Students standing on desks
Photo of "Learning Curve" courtesy of Albany Park Theater Project.

When we first generated the conference theme, “Pedagogies of Dissent,” in the spring of 2016, we could not have anticipated how timely and relevant it would be in capturing the variety of collective responses to the tumultuous political events that occurred in the fall of 2016. Given the deadline for submissions on February 1st, just two weeks into the transition to a new federal administration in the U.S. and amidst the quite visible public mobilizations worldwide, panel proposals and paper submissions reflected the collective outrage and anxieties of that moment. But more importantly, they reminded us of the razor-sharp insights that the best of American Studies scholarship can offer to make critical sense of the heightened unpredictability and intensified precarity that continue to be felt so widely.

The Chicago meeting will reflect the astonishing breadth and volume of submissions, with 2,130 participants in 440 sessions, including 374 that were proposed as sessions and 66 that the committee created from individual paper submissions. Along with accepting the 374 sessions, the committee rejected 32, an acceptance rate of 92 percent. We received 387 individual paper proposals, of which we accepted 263 and turned down 124, an acceptance rate of 68 percent.

Across these sessions and individual papers, the two anchoring terms “pedagogies” and “dissent” are each taken up, modified, and refracted through other alignments, dissonant juxtapositions, and inventive reorderings. In addition to the oppositional tenor of dissent, liberatory pedagogies call for multiple orientations and registers ranging from skepticism, satire, and refusal to joy, pleasure, and the fantastic. Several sessions and individual papers underscore the lively thrum of the classroom and its layered nodes of relationality – vulnerability, entanglement, solidarity, love and self-love. In addition to the analysis and theorization of classroom practices, proposals were creatively invested in collaboration with students that emphasized critical thinking for and as a long view. We were thrilled to receive many proposals that bypassed the current conflation between “classroom” and “battleground.” Instead, there was a refreshing curiosity for a collective, non-expedient classroom ethos that pressed beyond the reactive roles that have sometimes been made available by trigger warnings and safe spaces. Across the proposals there was a palpable population of dedicated teachers--nascent and veteran educators, tenured and adjunct professors, graduate assistants and independent scholars—who are still at work in the transformative activity of thinking together with students despite the prevalence of antiintellectual and cynical working conditions. Teachers are still working with what we can, but with an invigorated openness to new objects, methods, and tools, be they ephemeral or digital. The program also features a wide and deep array of critical formulations of dissent as creative practice, embodied sensation, and sonic landscape. Some papers probe dissent through its varied figurations, genres, and archives while others attend closely to its gestures, choreographies, and praxes. Another cluster of panels and papers consider the spatial matrix of dissent through mapping specific intimacies and proximities that also open out to wider topographies and geopolitics. Finally, there is a resonant thread among proposals that grapple with the exigent and desirous temporalities of both teaching and dissent: duration, survival, fugitivity, sanctuary, abolition, resurgence, revolution, justice and futurity.

The program features multiple conversations organized around urgent problems that command dissent in our present moment – including several sessions on the recent struggles at Standing Rock, on campus sexual assaults and Title IX, on Black Lives Matter, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, fascism, and the targeting of undocumented immigrants. A number of panels take the long view, tracing histories of dissent that have much to teach us about the present as well, including earlier student protests, anti-censorship struggles, anti-lynching campaigns, AIDS activism, and anti-slavery organizing. Several panels remind us that 2017 marks the anniversaries of events and individuals that might anchor our critical conversations about the transmission of cultural and political practices of dissent, including the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective’s landmark “Black Feminist Statement” of 1977, the centenary of the mighty Chicago poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and the 140th anniversary of the strikes by railroad workers that proliferated in 1877 in more than a dozen cities, including Chicago. Proposals also reflected a commitment to de-centering the U.S., by activating critical inquiry into the histories and practices of dissent in transnational and non-U.S. contexts on panels such as the “Geopolitics of Dissent,” as well as on panels on Cuba, Palestine, and Philippine transnationalism. These invite collective address of a range of topics with both long-lived and immediate exigencies. In the spirit of our invitation for proposals in alternative formats to the traditional academic panel, the Program Committee will sponsor several workshops, teach-ins, and a panel titled, “The Dissent Mixtape,” which will be accompanied by a specially curated program soundtrack. "The Blues Epistemology" is a double-session that takes flight from Clyde Woods' work. The breakdown of the false binary between art and activism in pedagogical practice was another inspiring current in the proposals and will feature prominently in “Technologies of Dissent: A Workshop on Organized Resistance in the Digital Age” On Saturday, there are two Program Committee-sponsored sessions that likewise focus on K-12 education: "Educators Unite!," which foregrounds labor organizing across all levels of education, and “Troubling schools+prisons: A Troublemakers’ Teach-In,” which is co-organized with the K-16 Collaboration Committee. We think these sessions will resonate with those that focus on youth and activism, including the session featuring Chicago’s Black Youth Project, also sponsored by the Program Committee. The International Committee will host two “Talkshops.” We anticipate these gatherings to become experimental laboratories with practical take-aways.

Multiple proposals took up the activist ground that is the Chicago metropolitan area—in spirit if not always in name--and we are truly excited to see how these local shimmers can push the limits of what we think we know about intersectional work. Among these is the session that features the Albany Park Theatre Project, which we are very pleased to announce will be the 2017 annual meeting Artist-in-Residence. The APTP is a Chicago-based, multiethnic, youth theater ensemble dedicated to art, to youth, and social justice: “At APTP, people directly impacted by sociopolitical issues create original plays that humanize those issues with intellectual rigor, fervent humanity, and vibrant imagination.” The APTP will bring these creative and critical energies will into our meeting. Chicago also holds center of attention in a presidential plenary on "Chicago Latinidades." Encouraging attendees to get out into Chicago, the program features several events and activities that are inspired by organizations and work done in the city. A series of tours will be coupled with the program session, "Public Art and Activism in U.S. Cities,” which is organized and sponsored by the Site Resources Committee. This session focuses particularly on neighborhoods where people of color have lived, worked, and engaged in community activism, in part, through creating and supporting vibrant forms of public art. Three different tours of the Bronzeville, Argyle, and Pilsen neighborhoods, which will be led by session panelists, will allow attendees to experience these arts first hand; please keep an eye out for tour registration information!

In addition to the members of the Site Resources Committee – Roderick Ferguson, Nadine Naber, E. Patrick Johnson, Jodi Melamed, and A. Naomi Paik --, we would like to thank the members of the Program Committee for their hard work, good cheer and silent dancing: Cindy Cheng, Kandice Chuh, Laura Gutiérrez, Nicole King, Regina Kunzel, Edwin Mayorga, Beth Piatote, Rinaldo Walcott, and Chi-ming Yang.

The online program for the Chicago Meeting is now available.
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Welcome to Chicago!
Alex Vazquez
Siobhan Somerville
Laura Kang

Posted for ASA Office in Annual Meeting
Post date: July 4, 2017