MLA Special Session proposal - Reconsidering the Transnational Turn - 3/24

full name / name of organization: 
John Patrick Leary, Wayne State University
contact email: 

In recent years, a "transnational" approach to literary history has become popular. This approach criticizes the supposed naturalness of some of the borders, boundaries, and binaries that define our political affiliations and have structured—some would argue limited—our cultural histories. The "transnational turn" has taken a variety of forms and includes other mode of cultural critique, like "borderlands" readings and Atlantic world studies. Yet even as the transnational turn has become institutionalized—as indicated by the increasing numbers of English literature job listings advertising this specialty—it still has the ring of an insurgent challenge to national traditions of literary studies. This panel will consider the historical, political, and epistemological claims of transnationality from a critical perspective.

We seek papers from any linguistic tradition or period that explore any of the following questions: if the transnational turn is part of older traditions of cultural critique (internationalism, for example, or comparative literature), what is the contemporary challenge offered by transnationalism? What intersections are there between the scholarship of Francophonie, for example, and transnational American Studies? Is the transnational primarily a spatial model of culture, and if so, is anything lost in such a revision? How does the transnational frame address the temporal categories often used to compare nations (in terms of belatedness and modernity, for example)? Do we define the transnational frame as a geography, a historical reality, or a political desire? Finally, the transnational is often understood to be a virtue, as something affirmative and liberatory. How do we consider the international realities of exile, empire, and mistranslation in terms of the "transnational" turn in cultural studies?

Submit 300-word abstracts by 3/24 to John Pat Leary ( and Miles Parks Grier ( Abstracts should be submitted by March 24 to allow organizers to meet the April 1 deadline for MLA proposals.

The MLA will be held in Philadelphia in the last week of December, 2009. All participants in convention sessions have to be MLA members by April 7, 2009.