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Presentation Abstracts

Panel 1: Migration, Displacement, Confinement

Panel Chair: Dr. Themis Chronopoulos (University of East Anglia)

“Don’t Go East of Troost!” – Influence of the Imaginary Urban Boundaries on Social Mobility in American Cities

Maciej Świderski, M.A. (Public Spaces Research Institute, Warsaw)

Many American cities feature a border that dissects the entire urban fabric into two distinctively different parts – affluent and safe, and poor and dangerous. In my paper, I would like to investigate the impact of such ‘invisible boundaries’ on different cities, especially on Kansas City with its infamous Troost Avenue, which forms one of the most perspicuous urban frontiers in the country. Focusing on the residents of the ‘better half’ of the city, I would like to analyze how the fear of crime and indirect victimization are influencing the narrative on the other half, simultaneously limiting the mobility of those who live east of Troost Avenue. By looking at the history of racial stigmatization in Kansas City, I will try to prove that when translated into urban fabric, immobility can form constraints that are even harder to overcome than a real, physical border.

Urban Reserves in Canada: Shifting First Nations' Economies to the City?

Charlotte Bezamat-Mantes, M.A. (Université Paris 8 - Centre de Recherches et d'Analyses Géopolitiques / University of Manitoba)

Some Indigenous nations in Canada recently started creating urban ‘satellite’ reserves to foster economic opportunities. These represent a form of economic mobility and a (re)appropriation of urban territories by Indigenous governments. Given the chronic underfunding of First Nations by the federal government and the dire economic circumstances of many rural reserves, economic mobility to the city is framed by some as a necessary alternative. Urban reserves are often met with opposition from local populations and governments. As a response, some First Nations have devised new means to facilitate their mobility to urban settings, notably through the use of an alternative terminology and the implementation of a ‘good neighbour’ strategy, based on consultation, education, and transparency. Achieving this mobility to cities is paramount for some First Nations governments as it would allow them to strengthen their economies, to enhance their members’ living conditions, and to build new relations with non-Indigenous communities.

Nein zum Heim? How Meaning Structures Inform Immigration Attitudes

Friedolin Merhout, B.A. (Duke University)

The current migratory crisis facing Europe throws up fault lines between countries as well as within their populations. Mirroring the country level trend toward increasingly restrictive migration policies, citizens’ attitudes about immigration grow increasingly hostile no small part due to public discourse. While this development is only the recent culmination of a trend firmly established in the social science literature, these works fail to illuminate the connection between discourse and attitudes, neglecting the meaning structures that inform how people think about immigration. The study at hand addresses this gap detailing how people make sense of immigration and how different understandings relate to anti-immigration attitudes. Using data from ten European countries, I show that understandings of immigration prioritizing economic aspects lend themselves toward more negative attitudes which appear to translate into political support for radical right parties. These results have significant implications for both scholarship and public discourse about immigration issues.


Panel 2: Locating Thought, Locating Literatures: Regions and Representations

Panel Chair: Dr. Alexander Starre (Freie Universität Berlin)

Moving World Literature: Anton Shammas’s Arabesques between Iowa and the Galilee

Dr. David Hadar (Open University of Israel)

My paper explores how the novel Arabesques (1986)by Israeli Palestinian author Anton Shammas uses the International Writers Program in Iowa to interrogate and even relocate the consecration of world literature. Arabesques is partly set in the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and deals with the question of where the world’s literature is to be assembled and consecrated. The common assumption is that this process happens in big cities. But the novel shows how this program tries to mobilize the world’s wealth of literature into this new Midwestern location in Iowa.  The novel uses Iowa’s bid for centrality in the network of world literature to show how the canon and concept of world literature can also be assembled in the peripheral location of a small Galilee village. The mobility of texts and people turn out to have a potential for unsettling the global center/periphery and East/West dichotomies.

Against the Grain: The Regional Dimensions of Jonathan Franzen’s Career Mobility

Jurrit Daalder, M.A. (University of Oxford)

This paper examines the unmistakable yet often neglected regional subtext of Jonathan Franzen’s career trajectory and identifies this “undercurrent” as a major contributing factor to the author’s (im)mobility in the literary marketplace. By tracing Franzen’s counter-intuitive movement away from his “Coastier Than Thou” attitude at the time of his disagreement with Oprah Winfrey and toward his self-identification as an “egalitarian midwesterner” on his book tour for Freedom, the paper complicates Paul Giles’s statement that the twenty-first century has simply “moved beyond the spatial dialectics that implicitly structured twentieth-century culture.” On the contrary, Franzen’s strategic re-embrace of his regional roots shows that America’s hierarchical division into center and periphery—in this case, East Coast and Midwest—continues to play a crucial role in matters of prestige and career mobility.

