CFP: The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance

For more information, see the ASA page.

Annual Meeting Call for Proposals

The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance

October 8-11, 2015, Toronto, Canada

The 2015 ASA Program Committee invites current individual members of the ASA (or an affiliated international American studies association) to submit proposals for individual papers, entire sessions, presentations, performances, films, roundtables, workshops, conversations, or alternative formats described below on any topic dealing with American cultures. Proposals are due on February 1, 2015.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 5.12.00 PMMeeting Theme

The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance

In his influential remarks on tragedy as a dramatic form the playwright Bertolt Brecht insisted on distinguishing between personal tragedies, in which character flaws underwrite disaster, and social tragedies, in which the limits of the possible are set by broad structural forces. Brecht, of course, famously preferred the latter form, which is perhaps better able to challenge the distinction between the personal and the political and to imagine dialectical interplay between the two.

The relatively unexplored category of misery suggests a similar need to make and to challenge distinctions between subjective, individual experiences on the one hand and social divisions on the other. Leaving room for interpenetrations is critical for thinking through the experience of misery. The scant contemplation of misery by intellectuals, as well as the way it is apprehended popularly, often make us see immiseration as experienced by individuals and families, objectively at the level of material want and subjectively as psychological heartache. At the same time the term “social misery” is sometimes invoked and indices of it are constructed in order to underline the fact that systems of inequality distribute misery unequally across classes, races, genders, sexualities, and borders.


Toronto, happily the site of the conference, underlines the importance of past and present. Like many North American cities, it has a quite longer indigenous past than post-settlement history. The long history of displacement of and resistance by First Nations peoples continues in the city. Toronto’s large working class has helped to make it a venue of important class conflicts, including recent struggles against the miseries of privatization. A hub for immigration, its Chinatown (now Chinatowns) has long been among the biggest in North America. It has the largest Jewish community in Canada and is the home to diverse and longstanding black diasporic communities. The setting also encourages reflections on the transnational production of misery and of resistance, twenty years after NAFTA.

Considering misery and resistance together encourages a raft of theoretical and methodological approaches, old and new. At the risk of omitting some such approaches that fit the theme especially well we await contributions rooted in work on trauma theory, precarity, critical ethnic studies, states of exception, queer studies (including those of failure and of queer-of-color interrogations of how freedom movements navigate a world of imperial violence), political economy and especially crisis theory, feminist research on the personal and the political, disability studies, war and empire in and out of the age of the drone, the miseries of higher education, investigations of spirituality, religion, misery, solace and solidarity, as well as carceral studies.