CFP: [American] "deviance(s)" - Conference (Bordeaux, France)

full name / name of organization: 
Arnaud Schmitt
contact email:

Call for Papers

CLIMAS (Université Michel de Montaigne - Bordeaux 3) - France
September 17-19, 2009

This interdisciplinary conference invites papers that explore the ways in which deviances and
the formation of norms and values interrelate, and that focus on the three prerequisites to a
deviant behavior: a norm, a transgression of this norm and the stigmatization of this
transgression (« The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied », Becker).
According to the structural-functionalist approach, the core of deviance is not to be found in
the nature of an individual but in his/her social role, which determines his/her identity (Mead,
Berger). Thus, the concept of deviance is dialectical and is defined by the very norm it sets out
to break. Becker’s labeling theory suggests that deviance is first and foremost a labeling act
performed by a community to single out one of its members whose behavior it chooses to
condemn (“stigma”, Goffman). This labeling process makes it possible to measure the degree of
freedom a community grants to its members, including a society’s norms and censorship
apparatus (its self-preservation modes) which convey its values and its fears.

Deviance, as a violation of legal, social, moral or political norms, can be studied from a
contemporary perspective (the current sociology of deviance in America) as well as a historical
one. At the same time, notions such as legitimacy (and legitimization), relativism and rebellion
can also be taken into consideration. What happens when what was previously labeled as
deviant becomes the norm? Does deviance genuinely violate the norm or is simply used to
enforce it?

Possible paper topics may include the concept of crime and the figure of the criminal. Our
objective is to engage with multiple perspectives: origins, forms of repression and crime
prevention (the Chicago school). The organizers also wish to encourage a consideration of the
ways criminal deviance has been represented, both in American literature and cinema. These
representations have spawned various parodies (Robert Coover’s latest novel, Noir, being a
perfect illustration of this trend). Parody is intrinsically deviant since it breaks the rules inherent
in the genre it parodies.

As is apparent from its etymology, deviance is concerned with everything that deviates from the
straight (and sometimes narrow) way – be it a linear narrative or classical mimesis. Deviance
can for instance be linked to digression which, in turn, conjures up the monster or the
grotesque (Sabry), that is forms deviating from Nature itself (Lascault) and gives rise both to
fascination and fear.

Deviance is a favorite theme of literature -- from Hawthorne's and Melville's romances to Frank
Norris's naturalistic novels, from Henry Miller's and Vladimir Nabokov's sultry narratives to the
works of the Beat Generation. It is true that the representations of deviance -- be they textual
or visual -- are far less scandalous and far more humorous than they used to be -- Nicholson
Baker's Vox is a good example. Yesterday's deviance has often become today's norm. Not only
do moral standards change but also each literary work relies on language and runs the risk of
being less and less innovative, less and less deviant, as time goes by (Starobinski). While
Madame Bovary's behavior was censored for a while, it has now turned into a literary paradigm,
like Humbert Humbert's,

American photography (Witkin, Arbus) and, even more, American cinema have also focused on
deviance in all its garbs (Paul Morissey, David Lynch) for deviance is always spectacular, it
always draws the spectator's attention. While the deviant person causes a sensation, he/she can
play a satiric role ("monster" comes from the Latin monstrare, to show) or, conversely,
strengthen traditional values -- even if no narrative can be fully controlled by its creator.

Cartoons, comics, graphic novels and popular music, too, can be used as topics for papers.
Many songs are about illegal practices -- sometimes in the form of allusions such as the
Beatles' s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds but often very explicitly – for example Heroin by the
Velvet Underground or the "explicit lyrics" of gangsta rap.

In literature on the other hand, deviance, is associated with the genesis of American literature
and its father figure, Walt Whitman, who invited his readers, his fellow Americans, to leave the
trodden, often straight, paths and find their own way, however winding or deviating it may be.
And a host of American artists have done so, each in their own fashion -- from Whitman to the
Transcendentalists, from the Naturalists to Kerouac, Jackson Pollock or Terence Malick.
Deviance will thus be considered to be a historical, social and aesthetic phenomenon as well as
a possible space of freedom, a means to escape determinism and to find both one's own way
and one's own voice.

Proposals for papers (300-500 words) must be sent to

Pascale Antolin,
Arnaud Schmitt,

 before March 31, 2009.

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Received on Wed Jan 07 2009 - 03:00:13 EST

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