The Personal is Academic: Affect and Subjectivity in Research and Pedagogy (ACLA 2020)

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

A recent trend has seen many writers create literary narratives that confront twentieth-century events while inscribing into that past the authors’ contemporary selves (e.g.: Binet 2009; Jablonka 2012; Foenkinos 2014). These biographical meta-narratives seem dictated by the impossibility to construct one’s own subjectivity without facing the very notions of civilization and humanity that our violent pasts have reconfigured.

As literature and cultural studies researchers, we find ourselves confined to the strictures of academic disciplines and scientific analysis. The traps of detachment and scholarly rigor too often mean putting aside subjectivity and personal feelings/sensations. “I” is the enemy of essay writing, despite the hermeneutic tradition stressing the personal involvement of researchers.

Academic “scientificity,” with its necessary detachment, leaves little room for subjectivity, affectivity, or self-reflection. We can also find this distance in teaching. Children and young adults are too often confronted with literary texts they see as completely alien to their realities. In secondary and higher education, literature is sometimes taught without involvement, as artifacts to be merely dissected. In addition, the ubiquity of visual stimuli and simple texts outside the classroom can create an even wider gap and a stubborn resistance to complex literary narratives that employ abstract thought. Such approaches may emphasize “the sonority of words, not their transforming power” (Freire 2005:71). Yet, literature is fundamental in fostering what Hanna Meretoja calls our ‘sense of the possible’ (2018), and as bell hooks argues, ‘[t]he classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy’ (1994: 12).

Social sciences scholars have shifted towards approaches where the researcher’s “I” plays a pivotal role. For instance, historian Ivan Jablonka calls for a method of history writing that ‘run[s] counter to the “objective mode” […, which]denies the subjectivity of the narrator by concealing it within the absence of an omnipresence’ (2018: 237). Calling for ‘archival sensibility’ (2017), narrative scholar Maria Tamboukou argues that researcher and archive are not separate, pre-existing entities but are ‘constituted through entangled intra-actions’ and ‘multifarious entanglements’ (2014: 622).

In this seminar, we hope to engage in a twofold discussion: (1) on the researcher’s personal involvement in the research material, and therefore on the methodology of writing literary research that accounts for such a heart-felt subjective/affective presence; (2) on teaching practices and methodologies that are rooted in the personal and affective encounter with literature and cultural artifacts.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

    • Affective pedagogies in secondary and higher education
    • Archival sensibility
    • Auto-ethnographic methods of research
    • Sense-itive research methods
    • Embodied hermeneutics

To apply, please use the ACLA portal:

Please contact organizers Marta Cenedese ( and Eric Doise ( with any questions.