CFP for 2021 Stanford-Berkeley English Graduate Conference: Social/Distance

deadline for submissions: 
March 26, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
The Stanford Berkeley Graduate Conference Committee


2021 Stanford-Berkeley English Graduate Conference 

Call for Papers

Saturday, May 1, 2021


The social, economic, and racial wounds magnified during the course of 2020 predate the rise of right-wing populism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global racial policing. 2020 raised pressing questions concerning collective trust in democractic political systems, given their apparent inadequacy in addressing social fissures, and 2021 has already demonstrated that these problems will persist. Those of us in the United States, for example, are living  in the aftermath of the white supremacist insurrection of January 6th. While many would agree that 2020 proved a uniquely painful year, how best to interpret it is much harder to decide. The need for reflection is urgent.


This year, the Stanford-Berkeley English Graduate Conference invites graduate students to dwell in the places from which we are so keen to escape: the chilling social distances that have opened up between us. No doubt these social distances—distance from social wellness, society as seen from a distance, society surviving by distance—frustrate received protocols of interpretation. It is therefore more necessary than ever that, in attending to our moment of crisis and to similar moments before it, we reconsider our literary and critical practices. How might reading help us rethink social distances, divisions, and practices across various periods and geographies? Moreover, might our moment of crisis constitute a new opportunity to reconceptualize the social itself? 


The conference is open to any student currently enrolled in a graduate program in English or a related discipline. Abstracts concerning all genres, time periods, regions, and critical methods are welcome, and we invite unconventional and surprising approaches to our theme. For consideration, please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biographical description no later than March 26, 2021. Abstracts, as well as questions, should be sent to the conference organizers at Please send your abstract as an email attachment in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format. The file containing the abstract should not include any identifying information. The biographical note should be in the body of the email, and it should include your name and institutional affiliation.


Below are some ideas and questions to consider (though your proposals need not be limited to the parameters of this list):


  1. Literary Criticism; State of the Discipline

  • How might the category of social distancing change the way we practice close / distant or individual / collective reading? What reading practices have emerged or become prevalent in the pandemic, and how do they relate to past practices within the discipline?

  • How has the English department responded to our contemporary crises? In what ways does literary criticism seem inadequate to conceptualizing and addressing this moment? Alternatively, what tools does literary criticism offer for addressing it? 

  • Death and Mourning

    • What affects are relevant for theorizing the pandemic? How does literary criticism attempt to process the unmournability of our contemporary moment? How can we find a language or an aesthetics for mourning on a grand scale? How has the pandemic affected our conceptions of death and its rituals? 

  • Literature and Social Movements; Race

    • How can we conceptualize COVID and the Black Lives Matter protests alongside each other? Further, could comparisons between the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests and past social crises be instructive for the practice of comparison itself? 

    • What artistic practices have emerged during the COVID pandemic? How do they compare to previous practices formally, generically, aesthetically, and affectively? How does social distancing elucidate the relation between social formations and literary form?

  • Belonging; Social Cohesion

    • How might literature and reading, in the context of social distancing, help us reconceptualize notions of queer belonging, being-with, collective action, publicity, sociality, mutual aid, and the undercommons?  

    • How have liberal democratic notions of community (e.g., the demos, the body politic, the grassroots) impeded or facilitated anticapitalist organizing and theorizing?

  • Digital Humanities

    • Digital pedagogies and research strategies during remote learning—from Zoom to HathiTrust—have undeniably affected classrooms and research. What are the limits and the possibilities of these necessary changes to our work? 

  • Past and Future Archives

    • How do the calls to take down, leave up, or contextualize public monuments refract through the literary (or visual) archive? 

    • Looking forward, what can we predict about the inevitable wave of COVID kitsch in 5-10 years? How have past moments of social upheaval been honored, co-opted, or memorialized by “low” art? How about “high” art? 

  • Risk and Precarity; Intersectionality; Literary Sociology

    • How might literature from other time periods aid us in theorizing the experiences of economic precarity and health risks during the pandemic, especially along differentials of race, gender, geography, class, and occupation? What resources does literature offer for thinking about risk and precarity which other texts do not, and how might literary study supplement sociological or econometric accounts of risk and precarity? 

  • Colonialism; (Neo)coloniality

    • How might critical studies of (neo)coloniality make our contemporary moment legible? How might frameworks such as the “coloniality of power” help us to conceptualize differential experiences of the pandemic and/or state violence?

    • How do legacies of colonialism inform contemporary structures of affective attachment? How do theories of (neo)coloniality shape our understanding of distance and suffering?

  • Corporatization and Representation

    • How do the aesthetics of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) operate in the context of contemporary racial capitalism? Are all attempts at diversity and inclusion successful? What are the aesthetic, formal, and historical conditions for “success”?

  • Animal Studies; the More-than-Human

    • In what ways have the COVID pandemic and social distancing practices unsettled the human / animal boundary? What of the assertion that “2020 has been the best year for dogs?” Or people celebrating a “return” of dogs to the White House?

  • We also welcome unexpected or creative interpretations of our theme!