Critical Theory in the Age of the Alt-Right: Reaffirming the Humanities

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
NeMLA, March 21-24 in Washington, DC
contact email: 

Critical Theory in the Age of the Alt Right: Reaffirming the Humanities

This panel seeks first to use unexplored methods for understanding the rise of the alt-right through the lens of critical theory. While mainstream culture has expressed shock at the seemingly expeditious rise of the alt-right movement and the election of Donald Trump, a rich tradition of critical theory may not only explain this rise, but may also chart an alternative genealogy of the movement, revealing the persistence of right-wing populism through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Though the humanities have seen themselves undervalued and under attack in recent years, the historical and cultural contextualization of the current moment via theory is a means of reaffirming the value of the humanities in teaching us the ever-important and multifaceted skill of critical literacy.

Our underlying focus is on re-establishing the value of the humanities, particularly the study of literature, critical and specifically literary theory, and philosophy, through such questions and explanations. Part of this argument lies in exploring the ways in which the study of theory combats fake news and disinformation and the ways in which it promotes critical thinking and analysis. In the wake of our current historical present, anti-intellectualism has become the modus operandi for our predominant governing bodies. This panel seeks to examine, challenge, and develop thoughtful alternatives to these dangerously limiting ideologies, arguing for the importance, and necessity, of deliberate and concentrated theoretical analysis as a form of individual and collective agency.

Questions to explore: How can specific literary theories be used to chart alternative understandings or conceptualizations of the alt-right and its rise? How can such theories best contextualize this rise? Can the use of theory to make sense of such a rise help to reaffirm the value of the humanities in an era of its dismissal and degradation?

What are the ideological and material underpinnings of the alt-right and how can theory explain/make sense of them?

What can postcolonial theory, feminism, and ecocriticism in particular illuminate for us in this moment?

What can the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research teach us about this moment? How might their work be extended into other disciplines so as to rectify blind spots in research and understanding?

How can theory propagate critical analysis of the political and cultural mainstream and how and why it shifts?

Does the notion that literary theory borrows heavily both from cultural and social theory derail the claim that it can help us to make sense of the current moment?

What can theory demonstrate about the normalization of the alt-right movement? Can theory be used to chart a genealogy of alt-right discourse and to what end?