Mar 19 2017

Literature and Inequality

inequality (1)









An international Conference on Culture, Society and Economy

‘We wish, in a word, equality.’ – Mikhail Bakunin

Keynote speakers:

Jennifer Ashton (University of Illinois-Chicago)

Walter Ben Michaels (University of Illinois-Chicago)

Jane Elliott (King’s College London)

Annie Mcclanahan (University of California, Irvine)

Kenneth Warren (University of Chicago)

To call economic inequality a ‘problem’ is probably to say too little about it. Equality is not just a function of modern life, which may fail to work under certain conditions. Equality is a horizon of expectation. What then makes advanced contemporary society, especially in nations like the US and UK, so economically unequal? Certainly there are conditions of the market since the Second World War, despite all its successes, that have operated against equality – not as a failure of capitalism but as an expression of its nature. This was observed as early as 1958 by John Kenneth Galbraith and 1970 by Jean Baudrillard. It has recently become a dominant theoretical postulate since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century (2013).

Does literature have anything to do with this? Does it have something to so with creating a culture where inequality has been increasingly tolerated, or even promoted? Does it have something to do with the effacement of that horizon of expectation of an equality to come?  Or has literature been a force of resistance or a zone of neutral alterity? Is it fair even to ask of literature and literary studies that they address the problem of economic inequality? We know about reformers like Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. But where are the reformers now? Is anybody listening? Does it matter? ‘The entire U.S. school system, from pre-K up’, wrote Walter Benn Michaels a decade ago’ ‘is structured from the very start to enable the rich to out-compete the poor, which is to say, the race is fixed’. Since then the gap between the rich and everyone else has only grown in most of the developed world, even in Sweden, and we critics and teachers find ourselves complicit in one of the main institutions of economic and cultural division. Our interest in this conference is manifold: first, in the representation of economic relations in literature, and what it may or may not have to tell us; second, in the institutions of literary production, and how they work in relation to economic inequality; third, in the institutions of higher education, which promote cultural aspiration at the expense of inequality; fourth, in the history of all this, going back to the origins of capitalism.

We invite proposals for presentations of up to 20 minutes on literature and theory in any language. The conference language is English. Proposals about any period since 1550 are welcome. We are especially interested in inequality in the context of modern economies, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, and seeing how literature has adapted to changes in productive powers and the distributions of income. We also welcome contributions on subjects related to literature – from film and TV to Internet writing. A limited amount of funding is available for all participants to help cover travel and accommodation costs.

Submissions of up to 500 words including biographical information should be sent by 1 May 2017 to the conference organisers:

Robert Appelbaum:

Roberto del Valle Alcalá:

For more information about the conference, please go to:

Uppsala University


26-28 October


May 6 2016

Critical Theory and Life: Ethics, Religion, Ecology











A Conference Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale doctoral workshop at the University of Geneva 


Ann-Lise Francois (University of California, Berkeley)

Arthur Bradley (Lancaster University)

This one-day doctoral workshop aims to examine the situation of theoretical work in English studies in the early Twenty-First Century. Despite millennial proclamations of the ‘death of theory,’ critical theory remains alive and kicking. Indeed, the status of ‘life’ and ‘the living’ are key areas of contemporary theoretical interest. The continued need for theory in our era is often read as part of a larger ‘ethical turn’ in philosophy, but a range of questions about ‘life’ might provide a more politically-pertinent way of imagining this need. Such an interest stretches from a concern with the possible futures for biological life on earth in the era of the anthropocene, through to the rediscovered interest in political theology and biopolitics (or the politicization of life) in our era. These concerns and interests find theirhistorical place in the context of increasingly urgent modes of address to the diminished possibilities and hopes for everyday life post-2008, and they articulate the ways in which the very affective states of hope and optimism, as well as economic practices of enclosure and reserve that bind bodies to the political economies of the western world have become, to quote Lauren Berlant, ‘cruel.’ The day will be book-ended by interventions from our two speakers, whose work addresses in profoundly distinctive ways different aspects of these turns in recent theory. Each participant will also be invited to select a theoretical text that has shaped their way of reading literature, and to describe the impact of that text on their own work. Short excerpts from each text will be circulated to all participants beforehand. Our keynotes will be asked to do likewise, and in the morning, a reading group will be organised around their chosen texts. In the afternoon, doctoral students will be invited to present their work in progress, and to articulate the ways in which their work can be seen to be in dialogue with the theme of the workshop. The aim of the workshop is to be as inclusive as possible-it is not meant solely for those working on different aspects of critical theory or contemporary literature (while participants working in these areas will of course be extremely welcome). Indeed, the very fact that this workshop aims to examine theory in the context of a history of the present invites a range of responses. Those working on, say, early modern or Medieval religion, or on the body/affect, or those who simply want to get up to speed with current trends in theory, and to connect their own work with it, are very welcome.

10.00-5.30 May 26th 2016

University of Geneva

Conference Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale

Register at:

Apr 13 2016

Risking the Future: Vulnerability, Risk, Hope







An International Conference on the Risk Humanities

Keynote Speakers: 

Michaeline A. Crichlow (Duke University)

Simon During (University of Queensland)

Walter Mignolo (Duke University)

Risking the Future exposes a tension at the heart of contemporary thinking around risk and its effects, and in particular the role of risk in either blocking or facilitating access to possible futures. On the one hand, the phrase is cautionary, a reminder that the future is at risk and that risks have to be calculated and managed to avoid or learn to live within catastrophic circumstances. On the other hand, the phrase is hopeful, a recognition that a certain type of risk is necessary to generate a speculative opening to a future worth living. In this way, although risk manifests in complex historical and contemporary patterns across the economic, legal, ecological, social, cultural, aesthetic and political spheres, it is most urgently felt where the exercise and effects of power are tied to potential loss and gain, and where these losses and gains shape the lives of those least able to resist them.

In this light, rethinking the relation of risk and futurity suggests a tension between the calculation, management and adoption of risk on one hand, and what it actually means to live a life at risk on the other. For those living in fragile circumstances – situations in which race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and poverty intersect in ways that render existence itself radically vulnerable; situations in which it is increasingly difficult to avoid or resist political instability, conflict, economic precarity, health crises, and ecological catastrophe – the question of risk exists at a very different intensity, and has very different implications than it does for individuals, groups and even whole societies who regard risk principally in terms of its calculation, distribution and management undertaken to guarantee continued flourishing, often in the very systems that place the vulnerable  at risk.

 We seek to bring these two paradigms of risk – of calculation and precarity – into conversation, perhaps necessarily into conflict, in order to challenge existing discourses regarding risk and its relation to the future. We seek to explore the ways in which thought might take risks in order to realign itself with those most at risk. We seek to open new and risky avenues for speculative, interdisciplinary research, reimagining the way in which risk thinking might turn an increasingly threatening vision of the future towards a politics of hope.

 We warmly invite you to submit a title and abstract of 300 words for papers of 20 minutes rethinking risk and its relation to the future from the perspective of the critical humanities and humanistic social sciences. Please include a brief biographical note of up to 200 words outlining your broader research interests.

 The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 18 April 2016 and should be emailed to

 Suggested topics:

  • Risk and futurity: uncertainty, contingency, irreversibility, possibility
  • Fragility, vulnerability, precarity and the precariat
  • Hope, resistance, commitment
  • Kinopolitics: displacement, migration, perilous crossings, border thinking
  • Spaces of risk: thresholds, boundaries, containment, camps
  • Decolonial aesthetics and politics
  • Aesthetics of risk: representing, mediating and performing the future
  • Freedom and unfreedom: open futures, blocked futures
  • Existential risk: threat, conflict, poverty, disposability
  • Accumulation by dispossession: capitalism and risk, risking capitalism
  • Markets: distribution, flow, asymmetry, crisis
  • Sexualities, genders, queer ecologies, queer futures
  • Systemic edges: peripheries of/at risk, belonging and non-belonging, inclusion and exclusion
  • Ecologies of/at risk: environmental anxiety, slow violence, ruination, catastrophe
  • Histories and futures of risk: opportunity, intervention, invention, reinvention

St John’s College

Durham University

12th-13th July 2016