ALA 2015: Whitman and Social Theory

full name / name of organization: 
American Literature Association

American Literature Association
May 21-24, 2015
Boston, Massachusetts


Whitman and Social Theory

Leaves of Grass has long been a literary touchstone for ideas about nineteenth-century social formations of gender, sexuality, race, and class. Lately, though, Walt Whitman seems to be less a poet of social experience than a full-blown theorist of sociological issues like embodiment, socialization, object relations, crowds, and culture. This session seeks papers that examine Whitman's studies and interpretations of social phenomena, and trace the subsequent uses of his work as a theoretical resource to comprehend modern social problems.

We are particularly interested in papers that (1) situate Whitman's work in relation to the Social Science reform movements of the nineteenth century; (2) address Whitman's engagement (direct or tacit) with contemporaneous social theorists, including Carlyle, Mill, Hegel, Fourier, Comte, Marx, Spencer, and others; (3) reflect on Whitman's afterlives in social theory, how philosophers have applied his work as a conceptual model for theory; these might range from Whitman's socialist disciples to Occupy Wall Street; Pragmatists to Neo-pragmatists, sexologists to queer theorists, etc.; or (4) place Whitman in conversation with contemporary social theory, around, for example, questions of human ecology and urban environments, biopolitics and affective labor, social relations in light of actor-network-theory, and so forth.

Please send one-page abstracts electronically no later than January 5, 2015 to Tim Robbins ( and Ed Folsom (