Call for Papers

Un/Common Causes and the Politics of Participation

May 7–9, John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin


Seventy years after the United States aligned themselves with the Soviet Union to move together against Nazi Germany, unusual alliances continue to shift power relations and fundamentally transform our societies. Born out of crises, such upheavals often extend beyond economics and national politics into the allocation of rights and issues of legitimacy, justice, and everyday livelihood. Recently, global events have prompted popular mobilization and participation across various cultural, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. Ferguson (Missouri), Tahrir Square (Egypt), Zucotti Park (New York), and Ayotzinapa (Mexico) have transcended different materialities, on- and offline, and turned into tropes for larger transformative demands, forging real and imagined communities in the process. On a different scale, global economic, environmental, and geopolitical challenges are fostering unusual bonds between unlikely allies. Evolving modes of collaborative production, such as crowdfunding, are changing the way we relate, create, and consume. Volatile web crowds and conflicting coalitions are contesting traditional notions of allegiance and loyalty while allowing for an astute discerning of historical patterns. All these developments call for an updated understanding of alliances in the field of North American Studies.

How can we situate, frame, and conceptualize alliances today? Are there plausible rhetorical links to be drawn between, for instance, protesters in Hong Kong and the inhabitants of Ferguson? What would they tell us about a sense of shared experience and the politics of empathy? Is there a way—or a need at all—to describe the formation of these kinds of transversal linkages with a vocabulary outside the liberal humanist tradition of solidarity? And how have cultural producers who align themselves with social and political causes facilitated the emergence and evolution of aesthetic forms, e.g. in documentary fiction in literature and film?  

This conference explores the histories, presences, and futures of alliance making. Transdisciplinary and transnational in scope, it foregrounds the complex interplay between the imaginary and the material. We invite speakers to think with, through, and beyond the following issues:

  • hegemonic alliances vs. grassroots organizing
  • mobs, crowds, and gatherings: performativity and agency in numbers
  • fragmented, operation-based initiatives and intersectional justice movements
  • cultural resonances and literary representations of alliances
  • the aesthetics of co-option and cooperation
  • delinking strategies and dissolving coalitions
  • peer-to-peer finance (e.g. crowdfunding) and other collaborative investments
  • networked materialities, virtual and posthuman alliances
  • alliances and social participation in historical perspective     

We are delighted to confirm José David Saldívar (Stanford University), Andrei S. Markovits (University of Michigan) and Wil Verhoeven (University of Groningen) as keynote speakers for this conference.

If you have any further queries, please send an email to
Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft