SEMINAR PROPOSAL: Why work? Technology, magic, and the cultural value of labor

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association 2020 Annual Meeting
contact email: 


CFP for seminar proposal to ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) 2020 annual meeting in Chicago (March 19-22, 2020).

Seminar Title: Why work? Technology, magic, and the cultural value of labor

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”—so says Arthur C. Clarke’s third law. In fantasied literary worlds, technology and magic function in similar ways, fundamentally structuring the physical reality in which a society functions—particularly in relationship to work. Supersonic aircraft or enchanted carpets, washing machines or wands, both technology and magic ostensibly offer alternatives to physical exertion. Yet in these imagined worlds, humans and non-human animals still tend to perform a lot of labor, and such labor tends to be figured as necessary or even good. At the same time, these texts may hide much of the labor that sustains its hierarchies and institutions. This seminar will explore the cultural value of labor by looking at a broad range of literature that incorporates a significant amount of imagined technology and/or magic.  Papers are invited that explore issues at the intersection of technology, magic, and work, such as:


  • How do technology and magic function differently in the literary imagination?


  • Is technology more conducive to the construction of a just society than magic, or vice versa?


  • What sort of labor remains? If physical, why isn’t the technology and/or magic obviating this need or preference; if mental or emotional, what happens to bodies?


  • Who still performs labor and what is the justification? Consider this in relation to race, gender, class, nationality, species/animals/animality, and/or dis/ability. Feel free to include magical and non-organic bodies/persons.


  • How are such types of labor valued in this imagined society?


  • What is considered ennobling labor? What is considered humiliating labor/what types of labor are we supposed to be "saved" from? What types of labor are concealed or erased by the text?


  • What do these distinctions tell us about our cultural attitudes towards work?


Please send abstracts directly to ACLA. The submission period is between 8/31/19–9/23/19, at the following link:


For more information about ACLA:


ACLA’s annual meeting is vibrant and its seminar style unique. At least 8 papers need to be submitted to comprise a seminar. I have presented at ACLA twice, once in a seminar I organized. Depending on the number of papers accepted to a seminar, the group meets 2-4 days.


Please contact me with any questions:

Keridiana Chez

Associate Professor of English

Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York


Keridiana Chez is Associate Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. She publishes primarily in Animal Studies, such as Victorian Dogs, Victorian Men: Affect and Animals in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture (Ohio State University Press, 2017), “Man’s Best and Worst Friends: The Politics of Pet Preference at the Turn of the Century” in Dominik Ohrem’s American Beasts: Perspectives on Animals, Animality, and U.S. Culture, 1776–1920 (Neofelis, 2017), and “Creative Carnivores and Cannibals: Animal Feed and the Regulation of Grief” in Margo DeMello’s Mourning Animals (Michigan State University Press, 2016).