Gun Rights and the Black Panther Party: A Talk on February 21, 2014

UPDATE 2/15/2014: The talk has been rescheduled to Friday, February 21, 2014 at noon. It will still take place in Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge, Room 229.

In my Ph.D. program, each fifth-year student gives a formal, hour-long presentation of research from the dissertation. It’s a wonderful tradition and I’m excited to be giving my “diss talk” soon. You are invited. The talk will take place February 14 21, 2014 at noon in the Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge at the University of Virginia.

Here’s the abstract:

Defensible Selves: The Black Panther Party and the Right to Bear Arms

In the last half century, the Second Amendment has transformed from a “revolutionary” tool of leftist minority groups to a rallying cry for white supremacists and the far right. This paper examines the Second Amendment’s volatile racial politics by looking to some discredited or ignored narratives of arms bearing that appear in minority performance and discourse. Homing in on the emergence of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966, the paper analyzes the early Panthers’ theatrical armed protests, including “police patrols” aimed at protecting black neighborhoods from police brutality and an iconic open-carry demonstration at the California State Capitol. Broadcast images of organized, legally armed African Americans provoked public fear and outrage, leading to a drastic new gun control measure nicknamed the “Panther Bill.” This swift legislative response laid bare the extent to which the Constitution’s ideal arms bearer is popularly imagined as a white, male property owner defending colonized space—not a politically active African American with life and liberty to protect. The Panthers’ embodied political speech drew from and recast familiar narratives of self-defense, tyranny, revolution, peoplehood, and individual self-determination. By reconfiguring popular Second Amendment myths, they perhaps offer a way to reframe present-day gun debates. The right to bear arms, more than a question of domestic policy, is fundamentally tied to how we imagine the nation—and how we imagine the horizon of violence that keeps the nation whole.


Call for Applications: Law, Culture & Humanities Graduate Student Workshop 2014

In conjunction with its just-announced Annual Meeting in March 2014 at the University of Virginia, the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities will once again hold a Graduate Student Workshop. I attended last year’s workshop in London and highly recommend it. ASLCH is a wonderfully eclectic scholarly community—and peculiarly supportive of graduate students and interested in mentorship. Here’s the announcement:

The Annual Law Culture and Humanities conference is pleased to offer a graduate student workshop designed for graduate students who are undertaking research that cuts across law, cultural studies, literature, philosophy, legal studies, anthropology, political science, economics. The workshop is designed to provide mentoring, practical advice on publishing and applying for work, as well as have some fun. Applications to the workshop should include a statement of research, a current curriculum vitae, and a short statement of the paper that each student will be presenting at the conference. There is limited space for the workshop, and so we cannot admit all (although we will do our best!). Please forward your application to ckellogg[at]ualberta.ca by November 15.


CFP: Law, Culture & the Humanities Annual Meeting, March 10-11, 2014, Charlottesville, VA

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities has announced its 2014 Annual Meeting. I’m particularly excited about next year’s conference, as it will be held at my home university, the University of Virginia.

Here’s the call for proposals:

We are pleased to announce that the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities will be held at the University of Virginia School of Law, March 10-11, 2014. We invite your participation.  Please note, panel and paper proposals are due Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities is an organization of scholars engaged in interdisciplinary, humanistically-oriented legal scholarship. The Association brings together a wide range of people engaged in scholarship on legal history, legal theory and jurisprudence, law and cultural studies, law and literature, law and the performing arts, and legal hermeneutics. We want to encourage dialogue across and among these fields about issues of interpretation, identity, and values, about authority, obligation, and justice, and about law’s place in culture.

This year’s conference theme is as follows:

The Politics of Law and the Humanities: Crisis, Austerity, Instrumentalism

How will law and the humanities scholarship fare against the pressure of the science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia? Will it mime the general humanities and, as suggested by the defeatist pomp of many national “crisis reports”, merely retreat to its traditional position as the well-mannered guardian of liberal values? Will law and the humanities scholarship be subsumed under the science paradigm’s instrumental ethos by either taking on aims and objectives sanctioned by government policies or by domesticating its own political potential to address those very same policies? Or can we imagine more salutary alternatives to defeatism and instrumental subsumption?

