ACLA 2015- Biologism and Identity Seminar CFP

full name / name of organization: 
Jenny Heijun Wills/University of Winnipeg; David Palumbo-Liu/Stanford University
contact email: 

The 2015 American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting shall be held in Seattle, Washington, March 26-29, 2015. We invite participants who are interested in a proposed seminar related to biologism, (genomic) identity, and (anti-)essentialism.


For years, theorizing identity has held to one basic belief: identities are not inherent, they are constructed. Recent scientific and technological innovations, along with a general fatigue in constantly rehearsing the "identities are constructed" mantra, compel us to return to that basic belief. More and more we find people searching for biological kinship and ancestry from around the world, embarking on "roots trips" to their (or their ancestors') countries of origin, and "culture camps" that offer young people (such as transracial adoptees) the opportunity to "connect with their lost cultural origins."

There is an anti-constructivist, personal nostalgia sweeping the country (a nostalgia for something one has yet to experience—one's bare roots) as well as a fascination with the global applications of genetic analysis (for instance, with the Human Genome Project), that are represented in a variety of genres, media, and perspectives. What we are witnessing here is a return to thinking about essence, identity, and more specifically, the biological aspects of our far pasts as an important and missing index.

Our seminar will move beyond the sentimental, however, to see the theoretical and political consequences of such an inversion of the essentialist-constructivist dyad. We invite papers that explore such consequences for textual and cultural representations of globality, migration, genocide, Indigeneity, settler colonialism, postcolonialism, gender and sexuality, trans* subjectivities, transnational and transracial adoption, kinship, race, and ethnicity from interdisciplinary perspectives.

Proposals (working title and topic) by August 24, 2014.