Reclaiming the Swamp (Thing): Popular Culture and the Public Academy

deadline for submissions: 
August 25, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Program in Comparative Literature, UT Austin

Reclaiming the Swamp (Thing): Popular Culture and the Public Academy


The 14th Annual

Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature

In Association with the “Barbara Harlow, The Sequel” Conference


27th-28th October 2017

The University of Texas at Austin


Keynote Talk:

“Latino/U.K.: Postpunk’s Transatlantic Touches”


Richard T. Rodriguez

Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies and English

University of California, Riverside


When the DC comic Swamp Thing debuted in 1971, the border between human and vegetal was crossed.  This conference hopes to bridge the gap between the comic and the novel, the art film and the vine, Occupy and Gramsci, the poetry slam and the classical stage, that is to say, between the popular and the academic, so as to allow the academy to occupy a public space.  The Graduate Association of Comparative Literature Students presents the 2017 Graduate Student Conference, “Reclaiming the Swamp (Thing): Popular Culture and the Public Academy.” Focusing on the role of Popular Culture in the Humanities today, and remembering the contributions of Dr. Barbara Harlow to education and to the world as a public intellectual, this conference considers how academic scholarship has evolved in its relationship to popular forms of human expression, in whatever medium in a world that has always been filled with cultural objects and discourses.  It also imagines what future directions in such work might take.


Often dismissed as an insignificant, transient form, popular culture plays a persistent and powerful role with political and social consequences. In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as the international word of the year, insisting that the affective had supplanted the analytical and that popular culture and media had erupted into the political sphere. Reality-TV, comedy skits, social media posts, and memes became the vehicle for public discourse in a historical moment that demands an understanding of how and why popular culture and media operate so effectively across borders and across spheres.


Long-standing divides between “high” and “low” culture, which have always been both accepted and suspect, have been revealed as inadequate to accounting for either past or present circulations of culture, let alone imaging future potentials.  From the inception of humanistic studies, the movement from one cultural sphere to another has been fluid, allowing works to be promoted, however popular their origin, to the advantage of such popular and commercial artists as William Shakespeare or François Rabelais. The study of popular culture does more than expand the canon, however, it also shifts our intellectual paradigms to consider what is beyond the academy and to expand and delimit its narrow conceptions of what it means to be a scholar and of what the humanities can do. Our conference invites the examination of such forms of popular cultural inquiry and expression, both within academia and beyond.  Papers on instances in earlier periods of the popular-academic tension are warmly invited.  Possible paper topics might include:


  • The distinction between “High” and “Low” culture
  • Generational differences within and between academia and society
  • Film and Media studies and/or their impact on humanities and changing textualities
  • Studies of social media as methods of global networking
  • Issues of surveillance and privacy in contemporary America
  • Canonization of “Low” culture
  • Re-thinking humanities and their relationship to professionalization and careers
  • The framing of globalization as threat/destiny
  • Scholarship, activism, and the role of the public intellectual
  • Development and Ecocriticism
  • New approaches to postcoloniality and notions of the “other”
  • Borders, crossing borders, borderlands
  • Deterritorialization, diaspora and exile
  • Visual and audio cultures
  • Fan studies
  • Kitsch and nostalgia
  • Mass media and virtuality
  • Trans- and Re- mediation


The deadline for abstracts is 25 August 2017. Abstracts of a maximum 250
words should be submitted via email as a Word document to We also welcome panel proposals of 3-4 speakers. For additional information about the conference, please contact the organizers Xinyao Xiao, Tia Butler, and Monica Mohseni at or visit