The terrain is well known. The ongoing economic crisis has engendered a worldwide decline in funding for research in the humanities showing sharp decreases between 2009 and 2012 with funds almost cut in half each year. The global trend is also detectable at national levels, with growing gaps between public investment into STEM subjects and the humanities. But the changes do not merely concern the fiscal prioritization of diminishing resources. The social sciences, including law, are under constant political pressure as lawmakers question the value of curiosity-driven basic research. This pressure is then mirrored at the institutional level of individual law schools emphasizing their vocational remits at the expense of research and scholarship. And this research and scholarship is itself increasingly cast in reformist, practical, and “policy relevant” terms, and directed to issues of perceived topical and regulatory concern.

The implied allegation is simple enough: basic research in the humanities and social sciences is, if not obsolete, then at least a luxury we can’t afford in these times; because it cannot satisfy the more immediate needs of market-driven societies in the current economic climate, it is politically irrelevant.

But can we imagine new ways to claim – or, perhaps, to reclaim – our political relevance? Are we relevant in other, perhaps more radical ways? And if we are, how? Is there a politics that is specific to law and the humanities? Or can we articulate the limits to the conversation about “relevance” in a way accessible to minds focused on instrumentality? How might we respond to our critics, or do we ignore them?

Participants are encouraged to reflect on this broad, but not exclusive, conference theme.

In addition to sessions that connect to the theme, examples of other types of sessions we expect to organize include: History, Memory and Law; Reading Race; Law and Literature; Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism; Speech, Silence, and the Language of Law; Judgment, Justice, and Law; Beyond Identity; The Idea of Practice in Legal Thought; Metaphor and Meaning; Representing Legality in Film and Mass Media; Anarchy, Liberty and Law; What is Excellence in Interpretation?; Ethics, Religion, and Law; Moral Obligation and Legal Life; The Post-Colonial in Literary and Legal Study; Processes and Possibilities in Interdisciplinary Law Teaching.

We urge those interested in attending to consider submitting complete panels, and we hope to encourage a variety of formats-roundtables, sessions at which everyone reads the papers in advance, sessions in which commentators respond to a single paper. We invite proposals for session in which the focus is on pedagogy or methodology, for author-meets-readers sessions organized around important books in the field, or for sessions in which participants focus on performance (theatrical, filmic, musical, poetic).

How to register:

ASLCH uses a two part registration system (this will all be explained in detail on the website). First you register your paper or panel and pay a $35 membership fee. Then after January 10th, 2014, assuming your paper or panel is accepted, you go back to the same website (an email will be sent on that day to remind you) and pay the conference fee.

Here is the link to register: https://www.regonline.com/17thannualmeetingLCH


Call for Applications: ‘Rechtskulturen’ Postdoc for Legal-Cultural Studies, Berlin, 2013/14

Thanks to @abubanda for the tweeting this interesting postdoctoral position, based in Berlin:

Rechtskulturen (‘legal cultures’) is a Berlin-based postdoctoral research program which is designed to explore the law in new and innovative ways. We intend to create a space of reflection and communication where fundamental and salient questions of the law and its context(s) can be re-negotiated from a variety of disciplinary and regional perspectives, and re-connected with jurisprudence and legal methodology. As a central element of the Berlin research network Recht im Kontext (‘law in context’) based at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Rechtskulturen aims at re-contextualizing established understandings of law by transcending the scope of comparative legal studies and international law. It is designed to enhance a re-location of law among its neighboring disciplines—the humanities, the cultural and social sciences—, and can thus allow affiliated scholars, fellows and faculty to develop innovative research agendas in transregional constellations beyond a European or Anglo-American focus.

The program addresses scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, regional contexts and academic fields of discourse. In Berlin, the postdoctoral fellows will work on projects of their own choice. The program’s scholarly environment is designed to enable and to encourage both fellows and the wider community to explore and create new orientations in their transdisciplinary research on law. The program Rechtskulturen is directed by Susanne Baer (Bundesverfassungsgericht/Humboldt-Universität), Christoph Möllers (Humboldt-Universität/Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin) and Alexandra Kemmerer (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin), and is supported by an international group of scholars.

The brochure and application details are here.


Futures of American Studies Institute 2012: Would You Like Some Speculation With That?

