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Resisting Vulnerable Times
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(Please note that the subconference is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the Modern Language Association.)
This year, the MLA hosts its annual convention in Chicago, IL under the title of “Vulnerable Times.” As in past years, committees and special sessions will be convened to address the pressing material and financial conditions shaping our profession and its possible futures.
But who are the subjects of such times? While individuals certainly experience it in different ways, vulnerability is distributed disparately across constituencies and groups as part of the systematic reproduction of hierarchies and forms of segregation that have long characterized higher education. The 2008 recession and austerity measures implemented in response to it have only intensified the visibility of those hierarchies through diminishing and unequal access to low-interest or interest-free federal funding, skyrocketing university tuition and fees, the “adjunctification” of labor, heightened pressure to reduce time-to-degree without increased financial support, and the introduction of distance learning programs, MOOCs, and for-profit institutions.
What is the role of graduate students, contingent workers, and autonomous intellectuals in organizing to change the distribution and affects of vulnerability today? Can those of us struggling on the strange outside and inside of the profession, on the margins of an institution but constituting the bulk of its labor, afford to do otherwise?
With the above questions in mind, we seek to challenge our profession’s tendency to promote individual merit as the primary source of success or failure and to reinforce social, professional and economic atomization. Instead, we seek a collective approach to vulnerability that locates new possibilities within and responses to what is already our shared condition. In favor of institutional responses to “vulnerable times,” other autonomous projects have already begun the work of imagining alternatives to the existing forms, costs, and hierarchies of knowledge and education. These include, amongst many others, the Edu-Factory Collective, the subconference of the American Association of Geographers, the Public School in the Bay Area, CA, Freedom University in Athens, GA, Mess Hall in Chicago, IL, the Coalition of Graduate Employees annual conference, Occupy Education and Occupy Student Debt, the Reworking the University project, the Beneath the University, the Commons conference at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, and countless other co-research projects.
Following suit, we are calling for an autonomous meeting of graduate workers, adjunct and contingent faculty, and unemployed or independent intellectuals that will coincide with the 2014 MLA convention. This gathering will be experimental, attempting to put into practice more democratic modes of knowledge production and decision making, and privileging the insight of those most directly exposed to the threats posed by our shared economic and political climate. This is not an attempt to close ourselves off from that climate by ensuring the continuation of a status quo, but rather to imagine ways of opening up our profession through new strategies of response. This meeting seeks to provide an alternative space for the articulation of possibilities and responsibilities, reconstructions and exits that may only be visible from our paradoxical outside/inside positions.
One primary goal of this inaugural session, hopefully the first of many, will be to identify the function of an autonomous conference within our particular academic context, to establish long-term goals for its future, and decide how best to influence existing committees and organizations. In accordance with the nascent status of the project, we welcome submissions for panels, presentations, workshops, and other session proposals that take up the numerous and intersectional issues that arise from living, working, and raising families in higher education, including perspectives on race, class, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability.
We seek proposals that consider the following, with a heavy emphasis on tactical and on-the-ground training useful for classroom pedagogy and out-of-class organizing:
• Should autonomous collaborations such as these seek to put pressure on existing professional organizations and entities? If so, in what way? In the form of hegemony, collaboration, autonomy, etc.? How can power be leveraged and applied through these projects?