The City of Hope - Grace Lee Boggs’s Detroit as a Topos of Thinking

Richard Bachmann, B.A. (Leipzig University)

Chinese-American thinker and activist Grace Lee Boggs could be considered a prototypical transnational intellectual. For over 70 years she had been involved in the debates and causes of the Global Left. But despite her situatedness in transnational and transcultural networks of thinkers, activists, and their ideas, I argue that it is a specific place which plays an imminent role in her thought. This place is Detroit. On the one hand, witnessing the rapid disintegration of the former industrial capital of the US deeply influenced her mindset. On the other hand, Detroit provided Grace Lee Boggs with an (imaginary) place where she could locate her own ideas, giving them a place-specific tinge in the process. Her work shows that when one studies the ideas of Gramscian “organic intellectuals” in a transnational context, one should remain sensitive to their possible connections to an actual place. Even though some theorists believe ideas to be able to travel freely across time and space, I argue that they can show notions of placedness, aspects which locate them in a specific place. I want to investigate in how far this could limit their mobility.


Panel 3: Rights to the Streets: Transportation, Infrastructure, Politics

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Boris Vormann (Freie Universität Berlin)

Whose Streets? Mobility as Displacement in Los Angeles

Anna Davidson, M.A. (University of Oxford)

Promoting walking, cycling and public transport in U.S. cities is widely considered a necessary step to overcoming multiple 'crises' from obesity and air quality to climate change. This paper draws on ethnographic research on cycling in Los Angeles to consider what conditions make particular ways of cycling (im)possible, and (un)desirable in Los Angeles. Thinking through material feminist theory, this paper will examine ways in which urban cycling is made (im)possible through forces that are always both of matter and meaning, e.g. infrastructures and bodies and the energies, values, violence and risks associated. The paper experiments with the notion of mobility as displacement: moving from the behaviours, practices or infrastructures of mobility towards the more than volitional and individual and beyond divisions between the ‘human’ and the infrastructural-technological. This paper asks: Which bodies, spaces and organisations attain markers of health and accolades of sustainability, through which displacements and at what costs?

Together and Apart: Black Auto(im)mobility and Nuclear Segregation in Interwar and Postwar America

Dr. Andrea Vesentini (Birkbeck, University of London)

The car has often been read as a democratizer of spatial and social mobility in the United States. When the rates of car ownership rose among African Americans in the postwar years, the event was hailed as a further step toward their integration into the social fabric also by many black commentators. What kind of inclusion, however, is inscribed in the car as a capsule designed to privatize each driver's movement across urban space? This paper explores how car transportation was embraced by both black and white drivers as a chance to escape the racial friction of public spaces and transit. Was Jim Crow subverted by private transportation? Or was it more entrenched than in mass transit in a mode of circulation that did not disallow segregation, giving everyone a chance to be “separate but equal” on the open road?

Streetcar Politics in the Making of the Creative City: A Conflict in Sustainabilities?

Dr. Gregg Culver (Heidelberg University)

There has been an astounding rebirth of the streetcar in US cities in recent years. Despite widely diverse local conditions in cities pursuing streetcars, taken as a whole these projects appear to reflect a more general neoliberal “creative city” urban (re)development strategy. The goal of this paper is twofold. First, it will suggest a general framework to investigate the dynamic politics accompanying the rebirth of the streetcar. Second, it will highlight one potential conflict between ecological and social sustainabilities that may help fuel some of the resulting struggles over urban mobility and space: on the one hand, streetcar developments promise increased alternatives to automobility, representing a step toward greater ecological sustainability, but on the other hand, a potential gain in urban livability (for some?) raises questions of social (in)justice posed by a potential "transit-induced" gentrification.


Panel 4: On the Road (Again): Kerouac on the Move

Panel Chair: Dr. Sean Bonney (Freie Universität Berlin)

Cosmopolitan Identity and the Urban Space: The Road as Mediator of Space and Place in Jack Kerouac's On the Road and The Dharma Bums

Alina Cojocaru, B.A. (Ovidius University)

Transgressing mainstream representations of American communities in the mid-twentieth century, the novels On the Road and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac present America as a complex discursive and geographical space in which cross-cultural identities merge and deracination becomes a marker of cosmopolitanism and authenticity. The aim of this paper is to examine the role of the road as a mediator between place and the flow of narrative, enabling the traveler to weave delocalized personal narratives. By using the theories of Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre and Georg Simmel, it will be argued that the porous borders of urban space act as a mirror for the fluid and dynamic construct of global culture. The blending of languages, races and religions and the transcendence of national barriers make the two novels emblematic for twentieth century cosmopolitan identity in which the road functions as a network of meanings.

Wandering Across the Iron Curtain: The Reception of the Novel On The Road in the USA and Eastern Europe

Adrian Matus, B.A. (Paris-Sorbonne University)

Across the Iron Curtain, in the Eastern bloc, the Beat Generation literature started to be translated and assimilated from the 1960s. This paper’s aim is to compare the reception of the novel On The Road in America and in the Eastern European bloc.

I will explain the mechanism of mobility in the Jack Kerouac’s novel. Through this, my aim is to investigate the following concepts: the frontier thesis, Nietzsche’s influence and the American hobo. After explaining how the theme of mobility is constructed, I will explore how these ideas were imported and transferred by the 1960s youth across the Iron Curtain. 

