Rethinking “Alternative Worlds”: Emerging in the Here and Now of Emergency

deadline for submissions: 
January 25, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
American Studies Association 2018 (Nov 8-11 in Atlanta)
contact email: 

Our panel seeks to make a slight pivot on the opening provocation of this year’s conference theme, “States of Emergence,” that “our sense of crisis must be thought alongside our constant commitment to challenging the calamities that beset us and to producing alternative—indeed better—worlds.” Rather than thinking of our sense of crisis and our commitment to challenging calamities as two things we might put alongside each other, what happens if our commitment to challenging calamities emerges precisely within, even as, our sense of crisis?


Two recent books serve as models for this kind of thinking: Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene. Sharpe and Haraway differ in theoretical frameworks, historical archives, and even disciplinary fields, but both texts insist on thinking within – rather than alongside, around, or “through” to some kind of destination that might be outside – the enormity of a problem that exceeds the possibility of redress. Both Sharpe and Haraway therefore reorient thinking about “disaster” – be it slavery and its aftermath or climate disaster in the Anthropocene. They move us from the model of responding to an event in order to arrive someplace else – a then and there – to a model of being/staying in an unceasing event, here and now. Sharpe asks, “There is a before and an after to the earthquake: but there is no before the ongoing event of the disaster. How, after all, to split time?” And Haraway suggests, “Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present…”


In the spirit of these two models for thought that unthinks the imperative to move beyond the time of crisis, we seek panelists from across diverse fields who are engaged in projects that examine what tools, insights, models, or politics emerge from squarely within the sites of emergencies. How might taking supposedly negative affective positions such as pessimism, fear, or mourning reorient our thinking about resistance, emergence, and the very notion of “alternative worlds” themselves? If we start from the position that there might not be an “outside” to a disaster, or crisis, or emergency, what sorts of thinking, activism, and being emerge? What happens if the end of the world “as we know it” is from the beginning not foreclosed as a viable possibility for ethics, politics, or life, however those might be (re)defined?    


Examples of topics that panelists might address include:

-          Slavery (in a variety of forms, including not only the circum-Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath but also contemporary sex trafficking and child slavery)

-          The crises of the Anthropocene (and its intersectional valances with poverty, race, gender, ability, and species)

-          Refugee migrations

-          Capitalism and/or neoliberalism as crisis

-          The U.S. as a carceral police state

-          Abolitionism

-          Queer temporalities

-          Democracy as a site of crisis

-      Settler colonialism as ongoing crisis

-          Fiction (literature, film), art, or performance as sites for rethinking alternative worlds


Please send questions, inquiries, or submissions (a 300-400 word abstract AND a short bio) to both Jesse Goldberg ( and Kristen Angierski ( by January 25th.