[AIW] CFP: Work: A Conference on the Labors of Language, Culture, and History, University of St. Gallen, St. Gallen/Switzerland, November 27-28, 2020

AIW - Bartl bartl at american-indian-workshop.org
Fri Jan 24 17:01:43 CET 2020

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Call for Papers

Swiss Association for North American Studies Biennial Conference

Work: A Conference on the Labors of Language, Culture, and History

School of Humanties and Social Sciences, University of St. Gallen, St.

November 27-28, 2020



Keynotes (tentative titles)

Michael Denning (Yale): "Laboring Life: Re-founding the Critical Theory of

Michele Elam (Stanford): "Representing the Future of Work: Art-work in the
Age of AI"

Katja Kanzler (Leipzig): "Affective Labor in 21st-Century Popular Culture"


When the speaker in Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is" says that everyone
old enough to read a poem knows about work, he means that work is a
universal condition. Some people work more often than others, or under more
desirable circumstances, or for better pay, but we all do it. You're
probably working right now. If you're reading a call for papers, you know
what work is. 


Yet like all fundamental categories, work becomes ever more complex as we
examine it more closely. As Raymond Williams and Andrea Komlosy have shown,
the terms "work," "labor," "job," "employment," "occupation," "profession,"
"vocation," "task," "effort," "pursuit," and "calling" form a dense web of
overlapping and contrasting meanings. Language must labor to grasp the
connections between cooking a Big Mac and writing a novel, lifting a box in
a warehouse and making beds at a hotel, professing and caring for children,
hammering and tweeting. But if art is also a kind of work, why is the work
of art so rarely directed toward its own conditions of production? While
North American literature, television, film, theater, and music have helped
to make work intelligible or, conversely, communicated its resistance to
meaning, they have also been relatively uninterested in it. Moreover, as
Kathi Weeks observes, "work produces not just economic goods and services
but also social and political subjects." Thus, the analysis of work must
also contend with how histories of class struggle, gendered and sexual
divisions of labor, racial hierarchies, and citizenship regimes have
determined who counts as a worker and qualifies for the rights, protections,
and social respect thereof. And yet waged work is only the tip of an
enormous iceberg that feminist theorists call "socially reproductive
labor"-the gendered, mostly unpaid, and hidden work of caring for, feeding,
nursing, and teaching the next generation of workers. Ultimately, the more
we meditate on the breadth and depth of work, the less we know what work is
or does. 


This conference proposes that the question of work does a great deal of work
for the study of North America. The conference is inspired not only by the
richness of work as a linguistic, cultural, and historical concept, but also
by current conjunctures that are profoundly changing work and its worlds.
The bread-winning patriarch has given way to dual-earning households, steady
jobs to contingency and "gigs." Beneath the surface of official unemployment
statistics lie decades of stagnant wages, "bullshit jobs," stress, and
alienation. Once a symbol of freedom and opportunity, work has become a
symptom of national and international crisis in debates over borders and
tariffs, pipelines and policing, "boomers" and "millennials," healthcare and
automation. Do advances in artificial intelligence spell the end of work as
we know it? Are we on the verge of a postwork society? If so, is the crisis
of work necessarily dystopian? To paraphrase Leonard Cohen: If work has
become a crack in North American society and culture, what sort of light
might stream through? 

We are seeking contributions that address the following aspects of work,
broadly conceived: 


.                 (Non-)Representation of work in North American literature
and culture

.                 Work and genre/form: proletarian literature, the office
movie, the strike song, etc.

.                 Class formations and working-class histories 

.                 Studies of workers and industries: manual and intellectual
workers, white-collar/ blue-collar/ grey-collar/ pink-collar, care workers,
fast food workers, digital workers, "playbor," warehouse workers, Amazon
Mechanical Turkers, artists, performers, etc.

.                 The university, academic labor, the work of professing

.                 Work and nation, nationalism, nation-building 

.                 Electoral politics and the 2020 U.S. presidential election

.                 Settler colonialism and empire 

.                 Race, ethnicity, indigeneity

.                 Slavery, incarceration, surplus populations  

.                 North American work regimes in transnational and global

.                 "They take our jobs!": immigration, borders, citizenship 

.                 Gendered/sexual divisions of labor, housework and the
family, social reproduction, feminist, queer, and trans critiques of work

.                 Religions and the work ethic

.                 Work's terminologies, etymologies, dialects, accents,

.                 Not-work: unemployment, free time, leisure, play,

.                 Futures of work: technological unemployment,
utopian/dystopian speculation, postwork imaginaries, Mincome, Universal
Basic Income  


Please send paper or panel abstracts of 200-300 words and a short
biographical note by 31 March 2020 to sanas2020 at unisg.ch
<mailto:sanas2020 at unisg.ch> . Contact the organizers at
jesse.ramirez at unisg.ch <mailto:jesse.ramirez at unisg.ch>  and
sixta.quassdorf at unisg.ch <mailto:sixta.quassdorf at unisg.ch> .



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