Progress, Radicalism, and the U.S. South

deadline for submissions: 
June 14, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Emerging Scholars Organization
contact email: 

“Progress, Radicalism, and the U.S. South”

South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) 90

Birmingham, AL / Nov. 2-4

In recent years, the U.S. South has re-emerged as a hotbed of grassroots progressive politics, serving as the home to innovative and forceful anti-racist, anti-poverty, anti-homophobic/transphobic and environmental justice campaigns. National media attention that has followed such organizing has both challenged and reinforced notions of the U.S. South as a monolithic conservative political entity. Narratives of progressive politics in the South have brought with them re-evaluations of Southern history that have focused on historical continuity of progressive political goals. For example, a recent article in The Atlantic revisited the early days of Reconstruction to explore “When the South was the Most Progressive Region in America,” and offered a description of the antebellum South that confirms national suspicions about the South in the 21st century: “The antebellum South had long been a conservative bastion, characterized by its dogged commitment to states’ rights, low taxes, strict construction of the Constitution, and especially the maintenance of traditional gender roles and white supremacy.” By correcting these enduring phenomena, the demands of so-called “Radical Reconstruction” finds a home in a lineage of contemporary progressive politics. 

Yet, as Saralee Stafford and Neal Shirley demonstrate in Dixie Be Damned (2015), the South has always been home to radical anti-state and anti-racist politics that have aggressively taken on institutional and extra-political forms of violence. This left-radicalism challenges not only the hegemony of racist patriarchy, but also the assumed value of “progressive” institutional politics. Thinking radicalism in the South also sheds light on the concepts of compromise and political moderation, which have long been points of contention in anti-racist organizing and activism. This panel seeks to address how the region is defined as a place of battling conservative and progressive politics, and looks for submissions that explore the many ways this dichotomy is deployed in the loosely defined South. We are particularly interested in the relationship between conservative and progressive politics, and radical movements on both the right and the left that reify or challenge our conception of a conservative-moderate-progressive schema. We welcome a wide range of topics and encourage work that touches on the relationship between radical demands and narratives of political progress in the South. Additionally, we welcome examinations of a range of print and non-print media, from conventional literary forms to multimedia, performance art and political texts.

Possible topics include:

  • How are progressivism and conservatism represented in literary and artistic works from and of the U.S. South?
  • What is the role of the “moderate” and the “radical” in fictional and political narratives?
  • How have southern organizations and leaders influenced radical politics in the broader U.S. and abroad? 
  • How are progressive coalitions built and sustained? What sacrifices must be made for progressive political gains? Who makes those sacrifices?
  • How does violence shape political demands and literary representation? 
  • How does media cover various radical organizations and ideas?
  • What radical demands can be carried across issues and historical periods?
  • How have calls for representation, justice, and redistribution changed since the nineteenth century?
  • How do we teach radical texts? Conservative texts? Progressive texts?

We welcome papers on other topics related to these questions as well. Please submit by June 14th, a 250-word abstract, brief bio, and A/V requests to Garrett Bridger Gilmore ( and Kelly Vines (