[UPDATE} Cultures of Recession

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Duke University Program in Literature
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Cultures of Recession
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference Hosted by The Program in Literature, Duke University
November 20 & 21, 2009

Keynote Speaker: Stanley Aronowitz (CUNY), author of How Class Works and Just Around The Corner: The Paradox of a Jobless Recovery

Around 5:00 AM on Nov. 28—the day after Thanksgiving—a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by shoppers eager to participate in the store’s annual “Black Friday” sales blitz. On Dec. 1, after three months of violent upheaval in the banking sector, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the U.S. had been in economic recession for almost a year. On Dec. 5, a group of mostly Hispanic workers staged a sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors after being laid off from the Chicago-based factory with only three days’ notice. Throughout mid-December 2008, critics lauded the “tightness” and “economy” of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, an 80-minute long independent film featuring a young woman, a dog, the Pacific Northwest, and not much else. Meanwhile, the country of Iceland—designated a terrorist state by Britain in an effort to freeze some of its assets—has declared bankruptcy. Widespread economic and institutional breakdown has resulted in a new wave of urban radicalism spreading across Greece, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. In China, mass deprivation and joblessness riots have escalated as authorities struggle to prop up a falling GDP. Despite unprecedented bailout and stimulus spending by the Bush and Obama administrations, the U.S. stock market has receded to levels last seen in 1997, with the unemployment rate crossing 10% in some states.

This conference invites graduate students from humanities and social science disciplines to think about how the idea and experience of recession—a sustained national or global-economic downturn that makes itself visible through declines in industrial production, employment, sales, and income—frames the cultural life and livelihood of affected communities, places, and governing bodies. This shift in communal and political makeup opens space for discussion about the impact of recession on cultural forms. What sort of cultural phenomena—artistic, political, or otherwise—find expression during times of recession? Are there features of recession that seem to transcend history or geography? Are certain socioeconomic climates more or less poised to give birth to recession—and what sort of political positionalities or modes of thought find themselves competing to “solve” recessive crises? How does recession change the parameters of social and political institutions? Within the governing structure, how do power dynamics shuffle as blame is distributed between institutions and people? How might the idea of recession compare to related concepts like depression, inflation, deflation, unemployment, crisis, or overproduction? Can we identify specific literary or artistic forms, motifs, and icons that emerge during times of recession?

Possible panel or paper topics
• Recession and cultures of work
• Recession and the global economy
• Recession and the language of loss, failure, or decline
• Recession and establishment discourse
• Recession, labor struggle, and “class warfare”
• Recession and the banking-sector bailout
• Recession and debt
• Recession and the politics of greed or waste
• Recession, crisis theory, and the logic of capital
• Recession and radical political resurgences
• Recession and nostalgia
• Recession and consumer culture
• Historical recessions: the post-war ‘40s, the 1970s, Japan’s Lost Decade, etc.
• Recession in an age of Facebook, blogs, and “instant” information
• Recession and cultural production
• Recession and the politics of religion
• Recession and the politics of race, gender, and/or sexuality
• Recession and environmental/energy crises
• Recession and the university

Please send a 250-500 word abstract to culturesofrecession@gmail.com by August 31, 2009.

Sara Appel
Gerry Canavan
Alex Greenberg
Lisa Klarr
Ryan Vu


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