A few highlights from this year’s Futures of American Studies Institute, held June 18-24. The Institute, which takes place every summer at Dartmouth College, is a lively week jam-packed with plenary lectures and grad student workshops. It’s a great place for grad students to connect with top-notch scholars from around the U.S. and Europe, receive feedback on their own work, and generally take the pulse of the field. Sleep is optional. This year, a sizable crew of us tweeted the plenary lectures, which allowed us to share notes and discuss tangents while talks went on.

I was fortunate to be part of the workshop led by Alan Nadel. Over four days, ten advanced grad students presented work in progress and received feedback from each other, Alan, and other faculty whom we invited individually. (We were assigned to workshops roughly based on areas of interest; there was a foreign policy/governmentality theme in my group.) I invited Andy Doolen to join us when I presented my dissertation prospectus, and was grateful for the rich, detailed comments he provided. Alan and my workshop-mates also offered great suggestions.

Some of this year’s hot topics, in no particular order:

  • Race and speculative fiction. I know it’s been a while since white geekdom completely ruled the speculative genres. But these days, it seems like if you’re doing ethnic studies and haven’t at least thought about futurism or sci-fi, you might as well go live in a cave. Most memorable were Aimee Bahng on “queer Asian American futurity” in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Soyica Diggs Colbert on the prophetic in Octavia Butler’s Parable series.
  • The financial crisis, or, speculative everything. Speaking of living in caves, the housing market crash and general economic apocalypse have heightened interest in property, markets, and global capital. Indeed, the “What if?” that lies at the heart of “speculation” (financial and literary) seems to offer an exciting convergence of the material and the imaginative—and what do American studies scholars love more than that? Although I tend to get skeptical when literary critics put on their economist hats, I really enjoyed Annie McClanahan’s talk on photography and the foreclosure crisis.
  • Geography and territory. For better or worse (mostly better, I think), disciplinary boundaries don’t faze American studies scholars. Often borrowing theory and methods from human geography, scholars trained in literature or history are producing increasingly nuanced work on territory, space, and mapping. I especially liked Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s talk on theater as a “virtual commons” and Andy Doolen’s on the “failed” explorer Zebulon Pike and the American geographic imagination.
  • Neoliberalism (or, I suppose, liberalism for the earlier period folks). The field of American studies tends to be, to put it mildly, critical of the faith in individualism and “free markets” that underlies today’s global capitalism. A good portion of the speakers related their topics to capitalism or uneven economic development. I especially liked Donatella Izzo’s talk on The Great Gatsby and “democracy to come” (à la Derrida).
  • Digital humanities. The final afternoon featured a digital humanities “unconference” (very fashionable, in case you didn’t know), with lightning talks on a wide range of DH projects. Major props to Lindsay O’Connor, who spoke on the new Praxis Program at U.Va., Mary Caton Lingold for her work with sound technologies at Duke (which you can follow on Twitter at #dhsound), and Jane Greenway for her archival project with the Schomburg Center.

There were also occasional hints about the rather sorry state of humanities higher education. A panel on (the end of?) academic publishing put a damper on things, even after John Carlos Rowe’s uplifting decision to go open access with his latest book. Also, in between (and, I confess, during) lectures, six of us from U.Va. were also checking Twitter and our overflowing inboxes for the latest on the President Sullivan debacle, which fortunately came to an end this past Tuesday.

Finally, and importantly, I want to extend a huge thank you to the U.Va. English Department for funding my and my classmates’ attendance. (But shhh—don’t tell the neoliberals who now run higher education that money is being spent on humanities enrichment.)


Prospecting in The Martial Imaginary

Both halves of Legal Lacuna have been cramming for comprehensive exams and producing our dissertation prospectuses this spring, and I’m happy to report that we’re now both ABD. This magical point of the PhD program—all but dissertation—is when some aspiring academics chuck it all and go to law school. Luckily, that ship has sailed for us. Instead, we are heading full steam into our respective projects.

My dissertation examines race and militarism from World War II to the post-9/11 era by analyzing what I call “the martial imaginary.” This is the field of images, signs, narratives, values, and feelings that surround and structure representations of the military. The dominant martial imaginary—the one we are taught by school and Hollywood—is where we find stock elements of literature and reportage about war. The soldier carrying his wounded brother away from battle. The ultimate sacrifice. Flags, monuments, and more flags. This is where we sublimate the “horrors of war,” as they say, into palatable narratives of heroism and patriotism. But the twentieth century showed us that the martial imaginary is also rife with dissonance and moral danger. The alienated veteran driven to his (it’s usually “his”) breaking point. Soldiers run amok, killing for revenge or profit. Interchangeable Third World villages laid to waste. In this sense, the martial imaginary is where we negotiate collective beliefs about violence, the nation, and, increasingly, globalization and American hegemony.

