"The Tacky South" - SSSL at MLA 2018

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Katharine A. Burnett, Fisk University
contact email: 

As a way to comment on a person’s style, the word “tacky” has distinctly southern origins. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first emerged around 1800 as a noun to describe “a poor white of the Southern States from Virginia to Georgia.” Although the OED does not draw connections between this origin and the origins of the adjective describing something “dowdy, shabby; in poor taste, cheap, vulgar,” these definitions suggest a clear link between national stereotypes of region, race, and class and urbane (and northern urban?) notions of taste, class, and sensibility.


This roundtable uses these observations regarding the term’s origin to ask new questions about how southern culture and identity have been and continue to be associated with “tackiness.” For instance, in what ways are questions of taste and class still bound up with regional identification? Or, how do “lowbrow,” popular representations transmit and recreate images of the South and southern history? Ranging from the rise in popularity of southern-themed reality shows and tourist attractions, to mainstream media’s attempts to address topics such as slavery and civil rights, often the specters of class, race, and region still linger in contemporary notions of what registers as tacky, particularly in the way it refers to things that are cheap, vulgar, common, and unsophisticated. To include a broad range of perspectives, we plan a roundtable with 4-5 scholars offering 7-10 minute presentations.


By March 15, 2017 please submit 250-word abstracts along with A/V requirements and a short, 100-word bio to Katie Burnett, Fisk University (kburnett@fisk.edu) and Monica Miller, Georgia Tech (monica.miller@lmc.gatech.edu). All panel participants must be MLA members before April 1, 2017.


This panel is sponsored by the Allied Organization for the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.