Our gathering in Toronto for the 2015 ASA was born of a deep acknowledgment of ongoing violences as well as the long traditions and new innovations that move a world in struggle. We came to this year’s conference possessed of the knowledge of Black teenager Michael Brown, an Indigenous movement known as Idle No More, and the stakes of the claim “Soy Dominicano.” The conference theme, “The (Re)Production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance,” provided various angles and ports of entry for us as American Studies scholars to consider the ways in which chronic conditions of injustice can and do give rise to fighting back and breaking through within and beyond the Americas. Across four days and scores of sessions, the ASA investigated, interrogated, finessed, and critiqued these conditions as products of social and political economies, reminding us that misery remains a product of our social, political, and economic world.
Interrogations of the theme naturally took aim at the exposition and critique of the structures and methods that enforce widespread dispossession, alienation, and death. Entrenched definitions of genocide, for example, were troubled through examinations that extended its application into the practices of policing, incarceration, and aid. Evaluations of contemporary global settler colonialism, appropriative labor, and biopolitics oriented our sightlines and methods of investigation into the darker and poorer populations of the world and illuminated the ways in which these people grow darker and poorer with every coming administration, war, and disaster. In addition to these miserable conditions, critical questions were brought to bear on the organizing themes and keywords of our sociopolitical past, present, and futures. In his presidential address David Roediger compelled the audience to consider what and whom “solidarity” leaves out and whose absence it is premised upon. This challenge to the very nature of what we know of our progressive movement past or present is not the undermining of them but rather the necessary concern that must animate any steps toward a collective future.
The seriousness of the aforementioned realities did not calcify or stifle the types of engagements had amongst conference participants. It is telling that, even within the framework of misery, so much joy was experienced and expressed this year. Indeed, this too is resistance. We laughed at the sardonic brilliance of comedian Aamer Rahman, reveled in the creations of Erykah Badu, and entered wide-eyed into the speculative worlds of fiction. We heard, saw (and, dare we, felt?) the suciedad of queer socialities, imagined new methods of interaction and identification outside of the state, and boldly encountered the calculated risk involved in the creation of new pedagogies. We celebrated together—the authors, the mentors, students, and colleagues without whom we would not think as we think or know as we know. We lovingly (re)animated some of the many thinkers gone, including James Baldwin, whose wisdom inspired more than one session. And, perhaps most importantly, we dreamed of new conditions and projects, the ends of which we expect to see in the not too distant future.
Toronto was an excellent site for the meeting, providing not only a delectable mix of peoples but also cuisines, histories, and points of entry and exit. Toronto is a hangout in a way no big city in the United States can boast, but that vibe is part of a productive, serious space too close to U.S. borders to elude juxtaposition. For many of us traveling from the States, its sameness and difference provide a respite from the onslaught of the branded America that is our quotidian reality. A worldly city of old and new immigrants, Toronto is also an ancient redoubt of Indigenous presence and African refuge. Our investment in engaging in meaningful exchanges beyond the conference site was made possible through the exceptional work of our local colleagues. The Site Resources Committee connected us to the city in astoundingly thoughtful ways. Their events focused on how the themes of misery and resistance, together, inform the historically present spaces of Toronto. ASA members were introduced to Black and Indigenous geographies, sonic walks, the city’s green spaces, collaborative events with activists, local union members, and graduate students, and a range of creative works at galleries and museums. Far from auxiliary, these events served to ground us in a moment and at the place from which we might imagine anew our relationship to the world in which we live, love, work, and play.
As a bellwether of American Studies scholarship, we recognize the American Studies Association as not simply an intellectual formation but also an opportunity. We as Program Committee co-chairs were incredibly gratified at the program’s range of ideas, analyses, registers, and methodologies. We’re proud of the work accomplished and thank you for your commitment to sharing with us in this urgent project.
Jennifer L. Pierce, Shana L. Redmond, and Robert Warrior