ACLA 2023 seminar: Imperial Mobilities: 20 and 21st-Century “Auto-fictions”

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Columbia University
contact email: 

Theorists like Henri Lefebvre (1968), Guy Debord (1981), and John Urry (2004) have long drawn attention to the shifting social and cultural significance of the automobile. In the US, Paul Gilroy argues,“Cars emerged as a potent presence in the newly imperial nation’s potent fantasies of metropolitan order, commerce, and reform” (Gilroy 2010, 33). Looking beyond the imperial core, Lindsey Green-Simms (2017) has recently explored how the automobile’s representation of global modernity takes on a different cultural valence in places like West Africa; in a postcolonial context, “automobility” is not simply a tool or byproduct of imperialism and the capitalist world order, but rather can be a generative source of aesthetic fantasy and political autonomy. Indeed, from the short fiction of Rudyard Kipling at the turn of the 20th-century to Asian/American novels nearly a century later, the automobile’s presence in fiction indexes a range of imperial encounters and orientations to empire.

Following work by Green-Simms and others, this seminar explores the global automobile industry’s entanglements with (neo)imperialism and its attendant literary and cinematic fictions. The ways in which automobile-related industries and corporate enterprises undergird processes of imperial expansion and narrative production is of particular interest. That the Japanese corporate antagonist in Hollywood blockbuster Die Hard (1988) was originally imagined as an oil company in Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) is a telling example of how fiction registers the anxieties surrounding the foreign resources and technologies that enable automobility. How do the shifting contexts and genres of 20th and 21st century auto-fictions track with the movement of empire on a global scale?

This seminar posits that attention to the category of auto-fiction at the level of the world-system might illuminate otherwise occluded connections between postcolonial studies, transpacific studies, ecocriticism, and other related fields of inquiry. Might a comparative literary history of auto-fictional texts demonstrate how, as Giovanni Arrighi (1994) suggests, the locus of empire has shifted from the UK to the US to emergent hegemonic formations in Asia? How does auto-fiction represent the way in which automobility may enhance or hinder autonomy depending on one’s proximity to the nexus of power?


Paper topics may address the following:

  • Imperialism and the development of automotive technologies

  • How global auto-fiction illuminates what Laura Doyle (2020) would call “inter-imperial” connections between, for example, British empire and US empire

  • Technologies of transportation and narrative form

  • Texts produced by relevant corporations and the generic conventions of auto-fiction

  • The false freedoms of road transport

  • Auto-fiction and diasporic narratives

  • Racial formation (Omi & Winant 1986) and the global automobile industry


  •  Abstracts should be in English, and are to be submitted online to the following address (details located on the American Comparative Literature Association website):