SAMLA 88 (Nov 4-6, 2016) / The United States of America: Hero or Villain on the World Stage?

deadline for submissions: 
June 13, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
contact email: 

In a 2005 article for The New York Times, Canadian-Russian author and American academic Michael Ignatieff raised a provocative question: "Who Are Americans to Think That Democracy Is Theirs to Spread?" Surveying a range of critical responses to the US war in the Middle East, such as the idea that US involvement is economically self-serving, or that it facilitates the rise of increasingly repressive regimes, Ignatieff argues that the US has been ineffective, if not oppositional, in its stated aims of promoting democracy worldwide. This MELUS panel builds on SAMLA 88's theme of "Utopia/Dystopia: Whose Paradise Is It" and perspectives like Ignatieff's to ask how multi-ethnic American writers position the US amidst the political unrest of their birth nation. To those sensitive to the kinds of social problems that colonialism and imperialism instigate, American motives for spreading democracy can often seem suspect. However, some ethnic American writers who have fled to the United States seem to condemn America for not helping enough or not intervening earlier. American writers who emigrate from war-torn nations seem to welcome or favorably view the United States' involvement in toppling oppressive regimes or curtailing the dictator's power. For example, the works of Julia Alvarez and Khaled Hosseini focus on the extent of suffering that takes place in totalitarian regimes, as if to imply to their American audiences that America needs to be more vigilant against threats to humanity.

This panel seeks to discover multi-ethnic viewpoints that can illuminate how American democracy or military involvement is critiqued, expected, or admired. Texts can also include films and graphic novels dealing with oppressive regimes from the World War I era to our present day. Papers may address the following questions: To what extent does the US fight for a space where democratic "utopias" can thrive? To what extent does it fight as an imperialist power, creating dystopian spaces? How do multi-ethnic American writers writing about oppressive regimes and war go about arguing their utopian / dystopian positions; for example, what specific strategies, historical comparisons, contextualizations, etc. do they make? Is the United States viewed as a political bully or benevolent ally? Do the citizens of oppressive governments expect help or support from the United States as they seek to overthrow their oppressors? Or do they want America to stay out of the conflict? What can multi-ethnic literature of the United States teach us about oppressive regimes? Why do multi-ethnic American authors write about their experiences with oppressive dictators or governments? Are they warning America about democracy's fragile nature? Do multi-ethnic American authors inspire America to be a responsible steward of democracy, or do they criticize its spread of imperialism? How does the consideration of audience complicate or contribute to this discussion?

Please send 300 - 500 word abstracts to Dr. Ren Denton at by June 13, 2016. SAMLA 88 takes place in Jacksonville, FL on November 4 - 6, 2016.