In other words, starting with the 1960s we deal with the birth a new type of travel culture also in Communist countries. Special spaces appear: the seaside resorts (2 Mai), and underground bars. We have to ask ourselves to what extent the youth were capable of adapting the 1960s American way of mobility.


Panel 5: Media Movements: Perspectives from Cultural Studies

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe (Freie Universität Berlin)

(Im)mobility through the Lens of Fashion Photography: The Example of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar U.S., 1960s-1980s

Alice Morin, M.A. (University of Paris III: La Sorbonne Nouvelle)

From the 1960s, women’s fashion magazines have consistently pictured themselves as advocators of change, of innovation, of mobility. This mobility is multiple: visual, symbolic as well as narrative with discourses presenting the magazines as empowering their readers. In reality, well-established American fashion magazines, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, convey a very different message, one of race, class and gender boundaries’ persistence. By examining economic imperatives weighing on the magazines, and their implication in a whole capitalistic cultural system, I intend to study how, in the case of fashion spreads, apparent innovation and change can reveal to be a symptom of cultural, social and even political immobility—affecting self-image but also national image.

Decolonizing Aesthetics: Analyzing a Contested Site of Black (In)materiality Through Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”

Imani Wadud, M.A. (University of Kansas)

This paper explores how artist Kara Walker’s large-scale installation project “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” created an alternative archive of liberalism, speaking against traditionally separated and exclusive patterns of visualization. I argue that Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” resignifies White supremacist tropes of black embodiment by scrambling the signs of anti-black aesthetics and thereby exposes her audience to the workings of liberalism’s colonial archives. Additionally, I employ an understanding of visual culture that emphasizes the mobility of discourses around “the body” by drawing from technologies that both Lisa Lowe in Intimacies of Four Continents and Saidiya V. Hartman in Scenes of Subjection explore. Blackness, I finally propose, is both the antithesis and condition of possibility of liberalism, existing as what Frantz Fanon has called as state of “absolute dereliction.”

Disability in Motion: Reframing Notions of (Im)mobility in American Reality TV

Gesine Wegner, M.A. (Dresden University of Technology)

Over 30 million US citizens have a mobility impairment, making mobility a key concept within disability studies. Introducing the notion of mobility to a literary analysis of disability, my paper aims to shed light on the social constraints that disable those with a physical impairment. I aim to illustrate how recent disability narratives on American television challenge our understanding of what it means to be disabled or able-bodied as they question the very dichotomy of immobility and mobility. No longer a mere relocation of the freak show, reality shows like Push Girls (2012-2013) and Born This Way (2015- ) create a counter narrative to previous disability stories as they consciously reframe discourses of (im)mobility. In doing so, these series do not only redefine notions of (im)mobility and (dis)ability, but they also encourage their audiences to critically reflect on American core values such as freedom and liberty.

Migratory Ebb and Cultural Flow: The Fluid Dynamics of Transaesthetics in Bilingual Hip-Hop in the United States

Terence Kumpf, M.A. (Technical University of Dortmund)

Hip-hop culture and rap music have long teemed with the intersecting tributaries of social identity, cultural capital, and struggles for recognition and political power. What happens when metaphors of movement, motion, and migration are written and performed in two languages atop culturally diverse musical material? How do varying combinations of oral, aural, and visual aesthetics allow artists to re-imagine national and cultural borders? What indeterminate “trans”-spaces are audiences required to navigate, and to what extent does such material articulate quasi-utopian spaces of resistance? To deal with these questions, this paper will offer examples from artists such as Rebel Diaz (NY/Chicago), Raul y Mexia (San Jose, CA), and Los Nativos (St. Paul, Minnesota) who often invoke movement, motion, and migration metaphors to fight for social and political justice, the rights of migrants, and, in some instances, the resuscitation and preservation of lost heritages indigenous to the Americas.


Panel 6: Transatlantic Tides: Narratives and Objects of Oceanic Travel

Panel Chair: Katharina Metz, M.A. (Freie Universität Berlin)

First ‘Immigrants’ in North America: Ideological Consequences of the British and Spanish Presence during the XVII and XVIII Centuries

Dr. José Antonio Gurpegui (Instituto Franklin de la Universidad de Alcalá)

British settlers in the XVII century are historically recognized as “colonist” while Spaniards were “conquerors”. This view has been widely accepted till nowadays, but recently some historical approaches question this theory (somehow what happened with the term “discovery of America” in 1992). John Elliot in Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (2006) and Jorge Cañizares-Esgurra in Puritan Conquistadores: Iberianizing the Atlantic 1550-1700 (2006) offer an innovative interpretation on the meaning of the discovery for both the British and for Spaniards, that is to say, for Protestants and Catholics. For Elliot there are more similarities than historically perceived; for Cañizares-Esguerra the Puritan experience in America is a continuation of the Spanish model and affirms that we could talk about a “common Atlantic history”.

Transported Places: The Transatlantic Im/mobility of Narrative

Frances Molyneux, M.A. (Stanford University)

Oceanic mobility can close off as well as open up possibilities of relationship between objects, people, and places. Critics such as Hester Blum and Marcus Rediker have taken note of the complications that arise through gaps in experience between mariner writers (a society always in motion) and their land-based audience, but such critical accounts generally overlook the parts of narrative that are deliberately hidden or omitted. It is with these moments that my research is particularly concerned. In this paper I examine the work of three writers who had early careers at sea which they later translated into literary works: Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Herman Melville, and Joseph Conrad. I argue that these three figures-in-motion attempt to create distinctive narrative worlds through repeated use of what I call topological navigation. Mobility and experiential gaps, however, cause repeated narrative failure or suppression for all three authors.

‘Precarious Passages’: Medial and Material Conditions of the Great Passage from Europe to America, around 1900

Sarah Sander, M.A. (University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz)

Taking the contemporary visual discourse on ‘precarious passages’ as a starting point, my presentation will explore the medial and material conditions and constitutions of migrant maritime mobility around 1900. In the wake of the second wave of mass migration to America around 1900, a new kind of steamer was developed that determined the experience of the passage from the Old to the New World. Not unlike today, the parameters of this experience were based on economic and social structures: While the great mass of migrants travelled under unreasonably perilous conditions in the dark and dirty steerage holds of the ship, the upper decks of the ocean liners developed into swimming ‘Grand Hotels’, offering the first and second class luxurious voyages on the same steamers the steerage passengers were crimped into. Alfred Stieglitz’s famous cubist photograph ‘The Steerage’ (1907) reveals this class conditions eminently.

The Dichotomy of Drifting and Sailing – Seeing and (Mis)reading Black Agency through the Eyes of Captain Delano in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno

Lucas Hansen, B.A. (University of Hamburg)

Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno presents American Captain Delano as a naïve character in his failure to decipher a masquerade performed for him on a mutinied slave ship, the San Dominick. Through the dichotomy of drifting and sailing, (im)mobility is closely related to Delano’s inability to read the mutiny. As the San Dominick begins “drifting […] helplessly seaward” (Benito Cereno 39), the correlation of immobility and Delano’s loss of control over his hermeneutic understanding of the relations on board becomes evident. 

This paper promotes a reading of Benito Cereno as a critique of antebellum United States’ democratic governance in its reproduction of repressive social relations. Delano is trapped in a vicious hermeneutic circle by a restrictive framework of ideas that superstructures his perception and renders the scenario of black agency unthinkable to him since he is unable to question the mechanisms of ideology from within ideology.


Panel 7: Moving Texts, Arresting Images? Narrative Documentaries of Forced Immobility

Panel Chair: Dr. Birte Wege (Freie Universität Berlin)

The Motions of Sovereign Violence in Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary

Anas Sareen, M.A. (University of Lausanne / University of Oxford)

Extraordinary rendition became common practice during America’s “Global War on Terror”. Though detention sites such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have been exposed predominantly through photography, the medium of stillness, they continue to suspend the rule of law and the lives of prisoners detained indefinitely. The human network behind indefinite detention can be viewed in terms of what Judith Butler calls “petty sovereignty”, that is to say, sovereignty as it operates through bureaucratic institutions and tactical applications of the law. In this paper, I begin by considering acts of torture framed in photographs from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in terms of the spectacle of ‘petty’ sovereign power they enact, before inquiring into the unlawful migration routes inaugurated under the Global War on Terror exposed in Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary (2015).

Unlikely Captives: Disruptive Narratives of Development in Prison Memoirs

Hannah Bailey, M.A. (University of Kansas)

My paper will analyze two seemingly disparate discourses—the Church of Scientology and prisons—in order to understand the differential social mobility for white and racialized individuals in US liberal capitalist society. I do this by arguing that the recent phenomenon of Scientologist memoirs, often framed as a modern-day captivity narrative, should be read in conjunction with prison literature in order to analyze the ways in which membership in Scientology, commonly portrayed as a “cult,” contrasts with representations of racialized criminality and incarceration. 

“Nowhere to Go But into the Tunnel”: Alien Bodies Contesting Urban Space in Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd

Sarah Wolff, B.A. (Freie Universität Berlin / Columbia University)

This paper examines how literary representations of restricted mobility in urban space shape conceptions of (social) place and “identity” in the graphic narrative Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd (2008), an autobiographical account of a homeless person living in the subway tunnels of New York City. Employing tropes of African American emancipation, this black autobiography mediates Horton’s struggle for agency and citizenship as a homeless person through the discourse of black emancipation. The extent to which a body can freely move through space intersects with visual markers of race, class, gender and bodily impairment. Pitch Black ultimately draws the protagonist into existence, preventing his erasure from both urban space and public discourse.


