CALL FOR PAPERS: American Counter/Publics
65th Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies (DGfA),
John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, May 24-27, 2018
Deadline: January 10, 2018
All members of the association and those interested are invited to submit paper proposals for the 2018 Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies “American Counter/Publics”.
The “public sphere”—an idea with deep roots in the European enlightenment—has always been a contested concept in American culture and society. Almost by default, American intellectuals, artists, politicians, and activists have stressed the non-unitary, diversified, and oppositional dynamics of all things public. In this manner, the US Constitution, while based on enlightened principles of free debate and rational deliberation, already eschewed a philosophy of consensus building in favor of a philosophy of multi-interested checks and balances. Not the expressiveness of Rousseau’s volonté générale but the procedurality of Madison’s extended republic stood at the beginning of American notions of democratic governance. As a consequence, “public opinion” in the United States could never easily be identified with the “public good,” but has always been open to multiple sub- and non-public (private, corporate, technological, etc.) influences.
Thus, from the early days of the American republic, competing interest groups and commercial mass media (first newspapers, novels, and the theater, then radio, television, and the internet) have worked to pluralize public speech and public action—and ultimately the notion of “publicness” itself. Numerous social, political, and aesthetic developments throughout American history can be (re)described against this background as struggles for publicity, waged against the power of elites to define or usurp the national agenda. Two of the most important American contributions to the theory of the public sphere—Walter Lippmann’s The Phantom Public (1925) and John Dewey’s rejoinder The Public and Its Problems (1927)—despite their ideological differences concur that the public sphere is not a realm of unbiased exchange and unanimous agreement. Rather, in the United States, the public sphere becomes visible as a multi-agential, commercially embattled, highly mediated, and eventually trans-nationalized aggregate of publics and counterpublics. Numerous later discussions of American counter/publics—from Nancy Fraser, Seyla Benhabib, and Michael Warner to Robert Darnton, Michael Hardt, and Catherine R. Squires—have further refined this self-conceptualization of democratic speech under the conditions of capitalist mass media. Recent accounts frequently stress the deterritorialized—though regularly Anglophone—nature of counter/public communication in global digital networks. In particular, the communication of public trust—within political contexts naturally inclined to distrust—has been a central topic in and for American culture.
The 2018 Convention of the German Association of American Studies (DGfA) will deal with questions of publics, counterpublics, publicity, and public (dis)trust in US politics, society, history, and culture, examined through the lenses of literary and cultural studies, political science, sociology, historiography, media studies, economics, and didactics.
Please send your paper proposals directly to the workshop organizers listed here:
Each workshop will have six slots for presentations. A minimum of two presentations have been submitted in advance and will appear in the workshop descriptions below. The deadline for further submissions is January 10, 2018.
Speakers at the conference must be members of the Association or of one of its international sister organizations in American Studies. It is not necessary to become a member until the paper proposal has been accepted.