Graduate Conference at the Graduate School of North American Studies

John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin

May 5 and 6, 2017

Postmodern Western societies have long been marked by deep cultural and economic divisions that inhibit successful communication between social groups. As a sense of disconnect grows in the current political climate, the academic world finds itself increasingly implicated, often refraining from direct intervention by maintaining its own specific language and social position and thereby consolidating its relative isolation within society.

Although this is by no means a new development, recent events – including the 2016 US presidential election, the Brexit vote, and heated debates over immigration on both sides of the Atlantic – have been extraordinarily illustrative of the disconnect between academic and wider social discourses. Surmounting this particular disconnect is made even more difficult by the new normalization of populist rhetoric in politics and media and the intense anti-intellectual resentment of the right. As different social groups and movements battle for the meaning and self-image of “America,” the discipline of American Studies is potentially an important agent within these debates.

And yet both American Studies and the larger academic world to which it belongs – divided into subdisciplines, theoretical schools, and research traditions – grapples with its own set of disconnects. It is thus more essential than ever for academics to adequately theorize the complex set of current social, cultural, and economic disconnects and the (real or imagined) emergence of the oft-invoked “post-factual age,” in which the classical intersectional triad of race, class, and gender seems entangled in ever more tumultuous ways.

How can the quest for inter-, trans-, and postdisciplinarity contribute to effective communication across camps and advance our understanding of cultural and social realities “on the ground”? Which theoretical projects are best suited to make sense of “American disconnects” and build bridges across fault lines? What are the key historical developments that play a part in the genealogy of the current political moment? Can present forms of knowledge production and critical theory be continued in a way that makes them once again relevant beyond academia, or do we need new forms of intervention that speak to a public whose relationship to the question of “truth” is increasingly at odds with academia’s? Can we envision engaged scholarship that not only analyzes the present disconnects and their historical background, but also launches the project of reconnection?

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Academia, knowledge production, and political activism
  • Inter-, trans-, and postdisciplinarity as ideal and practice
  • Institutionalization, incorporation, and containment of dissidence within academia
  • Affective politics as a challenge for academic discourse
  • Academia and post-factual politics
  • Mass media and “facts”
  • Populism and anti-intellectualism as political strategy
  • Rhetoric of anti-establishment rebellion
  • Grassroots theory and/versus critical theory

We welcome contributions to the 2017 Graduate Conference from graduate students, post-docs, and other scholars as well as activists and others operating outside academia. 

Abstracts should be limited to 250 words and submitted as part of the application form (available at Please submit your abstract by email to conference2017 [at] Submissions must be received by January 29th, 2017. A confirmation email will be sent when we receive your abstract. Those selected to present will be notified by mid-February. The conference will be held in English.