ACLA 2020: Comparative Socialisms and Literary Imagination Before the Age of Decolonization (Chicago, March 19-22)

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association
contact email: 


Inviting paper abstracts for a proposed session for the upcoming American Comparative Literature Association conference, to be held in Chicago, March 19-22, 2020. Submit abstracts by 9 a.m. EST on September 23, 2019, via the ACLA website:


Comparative Socialisms and Literary Imagination Before the Age of Decolonization

“The analysis is the science and the demonstration the art which is history. The violent conflicts of our age enable our practised vision to see into the very bones of previous revolutions more easily than heretofore.”

—C.L.R. James, preface to The Black Jacobins (1938)

In his 2004 study of The Black Jacobins, David Scott argues that the questions animating C.L.R. James’s history of the Haitian revolution were specific to the “revolutionary utopian spaces of nationalism and socialism” that anticolonial writers imagined during the interwar years. As such, Scott critiques those who read James’s book “as might tell them how to conduct oppositional politics today,” in a postcolonial present in which “nation and socialism do not name visionary horizons of new beginnings any of us can look toward as though they were fresh thresholds of aspiration and achievement to be fought for and progressively arrived at.” But does Scott’s assessment of “politics today” hold true for 2020? Resurgent nationalisms and new socialist aspirations are doggedly fought for across the globe. Can the imaginaries of (anti)colonial and/or (inter)nationalist socialisms that predate decolonization and neoliberalization—that is, from moments when the current world order was not yet a foregone conclusion—help us to think through the exigencies of the present in new ways? 

Looking to socialist writing from the late nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century, this seminar takes a cue from James’s preface to The Black Jacobins: it asks how we might use our own “practised vision to see into the very bones of previous revolutions," including those we might be tempted to write off as failed or superseded. It further asks what this history can do for us today, with particular focus on how writers and navigate the relationship between what James calls the "science" and the "art"—the analytical and the imaginative, the political and the literary. 

This session invites papers that approach these questions via literary-critical examination of writers in conversation with Marxism, Fabianism, trade unionism, Bolshevism, black (inter)nationalism, (anti)colonial socialism, (anti)utopianism, négritude, and beyond. How do works of literature that emerge from or respond to such movements participate in political theorizing? What narrative investments can we locate in less self-evidently “literary” texts associated with early socialist politics, such as speeches, pamphlets, and manifestoes? How do authors with different relationships to the imperialisms of their time negotiate competing socialist claims on local and global scales, in form as well as content? How do such thinkers’ concerns about global economic systems intersect (or not) with concerns about race, gender, and sexuality? And what purposes might their contributions serve as we contemplate our own “visionary horizons,” given how global inequalities have both transformed and persisted since their time?

Contact Kate Perillo with questions ( Submit 300-word abstracts through the ACLA portal by 9 a.m. EST on September 23: