“Movement, Place, Fixity”, La Rochelle, 2015, May 27-30
List of the Workshops
1. Movement, Place, Fixity: Series on the Move, Series Standing Still
Donna Andreolle (Université du Havre) & Shannon Wells-Lassagne (Université de Bretagne-Sud)
2. Images and Portraits in Motion: When the Biopic Depicts America
Delphine Letort (Université du Maine) & Taina Tuhkunen (Université d’Angers)
3. Cultural Immobility
Klaus Benesch (LMU München) & Virginia Ricard (Université Bordeaux Montaigne)
4. Colonization, Emigration and the Back to Africa Movement: The Migratory Flows, the Historical Narratives, and the Circulation of the African-American Diasporic Experience
Lawrence Aje (Université Paul-Valéry) et Claire Bourhis-Mariotti (Université Paris 8)
5. US Businesses Abroad: Migration, Immigration and Ownership
Agnès Delahaye (Université Lyon 2 Lumière) & Eve Bantman (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès)
6. Popular Culture(s) and Cultural Practices
Danièle André & Elodie Chazalon (Université de La Rochelle)
Sandrine Baudry (Université de Strasbourg) & Céline Planchou (Université Paris 13)
8. (Idior)rhythms of contemporary poetic communities
Vincent Broqua & Gwen Le Cor (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis)
9. Out there… and back: return in American fiction
Claire Fabre (Université Paris-Est Créteil) & Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd (Université de Poitiers)
10. Books, libraries and collections – Transatlantic translations
Susan Finding & Geoffrey Pitcher (Université de Poitiers)
11. Roots & Routes: U.S. City Streets as Spaces of Mobility and Belonging
Aurélie Godet (Université Paris Diderot) & Laurence Gervais (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre)
12. Equating Institutional Inertia and Political Change: Toward a New Power Dynamic in the United States?
Hamed Jendoubi (Université Paris Sorbonne) & Elisabeth Fauquert (IEP Lyon)
13. Staging locomotion on screen
Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre) & Gilles Menegaldo (Université de Poitiers)
14. Religion in U.S. History and Culture: “The Transient and the Permanent”
Nathalie Caron (Université Paris Sorbonne) & Sabine Remanofsky (ENS Lyon)
15. Movement and Settlement: Themes and Modes in American Autobiography
Ada Savin (Université Versaille-St-Quentin) & Laure de Nervaux-Gavoty (Université Paris-Est Créteil)
16. Go West, Young Woman: Women’s Narratives of the West
Claire Conilleau (Université de Cergy) & Amy D. Wells (Université de Caen)
17. Hic et Nunc: An Issue in Modern Poetry in English from the USA
Christophe Lamiot Enos (Université de Rouen)
18. Mobility in Colonial America: migrations, social and economic mobility
Elodie Peyrol-Kleiber (Université de Poitiers) & Anne-Claire Faucquez (Université Panthéon-Assas)
19. The Uses of History in American Reform: The United States of Inertia?
Elisa Chelle (IEP de Grenoble) & Alix Meyer (Université de Bourgogne)
20. Traveling concepts
Mathieu Duplay (Université Paris Diderot) & Jagna Oltarzewska (Université Paris Sorbonne)
21. Tramping Through American Literature
Alice Béja (Université Paris 8) & Pierre-Antoine Pellerin (Université J. Moulin Lyon 3)
22. Occupying space: Territory, Movements and Protest
Claire Delahaye (Université Paris Est-Marne-la-Vallée) & Hélène Quanquin (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
23. Roots & Routes in American Popular Music
Elsa Grassy (Université de Strasbourg) & David Diallo (Université de Bordeaux)
24. Visualizing Memory: Photography, Moving Images and Racial Minorities’ positionality
Sarah Fila-Bakabadio (Université de Cergy)
For more details, click the following Pdf document: AFEA Conference 2015-list of Workshops
WORKSHOP 1 –
Movement, Place, Fixity: Series on the Move, Series Standing Still
Donna Andreolle, (Université du Havre) and Shannon Wells-Lassagne,(Université de Bretagne-Sud)
It is common knowledge that television is currently in a state of flux. As the divide between television and cinema weakens, and television takes on the subject matter, the cast and crews, and indeed the budgets previously only held by cinema; as the term “television” itself becomes a state of mind rather than a physical reality, with consumers “cutting the cord” and watching their fictions online; as the traditional formats for long-running series changes from 20-odd weekly episodes to more manageable season orders of 13 or 10 episodes, and mini-series become more common, it is clear that television is on the move. In this era of rapid change, however, tradition remains crucial: Bryan Fuller, the showrunner of Hannibal (NBC, 2013-), has been outspoken about the problems he encountered when circumventing the system of the television pilot, and the fact that television has largely assumed the traditions of cinema rather than creating its own, or that innovation in subject matter goes hand in hand with an inundation of remakes (Smallville (WB, 2001-2006, CW, 2006-2011) and Arrow (CW, 2012-) in the comic book world, Beauty and the Beast (CW, 2012-) or Once Upon a Time (ABC, 2011-) as both fairy tale remakes and recreations of previous television series, for the former, and Disney cartoons more generally for the latter), reinventions (the uncountable renditions of procedurals or medical dramas), and literary adaptations (Vampire Diaries (CW, 2009-), Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-), Longmire (A&E, 2012-), The Leftovers (HBO, 2014-) suggests that innovation vies with tradition in our contemporary television mindscape, making the theme of movement and stasis, innovation and inertia, a particularly relevant one for our panel on television series.
Topics might include:
– Invention or stagnation in television viewing: one could see webseries like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries (2012-), Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog (2008), or The Guild (2007-2012) as novel ways of using new media (while liberally borrowing from older ones), while the Netflix model of making entire seasons available at once has acknowledged now-widespread “binge watching”. This contrasts sharply with the continued reliance on Nielsen ratings and the struggle to account for delayed or pirated viewings.
– “Six seasons and a movie!” (Community): individual TV series themselves are often in movement, be it the transfer of TV series from one medium to another, with the recurrent phenomenon of transposing series to comic books (Dollhouse, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or the silver screen (X-Files, Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Firefly), or indeed both, as the Star Trek franchise has so successfully done, whether it be as an expansion or as a conclusion to the series; from one network to another in order to save struggling series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development, Community); or one culture to another, given the increasing importance of foreign television series and their American counterparts in the US television landscape (The Killing, Broadchurch, The Office, House of Cards)
– Movement and stasis within the diegesis of a series: from The Fugitive or Wild Wild West to The A Team or Supernatural, dramatic television has a long love affair with protagonists on the move, while sitcoms largely define themselves by their limited locales (the family home in series from Bewitched to New Girl, the workplace from Designing Women to The Office or Parks and Recreation).
This list is not exhaustive.
Images and Portraits in Motion: When the Biopic Depicts America
Delphine Letort, (Université du Maine) & Taina Tuhkunen, (Université d’Angers)
The notions of “movement, place, and fixity” create a complex (almost paradoxical) dialectic when viewed in light of the biopic. The American “biographical films” or “filmed biographies” remain rooted in the history of the United States whose narrative they fashion by tracing the lives of emblematic characters. While they provide fixed forms to a multifaceted historical reality, they also spark off controversial debates on the capacity of cinema to create memory. The biopic constitutes “a modern film genre drawing on a rich tradition” (Tom Brown and Belén Vidal, The Biopic in Contemporary Film Culture, 2014), a film genre with deliberately blurred frontiers, in perpetual movement between stagnation and displacement, permanence and mutation. In Whose Lives Are They Anyway? : The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre (2010), Dennis Bingham notes that when focalizing on “exceptional individuals” of various types, the biopic crosses different generic categories. Affected by the personality of the biographed characters, the chosen narrative structures and filming strategies, the genre has provided a number of filmic portrayals of heads of state and other well-known political figures (Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John Reed, JFK, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, George W. Bush, etc.), biopic depictions of people from the world of business and industry (Preston Tucker, Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes, Steve Jobs, Jordan Belfort, etc.), artists and stars representing the world of music and showbiz (Billie Holiday, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, James Brown, etc.) and cinema (Oscar Micheaux, Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Ed Wood, etc.), without forgetting the singular careers of sportsmen (Jake Lamotta, Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Jim Brown, etc.) and of killers raised to fame thanks to the media (Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bugsy Siegel, etc.).
In the process, this often decried yet popular genre (appreciated by Oscar-awarding committees) proves capable of hybridizations, for instance by crossing its generic traits with animation films (Superstar : The Karen Carpenter Story, 1989), or by blending the historical with the fantastic (Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter, 2012). Through its complex links with the past, the biopic constantly blurs the boundary between public and personal history, History- and storytelling. Claiming the authenticity of its sources (biographies, autobiographical accounts, historical narratives, documentaries, newspaper articles, etc.), it offers (allegedly) innovative interpretations of reputably known historical facts. Iconoclast and revisionist by definition, it is nevertheless not immune to hagiographic tendencies, perceptible through its narrative modes, visual and discursive strategies involved in the elaboration of filmic portrayals of men and women embroiled in politics (Alice Paul, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, etc.), or, as in the subcategory of artist biopics, of emblematic creators (Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Pollock, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, etc.). Influenced by the migratory experiences of filmmakers, the ongoing mutations within the cinematographic genres, and by the avatarization of romantic heroes, the biopic blurs the boundaries between genres and promotes an understanding of history in motion.
In Bio/pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History (1992), George F. Custen claims that the biopic genre (abbreviation of “biographical motion picture”) contributes to the education of the masses through the construction of national History. A further question of interest for discussion among American studies scholars therefore concerns the typology of the persons/characters foregrounded for their “exemplarity” since the first 20th century American biopics until our contemporary era. When the biographical film invites the viewers into more intimate spheres, without necessarily dispelling the mystery surrounding those “larger than life”, does it help us progress in our understanding of History? Or do these films reduce us, instead, to voyeuristic positions promoted by the media machine, keener on bedchamber secrets than on public debates on society? And if the screen adaptations of the lives of emblematic Americans associated with periods of mutation do create a parallel historiography, what kind of a “portrait gallery” do we end up with – also regarding European-based royal characters? In other words, in the absence of kings and queens ingrained in the political, economic and esthetic history of the “Old Continent”, what types of representative or outstanding figures are celebrated by the biopic (and its sub-categories) of the “New World”, known for its attachment to the spirit of mobility and the liberty of reinvention?
Besides these (naturally non-exhaustive) questions, this workshop will question the evolution of the biopic – “a troublesome genre” according to Tom Brown and Belén Vidal – as a cinematographic genre that appropriates facts and historical characters in an attempt to assert identity and political rights, more particularly of minorities (Iron Jawed Angels, Harvey Milk, Sally Hemings : An American Scandal, 12 Years a Slave, etc.). Despite its tendency to set up ideals, the biopic does not fix nor freeze History; it digs into the flaws of the existing portraits and texts, and introduces the spectator in a problematic relationship between the viewed object and the looking subject. For this reason, we invite those interested in our workshop to ponder not only the mechanisms of filmic image-making of “exceptional destinies”, but also the various discourses conveyed by this inherently unstable genre.
WORKSHOP 3 –
Klaus Benesch, (LMU München) & Virginia Ricard, (Université Bordeaux Montaigne)
This workshop is based on the idea that attachment to place and forms of resistance to unfettered mobile life styles are the result of an existential human need for rootedness and the attachment to an immediate physical environment. While the importance of mobility as a major driving force of modernity has often been noted, resistance to movement seen as a positive cultural value has been largely neglected by scholars of the modern era.
Critical responses to increased mobility and the “restlessness” (Mowrer) of modern life can be traced across various disciplines and historical periods. Taken together, they account more fully for cultural conservatism in even the most economically and scientifically advanced countries. Cultural immobility seeks to reduce movement and speed rather than to enhance it. Unlike the modern mobility paradigm, which is predicated on an extension in/of space, cultural immobility— because it attempts to undo the limitations of place by making it a repository of new ideas and a fuller, “rooted,” form of life—may be described as vertical and rhizomatic rather than horizontal. Far from being merely the antithesis or downside of modernity, critical stances vis-à-vis relentless progress and cultural change have thus been part and parcel of the dialectics of modernization.
Cultural immobility may involve one or all of the following: an attitude or a particular worldview (such as the one propounded by the “antimodern” modernist Ezra Pound), a type of individual and/or collective behavior accompanied by an expressed interest in a particular region or locality (e.g., Henry David Thoreau and the tradition of nature writing), or a cultural discourse/rhetoric with important repercussions in the social and political realm (e.g., Agrarianism during the 1920s and 30s).
Contributions on how specific notions of space and place have informed modern cultural criticism in the U.S., but also on exemplary thinkers critical of modern mobility both in the U.S. and in Europe (Henry David Thoreau, Paul Lafargue, Heidegger, Guy Debord, Peter Sloterdijk etc.) are welcome.
WORKSHOP 4 –
Colonization, Emigration and the Back to Africa Movement: The Migratory Flows, the Historical Narratives, and the Circulation of the African-American Diasporic Experience
Lawrence Aje, (Université Paul-Valéry) & Claire Bourhis-Mariotti, (Université Paris 8))
Keywords: African-Americans, Colonization, Emigration, Pan-Africanism, Diaspora, Agency, historical narratives, historical sources, circulation.
Historical period: From the American Revolution to the present
In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the widespread emancipation of slaves and the resulting significant growth of the free colored population, led many observers to believe that racial cohabitation was impossible. The removal and geographic separation of manumitted slaves, whether voluntary or not, gradually became the prerequisite for their emancipation. Owing to the indefatigable efforts of the American Colonization Society, which was founded in 1816, the colonization scheme soon came to offer a durable solution to the black problem – from a white American point of view. Interestingly enough, although some prominent and vocal African-American leaders were then firmly opposed to colonization, in the face of continuing discrimination and dehumanization within the United States, increasing numbers of African-Americans were prepared to consider emigration as a “solution” – be it temporary or not – to escape oppression. And indeed, the idea of gathering the free black community around the project of a “black nationality” beyond the borders of the United-States became increasingly appealing to a segment of the free black community, who had grown tired of being relegated to second-class citizenship and of fighting against racial discrimination. In the early nineteenth century, these free Blacks identified themselves more and more as belonging to a black diaspora born out of slavery. Although Pan-Africanism developed towards the end of the nineteenth century, as an expression of the solidarity which united exploited people of color in response to European as well as American imperialism and colonialism, a diasporic consciousness emerged among the free African-American community – and other black communities all around the world – in the first half of the nineteenth century.
This panel seeks to explore the different aspects of the African-American diasporic experience, by analyzing how, from Prince Saunders’s Haitian project to Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement, and up to the present day, some African-Americans have striven to unite the black diaspora in places beyond the reach of U.S government control – in Canada, in Africa, in Central America, in the Western Territories, in Haiti, or more recently in South Africa. Another aim of this panel is to examine how some abolitionists and politicians, such as Abraham Lincoln, sought to deport free Blacks out of the United States, a phenomenon which has received little scholarly attention and that is fairly unknown to the general public. This panel will naturally interrogate the sensitive issue of what it means to live together, which is still a topical question today. Panelists are thus encouraged to reflect on the driving forces behind nationalisms and on the tendency for members of racial, religious, or other minority groups to voluntarily isolate themselves as a result of social exclusion.
WORKSHOP 5 –
US Businesses Abroad: Migration, Immigration and Ownership
Agnès Delahaye, (Université Lyon 2 Lumière) & Eve Bantman, (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès)
If, as the theme of the conference indicates, movement and place are central elements in collective representations of America, what can we make of these notions in the context of globalisation? Borders on the American continent and across the globe are constantly challenged by the choices of entrepreneurs, who relocate abroad in search of new opportunities and markets and often live out their choices as full “lifestyle changes” they can write about, to inform others about the successes and pitfalls of exporting one’s business and entrepreneurial culture into foreign environments. Flows of goods, people and ideas issued out of the United States have indeed often acted as the vehicles of all kinds of exceptionalist visions of American identity and power—the American Dream, or the American way of doing business, among others.
The growing body of literature on US nationals abroad, now merging with the numerous studies on big and small US businesses operating beyond the official borders of national territory, has been documenting the processes of internationalization, the subtle workings of soft power, and the spread of US values across the globe, for better or for worse. It points to the existence of numerous communities of Americans living, working, and investing abroad, creating and running small and medium-size businesses, buying and developing property, and often, thanks to new technologies, sharing their experiences and newly-acquired knowledge and know-how with fellow business men and women, as consultants, writers, or bloggers.
This workshop seeks to address the motivations, incentives and projections of American entrepreneurs abroad, the variety of their experiences as business creators and investors, the nature of the economic power they exert in the territories where they choose to settle, and the ways these “pioneers,” as they sometimes call themselves, reflect and build upon their stories as they communicate with potential partners, investors, and clients at home. We wish to discuss the contrast between the fluidity of movement of people and capital with the fixity of identity, values and practices, by focusing on the processes of adaptation, as well as the strategies of resistance, that these businessmen and women develop as they build their new companies, and often their lives, in alien land.
We invite papers in English or French that document the experiences of American entrepreneurs and bridge the gap between business history, organisation studies and cultural history, to address both the business knowledge and the social and cultural representations resulting from adaptation to foreign legal, fiscal, business and work environments. Does this experience of mobility challenge their sense of identity as American entrepreneurs? What are the limits of immersion in terms of visibility, accountability and business failure? How do their relationships with local stakeholders relate to exchanges with stakeholders at home? Can one talk about cultural imposition and forms of domination or are change, adaptability and reciprocity relevant key words in this context? Connectivity is one of the great claims of discourses on globalization, but how do migrant entrepreneurs make use of ICT, and can these help bridge the intercultural gap? Can today’s narratives of relocation and living abroad in books, editorials, and blogs, be compared to earlier versions of colonial or imperial living?
WORKSHOP 6 –
Popular Culture(s) and Cultural Practices
Danièle André, & Elodie Chazalon, (Université de La Rochelle)
This workshop welcomes approaches to the notions of movement, rootedness and fixity through the study of popular culture(s) and cultural practices. The notion of popular culture is polysemic and constantly under construction because the individuals and their daily practices/lifestyles are both transient and fluctuant. As Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life) noticed several decades ago, consumer goods as well as cultural productions and habits are at the core of the interpretive process and reflect, to a certain extent, the dominant ideology. If we assume that “a commodity is ideology made material” (J. Fiske, Undestanding Popular Culture), it is nevertheless possible to argue that the consumer/user is “not simply consuming a commodity but reworking it” (Fiske, Ibid.).
Technological progress has shaken up, and even transformed our ways of life. In a hyperconnected society, it is interesting to analyze to what extent these new ways of being and working influence the way popular culture is produced (cultural items, consumer goods) and received/interpreted. What can it mean to be constantly connected to the cultural object or to several cultural objects simultaneously – when, for instance, series, films and documentaries are available on all kinds of screens (television, cinema, computers, touchpads, smartphones)? Or when their narratives can be continued and/or rewritten in other media, in comic books, vidfans, on blogs, etc.? How have the relations to quality and quantity, and modes of production and of broadcasting evolved, in line with the ways in which cultural objects are used, taken over and rewritten? And what about the merchandising that goes with the items and the cultural practices these items put forward? Is it only a side-effect or a significant actor?
As technological evolutions are present in every layer of society and are now part of the American way of life, it is relevant to analyze whether some emblematic fields of US popular culture (games, comics and science-fiction for instance) have drastically changed under their influence or if they are food for thought about the changes brought about. Games, and more specifically video games, have been significantly transformed (from playing on one’s own to MMORPG and to Second Life, etc.). Yet, at the same time, the tabletop role-playing game, which seems to be more traditional, still exists and evolves (far from the « Dungeons and Dragons » of the origins) under the influence of authors and players who try to think about how to theorize and play them, whether it has to do with the conception of the game and its universe or with the way to play at it. It is logical to wonder how this strong basis the tabletop RPG is has managed to evolve towards different and new theoretical spheres and ways of playing and thinking about itself. Is the same phenomenon at the basis of the changes comics have undergone and of their being popular from one generation to the other? Why have new audiences been attracted to them, why have these objects/products appeared in different media and become part of an international culture? How have they been transformed on aesthetic and narrative levels (mangas) as well as on a conceptual one (computers, drawing softwares, 3D, etc.) under the influence of cultural shocks?
The impact of cultural practices (food, clothing, body practices and rituals, sports, etc.) is also at stake. For example, institutionalized and codified sports (basketball, baseball, cheerleading, etc.) have a major popular appeal and cultural imprint. It would also be interesting to study to what extent more alternative practices such as street skating, dance and art – which are increasingly interconnected with other sports, body practices and art forms – influence conventional and mainstream perception of places, spaces, practices and ways of life, especially those that are perceived negatively (the street, vagrancy) or seen as belonging to a fixed genre (masculine vs. feminine) in the collective mind. Urban practices such as graffiti and street skating, for instance, illustrate the way street artists and riders take over the urban space and abandoned places (old factories, garages, waste ground, old institutional buildings, etc.), thus imparting them with mythical qualities and changing their popular perception. This aspect is also obvious in street and subcultural styles as well as in the playing and listening of hybrid musical forms (cover songs, oldies, etc.) in other words, in practices often associated with such diverse and overlapping notions as vintage, bricolage, pastiche, and hybridity, a point that can be explored in the framework of this workshop. These cultural practices convey an impression of déjà-vu and emphasize the connection between motion, fixity and rootedness.
All these elements can lead to analyze the societies in which these cultures and practices can develop and evolve because the very notions of motion, rootedness and fixity are at the basis of their construction. This is precisely what science fiction depicts and conceptualizes, whether in questioning politico-economic systems (utopias, dystopias, uchronias, etc.), geo-politics (space conquest, wars, etc.), media and culture (links between games, media and money), technology and medicine (hyperconnectivity, augmented body), architecture (urban spaces, deserts, etc.) or culture (fashion, group language, art, etc.). These notions are also present in science fiction writing itself – both through the invention of other languages and linguistic systems, and in the use of existing languages, through its grammatical and stylistic structures and narratives, etc. Science fiction is thus a fascinating object of analysis to tackle the complexity of « motion, rootedness and fixity ».
As contributions are not limited to these approaches, it is possible to focus on other aspects and to examine the popular reading and appropriation of cultural practices and productions as well as the ways they interact. In the same manner, contributors can explore the ways mainstream or “dominant” practices and productions are reinterpreted by popular imagination.
WORKSHOP 7 –
Sandrine Baudry, (Université de Strasbourg) & Danièle André, (Université Paris 13)
Returning, as a form of mobility, has been studied as part of migration issues. In this context, the return to the country of origin can be permanent, or rather part of a transnational dynamic which, through the repeated comings and goings of migrants, yields a type of cultural mobility. This mobility can result in the relocation of objects and practices from one place to another, or in the rise of new syncretisms. Thus, returning is not doomed to be a reactionary act, a return to the point of departure, but can just as well be the root of different types of renewal.
In this workshop, we would like to consider the act of returning in its multiple dimensions. We consider it as potentially either individual or collective, voluntary or mandatory, with a geographical dimension of course, but also an ideological or cultural one. In all those cases, what can we gather from the decision to go back? Is it a sign that the roots did not take? The relinquishment of the ideals which motivated the departure? The refusal to let go of the past? The search for that past, whether real or imaginary? Is the return temporary, aiming at getting through a short-term crisis? Is it part of a larger reflection on one’s practices and beliefs? Besides, can going back be entirely satisfying, or even truly possible? Given how memories rewrite facts, and how places and ideas evolve in time, it seems somehow doubtful. But, if returning can lead to disappointment, it might also, even in cases when it is the result of a moral or legal obligation, lead to fruitful discoveries. It may then offer the opportunity for unexpected regroundings1.
We would like to center the workshop around Native American issues in the contemporary United States. Proposals in civilization, history, geography, sociology can analyze the concept of return as it applies to Native Americans through a diversity of methodological approaches. They can for instance look at cases of return to the reservation, whether it be the physical return of people (return of generations of adopted children, return to civilian life after prison or the army, return of urban Indians, etc.), of objects or elements of the intangible cultural heritage (return of sacred objects, reintroduction of the buffalo, etc.). The papers can also explore whether returning to the reservation represents a return towards the land, the “tradition”, the culture linked to that land. They can then question the relationship (or lack thereof) between geographical and cultural return. Finally, in the aim of generating a comparative perspective throughout the workshop, we welcome contributions regarding other populations in the United States, their return to the country of origin or to a predominantly ethnic neighborhood, the return home after a natural catastrophe, etc.
WORKSHOP 8 –
Idior)rhythms of contemporary poetic communities
Vincent Broqua, & Gwen Le Cor, (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis)
In How to Live Together, Roland Barthes expounds his definition of idiorrhythmy and shows that “in its original setting (Athos), idiorrhythmy merely indicates the proportions of the fantasized community.” For him idiorrhythmy is incompatible with larger communities whose structures are “based on an architecture of power and are openly hostile to idiorrhythmy.” Moreover, though the contemporary “marks the immediacy of an instant, (…) it may also be defined by its rhythms and not just by the way time is oriented” (François Noudelmann, “Le contemporain sans époque : une affaire de rythmes”).
A fair share of American fiction and poetry raises these questions: how can poetic communities emerge and simultaneously invent their own idiorrhythms? In what ways do the issue of collaboration between poets, writers and artists, and the issue of the invention of communities (such as Black Mountain College, The Saint Mark’s Project, Naropa or the community around Cave Writing at Brown University) coalesce both with the invention of poets’ and writers’ idiorrhythms and with that of the texts themselves?
This workshop seeks to explore the notions of rhythm and community, while examining how writing communities are made and unmade, develop and survive through the elaboration of contradictory idiorrhythms: in the poems themselves (e.g. Fast Speaking Woman), in the specific creative spaces (how does e-poetry, for instance, seek to distinguish itself from experimental poetic communities), or in the numerous examples of works co-elaborated by writers and artists. How does the creation of poetic texts lead to the invention, the practice and the experience of communities that try (and sometimes fail) to think about community neither as large entities nor as architectures of power.
WORKSHOP 9 –
Out there… and back: return in American fiction
Claire Fabre, (Université Paris-Est Créteil) & Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd, (Université de Poitiers))
[…A] Novel […] whose Hero instead of proceeding down the road having one adventure after another, with no end in view, comes rather through some Catastrophe and back to where she set out from.”
“No place like home, eh?” (T. Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, p.263)
With this allusion to Dorothy’s magic formula in The Wizard of Oz, Thomas Pynchon evokes one of the most ancient fictional schemes, one that takes heroes back where they started from. This panel will offer critical appraisals of American fictions – non-exclusive of any genre or time-period – whose movement is directed towards its own origin. Aside from thematic motifs, this can take the form of circular or spiral narrative structures, or impact the very dynamics of language, in its rhythm and tone (falling back on a stress in a trochaic pattern, returning to the tonic).
These return-oriented fictions may tackle a number of literary archetypes with a teleological inclination, such as odysseys – which always tend towards a return home following a number of trials and tribulations – or pastorals – featuring a departure from the city into the haven of the countryside, only to return to the urban origin. Do these returns take on different meanings in the American context? Do origins always attract such movements of return – how about uncertain or multiple origins? How do American fictions challenge the power of these teleological models?
Returns may also never be completed, and instead be left in suspension or sidetracked. A returning point may remain a vanishing point and never be reached. There are wanderings that never cease and wanderers who never quite return.
Returning is also repeating, moving from one point back to the same, moving in time while staying in one place – looking back while moving on. Yet as fictions of everyday life show, repetition does not exclude variation.
Books, libraries and collections – Transatlantic translations
Susan Finding, & Geoffrey Pitcher, (Université de Poitiers)
The creation of the first libraries in the American colonies is strongly linked to the transmission of knowledge. Books – starting with the Holy Book – accompanied English-speaking pilgrims, French & Spanish-speaking Catholic priests, and immigrants of other origins on their Atlantic crossing.
The gift by men of the faith of books at Branford CT, and that of over 400 books by Elihu Yale in 1718, which form the core of library of the college that was to become Yale University, is an example. The importing of books from England, Scotland and Ireland, but also from other Old World countries, did not suffice for local needs. It led to the creation of an American publishing industry – in the widest sense (e.g. the ongoing project at Brown University: Mapping Colonial Americas Publishing). The conditions which created that demand for books (education, literacy, readership, circulating libraries) are part of this history. The reverse trajectory, American works for European readership, can also be included in this approach : the first works written in the New World (Las Cases, Penn) or later travelogues (Dickens, De Toqueville) are examples.
The acquisition of contemporary works edited in Europe, and the purchasing of rare books by bibliophile collectors who give their collections to American Universities continues. Examples that come to mind, among others, are the John Carter Brown Library (Providence, R.I.) the Folger Library (Washington D.C.), the Lewis Walpole Library (Farmington, CT).
This workshop aims to bring together examples of the trajectories of these books – writing, printing, publishing, purchasing, ownership, readership, provenance, acquisitions, donations – as moments of transposition, translation and transportation which illustrate the circulation of knowledge and the anchoring of this knowledge in an intellectual tradition in the Americas which was either imported or of home-grown origin.
Topics which may be explored include: collections, the handing down of works, libraries, publishing houses, the exporting and importing of books (to and from North America), genres, readership, translations, transcriptions, reproductions or new editions.
WORKSHOP 11 –
Roots & Routes: U.S. City Streets as Spaces of Mobility and Belonging
Aurélie Godet, (Université Paris Diderot) & Laurence Gervais, (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre)
Commonly defined as “a public parcel of land adjoining buildings,” the word “street” can describe a variety of spaces in the United States. In rural and suburban environments, main streets are often just roads connecting places, thoroughfares meant for vehicular traffic first and foremost. In this view, pedestrian traffic is incidental to the street’s purpose. In cities, however, streets are more than spaces of mobility and are usually perceived as places of attachment, where people live, work, meet up, assemble, parade, celebrate, demonstrate, in other words connect. To quote sociologist Allan B. Jacobs, “The people of cities understand the symbolic, ceremonial, social and political roles of streets, not just those of movement and access” (Jacobs 1993).
Ever since the “spatial turn” took hold of the arts and social sciences in the 1980s, theories of the production of urban space have multiplied (Foucault 1984; Soja 1989; Massey 1994; Lussault 2007; Westphal 2011). Their significance lies in the fact that they systematically integrate the categories of city and space in a single, comprehensive social theory, enabling the understanding and analysis of spatial processes at different levels. Key to Doreen Massey’s work, for instance, is the view that “places” are not fixed in time but are processes, and that the growing specialization of urban territories inside the city is a symptom of globalization and of a new “global sense of place” (Massey 1994). Meanwhile, Michel Lussault considers streets as places of negotiation, speaking of a “place struggle” that would have replaced “class struggle” (Lussault 2009). Building on concepts derived from French phenomenology — that of “perceived space”, “conceived space” and “lived space” (Lefebvre 1967) — geographers and social scientists alike insist that space does not precede social relations or symbolic orders, but rather results from their discourses and is constructed by them. In other words, space is the result of social practices, of ideologies, and of power relations.
Using these insights as a starting point, this session will examine U.S. city streets as spaces of representations and spatial practices, i.e. places conducive to both mobility and territorial belonging, where identities are both formed and contested. We invite papers bearing on the following topics:
– The evolution of U.S. cities from a rigid, rectilinear street grid to more flexible patterns designed to discourage through traffic and accommodate both pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the second half of the 20th century;
– The various (often competing) discourses on “proper” uses of the streets, from a mobility-centered conception of urban planning to the “City Beautiful,” “complete street,” and “livable street” (Donald Appleyard) movements;
– Street life as both inclusive and exclusive in terms of gender, class, and race; more specifically, the continued existence of ghettos as a challenge to U.S. democratic ideals as well as the source of collective, oppositional identities, and the persistence of gender stereotypes in the use of city streets — the street as a gendered space from which women are “extirpated” but which can paradoxically “liberate” them at the same time (Wilson 2001);
– Streets as loci of ideological friction between various constituencies, which can resort to ephemeral or permanent interventions in public space (demonstrations, graffiti, etc.) to express their dissent;
– Issues of crime and safety in U.S. city streets (the geography and sociology of street gangs, territorial/turf wars, streetwalking, drug dealing);
– Streets as catalysts for a neighborhood’s economic and cultural prosperity or as metonymies for an entire trade (Wall Street and Madison Avenue, for example, often refer to the U.S. financial and corporate sector and the advertising industry respectively);
– Streets as inexhaustible suppliers of rumors (“word on the street”) and trends (which “hit the street” until they are brought to the mainstream) as well as wisdom and authenticity (“street cred”);
– Streets as festive arenas that act as communal outlets for the tensions generated by the social environment while often exposing the fault lines of U.S. urban life (e.g., Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Las Vegas “Strip”).
WORKSHOP 12 –
Equating Institutional Inertia and Political Change: Toward a New Power Dynamic in the United States?
Hamed Jendoubi, (Université Paris Sorbonne) & Elisabeth Fauquert, (IEP Lyon)
The 1980s witnessed a renewed academic interest in the analysis of political institutions, in disciplinary fields as diverse as economics, anthropology, sociology or political science (March & Olsen: 1984). The term “institutions” is here understood as « all structures or social organizations established by law or custom ». A particular attention has been paid to legislatures (Shepsle & Weingast: 1983), to budgetary analysis (Padgett: 1981) and local governments (Kjellberg: 1975). This « neo institutionalist » school of thought puts the State, the bureaucracy and public policy at the center of theoretical analyses. In political science, and particularly in the United States, this school has established itself as an alternative to behaviorist, neo-marxist and culturalist readings of political change.
Many books were published in the wake of Skowronek’s seminal work on the development of the State’s administrative capacities (Building a New American State, 1982). : Bringing the State Back In (Evans, Rueschmeyer & Skocpol: 1985); Governing the Economy (Hall : 1986); Protecting Soldiers and Mothers (Skocpol : 1992); The Boundaries of Employment Policy in the United States (Weir : 1992) ; Dismantling the Welfare State ? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchement (Pierson : 1994) ; The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy (Carpenter : 2001). The sheer amount of books and their influence on the study of the American political system highlight the vitality of this school of thought where institutions are thought of as fully-fledged political actors, regardless of the names of the men and women who personify them.
In the United States, this approach has been popularized by the work of Theda Skocpol (1992) and Paul Pierson (1994). The political process is seen as founded on a principal of reciprocal interplay : institutions are affected by society and they affect it in return (Katzenstein: 1978; Krasner: 1978; Stephan: 1978; Skocpol: 1979; Nordlinger: 1981). They circumscribe the actions of other actors of the political system (the media, the people, the rest of the world) and influence the way public policy is articulated (Weaver 1986; Pierson 1996; Immergut 1998). In that sense, historical institutionalism focuses more on path dependency (Mahoney: 2000; Pierson: 2000) and the permanence of the political system in general than on its changes, minor or radical.
However, as Clement & Cook (1999) have explained, since the institutionalist rationale insists more on permanence rather than change, how can we give full account of the latter? If a form of institutional determinism does exist, and creates stability but also a certain amount of inertia, what role can be attributed to other dynamic variables such as individuals, the economic context or social conditions? In other words, who has the power? This panel session will explore these questions in the United States today.
Interestingly enough, the growing interest for American political institutions comes at a time when they are described by many specialists as inefficient structures with largely dysfunctional dynamics. As early as 1958, economist John Galbraith remarked that the public sector remained poor and unstructured when compared to the private sector (The Affluent Society). Political scientist Burns warned (1963) that American institutions were susceptible to « deadlock and delay ». Even though these characteristics are to a large extent the consequence of the Founding Fathers’ original plan, who wanted to create a Federal Government with limited powers governed by a slow, pragmatic decision-making and legislative process, they are still the reflection and the consequence of a modern institutional context made of instability and confrontations. The American presidency was described as imperial (Schlesinger: 1973) and is said to share power with a broken legislative branch (‘The broken branch’, Mann & Ornstein: 2006) whose representativeness has repeatedly been questioned. The two branches see their necessary institutional cooperation complicated by divided governments, which have become a rule of modern American politics as well as an unprecedented level of partisan bickering. The judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular would have traded political neutrality for an ideological reading of the Constitution that leads to what many are describing as judicial activism (Wolfe : 1997). The institutional order created by the Constitutional Convention of 1787, with Congress as the dominant institution, a modest presidency whose role was limited to executing the law, judges deprived of any partisan reading of the law and a fruitful cooperation between the coequal branches of the Federal Government seems to have been turned on its head.
Behind the conventional wisdom, one fact remains: in spite of the recurring scaremongering regarding the capacity of American institutions to play their assigned role, the American political system has not collapsed, nor has it been fundamentally modified. Even though American institutions are often described as a source of inertia and gridlock, one must acknowledge that political change is still possible in the United States, as shown by the adoption of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. We must then deconstruct these global assertions and put them to the test. This panel’s core objective is therefore to identify the locus and resources of political power in the United States in the early 21st century. What changes, what continuities have been observed in recent historical developments? Has the American political system become as inefficient as some studies seem to suggest? Aren’t we rather witnessing the emergence of new dynamics, the shifting of political decision-making rather than its collapse? If American institutions are indeed dysfunctional, where in the structure of government and of the legislative process do these flaws lie?
The objectives of this panel are two-fold: first, to put into perspective conventional wisdom regarding the sources and resources of political power in the United States and its recent evolutions; second, to enlarge and enrich our understanding of policy-making to areas and structures of power which usually go under the radar of both general and seasoned audiences.
If a systematic analysis of the three branches of the Federal Government (executive, legislative, judicial) cannot be avoided, the panel wishes to go beyond this traditional tripartite analysis and explore other structures, others levels of governance : the states, seen as both laboratories for ideas and miniature replicas of the Federal Government; the bureaucracy, whose role and influence over public policy have increased exponentially since the New Deal and the Great Society; lobbies, interest groups and the inner-workings of the Washington microcosm: all are institutions that are both dependent on the American Federal Government and tightly linked to the production of public policy. Although the debate should be rooted in contemporary institutional historiography, this panel will give priority to empirical demonstrations and microanalyses, notably policy-specific, well-documented case studies.
WORKSHOP 13 –
Staging locomotion on screen
Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris, (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre) & Gilles Menegaldo, (Université de Poitiers)
This workshop will explore the way in which cinema expresses itself through means of locomotion. It will primarily focus on surveying, mapping and more specifically, on the means of locomotion themselves as they shape the contours of the American nation. Participants are invited to analyze first how the development of the means of locomotion charts and redoubles the country’s technological progress and secondly how they inscribe themselves in some individual and collective destinies.
Starting with early cinema, they may explore the tensions between fixity and movement while commenting for instance on Buster Keaton’s films or the Chaplinesque itineraries, or else on the westerns from the silent era. The motif of the train which is often a meeting place connected to the characters’ trajectories and is emblematic of the Frontier and the Western Conquest contributes as well to mapping out the territory while covering an even broader generic spectrum thanks to its metaphoric and symbolic import. Some significant examples would be Edwin Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924), Fritz Lang’s Liliom (1934), King Vidor’s Beyond the Forest (1949), or else Alfred Hitchcock’s Stranger on a Train (1951) as well as some of Jacques Tourneur’s movies.
It will also be seen that some vehicles are associated with specific genres, ie the car in the gangster movies of the twenties and thirties, from Underworld (Josef von Sternberg, 1927) or Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932) and beyond, in the noir and neo-noir films, with the Coen Brothers among others. The car, an emblematic means of conveyance in the New Hollywood crime film in the seventies (Bullit, Peter Yates, 1968), is also invested of a new function as part of the spectacle in the chase scenes which allow the spectator to apprehend the urban space from other angles as in French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971). In the eighties, the plane partakes of the redefinition of a new spectacular set up (Iron Eagle, Sidney Furie, 1986, etc.), even though it was already on screen in the silent film era. Lastly, these varied means of locomotion allow virtuoso formal games with which filmmakers show their skills.
WORKSHOP 14 –
Religion in U.S. History and Culture: “The Transient and the Permanent”
Since Tocqueville, American religious historiography has emphasized the convergence of the advent of the first modern democracy and the religious dimension of immigration to the North American British colonies and then to the young Republic. The focus has been on migratory movements across the Atlantic, as well as on the settlement of uprooted European Christian groups in a context marked by the pluralist ideal – the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Catholics of Maryland, the Huguenots of South Carolina are among the most famous examples. More recently, historians and anthropologists dealing with early cultural encounters have pondered the consequences of transplantation on native spiritualities, bringing into focus the devastating effect of acculturation, but also the combinatory processes of hybridity and mimesis. In 1955, Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew drew attention to the fact that the Jewish minority, which had been present on American soil since the 1650s and was the only visible minority in the mid-twentieth century, had integrated the melting pot. Even more recently, as a side effect of the tragic events in September 2001, Islam has found its place in the history of migrations, but also in the history of religions in the United States, together with other “world religions,” such as Buddhism and Hinduism. It is now the case of LDS, whose visibility was further enhanced by Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy in 2012.
The notions of movement, place, and fixity are particularly well-suited to the study of religion in America, perceived both as a “haven” for persecuted minorities and a land of “opportunity,” where new religions, such as Mormonism, or “New Religious Movements,” such as Scientology, were created before they started exporting themselves. In an 1841 sermon entitled “A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” which our title draws on, Theodore Parker sought to separate the essence of religion from such historical accretions as dogmas, liturgies, and ecclesiologies. In this workshop, we will undertake a similar endeavor by trying to identify and explore what changes or evolves in religion, and what remains fixed.
Exploring the concept of movement invites the twin investigation of the notion of place, or, rootedness, especially the processes by which religious groups were formed in the New World. More specifically, this means looking at how both indigenous and transplanted groups took root, adapted themselves to new milieus, and Americanized themselves. This also means analyzing the strategies implemented with a view to propagation in a highly competitive – and increasingly secular – environment. One could also consider the exportation of the American model of religious freedom on the one hand, that of specifically American-made religions on the other. The concept of fixity invites reflection on the different forms of resistance to adaptation or compromise, such as the formulation of dogmatic and conservative theologies, or the creation of religiously fundamentalist movements, since an imagined fixity is often the cornerstone of religious groups confronted with sudden change. It goes without saying that the notions of movement, place, and fixity can all be treated together in a dialectical manner.
WORKSHOP 15 –
Movement and Settlement: Themes and Modes in American Autobiography
Ada Savin, (Université Versaille-St-Quentin) & Laure de Nervaux-Gavoty, (Université Paris-Est Créteil)
Autobiography is largely considered as the genre that has accompanied American history from its very beginnings: in a “virgin” country where a new man was to be forged, self-writing became inherent to the process of acquiring a new identity. ”The first West was in the East”: historian Ray Billington’s terse statement encapsulates the trans-Atlantic and the trans-continental movements that have shaped the American nation while it also points to the dialectics of displacement and settling that represent paramount themes and modes of American autobiography.
The experience of the “promised land” described by the first colons and by later migrants was often fraught with the painful experience of uprooting and forced displacement. Thus in Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, the successive “removes” which structure the text announce a significant shift in the captive’s identity. As for the African slaves’ migration, it stands in sharp contrast with the European migrants’ voluntary departure. However, the slave narratives’ tertiary structure – the violent uprooting from the land of origin, the experience of the Middle Passage and the subsequent displacement on the American territory – inscribes these texts in the American tradition.
The discovery and settlement of the American West has given rise to numerous autobiographical writings. Travelers (Journal of Madam Knight), pioneers (Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home – Who Will Follow?) and explorers (Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail) offer first-hand testimony of the movement toward and the settlement of the frontier. We could also explore the opposite movement which led many American writers back to Europe, whether as travelers or expatriates (from Hawthorne to Twain, from Wharton to Hemingway or Langston Hughes). To what extent has their confrontation with the Old World modified their perception of the self and of the New World?
Immigrant writings of the first half of the 20th century like Mary Antin’s The Promised Land (1912) or Louis Adamic’s Laughter in the Jungle (1932) are often the site of tensions between the exile’s painful condition and the will to settle down. This dialectic of movement and entrenchment is called into question at the end of the 20th century. Eva Hoffman (Lost in Translation (1987) is fully aware of living in a splintered America, a nation of multiple identities in which the very possibility of settling down has become highly problematic. The frontier’s long-lasting imprint on American autobiography is being superseded by the border (the borderlands) which has become the paradigm of the “I” confronted to a perpetual back-and-forth movement, to the impossibility of staying in one place (Gloria Anzaldua, Luis Urrea, Norma Cantù, etc). Moreover, the scene of many a present-day writers’ exilic confessions (Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, Edwidge Danticat, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha among others) is the trans-national America Randolph Bourne envisaged as early as 1916.
If movement is a structural component of American autobiography, self writing can also be premised upon stability; in Walden the quest for meaning in a materialist and conformist America involves a displacement to a different foundational settling, an other place – Walden Pond. Fixedness and anchoring could also be approached as inherent to certain modes of self writing. Alice James or Sylvia Plath’s diaries for instance can be read as attempts to conceive one’s identity starting from a stable ground.
WORKSHOP 16 –
Go West, Young Woman: Women’s Narratives of the West
Claire Conilleau, (Université de Cergy) & Amy D. Wells, (Université de Caen)
Movement and place have permeated American literature and culture, and framed our understanding of them (Lutwack, Pétillon). From the colonial period to the contemporary period, the American land has incessantly been discovered, observed, delineated, depicted, written about and charged with meaning by Americans, Americans abroad and foreigners. Within this context of transforming space into place (Tuan), there are few American myths as significant as the West. The political framework of Manifest Destiny (Sullivan) encouraged the West as a final destination for Americans, suggesting this migration as part of their civic duty (American Progress, Gast). The westward movement, exploration and the Frontieŕ- as the lasting influence of the Turner thesis attests – are driving forces in the American literary imagination and cultural bedrock, as well as a marketing device.
This essential part of American life can only exist in relation to another space on the map, the East, much like any sets of coordinates or binary oppositions rest on an ideological contrast. Thus, when American writers, artists and thinkers expatriated in the first half of the 20th century, the traditional call to “Go West, Young Man!” (John B. L. Soule) was reverted to suggest that, after the closing of the Frontier, the promise of the West was, in fact, displaced elsewhere.
Today, the American West embodies much more than a geographic direction and area, or even a historical period ending in 1890, rather it continues to encapsulate the idea of new territories, fresh fields, expanding possibilities and dreams. However, literary and cultural artefacts of the West or deploying the West as a concept have predominantly been associated with a masculine ethos – that of physical hardships, danger, mobility, outdoorsiness and the wilderness. Yet, the West is also inextricably linked with diametrally opposed values such as new settlements, new customs, and new beginnings.
This panel aims to move beyond the traditional gendered space division ascribing women to a static, private space and men to the eventful public space, so as to not only reexamine the place of women in the narratives of the west, but also to consider what uses of the west as concept or metaphor they make in their productions, perhaps playing on its dual relation to mobility and settlement. A further goal of this panel will be to seize this opportunity to probe new academic territories in the joined study of gender and space; therefore transdisciplinary approaches and digital humanities will be most welcome.
WORKSHOP 17 –
Hic et nunc, An Issue in Modern Poetry in English from the USA
Christophe Lamiot Enos, (Université de Rouen)
From its very beginnings, modernity in Anglo-American poetry means giving purposes and meanings to textuality and its derived, social performances. Purposes and meanings are not any more conceived as extraneous to texts and their social performances: modernity proposes a package of texts and their various meanings in one, so to speak. However, whereas at the same time, ie toward end of the XIXth century, French poetry strives toward a discourse of generality, or even universality, American heralds of modern poetry ground their words in very specific circumstances, specified along lines both spatial and temporal. Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé on the one side of the Atlantic. Emilie Dickinson and Walt Whitman on the other side. While Baudelaire roughly disappears as a person inside his work, Dickinson emerges from her poems as an Amherst recluse, locked or at least contained in a very specific set of circumstances. On the one hand, Mallarmé sings letters in general, on the other Whitman composes a poem to celebrate a particular country. Very few place names in Mallarmé. Many in Whitman. Such a situation may be swiftly assigned to two various linguistic tendencies: French language would favor intellectualism, English language be more practical. Yet, what do modern poets in American English have to say about purposes and meanings in/as poetry, as far as specific time and place go? In other words, how grounded in place and time do they conceive of words? Their own words? What of a hic et nunc of words, as perceived or expressed in modern, Anglo-American poetry?
– Ezra Pound started a study into the making of words, with his discussion of some of the works by Ernst Fenollosa.
– William Carlos Williams researched the history of a small town in New Jersey for his long poem Paterson.
– Lorine Niedecker made a form of regionalism into a force for poetry and poetry writing.
– Alan Ginsberg easily endorsed the responsibilities of a New Jersey bard, as would Eliot Katz after him.
– Many of the language poets see some of their works as closely relating to the San Francisco bay area.
– Closer to us, and though a second generation New York poet, Lee Ann Brown asserts her being from the South in her most recent poems.
“Hic et nunc: an issue in modern poetry in English from the USA” proposes to discuss the issue of a hic et nunc in poetry. Further investigations or related concerns may come to mind: how important as a factor of general dissemination could a hic et nunc in poetry be? What levels of violence may such a hic et nunc aspect reach? What lessons, be derived from a making of words closely associated with a given time and place?
WORKSHOP 18 –
Mobility in Colonial America: migrations, social and economic mobility
Elodie Peyrol-Kleiber, (Université de Poitiers) & Anne-Claire Faucquez, (Université Panthéon-Assas)
Mobility is a fundamental notion in the building of America since it is at its basis. In fact, without mobility, the land would not have been farmed and colonial societies created. The colonization of America, this will to conquer the lands then thought virgin, implies this notion of mobility.
This panel wishes to focus on the different migrations which participated in the building of North-American colonies, those migrations being internal, external, voluntary or forced. They had consequences for the political, economic but also social and religious shaping of North-American colonies of settlement and participated in forming identities specific to each region. We can think of the well-known examples of the religious migrations of Puritans to New England, which diverged from that of the English colonists of Jamestown who founded Virginia as an Anglican colony. Thus, the successive arrival of migrants triggered changes and adaptations within the colonies which underwent different stages of mutation and evolution.
However, mobility in colonial America does not only imply a physical movement but also encompasses the dimension of social and economic mobility. As the colonies expanded, the high mortality rate participated in this mobility within colonial societies. Small planters rapidly acquired responsibilities at the county and even colonial level. They also managed to accumulate property. This panel will therefore explore the reality of this economic and social mobility throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
This panel can focus on themes such as:
– The different flows of external immigration from Europe and Africa (English, Irish, Dutch, French,…)
– Internal migrations (from the West Indies, towards the West, from towns to the countryside and vice versa)
– Forced mobility (indentured servitude, slavery)
– Mobility from one plantation to another, from one master to another
– Native American mobility as a consequence of the arrival of Europeans
– Links between mobility and work (free and enslaved)
– Social and economic mobility among a colonial society (women, free Blacks, between generations)
WORKSHOP 19 –
The Uses of History in American Reform: The United States of Inertia?
Elisa Chelle, (IEP de Grenoble) & Alix Meyer, (Université de Bourgogne
In the American polity and society, “reform” is ubiquitous. Considering its protestant underpinning, the term can have a very specific meaning and is obviously deeply rooted in the collective history of the United States. The focus here will be on political reform and how the proponents and the adversaries of reform use history to advance their ideological agenda.
Specifically, this panel seeks to examine how the diverse and sometimes conflicting versions of history can be formulated and used in the political arena. How political actors (elected officials, special interest groups, unions…) use rhetorical or symbolic understandings of the past to argue for immediate or postponed changes.
In today’s environment, it seems that we can identify at least three major areas where this tension is particularly visible.
The first would be the current political or partisan deadlock. In an era of polarization and corporate speech the electoral competition has become a zero-sum game between Republicans and Democrats. The intensity of the partisan battle to control what appears to be the dwindling numbers of independent voters is seen in aggressive campaign rhetoric that makes abundant use of the figure of the “Founding Fathers” or the heritage of the New Deal, for example, to mobilize the American voter.
Institutional paralysis is a second aspect. The reverence for the constitutional law drafted by the founders is sometimes tempered by deep misgivings about the compatibility of checks and balances and a deep partisan divide in the 21st century. Whether the dead hand of the past should continue to prevent political change is at the heard of the dispute between conservatives and progressives.
Third, what has been labeled “policy drift” by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson is another example of the importance of history to US policymaking. In some sectors of policymaking that are especially path-dependent (health, election administration, etc.) one can observe that public policy is not so much set by the will of the president, the congressional, majority or the people at large but, mostly by the (often unintended) consequences of previous policy changes. In that instance, the inertia induced by the system of checks and balances thus magnifies the importance of past reforms.
Political strategies involve mobilization of resources, sometimes to immobilize the whole system. In that sense, it is indispensable to see conservative mobilization as a form of reform. Hence, reforming does not necessarily cause significant transformations. The implementation of reforms has become a decades-long process. These features of the US system reveal yet again its complicated relationship toward the past.
Finally, despite the strident partisan attacks and the “landslide” elections, the US government conducts policies with a strong degree of continuity in the country as a whole. A centralized initiative for change was rendered particularly difficult by the founding notion of federalism. The ideological and political basis of the establishment of the United States of America continues to limit the role the federal government should play sometimes leaving “experimentations” in the states, sometimes counties or cities, Louis Brandeis’s famed “laboratories of democracy” as the only efficient way to promote change.
To explore these rich avenues for discussions, we welcome contributions that focus on the influence of the past on the present as well as more historical contributions (centered, for example, on the uses of history by progressive reformers at the turn of the century). Contributions on institutions or policies revealing the degree of stability in US politics and the degree of partisanship in the uses of history would also be very warmly welcome.
WORKSHOP 20 –
Mathieu Duplay, (Université Paris Diderot) & Jagna Oltarzewska, (Université Paris Sorbonne)
In his 1983 essay “Traveling Theory,” Edward Said suggested that “the movement of ideas and theories from one place to another is both a fact of life and a usefully enabling condition of intellectual activity.” In the 1970s, French theory traveled. It penetrated the American academy, where the conceptual constellations of structuralist and poststructuralist thought sparked controversy, reinvigorated literary criticism, and nourished the emergent discourse of what was to become known as “cultural studies.” Twenty years after Said’s collection was published, Mieke Bal noted the (mostly productive) tendency of concepts to travel between disciplines, and suggested that concept-based methodologies were best suited to the interdisciplinary work of cultural analysis. In the twenty years separating these studies of knowledge-in-motion, two crucial developments occurred; the digital revolution gathered pace exponentially, enabling rapid exchange of information within and between disciplines – institutional and national borders became increasingly porous, protocols of reading and modes of attention altered significantly. Secondly, the “cultural turn” (Fredric Jameson, 1998) exercised a growing fascination on the collective imaginary, within and without the academy. Jameson describes this phenomenon as “a momentous cultural mutation, in which what used to be stigmatized as mass or commercial culture is now received into the precincts of a new and enlarged cultural realm.” In a digital economy, concepts are nuggets of knowledge, compact, mobile, quotable; they circulate more freely than bodies of theory, which require deep attention; they travel light and can be put to work at comparatively little cost. They readily disseminate and reinvent themselves across traditional cultural divides: witness the TV celebrity chef preparing a “deconstructed” éclair. As the humanities mutate under the impulse of the cultural turn, potential objects and fields of study diversify to such an extent that Bal’s concept-based methodology appears a rational and viable option. But this begs a number of questions, which workshop participants might usefully address:
1. In the inaugural chapter of What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that all concepts have a history, as well as a future. And they are never less than multiple, a knot of interrelated components. What are the consequences of using decontextualized (or minimally contextualized) concepts in the service of cultural interpretation? Bal warns against a tendency she calls “diffusion”: “the result of an unwarranted and casual ‘application’ of concepts,” the use of concepts “as labels that neither explain nor specify, but only name.” She cites the instance of “trauma,” widely used to qualify all distressing experience; an unreflective usage that actually negates the conceptual force of the term. The concept of trauma, Bal reminds us, theorizes psychic effects caused by events of such magnitude that the subject can no longer process them as experience. A similar case might be made for “deterritorialization,” now used as a loose (but chic) synonym for “displacement,” “uprootedness,” or “existential drift,” most conspicuously in postcolonial or diaspora studies. A great deal is lost here: the emancipatory dimension of release from repressive coding, the sense of becoming-other, the line of flight vanishing into a pure, uncoded outside. Nothing is gained.
2. Are concepts in vogue complicit with macro-contexts they do not name? Said points out that the dominance of “text” and “textuality” in American literary criticism of the 1970s coincided with the ascendancy of Reaganism, and “a massive turn to the Right on matters touching the economy, social services, and organized labour.” Could we make similar claims today (with respect to the widespread use of “performance/ performativity,” for example)?
3. Which concepts are travelling to France from the US in the current conjuncture, and why? There is a sense that the US is “talking back” after the triumphs of “French Theory” in the latter decades of the 20th century. Translations of Butler, Gilligan and Jameson multiply in the bookstores. Much work has been devoted to the concept of “care” stemming from the work of Carole Gilligan. Can a conjuncture marked by economic stagnation, austerity measures, intense political disaffection, and the ascendancy of right-wing populism shed light on the uptake this notion currently enjoys in the human sciences?
When examined on a case-by-case basis, the piecemeal importation of concepts that are put to work in contexts widely at variance with those in which they were first formulated may appear to be a strictly local phenomenon with no consequences on a larger scale (whereas the wholesale appropriation of a body of theory immediately suggests a paradigm shift capable of transforming an entire discipline.) However, this impression may turn out to be misleading, as the increasingly common recourse to isolated notions originating in other fields eventually questions disciplinary boundaries, in accordance with the expectations of academic institutions whose structure and function are no longer taken for granted.
Nowadays, scholars of American literature take a strong (and growing) interest in notions borrowed from other — and sometimes wholly unrelated — disciplines, including, on occasion, the so-called “hard” sciences. In some cases, this happens because of a felt need for new conceptual tools capable of doing justice to novel objects of inquiry that lie outside the established categories; but the point of such borrowings may also be to shed new light on canonical texts at a time when literary theory appears to be struggling to come up with innovative ideas of its own. Thus, one may be struck by the increasing importance given by American literature scholars to the concept of “deep time,” commonly used in geology to refer to time periods ranging far beyond the four hundred years that have elapsed since the founding of the first European settlements in North America (cf. Wai Chee Dimock, Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time, 2008).
While this deep-seated trend may eventually reshape the entire discipline, it also meets one of the demands of academic institutions, which increasingly tend to reward “interdisciplinarity” — by selectively funding certain research programs, by reorganizing research centers and, in some cases, entire departments, or by setting up advanced courses requiring humanities scholars and professionals from various fields to collaborate on theoretical ventures that would have been inconceivable before the “cultural turn.” While these projects are often highly rewarding, they rely for their very existence on a lingua franca, a network of “traveling concepts” whose polysemy enables them to function in very different contexts, usually as a result of a subtle process of negotiation and redefinition.
Although such endeavors may turn out to be extremely productive, they none the less beg a number of questions regarding the function of these conceptual shifts.
1. Are these theoretical transfers meant to erase boundaries whose relevance is no longer a given? (If so, do they have a liberating effect on critical thinking, or do they merely bring it into line with the new institutional context?)
2. Alternatively, do conceptual borrowings serve to confirm the need for disciplinary boundaries of some kind, even when they convincingly challenge the current ones? If so, can these forms of semantic dissemination be understood as modes of “contact” in the anthropological sense, ie. as signs that relations have been established between distinct disciplinary cultures, possibly resulting in a struggle for domination and control?
3. The term “travel” may, in certain contexts, connote the “free circulation” of (cultural) goods and ideas. However, as distinct from the neo-liberal utopia, the reality of travel is that circulation never takes place across an open, homogeneous space, and that some form of screening and control is invariably involved. Where/how does this screening take place in the present instance, and what criteria does it enforce?
Edward SAID: “Traveling Theory”, The World, the Text and the Critic, 1983.
Mieke BAL: Travelling Concepts in the Humanities, A Rough Guide, 2002.
Gilles DELEUZE, Félix GUATTARI: « Qu’est-ce qu’un concept ? » Qu’est-ce que la philosophie ?, 1991.
Birgit NEUMANN, Ansgar NÜNNING, eds. : Travelling Concepts for the Study of Culture, 2012.
WORKSHOP 21 –
Tramping Through American Literature
Alice Béja, (Université Paris 8) & Pierre-Antoine Pellerin, (Université J. Moulin Lyon-3)
The hobo (vagabond, tramp, bum) is one of the most potent topoi of American literature. Under various forms, from Walt Whitman’s wandering poet to the roaming of Beat writers to Mark Twain’s travelling children, Jack London’s adventurers or John Steinbeck’s migratory workers, this figure stands as an archetype, as the epitome of American identity, rooted in the idea of mobility and progress. At the same time, it belongs to its margins, and represents a potential danger, since it has been the vehicle of a critique of social norms and the conveyor of practices that are morally or legally reprehensible: the homeless, hearthless vagabond has thus been likened to the faithless, lawless foreigner and embodies a threat for a perpetually precarious rooting in the shaky ground of America.
The figure of the hobo, of the migratory worker, emerges in popular culture and in literary works during the second half of the 19th century, in a context of increasing urban poverty and of the population shifts that followed the Civil War; hoboing is often presented as a hereditary trait, whether it be ethnic or social (see Horatio Alger, Tony, the Tramp, 1876). At the beginning of the 20th century, the image of the hobo becomes more positive and is associated with the pioneering spirit and manly adventure, most notably in the works of Jack London (The Road, 1907), before the Great Depression transformed mobility as a symbol of freedom into a forced exile; the vagabond is not necessarily a lone man any longer, whole families wander on the roads, as in Steinbeck, Grace Lumpkin or Nelson Algren. It is after WW2 that the hobo is reestablished as a literary and political ideal, his lifestyle likened to an implicit condemnation of bourgeois society and of repressive order, particularly among Beat Generation writers. Yet, this romantic idealization happens at the very moment when hobos themselves have all but disappeared, as Jack Kerouac observed in « The Vanishing American Hobo » (1960). More recently, the hobo has become the narrative paradigm for an exploration of the forgotten margins of American society in works by literary journalists such as Edward Hoagland, John McPhee, Ted Conover or William T. Vollman.
What does the hobo do to literature? Is he the paradigm of a line of flight for fiction, of a « de-territorialization » which Gilles Deleuze associates with Anglo-American literature, with those « men who know how to leave, to scramble the codes, to cause flows to circulate »? Or, on the contrary, does he participate in a form of reification, of a stultifying « fixation » of the American promise, a convenient ideal of heroic freedom embodied in a white male character? And so what happens to the figure of the vagabond when those men Deleuze speaks of are black men (see for instance Ralph Ellison, « Hymie’s Bull », 1937) or women (see Ben Reitman, Sisters of the Road: The Story of Boxcar Bertha, 1937)?
In addition to the analysis of the character of the hobo, of the way his perpetual mobility reinforces or threatens the American imagination, we will study the wanderings of writing, of the way this unsteady and slippery figure fashions genres and styles, whether one thinks about the various hobo narratives, at the crossroads of fiction, reporting and autobiography (see Jack Black, You Can’t Win, 1926, or Jim Tully, Beggars of Life, 1924) or about the way writers have resorted to hoboing to subvert established forms or to transform the genre of the novel (refusal of linear development, narrative montage, spoken prose). In this perspective, the free wanderings of the narrator on the road are echoed by the wanderings of writing that unsettle literary codes.
WORKSHOP 22 –
Occupying space: Territory, Movements and Protest
Claire Delahaye , (Université Paris Est-Marne-la-Vallée) & Hélène Quanquin, (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris
From antebellum abolitionist conventions to the Ford Hunger March of 1932 and sit-ins in the 1960s, from abortion clinic “invasions” to the more recent occupations organized by the Occupy movement, protest movements in the United States have developed different ways of occupying space.
The panel will explore the ways different types of political protest are connected to a peculiar physical presence in space, be it static (sit-ins, picketing, rallies) or in motion (marches, parades, demonstrations….).
The very way protest movements occupy space partakes of the construction of a territory both real and symbolic, urban and rural, and at different scales (local, national, and transnational).