Panel 8: The Transatlantic Circulation of Ideas

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Sebastian Jobs (Freie Universität Berlin)

The American ‘Filter’ in the Contemporary Global Circulation of Ideas: The Case of Postmodern Studies

Simon Tabet, M.A. (Paris West University Nanterre La Défense)

As it has been shown for “French Theory”, postcolonial studies or even, to some extent, cultural and subaltern studies, contemporary theories must “go through” the American academic field to be intellectually grounded on an international scale. This system of “filter”, in which knowledge has to be “Americanised” to be integrated as disciplines and gain worldwide intellectual legitimacy, lies on a complex movement of theoretical imports, academics’ itineraries and research activities.

I will try to critically analyse in this paper the most important factors of this input-output movement of ideas through the peculiar case of “postmodern studies”. As it will be seen, this specific example is particularly relevant to grasp how the US represents the key entity around which revolves the whole contemporary global production of knowledge.

The (Im)mobility of Nietzschean Thought

Eric Fraunholz, M.A. (Leipzig University)

The reception of Nietzsche in America has created the image of a thinker that is adaptable to any discourse, transversing ideologies. In this paper, I retrace Nietzsche’s arrival in the US to scrutinize the emergence of this ‘American Nietzsche.’ First published in anarchist magazines, his outspoken criticism of Western philosophy and political movements stood in stark contrast to leftist ideas and Americanism. The alleged mobility of Nietzsche’s thought stagnated on closer examination.Nietzsche suddenly became irreconcilable with American leftism and his writings slowly fadedfrom the front pages to occasional footnotes. A more performative approach revived his writingsnot only for the leftist discourse but also opened it to a broader American public. This paper willconsider Nietzsche’s thought on the level of transatlantic exchange and on the level of discursiveflexibility and show that the Americanization of Nietzsche is the result of a long debate on the far left.

The Kaleidoscope of the Orient: Textual Mobility in the Late Eighteenth Century

Aynur Erdogan, M.A. (University of Groningen)

The cultural and ideological trade route between East and West allowed cultural articulations from the Old World to travel to North America. While early America drew heavily on European ideas and sources about the Orient, these imported cultural sources were lifted from their original context and remodeled to displace current discussions about allegiance, loyalty, and despotism to imagined Oriental lands. Likewise, other texts took their cue from the captivity DNA and recycled (pseudo-)experiences with North African pirates to make statements about slavery. Hence, the Orient in early American imagination became an analytical tool to nuance current internal and foreign political debates that characterized the decades of instability in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Panel 9: American Dreaming: Aspirations and (Im)mobility

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. James Dorson (Freie Universität Berlin)

California, Irresponsible and Influential: The Dream to (Re)place?

Mgr. Barbora Kučerová (Palacký University, Olomouc)

California has acquired a mythic nature which for many years has endured up to the present due to its mediated image. In California, local has always interfered with global. The transnationally spread belief in the California Dream has led to the immense influx of opportunity seekers. The result of this more than a century-lasting haphazard overdevelopment resonated in the media coverage firstly in the 1960s and 1970s as Californication. 

The paper focuses on the contemporary California native poet Eleni Sikelianos. Using her most place specific work The California Poem (2004), dominated by scientific idiom, cultural geography and modernist influence, the path towards Californication is examined. The paper creates a collage of California’s changing identities. As Lawrence Buell in his Writing for an Endangered World (2001) highlights, the environmental imagination aims to shift the attention from global – space to local – place (77). Is it time to rethink the California most enduring myth?

‘Work Ethics’ Against ‘Intellectual Brilliance’: Struggles of the New Knowledge Class in John Williams’ Stoner

Bingxia Yu, M.A. (University of Leuven)

In this paper, I argue that John Williams’ Stoner can be seen as a social novel that addresses subtle ideological conflicts between the working-class and the knowledge-class in the United States and the often painful, unsuccessful and self-negating migration process from the former to the later. Through the rural-born titular character’s lifelong struggle in his career and family life as nonetheless an accidentally enlightened man, Williams painted a picture of the complex and unspeakable costs and consequences of class migration through non-economic means. I would like to explore also in this paper how John Williams framed his central character in the discourse of contrasting class values, especially pitching the idea of “work ethics” against “intellectual brilliance,” the underlining theme in Stoner.

The American-Bengali in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Fiction: Diasporic and Multicultural Identities

Arunima Dey, M.A. (University of Salamanca)

This paper attempts to highlight diasporic author Jhumpa Lahiri’s interpretation of the term diaspora in her fictional works. Concentrating on the depiction of intermingling of cultures, the paper seeks to demonstrate the renegotiation of immigrant identities that help one conceptualise the constant need to modify one’s identity within a globalised and culturally hybrid matrix of the North American community. By investigating the reciprocity and exchange of cultures and languages, the paper notes Lahiri’s interesting methods of portraying the immigrant’s initial cultural shock, followed by the process of accommodation, learning and adapting to the American way of life in an ever-changing world. In a nutshell, the paper elaborates on the idea of the Bengali immigrants’ American Dream and their efforts at striking a balance between the Americanness and the Bengaliness of their existence that defines their diasporic experience.


Panel 10: People, Goods, and Waste: Flows of Globalization

Panel Chair: Dr. Beerd Beukenhorst (Freie Universität Berlin)

The Transnational Flow of Plastic Waste Between China and America: Retelling the Story of China's Dakou Generation and Environmental Justice

Chang Liu, M.A. (Jilin University)

Dakou refers to cut cassettes and CDs which were dumped by record companies from Western countries and exported to China as plastic waste for recycling; however, it entered and circulated in China's music market, and those who associated with it are known as China's dakou generation. By reconsidering the legacy of China's dakou generation through the lens of environmental justice, this paper explores how newly released records in America can be both commodities for sale and waste for recycling, how this type of waste became commodities again in China, and how dakou is used in narrative texts written by Chinese artists to counteract the totalitarian political regime and achieve empowerment. By examining the transnational flow of dakou between America and China, this paper considers the limit of environmental justice which frequently runs the risk of denying agency to the underprivileged groups and forging new stereotypes.

Growing Roots en Route: Food and the Construction of Mobile Homes in US Locavore Narratives

Michaela Beck, B.A. (Dresden University of Technology)

Throughout the last two decades, a number of texts promoting the concept of locavorism – a diet and food culture premised on spatial and/or social proximity – has garnered a considerable amount of public attention in the US. Ascribing global climate change and an alleged erosion of national (food) culture to today's industrialized and increasingly global food system, bestselling books such as Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle advocate the (re-)localization of food ways. While these texts are mostly perceived as calls for immobilization on various levels, this paper proposes a more ambivalent reading, arguing that locavore narratives also present an adaptation to mobility: by identifying locavorism with creating, and dwelling in, domestic spaces, these texts integrate the concept of 'being-at-home' in North American culture with the notion of global mobility.

Market Denizens of Cosmopolitan Citizens?

Golbon Moltaji, M.H.K. (University of Ottawa)

Student mobility research appears to have been fixated on two separate perspectives, migration and internationalization of education, each of which seems to serve conflicting yet intertwined purposes. This imposes what appears to be a dichotomy between cosmopolitan aspects of international trade and the citizenship/immigration related issues among students. 

It appears that simultaneous advocacy for improving student mobility policies essentially inquires theoretical backing from either human rights regimes (e.g. Winter, 2014) or concepts such as the knowledge society and the importance of human capital in defining the countries ranking in a global competition for talent (CBIE, 2015). However, the [neoliberal] topological character of citizenship (Anderson, 2013) and capitalist characteristics of regulations of [im]mobility (Harvey, 2013) predominate the development of these advocacies. Therefore, while defying one another, these arguments appear to perpetuate the Contradictions of Capitalism (Harvey, 2014). 

Following identification of the evident pragmatic, social and political overlaps that exist between student mobility and migration, this text criticizes the prominence of market ideology that is currently present in student mobility research. In order to exemplify such criticism, this paper suggests contextualization of student mobility within Urry’s mobilities paradigm, which enables the research for centralizing mobility as a whole rather than a retinal focus on migration for students.


Panel 11: Poetics of Third Spaces: Negotiating Interstitial Identities

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. MaryAnn Snyder-Körber (Freie Universität Berlin)

The Airport as a Site of Tensions: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, Suheir Hammad, and Iman Mersal

Dr. Lisa Marchi (University of Trento)

Focusing on a small cluster of poems, in this paper, I address and complicate current conceptualization of mobility and immobility, raising critical questions relating to free movement and confinement, state surveillance, national security, and personal freedom, privilege, discrimination, and exclusion. 

The poets at the center of this study, I argue, reframe the airport as an unstable site traversed by potentially explosive tensions but also as a concrete liminal space where intercultural exchanges and transnational solidarities unexpectedly take place.  

I read the selected poems in conjunction with theoretical and sociological works on affects and mobility by, among others, Mimi Sheller and John Urry (2006), David Pascoe (2000), Sara Ahmed (2000; 2004), Zygmunt Bauman (2002), and with philosophical works on politics and ethics by Caren Kaplan (1996; 2006), Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou (2013), Heather L. Johnson (2014).

Open City by Teju Cole: Urban Space and Fragmented Identity

Cecilia Cruccolini, M.A. (University of Bologna)

Focusing on migration as a spatial phenomenon, this study investigates the relation between the migrant and the urban space represented in Open City (2011), a novel by the Afro-American author Teju Cole. Drawing on postcolonial theory, this analysis of the representation of New York City in the novel, and of the meanings and implications of its relation with the subject, aims to show that the hybridity of the migrant’s identity has been transferred to the surface of the city. Urban space is not merely lived but rather created subjectively by the migrant through the recalling of personal memories: cityscape becomes a result of the juxtaposition of host country and home country. Borrowing Bhabha’s notion of ‘Third Space’, it becomes possible to think of this hybridity – both of identity and space – as an interstitial status of subjects.