As a conceptual device, the martial imaginary foregrounds the figures, gestures, objects, and emblems we associate with the military, and detaches them from the more familiar “war literature” paradigm. It allows us to see how these elements operate far outside the space-time of war, appearing throughout American literature and culture in both recognizable and abstract forms. I begin by observing that literature, visual media, performance, and discourse by and about racial minorities often feature troubling or seemingly anomalous expressions of martial (of or relating to the military) power. These expressions include, among other things, governmental violence enacted inside the U.S. against minorities (think Japanese American internment or the zoot suit riots) and resistive uses of military style and gestures by radical minority activists. To the extent that the military is (supposed to be) an instrument of the U.S. as a unified, sovereign nation-state, these expressions challenge core nationalist beliefs about American democracy and state power.

Black Panther Party for Self-Defense demonstration against new gun control legislation, California state capitol, 1967.

The “texts” I have chosen range widely and include, to name a few, the Black Panther march on the California state capitol in 1967, Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit (1978), Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony (1982), and the popular Berlin Wall tourist site known as Checkpoint Charlie. Following the wisdom that you shouldn’t write your first chapter first, I’ve decided to start with Chapter 2, “Regulating the Militia: Spectacles of Black Power and the Right to Bear Arms.” The chapter examines how “militant” activists of the 1960s and 1970s manipulated and recast a racialized martial imaginary, most notably with the Black Panther Party using the Second Amendment as the basis for its campaign against racist policing. I argue that gun rights are fundamentally connected to how we imagine the nation—and how we imagine the horizon of violence that keeps the nation whole.


Law, Culture & the Humanities 2012: Panel on “Global Citizens: Violence and the Transnational Subject”

This past weekend in Fort Worth, TX, I was pleased to be part of the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. This year’s theme was “Representing Justice.” Tweets can be found at #ASLCH.

Audrey Golden, Nicolette Bruner, and I formed a law and literature panel called Global Citizens: Violence and the Transnational Subject, graciously chaired by Marc Roark of The Literary Table. Here are the paper abstracts:

Translating the ‘Self’ from Central and Eastern Europe: Putting Theory to Practice thought the Works of Aleksandar Hemon and W.G. Sebald by Audrey Golden

The second half of the twentieth century has borne witness to forced migration and statelessness in numbers previously unimaginable within modernity. Through the works of Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian-American émigré writer, and W.G. Sebald, a second-generation German novelist, this paper looks to the narratives of displaced persons and questions the role literary theory might play in imagining the processes of transnational movement and of internal “self-translation” that emigrants must undertake. This paper conceives a broader and more abstract model of “translation” that looks beyond natural language to include a cultural self-translation, and then asks if such a process is fraught with previously unimagined identity problems, or whether, although stemming from acts of violence, translating oneself might have ameliorative qualities for an individual caught between places, or in “nowhere” spaces.

Corporate Citizenship as U.S. Empire in Richard Harding Davis’s Soldiers of Fortune by Nicolette Bruner

Published in 1897, Richard Harding Davis’s novel, Soldiers of Fortune, describes the travails of a mining company that operates in the fictional Latin American country of Olancho, a thinly-veiled version of Cuba. The hero, filibustering engineer Robert Clay, facilitates the success of the corporation through military and financial interventions in Olancho. Meanwhile, Clay romances and marries Hope, the young daughter of the sole owner of the company’s stock. In this paper, I examine how Davis complicates the boundaries between corporate employer and human employee even as he glorifies the deeply unequal relation between U.S. corporations and the countries they exploited for profit. Corporate imperialism, as represented by the incursion of the U.S. citizen stockholder and his employees upon Latin American territory, becomes more than a matter of domination, but also an illustration of the complex interdependencies between business, storytelling, and violence in the fin de siècle.