The papers may focus on the following themes:
– Organization of these occupations (choice of the route and potentially the site to occupy, composition of the processions, security matters…)
– Institutional repression and protection (police violence, creation of buffer zones…)
– Resistance and retaliation against these occupations (mobs, counter-demonstrations …)
– Artistic and documentary representations of the occupation of space (photography, cinema…)
This panel will focus on progressive and radical movements (civil rights, feminism, Occupy, global justice movements), as well as conservative ones (anti-abortion, masculinism).
WORKSHOP 23 –
Roots & Routes in American Popular Music
David Diallo, (Université de Bordeaux) & Elsa Grassy, (Université de Strasbourg)
While writers such as Adam Smith and Heinrich Heine have argued that music is an immaterial and non-referential art, the discourse on American popular music is fraught with references to specific places whose function goes beyond the mere fact of locating or categorizing music. The styles that make up “American popular music” – by which we mean the “mass-reproduced and disseminated” genres that emerged from the late 19th century to today and which belong neither to the classical nor the folk categories (Star & Waterman, 2007, 2) – have been defined, analyzed, and evaluated in connection with their places of origin for as long as there have been music journalists. Such geographical references range from streets and neighborhoods like Memphis’s Beale Street or Storyville in New Orleans to regions or states, through more relative notions such as the local (for example, the “hood” in rap). The musical discourse also operates through carefully structured binary oppositions: North vs. South, East vs. West, or city vs. country, just to name a few.
The names of the genres themselves reflect the geographical nature of the American musical discourse. Terms such as New Orleans jazz, urban blues, Southern soul, San Francisco sound or West Coast rap pop up much more often in the pages of music magazines than their non-geographical counterparts traditional jazz, electric blues, deep soul, psychedelic rock or gangsta rap. Yet appellations are only part of a more comprehensive geomusical value system through which American music is defined and evaluated based on its geographical rootedness. In the context of cultural industries, claiming a place of origin counteracts the inevitable commercial and standardized dimension of music, in that it restores trust in an artist’s legitimacy through an emphasis on his or her involvement with a cultural community. Consequently, artists and labels have used places as signs of authenticity – be it “cultural” or “personal” authenticity, to use Barker and Taylor’s categories (2007) – to establish their music’s value.
Reversely, it will be hard for an artist hailing from outside a musical style’s established place of origin to achieve cultural legitimacy. We will welcome papers that address the construction of musical authenticity in relation to a place identified with the essence of a musical genre, as well as presentations on geomusical anomalies – artists that have tried to make up for their lack of geographical relevance.
This workshop will aim at exploring the rich and complex relationship that ties popular music and the American landscape together. While American music is the means of expression of cultural communities rooted in specific regions (the Mississippi Delta for one of the earliest blues styles, the South and Appalachia for country music), cities (Seattle for grunge or New Orleans for hot jazz), or types of neighborhoods (e.g. inner cities for rap), music produces place and shape geographical identities at least as much as it is born from them. In the early 1960s the Beach Boy’s music spread the myth of the “California dream,” later perpetuated by songs such as Tupac Shakur’s “California Love.” The making of musical territories reached an apex with rap, whose logic is predominantly one of “reppin’ ” or “representing.” Rappers champion their city or their ‘hood by turning it into the very material of their songs: for instance N.W.A.’s Straight Out of Compton greatly contributed to putting that Los Angeles suburb on the musical map as a major cultural and geographical landmark.
In addition to “cultural authenticity,” geomusicality can be connected to “personal authenticity” through the concepts of “keeping it real” (in rap music) and “knowing your roots” (in country music). Emphasizing one’s geographical origins (through open references to an area code, a city, or a state) enables artists to pay homage to the cultural context of their formative years, and to maintain a relationship with their local following. References to personal history and pride in social and geographical origins also help the artists who have reached celebrity status to garner and sustain legitimacy. In some cases, this ideology has led some artists to stay in their hometown or region and to work exclusively with local labels. Behind such strategies lies a “folk” ideology that confers value to music by denying that success changes an artist’s artistic and social commitment.
We will also consider how musical genres shape locations and draw fans to specific landmarks. Fans flock to Haight Ashbury, dream of visiting the Delta to look for traces of the blues musicians of the 1930s, or gather in Seattle to pay tribute to the 1990s grunge scene and its martyr saint, Kurt Cobain. Musical places put fans in motion and promise them authenticity and inspiration: countless artists admitted to have found inspiration for a song in a special place. These effects bring to mind the law of contagion theorized by James Frazer, according to which sacred places hold the power of magically cleansing the pilgrims that cares to visit them. More pragmatically, one of the effects of these migrations is to build stylistic groupings that bolster preexisting geomusical associations.
Finally, we will reflect on the promotion of the musical heritage of cities and regions through public policies. City governments look at music festivals and scenes as driving forces for the local economy and value them as signs of cultural vitality likely to attract businesses. This musical heritage is crucial when it comes to bolstering local tourism. The commercialization of musical history has played an important role in the economic development of several American cities, and it has become the keystone of the economy of some cities of the rural South that have few other sources of income. Clarksdale was the only city in Mississippi to witness a significant increase in tax revenue in the early 2000s thanks to the influx of tourists drawn by the newly-built Blues Museum and the famous crossroads between Routes 61 and 41 – where blues legend Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil. This illustrates the concept of applied geomusicality: because of their musical value, landscapes are altered to fit fans’ shared image of them. The production of the touristic musical image then derives from a search for authenticity and is likely to be equally manipulated. However, a place’s shaping after its musical image raises more questions insofar as it might clash with local residents’ use of urban space and interfere with the formation of local identities.
All proposals (under 300 words), in French or in English, and a short biography must be sent to David Diallo , & [Elsa Grassy firstname.lastname@example.org]
BARKER, Hugh and Yuval TAYLOR. Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. New York: Norton, 2007.
HEINE, Heinrich. ‘But What is Music?’ (1837), The Works of Heinrich Heine, vol.4, University of Michigan Library, 1891, 242.
SMITH, Adam, ‘Of the Nature of That Imitation Which Takes Place in What Are Called the Imitative Arts’, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, in William P. D. Wightman et J. C. Bryce (Dir.), Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, vol. III, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982, http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/201/56033, accessed November 4, 2014.
STARR, Larry and Christopher WATERMAN. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3. Oxford University Press, 2007.
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WORKSHOP 24 –
Visualizing Memory: Photography, Moving Images and Racial Minorities’ positionality
Sarah Fila-Bakabadio, (Université de Cergy)
This workshop will focus on the role of fixed and moving images in shaping or (re)creating racial minorities’ cultural, social and political memories. The point first is to explore their meaning of images in racial minorities’ politics of representation in the United States. It also intends to go beyond the opposition between photography and moving images not only to consider visual sources as archives but as dynamic spaces where identities, subjectivities and imaginaries interact.
This topic could open up to three questions.
First, we may consider minorities’ visual representations of their land(s) of origins. In March 1911, on the cover of the NAACP journal, The Crisis, Africa was embodied by an Egyptian figure and hieroglyphs. Throughout the African American history, references to the “Continent” were regularly synthesized to a few objects and images: masks, kente cloth or fertility statuettes went along pictures of dancing Masais and reenactments of a “traditional” African village peopled by characters like Kunta Kinte. From the academy to the media and to the streets of Harlem, images of this realm of the African American heritage (Nora 1984) gradually essentialized its history, populations and cultures. They became symbols of their African roots. African-Americans, among other minority groups, “re-presented” their Africa to narrate their version of a black history fitting their struggle in the American context. Then, to what extent is such a process similar among other racial minorities in the United States? Which the images of the land(s) of origins did/do they produce? What were/are the visual symbols representing these territories? How does photography fix them in a historical moment which, in the United States, should encapsulate some cultural continuity and be the signs of a community’s identity?
This question leads to a second one: what were/are racial minorities’ political uses of photography? Many activists from minority groups used photography to posit themselves in the American political arena. Frederick Douglass visualized his social and political achievement from slave to free man while, throughout the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois also used the portrait technique to confirm his position as a major thinker of the black cause. More recently, one can also recall the 1967 mise en scène from the young Marxist-oriented Huey P. Newton, sitting in a fan-shaped wicker chair, his feet on a zebra skin rug, a rifle in one hand and an African spear in the other. All considered their physical appearance and body postures as tools of their political discourses in the short and long run. Image was a “tool for social change” (Wexler 2012). We may wonder, to what extent did/does photography open to unprecedented political positionality for racial minorities in the U.S.? Which visual codes or visual grammar did/do they develop to represent ideals of themselves or of the race? How, then, did/do they reshape the link between the Operator, the Spectator and the target (Barthes 1980) so to stress their cries?
The last question would discuss the role of photography and moving images as archives. The point is to observe how both could be considered not only as traces of a past but as migrating spaces, which connect places and people in the United States to the Americas, Africa, Europe or Asia. Following Tina Campt’s analysis of vernacular photography of black German families, (2012), we may observe how the yet too obvious fixity of photography represents the mobility of families and communities in and out the United States. How were/are their past and present migrations visually represented?
Suggested topics may include, but are not be limited to, the following:
– Political uses of image
– Image and cultural geography in the Atlantic ocean
– Visual archives and the circulation of representations
– Memory and visual grammar
Prospective presenters are invited to submit proposals for articles in the form of a 300-400 word abstract to Sarah Fila-Bakabadio