Panel 12: Narratives of (Im)mobility in Black Modernism

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Florian Sedlmeier (Freie Universität Berlin)

Take Me Some Place: Baldwin, Ellison, and Notions of (Im)mobility in Harlem

Ewa Adamkiewitcz, M.A. (University of Graz)

Dropping out of school, falling into drug addiction, and being incarcerated; or, becoming an algebra teacher and starting a family in a nice home: The life journeys of Sonny and his older brother in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” represent different experiences of socioeconomic (im)mobility in Harlem. This paper argues that the short story depicts not only how characters move through Harlem, but how Harlem shapes the protagonists and how, simultaneously, it is constructed as a space of alienation through their movements. With the essay “Harlem is Nowhere,” Ralph Ellison similarly describes Harlem as ambivalent space. The tensions arising from dynamics of (im)mobility in Harlem represent an overarching juxtaposition which Ellison attempts to theorize in his essay. Based on an analysis and (con)textualization of “Harlem is Nowhere,” this paper seeks to investigate how notions of movement in “Sonny’s Blues” shape the characters’ identities, sense of belonging, and lived experiences.

Eugenic Discourse, Racial (Im-)Mobility and Naturalist Aesthetic in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Florian Gabriel, M.A. (Freie Universität Berlin)

James Weldon Johnson's novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) proposes interracial positive eugenics (intermarriage between upper class African Americans and white Americans) as a desirable option for African American upward mobility. The text does so through a mixed-race protagonist whose musical genius and talent for risky financial speculation - attributed to his African American mother and white father respectively - make him the novel's most admirable male character. The protagonists' financial prowess becomes especially apparent when the novel is read in the context of classical American literary naturalism and has therefore received little attention in recent scholarship. While the novel's eugenic vision refutes the then widely held belief that racial intermixing resulted in physical and mental deficiency, it also reinforces biological notions of race and, by pitting upper class against lower class African Americans, the racial stereotypes that accounted for racial immobility during the early twentieth century.


Panel 13: Should We Make It New? Rethinking American Modernism

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein (Freie Universität Berlin)

Legacies of Modernism in Contemporary American Poetry, or What Happened to Universalism in the University?

James Cetovski, M.A. (University of Oxford)

This paper argues that the literary regimes that have succeeded the waning of high modernism have made a mistake by failing to take seriously modernist universalism. The present American literary field feels much more comfortable with context-based accounts of literature that remain temporally and geographically specific, and takes the modernist aspiration of full participation in literary history to be delusional. This paper argues that this context-oriented regime has influenced both criticism and the creative production of American literature, which since the Second World War has substantially shared the institutional space of the university with the conventional English department. Analysis of contemporary American poetry reveals a reluctance to think in cross-cultural and historical terms, and hesitation to produce a literature that exceeds the relatively narrow boundaries of the self. Comparison with modernism, I conclude, shows that in certain respects this is a development to be regretted.

Mobilizing Literary Form: The Dynamics of Self-Canonization at the Heyday of American Modernism

Svenja Fehlhaber, M.A. (University of Osnabrück)

With the advent of industrial modernity, unforeseen horizons of mobility not only transformed peoples’ lives but emerged as an imperative in US-American narratives of progress. Through the lens of ‘mobility,’ my paper re-reads the conceptual consolidation of American literary modernism as a programmatic appropriation of this imperative, which served to ensure the persistence and relevance of the practice in 20th-century America. The paper shows how notions of increased mobility emerged as a modern American self-attribution across various cultural practices, artifacts and media before it investigates various strategies, which modernists used in their primary- and paratexts to appropriate notions of increased mobility for their own purpose. The paper shows that in American literary modernism’s interrelated endeavor of self-canonization and -legitimation, increasing mobility did not facilitate inter-cultural, -racial or -class-related exchange but built highly exclusive conceptual thresholds that revisionist studies of literary modernism begin to tear down today.


Panel 14: Tourism and its Discontents

Panel Chair: Dr. Michelle Commander (University of Tennessee)

Disney’s Theme Parks as Nodes of Mobility in a Globalized World

Sabrina Mittermeier, M.A. (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)

Theme parks can be seen as so-called “nodes of mobility” (Sheller & Urry) that structure social life, as well as foster social connections. The Disney theme parks with their international appeal, and their central role as sites of postmodern tourism and themed environments in the age of the “Tourist Gaze” (Urry & Larsen),  are an especially rich example of the idea of mobility and travel culture in a globalized world. Looking at classic modes of transportation - such as trains, boats, and automobiles - as they are represented in Disney parks around the world, I will connect ideas of transportation and tourism studies to highlight the increasingly global mobility of people and ideas. I will draw on Urry’s work, as well as Nordahl’s studies of North American transportation systems, who sees Disneyland’s transportation as an ideal for public transport - stressing the postmodern blurring of boundaries, the de-differentiation of tourism and everyday life.

