Global Decadence, Race, and the Futures of Decadence Studies

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Cherrie Kwok
contact email: 

Dates: March 31 to April 1 2023

Location: Online

Plenary Speakers: Shola Von Reinhold and Robert Stilling (FSU)

Roundtable: Adam Alston (Goldsmiths), Peter Bailey (University of the Bahamas), Jane Desmarais (Goldsmiths), Kristin Mahoney (Michigan State), Michèle Mendelssohn (Oxford).

Chair: Cherrie Kwok (University of Virginia)

Vice Chairs: Joe McLaughlin (University of Toronto) and Amy Sailer (University of Utah)


This two-day conference aims to connect those who are working on any aspect of Decadence so that they can share their research or projects with the field, learn from one another, and discuss the possible futures that the field might take within—and outside of—academia. This deliberately expansive conference invites short position papers and project presentations related to any and all aspects of Decadence from scholars and artists across the globe. 

In the process, however, this conference extends a special invitation to papers that focus on the relationship between Decadence and race. Scholarly texts such as Robin Mitchell’s Vénus Noire: Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-century France (2020) and Robert Stilling’s Beginning at the end: Decadence, Modernism, and Postcolonial Poetry (2018), and contemporary novels such as Shola von Reinhold’s award-winning LOTE (2020), suggest that artists and writers of color within and outside of Euro-America were just as much involved in the development of Decadent art and culture as their white counterparts. How, then, does their incontrovertible presence within and beyond the nineteenth century revise our understanding of what Decadence is as an aesthetic movement, a political position, and/or as an historical period? How might reinventions, transformations, or versions of Decadence from Black studies, African studies, Asian and Asian American studies, Caribbean studies, Latinx and Latina/o studies, and Indigenous studies dislodge European Decadence as the universal yardstick for measuring and understanding what Decadence is and why it matters?

Possible paper or project topics might include:

•     Anti-imperial, postcolonial, or “undisciplined” forms of Decadence. Given the long-standing association between European Decadence, imperialism, and Orientalism, how do artists and writers of color use, reinvent, or “undiscipline” Decadent aesthetic styles or tropes like decay, degeneration, and more? How do they understand or reconstruct their own relationship to Empire or postcolonial politics when they use Decadent styles in their work? What do they gain, what do they risk, and why do their contributions matter?

•     Global, World, Planetary, or Local Decadence. Decadence is a deeply nuanced concept, but so is the term “global” and affiliated concepts like “world,”“planet,”and “local.”What does the term “global” constitute in the phrase Global Decadence? How do conceptions of the globe and globality in Decadent art and literature shift depending on the geographical location of the art object or the racial, ethnic, and cultural background of the artist and/or writer? And how might other terms like World Decadence, Planetary Decadence, Local Decadence, and more, reconceptualize our understanding of Decadence more broadly? 

•     Circulation, reception, and translation of Decadent art and texts. How are racial identities in Decadent texts translated, understood, undone, or remade as they travel across different languages, cultures, and nations? How do the racial identities of a global or local readership influence how they read a Decadent text or encounter Decadent art?

•     Aestheticism, beauty, excess, sensuality. European decadents and aesthetes have already pontificated at length about beauty, but how have artists and writers of color constructed other understandings of the beautiful? How have they reclaimed or transformed the power of artificiality, eroticism, excess, sensuality, pleasure?

•     Decadent queerness and sexual dissonance. What happens when queerness and queer sexualities interact with racial identities in Decadent art, literature, and politics? How do the two inflect, reinforce, undo, or play with one another, and what can we learn from these experimentations?

•     Decadence in everyday art, digital platforms, periodicals, theatre, and popular literature. What types of Decadence thrive outside of the auspices of the ivory tower or the mansions of wealthy elites, and how do they engage with topics like race and racial identity? What does the departure from the genres and forms that constitute high-brow Decadence make possible?

•     Decadence before, during, and after the 19C. How can we work within and against the whitewashed archives of the nineteenth century as we develop research and projects about Decadence? How might accounting for Decadent artists, writers, or communities of color dislodge the late nineteenth century as the exclusive origin or center of Decadent art and literature? What does Decadence look like across time? 

•     Decadent pedagogies. How might the pedagogical frames used to teach Decadence shift depending on the socioeconomic and racial backgrounds that comprise different classrooms around the world? How can we teach topics about Decadence in ways that satisfy the increasingly neoliberal demands of the university classroom, without losing what makes Decadence, well, Decadence: messy, excessive, “perverse,” fragmentary, self-indulgent, irreverent? 

•     Anything else related to Decadence from all fields in the humanities and the social sciences, like Black Studies, Caribbean studies, Latinx and Latina/o Studies, Asian and Asian American Studies, Indigenous studies, Digital Humanities, History, Economics, Science, Philosophy, Politics, Fashion, Media Studies.

To read the full CFP, register for the conference, or submit a paper, please visit