Another Vietnam: War, The Archive, and the USS Kirk by Mai-Linh K. Hong

In late 2010, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a special series about the USS Kirk, a U.S. naval ship that was sent during the fall of Saigon to rescue the “remnants” of the South Vietnamese navy. The rescue was accomplished partly by transferring the Vietnamese ships’ sovereignty to the U.S. through a change of flags, a peaceful, quasi-legal transformation that dislodges the conventional Vietnam War narrative of violence and moral failure. Placing this “never before told” redemption story in the context of today’s U.S. war in Afghanistan, my project examines NPR’s historical revisionism and its production of a new visual iconography for the war that has haunted all later U.S. wars. I argue that, with “the archive” a site of suspense in the Wikileaks era, the rewriting of Vietnam must be understood as a response to contemporary anxieties about American imperialism, militarism, and national identity.


CFP: Spatial Perspectives: Literature and Architecture, 1850–Present

The following call for papers might interest our readers:

Spatial Perspectives: Literature and Architecture, 1850 – Present

FRIDAY 22ND JUNE 2012
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, FACULTY OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to foster a dialogue between literature and architecture by bringing together papers that encompass the diversity of thinking about these two disciplines and the ways in which they engage and interact. This will be one of the first conferences to examine the intersections of architecture and literature globally over a broad timeframe.

The conference is organised by Nicole Sierra (University of Oxford) and Terri Mullholland (University of Oxford). Contact us at: literature.architecture[at]gmail.com

More information may be found at the conference website.


Place, No-Place, and the Transnational Stage: “Minor” Works by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams

In his 1993 classic To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature, Eric J. Sundquist pays careful attention to texts many critics view as “minor,” such as Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. As Sundquist reminds us, we miss much when we focus only on “major” works by canonical American writers, including, often, American literature’s insistent cultural heterogeneity and its fundamentally transnational character. It is in this light that I have been thinking about some plays I read recently.

In the 1940s, Tennessee Williams established his gift for rendering the local on stage: the characters and social dynamics he introduced in The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire continue to populate our imaginations when we think of the American South and New Orleans. His spatial metaphors still resonate: the streetcar that rushes us headlong through life; fragile characters trapped in a menagerie of societal constrictions. Written in the shadow of World War II, Williams’ highly successful family dramas might be seen (superficially) as reflecting a turn inward, a privileging of the domestic over the global at a moment of anxiety about America’s role abroad.

But Williams’ sense of place was more expansive than most remember. In Camino Real, first staged in 1953, Williams creates a surrealistic no-place that is alien yet familiar, fitting for this prescient allegory of American imperialism and state repression. In the first of sixteen “blocks,” Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, looking bedraggled, arrive in a Spanish-speaking town “that bears a confusing, but somehow harmonious, resemblance to such widely scattered ports as Tangiers, Havana, Veracruz, Casablanca, Shanghai, New Orleans.” After consulting a map, Sancho notes that the Camino Real (Anglicized) and the Camino Real (Spanish) meet in a dead end. Soon arrives the protagonist, an American named Kilroy who sports a jeweled belt spelling out “CHAMP” and a pair of golden boxing gloves. The audience follows Kilroy as he travels the Camino Real, encountering desperate characters of varying nationalities. In this play, unlike in Williams’ more well known works, tensions and contradictions within American society are projected vaguely outward onto the global stage (so to speak), resulting in a play filled with abstraction and symbols, rather than crystallizing into a concrete narrative of dysfunction in the domestic sphere.

Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist play The Emperor Jones, first staged in 1920, stands out as another allegory of empire and identity that has since been overshadowed by the playwright’s realist family dramas, which include Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh. Brutus Jones, an African American who speaks entirely in minstrel dialect, has made himself ruler of an unnamed Caribbean island, and now faces an uprising. He escapes into the forest, where he encounters a series of frightening, surreal scenes that reflect the traumatic history of race in America. Like Camino Real, this play also creates an unspecific foreign setting as a way to explore both the moral ambiguities of U.S. actions abroad and the deeply rooted conflicts that characterize American identity at home. Over the years, the play has been criticized for its racist imagery and characterization, but has also been interpreted by anti-racists as a cynical commentary on American race relations. It is a significant work insofar as it highlights the global or transnational aspects of American cultural history, particularly with respect to race.


Free Your Mind: Mind-mapping Software and Graduate School Exam Studying

Today I am grateful for (among many other things) a classmate who introduced me to FreeMind, a mind-mapping software program that is helping me add a bit of order to my sometimes chaotic orals reading. And I am grateful it is available for free. I have just started playing around with sorting my theory list by topic, but I plan to use the program to eventually lay out talking points and connections between texts.

(Click to enlarge)


CFP: “Occupied: Taking up Space and Time,” March 22-24, 2012

Seems quite a few graduate conferences this year are tackling interdisciplinary themes relating to space! Indiana University–Bloomington’s Annual Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference seeks papers on the theme of:

“Occupied: Taking up Space and Time”

We are issuing a Call for Proposals for scholarly and creative submissions for an International Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference entitled “Occupied: Taking up Space and Time” to be held at Indiana University – Bloomington from March 22-24, 2012.  This 9th annual conference is hosted by the graduate students of the IU Department of English.Recent calls to occupy space for indefinite durations have provoked us to consider what it means to occupy or to be occupied both spatially and temporally.  The current position of “occupy” as a political buzzword confers a multiplicity of new meanings onto a concept already charged with complex histories and forms.  This conference seeks to explore the cultural significance and interrelations of its many meanings and implications, from mental pre-occupation and obsession, to the physical spaces we occupy (locked bathrooms to occupied nations), to the ways in which we spend or take up time.  Tracing the theoretical, formal, and political implications of this issue necessitates a variety of methodologies and disciplinary perspectives, so we particularly welcome interdisciplinary approaches considering any time period. Below are some suggestions for possible topics. This list is by no means exhaustive; rather, we hope these ideas might inspire some exciting new thoughts related to the theme:

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CFP: Graduate Colloquium on “Indigenous Spaces,” February 15, 2012

The newly created Collaborations on Indigenous Studies Project (CISP) at Columbia University is accepting paper proposals for its first graduate student colloquium:

Indigenous Spaces:

Pushing the Boundaries of History, Bodies, Geographies, and Politics

A Graduate Student Colloquium

Presented by

The Collaborations on Indigenous Studies Project (CISP)

Columbia University

February 15, 2012

We invite graduate students to submit proposals for a graduate student colloquium on the theme of Indigenous Spaces: Pushing the Boundaries of History, Bodies, Geographies, and Politics, to take place at Columbia University in the City of New York on February 15, 2012. Contributors are encouraged to think about ‘indigenous spaces’ that connect indigenous communities, bodies (understood in a broad sense), histories, geographies, and academia.

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CFP: “Exploring I–Lands: Borders, Identity and Myth,” March 16-18, 2012

The University of Virginia Department of English Graduate Conference seeks paper proposals from graduate students in all disciplines. Featured speakers will be Lorna Goodison and Jahan Ramazani. Abstracts are due January 21, 2012.

“Exploring I–Lands: Borders, Identity and Myth”

March 16-18, 2012

Borders abide and abound—between disciplines, between languages, between periods, between persons, between genders, between communities, between generations, between the self and the world. They define us in both liberating and limiting ways. This conference will investigate how borders and barriers are made, broken and refashioned, giving special attention to individual and national identities and the mythologies that inform them. Just how impermeable are such borders? Is there an unshakeable human drive to draw them?

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On Walls and the Spectacle of Sovereignty

My oral exams are scheduled for late January, which means the past month has been a frenzy of reading and the next three promise to be equally busy. The bright side is that my program gives us a lot of freedom in formulating reading lists, so one of mine is a rather idiosyncratic theory list focusing on race, global studies, law, and spatial theory—my small effort to chip away at the walls, so to speak, between the disciplines that have informed my studies.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reading Wendy Brown’s Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (MIT Press, 2010). The book begins with a meditation on the recent spate of global wall-building that paradoxically coincides with supposed weakening of nation-state boundaries. The most well-known examples are the winding Israeli West Bank barrier and the exorbitantly expensive (and ineffective) high-tech “fence” that now separates the U.S. from Mexico. Brown notes astutely that these walls are meant not really to strengthen borders between nations, but rather to keep out certain non-governmental, transnational forces perceived as a threat to sovereignty—yearning would-be immigrant masses, illegal drug trade, terrorism. Moreover, these walls serve a significant symbolic function: they are “iconographic of” and spectacularize the idea of sovereignty for a privileged population anxious about its porous cultural and political borders. Of course, to say that walls are spectacles of sovereignty is not at all to diminish their material, often destructive consequences, which have been many.

Reading Brown’s book reminded me of my visit to Germany this summer. Having only one day to spend in Berlin, I headed for the East Side Gallery, a kilometer-long section of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed by artists into an “International Memorial for Freedom.” I also walked through the bizarre historic site of Checkpoint Charlie, a former crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors, where a man dressed as a Cold War-era U.S. soldier still stands guard for photographic purposes. At both sites, I participated in the usual rituals celebrating the spread of democracy and economic freedom: that is, I took pictures (exercising my right to an individual point of view) and purchased postcards (participating in both transnational communication and the commodification of nostalgia). As Brown points out, something about walls offends the liberal worldview and westerners like to vaunt their demise, even as we deploy new walls for the “protection” of democracy.

Irony aside, the visits were actually quite moving for me, as I thought of the East Berliners who had risked (or lost) their lives trying to escape political oppression and economic stagnation, as well as my own family, which left Vietnam as boat people when I was a baby. I, like the average American, eschew romantic notions of how life would be better under communism (though my reasons might not be ordinary). Nevertheless, I know there are limits to the liberal tearing down of walls: in uncritically celebrating the spread of “freedom,” we risk forgetting the burdens we force on those living outside the walls we continue to build. It is true that freedom isn’t free—but Americans are usually not the ones who pay.


Law, Culture & the Humanities Graduate Student Workshop

From the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities:

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities (ASLCH) welcomes applications for its first ever Graduate Student Workshop, to be held March 15, 2012. The half day Workshop immediately precedes the ASLCH Annual Meetings, to be hosted by Texas Wesleyan University School of Law March 16-17, 2012. Applicants can be graduate students from any discipline or law students with scholarly interests in Law, Culture, and the Humanities.

The Workshop’s aims are to promote the future development of the field of Law, Culture and the Humanities through the development of our junior colleagues by bringing together graduate students and established scholars in Law, Culture, and the Humanities. During seminars, panel discussions, informal conversation, and shared meals, we will discuss scholarly work, give feedback on student research projects, address issues pertinent to professional development, and facilitate scholarly networks between graduate and faculty colleagues by encouraging intellectual community.

The Graduate Student Committee of ASLCH for 2011-2012, who will be planning the Workshop, includes Paul A. Passavant, Chair (Department of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges), Austin Sarat (Departments of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought and Political Science, Amherst College), Stewart Motha (Kent Law School, University of Kent), Marianne Constable (Department of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley), and Ravit Reichman (Department of English, Brown University).

ASLCH will subsidize the participation of up to 15 successful graduate student applications. The deadline for applications is Friday December 2, 2011. Applications should be sent electronically to Professor Paul A. Passavant, Department of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Passavant [at] hws.edu).

Applications should include a Curriculum Vitae (CV), the title and abstract of the student’s proposed paper for the ASLCH Annual Meetings March 16-17, 2012, and a letter not longer than two pages describing the student’s status in graduate school, the student’s dissertation or significant interest in Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and what the student hopes to gain from attending the Workshop.


National Security Law Student Note/Essay Competition

From the editors of the William Mitchell Law Review:

The William Mitchell Law Review is conducting a nation-wide student note competition.  Students are invited to submit case notes or essays on any subject related to national security.  The Law Review staff will evaluate all the submissions, and one winning entry will be published in the forthcoming issue.  All entries must be received by December 1, 2011.

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Osnabrück Update: Law, Literature, and the Nation

Law, Literature, and the Cultural Presence of the Law,” a workshop convened by Claudia Lieb and Brook Thomas as part of the Summer School, has been examining the many possible relationships between law and literature by focusing on “the nation” as a site of disciplinary convergence.

The workshop’s well-structured reading list began by tracing the history of citizenship and the nation-state, and moved on to literary theory treating law and the nation, including work by Guyora Binder/Robert Weisberg and Homi Bhabha. As a “law and literature” case study, the workshop then examined E.E. Hale’s Civil War-era short story, “The Man Without a Country” (1863) in view of the historical controversy that inspired it: Clement Vallandigham, a Union politician, was arrested and punished for speaking out against the Civil War. The Vallandigham case sparked a “reply” by President Abraham Lincoln arguing that the government may, during times of rebellion, suspend habeas corpus, prohibit anti-war speech, and try protesters in military court. The case raised constitutional issues that have resurfaced several times in U.S. history, most recently, of course, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hale’s patriotic short story should interest those who study nationalism and citizenship. It concerns a young American man who speaks out against his country and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life never seeing or hearing another word about the United States. Over time, the man (named Nolan, a play on “no land”) feels the loss of his country deeply and by the end of his life is a fully reformed, though still exiled, patriot. Although the story is fictitious, Thomas notes, some readers took it to be true and its nationalistic message resonated widely; it was a staple of American high school curricula until the 1970s and has experienced something of a revival since 9/11.


