The Withering of the State?

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
University of Illinois-Chicago English Department
contact email: 

“The Withering of the State?”

2018 English Department Interdisciplinary Symposium, University of Illinois at Chicago

March 10, 2018


Keynote speaker: Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College and author of The Reactionary Mind.



The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong—into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax. —Friedrich Engels


In January 2017, during the weeks prior to President Trump’s inauguration, both Hannah Arendt'sThe Origins of Totalitarianism and George Orwell’s 1984 topped bestseller lists. This renewed interest in the historical moment of modern totalitarianism (and its imagined consequences) indexes a certain desire to grapple with the relations between the state and its people. The urgency felt as a tinge of dystopia steadily permeates US politics invites a critical reconsideration of the state’s role in everyday life. While for Marx and Engels, the state and its institutions would eventually become superfluous after the transition from capitalism to socialism, our horizon of possibility looks starkly different than the “free and equal association of producers” they imagined. Our welfare state may have withered in the name of austerity and fiscal responsibility, but oppressive state institutions are alive and well (the military-industrial complex, the carceral state, police occupation). During the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we have seen the full embrace of this model, a calculated effort to not so much dissolve the state as streamline its functions and consolidate resources in the indelible image of capital. In response, Democratic Socialists of America has seen its membership increase dramatically, and the demand for a strong welfare state as an alternative to the whims of the free market is at its highest in decades. The University of Illinois at Chicago English Department welcomes proposals from across the humanities that grapple with these competing visions of the state, and that (re)examine the role of the state across myriad disciplinary and methodological formations. How do we fully articulate and conceptualize the transformations of the state from past to present? What can this tell us about how to the imagine the state’s role as we look toward the future? What, more broadly, is the state? What should it be?


Possible Topics include:

State form and literary studies

Art and the state

National imaginaries

Race and the alt-right’s “ethnostate”

Borders and geography

Citizen vs. Immigrant

Dictatorship of the proletariat

The state in the Marxist tradition



“Draining the swamp”

Governmentality and neoliberalism

State or public institutions and their others

Histories of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism

The police and/or the carceral state


Public policy

Law and the rule of law

Utopian and dystopian states


Please submit a proposal of no more than 300 words and a CV to The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2017. Selected speakers will be notified by January 20, 2018. Presentations should be 15-20 minutes in length and will be followed by a question and answer session.