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Curriculum, Politics, and the Student/Teacher of English:The 2nd Conference on the Future of English Studies; October 16-17 2009
full name / name of organization:
University of Illinois @ Springfield
According to Terry Eagleton, English as a discipline was installed in England’s universities to take up the slack when, in the 19-century, religion stopped providing the ideological glue required for social cohesion. Today there are increasing signs that, with its traditional emphasis on literature, English is going the way of religion as an agent of cohesion and unity. The question, not only of the future of English, but of the humanities as well, looms large. Michael Berubé has asked why we should expect “the aesthetic” to lead us to “some larger sense of community,” Simon During and Louis Menand have sounded the death knell of English literature as a discipline, and Stanley Fish has baldly stated that the humanities are of no use “whatsoever.” Indeed, the status of English Studies has been precarious from its inception and perhaps never more so than today. For in addition to failing to provide the ideological cement for competing constituencies to get along—witness the culture wars and the red states/blue states divide—English studies seems destined to fail as a site for honing language skills, acquiring knowledge, and seeking intellectual stimulus and aesthetic pleasure.
In our classrooms we regularly encounter students who think no more of relying on websites, cell phones, iPods, Facebook, myspace, youtube, and blogs for news, information, knowledge, opinions, and pleasure than previous generations thought of relying on newspapers, magazines, journals, and books. Such increasing dependency on images and visual stimulation for information and gratification jeopardizes the traditional focus of English Studies—reading and writing—and thus the humanistic enterprise. The pressures from politicians, administrators, and public experts to place more emphasis on new technologies and practical skills further undermines the traditional injunction of English Studies, as Martha Nussbaum has argued, to cultivate humanity by developing the capacities for critical self-examination and looking at the world from other points of view. All of this seems to mean that English Studies is out-of-business-as-usual. But the question of how to adapt, or even whether to adapt, to changing demographics and political, technological, and social pressures has no easy answer.
We invite proposals on any topic related to the pressures that English Studies, from the secondary to the university level, face from technological, political, economic, and other spheres of influence. We especially welcome proposals that address the following questions:
*What is English’s purpose?
Please submit 500-word abstracts for individual papers or panels to Sara Cordell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or William Carpenter (email@example.com) by June 15, 2009.