Biographic Mediation: The Uses of Disclosure in Bureaucracy and Politics--Deadline Extended

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Center for Biographical Research
contact email: 


Guest Editor: Ebony Coletu, Pennsylvania State University


 This special issue of Biography explores biographic mediation as a tool to manage political and administrative claims. Biographic mediation refers to any institutional demand for personal disclosure to make decisions about who gets what and why, alongside public critiques and calls to action that feature personal narratives.

The issue engages the dialectic between bureaucracy and politics, where institutional paperwork and public perception of applicants interact. Whether college essays or job applications, paperwork narrows the scope of eligibility and competition for aid, employment, and inclusion in ways that depend on biographic evaluation. When and how do we engage this genre as a high-stakes form of life writing that can alter the life course? What modes of public storytelling challenge or make visible administrative practices, and what kinds of stories illuminate structural flaws or aims?

While personal storytelling in public advocacy has long been a strategy for social movements, biographic mediation emphasizes the interactive dynamics between public disclosure and administrative decision-making. This issue addresses multi-level demands for biographic mediation in contests over public policy, employment, and educational access to explore how disclosure has the capacity to reshape identity or to refocus engagement with policy consequences. Contributors may consider how personal disclosure shapes public debates, when self-narrative is restructured according to political opportunity, and how telling the stories of others becomes a standard mode of political argument. For example, how do social movements employ personal narrative to articulate the impact of policy change—and what considerations alter the mode of telling? How does the circulation of life stories, lived difficulties, and even death define a political strategy, and what are the limits and effects of this method?

Contributors may also consider how bureaucratic protocols use biographic details to distribute and police the boundaries of aid, employment, admission, and citizenship. Using contemporary or historical examples, the collection of essays in this issue will shed light on functional uses of biography—from college admission to policy reform and policing.

Topics might include but are not restricted to the following:

§  Immigrant rights advocacy and paperwork, especially organizing around undocumented, refugee, and temporary protected status

§  Ban the Box initiatives and subsequent racial profiling of applicants

§  Child sexual abuse survivor narratives, sexual assault reporting protocols, and policy reform

§  Reparations appeals and scholarships for descendants of slaves owned by universities

§  Doxxing in response to political critiques

§  Stories of premature death relative to gun policy and policing

§  Impact litigation and the legal focus of life stories

§  Human rights advocacy and paperwork tragedies

§  Repatriation agreements and application processes

§  Predatory lending and the depoliticization of indebted communities

§  Movement organizing and training in public storytelling

Selected abstracts will articulate a conceptual contribution that increases awareness of emerging patterns and tactics of governance, reform, and resistance. Theoretical orientation may vary, from critical race/critical ethnic/critical media studies to social movement history, law & society, new approaches to biopolitics/neoliberalism, and alternative models of justice. Preference will be given to work that develops interdisciplinary insights about the functional uses of life writing in bureaucracy and politics. Multi-authored work, interviews, and collaborative projects are welcome.

Please submit 350–400 word abstracts to Ebony Coletu by December 15 ( Notifications will be sent on January 15. Articles of up to 10,000 words will be due in June 2018. Biography will arrange for contributors to present papers in workshop format at the University of Hawaiʻi in Honolulu, in August 2018.