"Soldiering: The Afterlife of a Modern Experience", April 23-24, 2011

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Harvard Interdisciplinary Huamnities Graduate Student Conference


The Afterlife of a Modern Experience

The Annual Interdisciplinary Humanities Graduate Student Conference

The Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, April 23-24, 2011

Soldiering has long been considered a central organizing experience of modern life. With the invention of conscription in the 1680s, the consequent multiplication of national standing-armies, and the coupling of soldiering with citizenship, the individual and aristocratic warrior was replaced by the democratic and collective figure of "the soldier of the revolution." His body no longer marked by the natural signs of strength, courage and pride, the soldier had become, by the late eighteenth century, something that can be made. Disciplined en masse through standardized military programs that mimicked the constancy of the factory, soldiers were not only manufactured; for two centuries they themselves embodied the labor power envisioned in manufacturing new political orders at home and across the vast imperial landscape. The two world wars, quintessential displays of modern soldiering, were arguably also the last of their kind, and marked both the culmination and the end of soldiering as a near universal experience, social institution, and political subjectivity.

Juxtaposed with and against these historical prefigurations, this two-day conference wishes to examine the gradual disintegration of the Soldier-Subject in the postwar period and the "afterlife" forms of modern soldiering, from the early days of the Cold War to the current manifestations of the "Global War on Terror". What happens to soldiering when armies are privatized and corporations take over the state's "dirty business of war"? When "irregular," "asymmetric," "low-intensity" warfare is the order of the day? When the once politically significant distinction between soldier and civilian is destabilized in the now prevalent theaters of "ethnic conflict"? When technical experts become soldiers and human soldiers are gradually replaced by technological systems, such as unmanned drones and armed robots? How have these contemporary forms of soldiering influenced social, economic and political realities? And how do they contribute to the increased ethical isolation of war and conflict?

We seek rich, rigorous graduate student contributions from across the academic spectrum and across historical periods. Through soldiering, this conference aims to provide a locus for rewriting conventional military and political histories, revisiting anthropological accounts of violence and the state, and expanding the definition of warfare – both temporally and spatially. Themes may include:

· From "Cannon Fodder" to "Enhanced Survivability": The Birth of the Vulnerable Soldier

· "Shell-Shock," PTSD and Mental Preparedness: Trauma Culture and Its Aftermath

· Army Alpha, Army Beta: Screening, Selection, and the Making of Military Kinds

· From Ethical Lapses to Professional Failings: Soldiering as a Vocation

· Enlightened Occupiers: From ‘Hearts and Minds’ to the Human Terrain Teams

· Armies for Hire: Privatized Defense and Corporate Warfare

· "Accidental Guerillas," Child-Soldiers, and Other Paramilitaries

· International Soldiers: Military Humanitarianism, Peace Corps, and Human Rights Training

· Identity Politics Goes to War: From "Blue Discharge" to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and Beyond

· The Paris-Match Saluting "Negro" and Other Mythologies: the Soldier as Signifier

· Reorganizing the Military-Industrial Complex: New Media and Warfare Simulation

The conference's keynote speaker will be Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, an independent scholar, author of The Worlds of Herman Kahn: the Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War (Harvard University Press, 2005), and a specialist on the cultural history of American Cold War military science and technology.

Prospective participants are asked to write a 600 word abstract that outlines the paper’s topic, methodology, and argument, as well as how the prospective participant’s research interests relate to the theme of soldiering more generally. Participants will be notified by early March whether their paper has been accepted into the conference. Please note that participants may be eligible to receive full or partial stipends for transportation to the conference.

Abstract Submission Deadline: February 15, 2011

Abstracts can be uploaded on the conference website: isites.harvard.edu/soldieringconference

(under the "Submissions" tab). Please make sure to include the following information: full name, institutional affiliation, the title of your paper, and contact details.