are welcome on any aspects of darkness in culture and the environment. The deadline for abstracts is 30 June 2018. You can submit your abstract here. The deadline for early registration is 31 July, and the final deadline registration 31 October.

If you have any questions, please e-mail convenor Anne Sofia Karhio (

© Heinrich Eggenfellner

About Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

Longyearbyen (population 2200) is the world’s northernmost town, the main settlement in the vast Svalbard archipelago. Although Svalbard is under Norwegian jurisdiction, this arctic outpost is so remote and its environment so harsh that it was first permanently inhabited in the early 20th century. Longyearbyen was founded as a coal mining town and hosts an arctic sciences university centre, yet life here today increasingly revolves around tourism: both during the summer, when the sun never sets, and in winter, when the sun never rises.


The polar night lasts from late October until mid-February. Delegates will have the opportunity to experience the northern lights (aurora borealis) and the deep darkness of the arctic wilderness.

About the conference.

Delegates will arrive in Longyearbyen on 13 January. On 14 and 17 January, delegates will take excursions out into Svalbard’s spectacular Arctic landscape and industrial heritage: 1) a trip into the polar night by dog sled and 2) a visit to one of Longyearbyen’s old coal mines. (The precise excursions are subject to weather.) Conference presentations by delegates will be held on 15-16 January at Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen. Registration covers five dinners and all conference activities.

Convenor: Anne Sofia Karhio