ACLA 2016: "Marked/Unmarked: Modes of Producing Difference"

full name / name of organization: 
Melissa Gelinas / University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
contact email: 

In the context of the upcoming ACLA conference (Harvard University, March 17-20, 2016) we invite proposals for the seminar "Marked/Unmarked: Modes of Producing Difference."

An abstract (~250 words) and a brief bio should be uploaded to the ACLA website at between September 1-23, 2015. Interested participants are encouraged to contact Raelene Wyse ( and Melissa Gelinas ( for questions or ideas.

Below is the seminar's CFP, also available at:

ACLA 2016
Harvard University, March 17-20, 2016

Call for proposals
Panel: "Marked/Unmarked: Modes of Producing Difference"

Our hero [Oscar] was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about – he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy […] You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.

"GhettoNerd at the End of the World"
Junot Díaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The concept of markedness, which first emerged in the field of applied linguistics, has helped to describe the process whereby some social categories (e.g. whiteness, maleness) gain a normative, unmarked status. This generic "anonymity of privilege" (Walker 2001) starkly contrasts with the marked identities of other groups. As Junot Díaz's above characterization of Oscar highlights, being marked can be "like having bat wings" or "tentacles." A marked status is made to stand out against an unmarked norm, to seem different by comparison. In the humanities and the social sciences, markedness theory has helped to scrutinize "sameness" and "difference" not as simple objective states, but as complex phenomenological processes that emerge from specific contexts.

In this seminar, we seek to rethink patterns and modes of (un)markedness as we encounter them in and through literature, cinema, and other media. We ask: How do these sites of cultural and metacultural statements contribute to the production, reproduction, disruption, or contestation of (un)markedness? How do marked/unmarked cultural signs circulate across time and geographies? What do second-order circulatory practices such as paratextual framing, translation, and adaptation do to marked/unmarked categories – and the asymmetries of power that underlie them? What are the limits of markedness theory? To what extent can the application of this framework destabilize the categories it highlights as well as the existing (hierarchical) systems of relation they represent?

We welcome proposals on topics related to markedness and cultural production, including:

-language ideologies, marked/unmarked language varieties
-processes of social marking (e.g. gender, racial, ethnic, class)
-economies of the (in)visible (e.g. passing)
-marking as commentary
-epistemological implications of marking vs. leaving unmarked
-the mainstream, dominant practices, normativity
-performance, variation, agency
-minority & diasporic communities, subcultures
-theories of otherness besides markedness