Cities Afloat

full name / name of organization: 
Laura Whitebell and Lisa Vandenbossche/NeMLA


46th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 30-May 3, 2015
Toronto, Ontario
Hosted by Ryerson University

Parallel movements in history, geography and cultural studies have shown that oceanic spaces are not static historical or geographical units, but 'the story of a world in motion.' Literary scholars, however, have long used the nation-state as a way of organizing the discipline and the resulting scholarly conferences into distinct fields. Even now English finds itself bound to terrestrial entities and temporal demarcations. Our proposed panel asks that we break out of these traditional paradigms by bringing the methodology of oceanic studies to bear on the proposed concept of 'urban spaces/the city'. As such, this panel will focus on the ship as a floating city. In response to Hester Blum's call that we need 'a reorientation of critical perception' in oceanic studies that is 'attentive to the material conditions and praxis of the maritime world,' we would like to consider the ship as a space that houses bodies and goods as they circulate throughout the maritime world. As complex structures that necessitate their own kinds of communities and rules, boats are a place where social mobility and social mixing can happen in a way that is not possible on shore, and where the legal systems at work in cities must give way to international law and authoritative regulation from the captain.

What happens when cities and other concrete geographic spaces become uprooted and mobile? On sailing vessels and modern cruise liners alike, land-based social and political issues are transformed, and new hierarchical power systems can develop. We welcome proposals that consider how the boat functions as a type of floating city or community and possibilities this suggests for new ways of thinking about these spaces.

Please submit 250-word abstracts via the NeMLA website at
Deadline: September 30 2014

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