CFP: [Romantic] nstitutions: History, Practice, Method –– UCLA Conference June 5th, 2009

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James Landau
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20th Annual UCLA Southland Graduate Student Conference Call for Papers

Conference Title: Institutions: History, Practice, Method
Conference Date: June 5th, 2009
Keynote Speakers: Helen Deutsch and Mark McGurl, UCLA Department of English

Stalled by unfamiliar words on the plaque that names Lowood Institution,
the young heroine of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre struggles to manage an
inscrutable verbal moment. Feeling "that an explanation belonged" to these
words, though "unable fully to penetrate their import," Jane finds herself
especially stuck "pondering the signification" of the term "institution."
Though her budding reflection gets cut by a mere cough from behind, the
scene is instructive for reasons that outpace its irony: What do we mean
when we talk about "institutions" anyway? How do we begin to articulate
themâ€"shadowy and indistinct as they are? And, in local terms, what roles
do they play, both inside and outside the literary?
Foucault’s work, in particular his investigation of the prison, clinic and
madhouse, frequently frames contemporary debates about how institutions not
only structure social life, but also create it, in both actual and virtual
terms. Yet the institution has also appeared, if under alias, in the works
of other foundational thinkers such as Althusser, Luhmann, Weber and
Bourdieu (to name a few of the most visible), and remains a field of rich
intellectual inquiry. Whether connected to questions of form, genre,
concept, canonicity, or the various discourses in which we discuss them
all, the category of the institution is an unavoidable but under-explored
dimension of literary study, one that leaves us with many methodological
and theoretical questions. What, for example, is the relationship between
the institutions represented within a text (e.g. slavery, school systems,
or colonial administrations) and their historical or contemporary
counterparts outside the text? On the other hand, what role do ‘real-world’
institutions play in the production, distribution and reception of literary
and critical texts?

The primary aim of the 20th Annual UCLA Southland Graduate Student
Conference, therefore, is to see how institutions stabilize, reroute, and
transform authorship and cultural production, formal patterns and
conventions, genre coherences and aberrations, and disciplinary inclusions
and exclusions.

Presentations may consider any dimension of the relationship between
institutions and the production of literature, history or culture. Possible
papers might engage with, though or not limited to, the following questions:

• How do we read or conceptualize the institutions that appear within
literary or cultural works (e.g. the military, the hospital, the bureaucracy)?

• What impact do institutions have upon bodies, in particular bodies of
different races, genders, sexualities and abilities? In what ways do
institutions include, exclude and reroute bodies?

• Can we trace connections between extratextual institutions, e.g. the
various ‘departments’ of educational and bureaucratic systems, and the
development or deployment of specific formal, narratological or generic

• What is the relationship between institutions and power, for example
within the spheres of governmentality, bureaucracy, and colonial or
postcolonial administration?

• What institutions shape literary production, and where does authorship
fit within this institutional cradle? Is the author really “dead”?

• What is the relation between genre and institution? Is genre an
institution or is genre the product of other institutions, for example the
publishing industry?

• What roles do media and information technologies play in the production
and maintenance of institutions, and what demands, in turn, do institutions
make on the forms and techniques of media inscription and information

• “Where” are institutions? What is their “place?” What are the
materialities and immaterialities of an institution?

• In what ways are networks social and technological institutions? And how
does an investigation of such networks shape literary-critical methods?

• What is the relationship between the disciplinary (in both its
Foucauldian and academic senses) and the institutional? Can we
conceptualize the institution without recourse to disciplinary action?

• What impact will the interdisciplinary turn in literary studies have on
the institutions of literary criticism?

• How do academic institutions such as peer-reviewed journals, tenure
systems and (graduate) conferences shape the methodological preferences,
rhetorical strategies and formal outputs of criticism?

• How do discourses deploy the language of institution (e.g. the gay
marriage debate) in order to effect or forestall cultural or political change?

Paper topics may engage with any historical period or geographical area,
though presentations must be in English. Audiovisual equipment will be
available. Proposals for three-person panels are also welcome.

Please email abstracts of 200-300 words, in .doc or .pdf files, to Glenn
Brewer and James Landau at by March 16th, 2009.

Further information will appear at

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Received on Fri Jan 16 2009 - 14:06:10 EST