Deadline: Oct. 1, 2021

Political Education and American Studies

Political Education has played a special role in German American Studies due to the unique political context of the development of the discipline in postwar Germany. After the Second World War, American Studies itself was seen as instrumental for German re-education in West Germany. The efforts at re-education were based on the belief that the study of American literature and culture, its history, economy, and political system might be inspiring in the process of establishing a stable democratic system and culture, firmly embedded in the Western bloc of the Cold War. Thus, the US supported the foundation of academic centers for American Studies in the former Bundesrepublik and West-Berlin. Meanwhile, in the German Democratic Republic, American Studies developed in its own right, also embedded in a strong force field of international relations and the Cold War. This evolution of American Studies in the context of antithetical political agendas and its assumed roles in the political education of the German population on both sides of the German divide is quite unique to the German branch of American Studies.

The politicization of American Studies may seem extraordinary were it not for an inherent reason to see a strong connection between American Studies and Political Education, namely the strong role of the latter in American history, literature, culture, and pedagogy. A central figure to connect democracy, not only as a political system but also as an ethical ideal, to education is John Dewey. However, one can actually trace variants of his concepts through the history of ideas and observe how they broaden out into different segments of American life from the Early Republic to the 21st century: Historically, Political Education in the sense of citizenship and civic education as preparing people for informed participation in public life was seen as a central task of schools and colleges and also of the family, the community, churches, and other voluntary associations from at least the revolution onwards. Connected to the ideas of Republicanism, concepts such as the “public man” or “Republican Motherhood” attest to the significance of these ideas in literature and culture well into the 19th century. But the social movements of the early 19th century also demonstrated that Political Education is not the privilege of highly educated experts but often the self-set task of ordinary people becoming activists. These were crucial in expanding the notion of the political to encompass questions of value, language, identity, and ethos as they embraced practices ranging from teaching and preaching to organizing spectacles and civil disobedience, and including decisions not to drink, making pledges, reading moral tales and poems to their children, or wearing abolitionist medallions. From Temperance and Abolitionism to Fridays for Future and #blacklivesmatter, political activism and strategies of mobilization, protest, and identity formation, forms of resistance and of grassroots organization all tie in with political education in a continuing feed-back loop.

Furthermore, figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois or Cornel West have viewed activism as an essential dimension of scholarship: Defying Weber’s ideas about the necessary disinterestedness of the scholar, they – like many other scholars coming from marginalized groups – have seen them-selves and their intellectual work as necessarily rooted in and joined to their communities. This approach, a radicalized version of Dewey’s thought, is complemented by institutions and classes devoted to teach and thus professionalize activism and community organizing, such as the High-lander Folk School, for instance. From here, it is a small step to situated reflections about the role of American Studies scholars and institutions in both Germany and the U.S. for Political Education which seems to work both top down and from bottom up. In times of globalization and internationalization, these reflections also extend to rethinking the premises and forms of Political Education in a global context to include ontologies of flow and relationalities which question categories of the political, the national, or difference.

Areas of Inquiry:

  • Political Education in the History of Ideas (Republicanism, Pragmatism etc.)
  • Democracy and Aesthetics / Art and Activism
  • Political Education in Social Movements
  • Forms of Mobilization (Community Organizing, Service Learning) and Empowerment
  • Cultural Aspects of Resistance and Protest
  • The Role of East- and West-German Political Education in American Studies
  • Literary Genres of Political Education
  • Activism and Practices of Scholarship
  • Global Citizenship Education in Local Contexts

Proposals for workshops need to include two speakers who have been contacted in advance. In addition, proposals should allow for two to three more speakers to apply after the proposal has been accepted by the Advisory Board of the German Association for American Studies.

Please remember that workshops can only be organized by members of the German  Association for American Studies (DGfA). Similarly, all speakers in these workshops have to be members of the DGfA by the time of the convention. This rule does not apply to members of EAAS/ASA sister organizations.

Please send workshop proposals to executive_director@dgfa.de.

The deadline is October 1, 2021.