Law, Language & Culture Reading Lists from Osnabrück Summer School

Many thanks to Director Peter Schneck and the faculty of the Summer School for giving permission to share these valuable reading lists.

The reading list for Workshop 1, entitled “The Complex Relation between Culture and Law: Methods, Concepts, Approaches,” was posted earlier.

Detailed workshop descriptions can be found here (scroll down for links).

Workshop 2: From Human Rights to Civil Rights to Cultural Rights

Convened by: Helle Porsdam & Cindy Holder

  • Anaya, S. James. Indigenous Peoples in International Law. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Read p. 129-48.
  • Jones, Peter. “Human Rights, Group Rights and Peoples’ Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly 21.1 (1999): 80-107.
  • Porsdam, Helle. “Divergent Transatlantic Views on Human Rights: Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.” From Civil to Human Rights: Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2009. Read p. 92-113.
  • —. “Divergent Transatlantic Views on Human Rights: The Role of International Law.” From Civil to Human Rights: Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2009. Read p. 114-35.
  • —. “Transatlantic dialogues on copyright: cultural rights and access to knowledge From Civil to Human Rights: Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2009. Read p. 136-64.
  • Raz, Joseph. “Rights and Individual Well-being.” Ratio Juris 5.2 (1992): 127-42.
  • Reidel, Laura. “What are Cultural Rights: Protecting Groups with Individual Rights.” Journal of Human Rights 9 (2010): 65-80.
  • Supreme Court of Canada , R v Van der Peet [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507

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Storytelling and Human Rights: Osnabrück Summer School Keynote Available Online

Kay Schaffer’s keynote lecture, “Revisiting Human Rights and Narrated Lives: Aims, Methods, Contexts,” is now available online.


Osnabrück Summer School on Law, Language & Culture: Methodology Reading List & Keynote Talk

Greetings from Osnabrück, Germany, where I am attending the International Summer School on the Cultural Study of the Law, this year themed “Correlations: Law, Language and Culture.” The program is an annual, two-week series of workshops for graduate students and new scholars, taught by faculty from various disciplines. I am grateful to Professors Peter Schneck and Sabine Meyer (and their staff) for organizing the Summer School, as well as to DAAD, Osnabrück University, and the other organizations that fund the program.

The opening workshop took place over two days and concerned methodological problems in interdisciplinary study of law, language, and culture. Workshop convenors Kay Schaffer and Martin Zeilinger compiled this reading list for participants (shared with permission):

  • Brown, Wendy. “‘The Most We Can Hope For’: Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism.” South Atlantic Quarterly 103.2/3 (2004): 451-63.
  • —. “Neo-Liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy.” Theory and Event 7.1(2003): n. pag.
  • Coombe, Rosemary J. “Contingent Articulations.” Law in the Domains of Culture.” Ed. Austin Sarat, Thomas R. Kearns. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998. 21-64.
  • Holder, Cindy. “Culture as an Activity and Human Right: An Important Advance for Indigenous Peoples and International Law.” Alternatives 33 (2008): 7-28.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. Read Chapter 3: Individual Rights and Collective Rights; p. 34-48 and Chapter 5: Freedom and Culture; 84-101.
  • Mezey, Naomi. “Law as Culture.” Cultural Analysis, Cultural Studies, and the Law: Moving beyond Legal Realism. Ed. Austin Sarat, Jonathan Simon. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. 37-72.
  • Olson, Greta. “De-Americanizing Law and Literature Narratives: Opening Up the Story.” Law and Literature 22.1 (2010): 338-64.
  • Porsdam, Helle. From Civil to Human Rights: Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2009. Read Chapter 8: Transatlantic dialogues on ‘law and literature’: from ‘law and literature’ to ‘law and humanities’; p. 165-81.
  • Schaffer, Kay, and Sidonie Smith. Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004. Read p. 35-53; 123-52.
  • Thomas, Brook. “Reflections on the Law and Literature Revival.” Critical Inquiry 17.3 (1991): 510-39.

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