NeMLA 2022 Panel: Careless Positivity?

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Daniel Dufournaud and Sydney Tran (York University)

Panel Description: While the foundations of positive psychology can be traced back deeply into the twentieth century (Maslow; Fromm; Ryff; Diener), the trend really took off in 1998 with Martin Seligman’s presidential address to the APA. Since then, a wealth of research has explored the salutary effects of positivity, with emphasis on the independent skills one can cultivate to flourish (Duckworth; Seligman; Compton & Hoffman). Over decades of use, this thinking has seeped into our daily lives, with common phrases telling us to “look on the bright side,” “put a smile on,” and “live, laugh, love.”

As precarious forms of work become the norm, as climate crises become a matter of course, and as college campuses witness mounting rates of depression and anxiety, positivity has become a strategy for dealing with contingencies. But what is positivity? Is it a performance, an emotional state, an oppressive structure, a promise, a hope? When does it become toxic? Can positivity coexist with such feelings as despair and anger without blunting their intensity? How might the pressure to perform positivity directly or indirectly interfere with the way we care for ourselves and for others? And how does this pressure travel across lines of race, gender, class, ability, and age or across different geopolitical contexts?

In opposition to the individualistic tenets of positive psychology, this panel takes as its foundation an underbelly of “happiness research” that finds power and resistance in communities of illness, in a world that is dying to be well (Ahmed; Halberstam; Love). We will interrogate the generalized pressure to perform positivity in our current moment. We invite papers that investigate discourses of resilience and wellbeing and welcome interventions grounded in critical theory and/or in aesthetic representations of positivity.

Additional information: In the interest of fostering a rich discussion, we will ask participants to share their papers one week in advance of the presentation date so that we can curate a short “response” paper that highlights common themes, opposing arguments, and areas for further investigation.

In addition to reaching us at the above email address, please apply through the NeMLA submission portal as well.

best wishes,

Dan and Sydney