Visions of Paradise – The Simultaneity of Touristic Mobility and Immobility of Hawai'i as a Mental Construct

Nathalie Oelert, M.A. (University of Kassel)

After World War II the vision of Hawai’i as a dream of the South Seas and an allegory of paradise evolved within the USA. This everlasting vision stood in sharp contrast to the changing mobilities of the US-American tourists. Since the construction of Hawai’i as an allegory of paradise seemed to remain unaffected by changing social, political, and economical conditions in the USA, it may be regarded as a symbol of the immobility inherent to the mental construct of Hawai’i as a place of longing. By contrast, the tourists themselves acted as embodiments of the changing mobilities. The talk will focus on the points of friction between these mobilities and immobilities, found in diversifying gender roles, a heightened sensitivity to questions of ethnic and racial affiliations, and in new demands on the type of vacation. It will stress the simultaneity of the touristic mobility and the immobility of the paradisiacal vision of Hawai’i.

Reproducing Bodies, Reproducing Citizens: The United States on the Map of Global Surrogacy Tourism

Olga Korytowska, M.A. (Graduate School for Social Research, Warsaw)

Recent years saw a boom in transnational surrogacy industry. On a personal level, transnational surrogacy can be a solution of the problem of infertility/childlessness of a particular couple. From a global perspective, however, reproductive tourism produces certain consequences for the social body. Firstly, its global dimensions expose systemic class and racial inequalities in the sphere of reproductive rights, and the outsourcing patterns of reproductive tourism largely mirror colonial dependencies. Secondly, surrogacy tourism complicates the issue of citizenship beyond traditional jus soli and jus sanguini categories. 

In my presentation I take a closer look at the position of the United States as both the outsourcer and an attractive destination on the map of global surrogacy tourism, posing a question of how the reproductive tourism may shape the collective body of the nation.


Panel 15: Moving Myths: Transnational Identities and Imaginaries

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter (Freie Universität Berlin)

Mythical Immobility: The Institutionalization of Memory and Past in the Italian American Experience

Chiara Grilli, M.A. (University of Macerata)

The word “migration” implies social mobility, historical dynamicity and cultural vitality. However, something may change when a community of people settles down in a new country. The splitting feeling of displacement and the fear of being overwhelmed by the culture of the new land encourage the group to build a solid set of shared values and symbols, becoming a sort of mythical background to grasp at. Should this myth become unable to keep up with the changing reality, the mythical narrative might turn into an immobilizing force, freezing the individual and his/her own personal evolution. In my paper I will propose a reading of the Italian American mythical immobility denounced by writers and directors such as Robert Viscusi, Dana Gioia and David Chase, and due to the apparently never-changing myth of the past, which inevitably restricts the individual chance of constructing a dynamic self. 

Representing Late Modern Family in Italian-American Culture: A Transnational Study

Dr. Francesco Chianese (Freie Universität Berlin / Naples Eastern University)

In the last few decades, the American literature, cinema and TV have largely focused on the transformations of family. Within this wide context, the Italian-American experience has featured a series of specific issues concerning an ethnic community bound to a specific traditional family heritage. It has represented the difficulties of a culture shifting from a strongly patriarchal family tradition to a new one, identified with the American way of life, whose family structure reconfigured in a rhizomatic net of relations. In this way, the Italian-American family experienced a double transformation: a process of adaptation to a constantly changing model and, at the same time, a wider transnational family reconfiguration. In my paper, I analyze contemporary Italian-American works of literature, cinema and TV, such as Don DeLillo’s novel Underworld (1997) and the HBO TV series The Sopranos (1999-2007) as case studies for a transnational research on the late modern family.


Panel 16: States in Motion: Force, Captivity, Objectives

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Markus Kienscherf (Freie Universität Berlin)

Drones: Lowering the Threshold for Use of Force

Andris Banka, M.A. (University of Birmingham)

The principal objective of this paper is to examine how unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have shaped and influenced US foreign policy behaviour in favour of once rejected targeted killings. Because of their ability to fly into one’s territory unnoticed, capacity to operate in volatile environments, and strike enemy targets with relatively high precision, lawmakers have been more willing to sign under lethal operations. The key argument advanced here is that drones have visibly lowered the threshold for when presidents authorize the use of force against specific individuals, pushing aside other policy options. The study provides a historical look of targeted killings as a foreign policy tool, and investigates how technology has helped to expand the boundaries of what the public considers to be acceptable.

The Captivity of War as an Object of Mobility: The Western Inter-Allied Relations on German POWs during the Second World War

Jean-Michel Turcotte, M.A. (Laval University)

During the Second World War, Canada and the United States held over 460,000 German prisoners of war (POWs) on their territory. Quickly the detention of these Hitler’s soldiers on the continent became a subject of close collaboration between the Allies, but also a contentious source of negotiations because each Ally pursued its own detention policies. This paper proposes to examine interactions, transfers and exchanges between Canada, Great Britain, and the United States on POWs. Through the North Atlantic triangle relations between Ottawa, Washington and London, the detention of war in North America favoured a close collaboration between the U.S. and Canada, which indicated that the Allies perceived the prisoners in a transnational perspective, as an inter-allied object of concern. The POWs’ captivity in North America became not only a transatlantic movement of people, but also an object of transfers of expertise, policies, regulations and influences between Allies.

Dahlem Research School
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