Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 American Studies Association Annual Meeting

I flew from New York City last night to San Antonio, Texas, which is the site of this year's annual meeting of the American Studies Association. I'm not going to try to blog about everything that happens here--as you can see if you take a look at the program, it's an incredibly rich event, with a dozen different panels on different topics taking place at any given time--but I am going to try to post at least a couple of times about especially interesting talks, plenary sessions, and meetings.

Right now there's not much to say, since I got here late last night and haven't even had breakfast yet! But to give you a sense of what some of the panels will be about: Each year the conference has a theme. This year's is "Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the 21st Century." Something like half the panels at the conference deal explicitly with something related to the theme; the others are on any topic relevant to the study of American culture. The theme is determined by the conference planning committee, and is usually related to the work of the year's ASA President, who this year is New York's own Ruth Wilson Gilmore (she's recently moved from USC to CUNY), author of the award-winning book Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (which I taught in Fordham's "Major Developments in American Culture" class a few years ago). She'll be giving a plenary lecture on the topic of the conference theme tomorrow night.

So, here is the conference call for papers, which describes this year's theme in some detail (I'm especially fond of the first sentence of the first full paragraph):

The theme for the 2010 ASA Annual Meeting, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, is "Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the 21st Century."

Ever since 20 January 2009, the US has had one African American man serving a term in the White House and more than a million serving terms in the Big House. US prisons and jails hold more than two million prisoners, mostly of color, virtually all modestly educated women and men in the prime of their lives. In the midst of multiple global crises - war, finance capital, economies, climate change, hunger - it has come to this. What is it that this is? Change, surely. But what changed?

During the next few years the planet-wide struggle over remedy for crisis, and the attendant reconfiguration of social orders, will doubtless become deeper and broader in a range of sites and scales. In the midst of crisis what can American Studies do - as an association of scholars, and as both an intellectual and annual meeting-place for questions and methods that cut across disciplines, institutions, places, and material and conceptual boundaries? We know how to find things out. What do we know now?

While traditionally historians claim change as their specialty, in fact we all study change all the time. Specialists in narrative, culture, production, reproduction, ecology, political economy, and geopolitics encounter in their objects of analysis change, including what does not change.

The program invites participants to conceive of their work as the analysis of commodity and other chains in their fullest complexity - consumables, durables, FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) products, armaments, ideologies, aesthetic forms, narrative structure, analytical methods, life-ways, labor, people, migrations, rights, scale, space, garbage, carbons, deities, rules, group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death, justice. A chain is a process no less than a restraint, and every process is full of events - some repetitive and dreary, others exciting, all dynamic - which create along the way people, places, and things.

The program, thus, invites continued consideration of topics central to American Studies - indigeneity, gender, race, sexuality, laws and status, dispossession, documentation, wage and custom, boom and bust, primitive accumulation, love for and loathing of risk, and stretching or shrinking: states, glaciers, empires, horizons. We will be interested in projects that engage broadly with the ways ordinary people create power-- understood as the capacity to compel or help others do things they would not do on their own. Some examples are: alternative household formations, resistance to rent and mortgage evictions, workplace activism, communities that challenge polluting industries, informal economies, economic delinking, sitting in, sitting down, tossing shoes, sabotage, quilombos, queering politics, buying in, walking out, redefining sexuality and sovereignty, underground armies, implacable pacifism, territorial imperatives, total war.

The goal is to identify in our various projects, among other things, specific dialectics of homogenization and differentiation, persuasion and action, space and place, structure and agency, metaphor and materiality, expression and explanation, crisis and whole ways of life. Why? So that we might ask how our understandings of "there" or "then" inform the distinct yet densely interconnected geographies of the present.

Scholars of all specialties, methods, places, and periods are urged to submit paper and panel proposals. Taking our cue from the ground, the meetings will be an opportunity to hear from a variety of trans-border activists working around immigration, the wall, femicides, maquiladoras, and other aspects of the US-Mexico border?s political ecology.

We anticipate special focus on convergences and divergences in the Americas, in Islam in the Americas and beyond, and in the Atlantic or Pacific worlds, and hope as well to highlight comparative methods. Meeting plenary sessions will be designed for discussion and debate on the socio-spatial, cultural, political, educational, and economic dimensions of crisis, chains, and change in the spasmodic context of neo-liberalism's death-throes. What comes next is anybody's guess, but we should be working on life after the "n" word now not later.

No comments: