Conference Theme

      In 2005, the AFEA conference in Lille, under the title “State of the Art”, offered a panorama of American Studies in France. Ten years later, we shall attempt to question the current redefinition of American studies, the evolution of its traditional disciplines, and the emergence of new fields of study. This conference is open to every field covered by AFEA members willing to present what they are currently working on in the hope to map out and rethink what Americanist scholars are presently researching. Our ambition is to share objects of studies, tools, perspectives and concepts, including through the comparison of American studies in France, the US, and the rest of the world. Workshops on new forms of research, software and teaching tools are welcome, along with academic panels.

Some examples include and are not limited to research through field-work and its modern practices (participant observation and/or research, interviews in person or via the Internet, the use and study of social networks); the study of contemporary phenomena (“histoire du temps present,” Joan Scott, debates on presentism); experiments of creation in research, practice-based research and research-action; newly expanding fields of research (creative writing, intercultural mediation, translation, improvisation, and the ever expanding forms of popular culture, special purpose language [SPL]). Inter- and transdisciplinary approaches may be up for discussion, along with the institutional arguments and incentives that sometimes support them. American studies outside the US have a role to play not only as research that is transformed by new practices, but because it may push for a new philosophical and theoretical reflection in France, as a mirror effect of the French Theory born in the United States out of a fruitful interest in the French post- structuralists.

Also worthy of attention is a reflection on how new media and information technology impact research, and how in turn they are becoming the object of research. Following a trend started in the United States, inroads have been made into the digital humanities, the Digital Subject, and all kinds of experimental approaches/uses of new technologies, whether concerning digital creation in the arts and literature, translation software, or cell-phone cinema festivals. How have digital resources, the rediscovery of “outdated” technologies, or generalized access to image technology reconfigured literary, artistic and cultural matters in American studies? How has technological change, from amateur Super 8 to the HD3D standard, affording limited options for full viewing beyond the first release in the original format, affected aesthetics analysis? How are new technologies thematized in literature, theatre or poetry, and how are they transformed in the process?

Finally, how do writing, theory, and the arts help us to understand the possibilities and the limits of new technologies? For example, how do new conceptualisms in art and literature take a critical stance on new technologies? How do trauma studies view the use, practice and impact of recent technological innovations?

New connections, in terms of themes as well as methods, often allow for a novel approach of the classics. Examples are to be found in the new perspectives offered in literature and history by environmental issues: political theory, aesthetics and ecocriticism (C. Glotfelty et H. Fromm (dir.), The Ecocriticism Reader, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1996); by geographic analysis: variations in scale, transnationality (L.E. Guarnizo, M.P. Smith (dir.), Transnationalism from Below, New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 1997); by law studies, in resonance with interdisciplinary practices in law research in the US; race and gender relations: controversies on postmodernism or intersectionality (Kimberlé Crenshaw). The same is true of the intellectual practices of comparatism, reflexivity and decentering that characterize cultural studies and approaches, and have allowed to renew the study of the literary canon or the understanding of the state, the workplace and social conflict.

A matter still debated in France is the role of cultural studies within English-language studies. Less than a generation ago, they were struggling for legitimacy in a field still dominated by the British canon. Cultural studies keep branching out into new fields (gender studies, disability studies or white studies) and onto new objects (TV, video games, graphic novels or Forensic photography) that seem limitless. The re-discovery of questions raised by personal involvement and experience several decades ago in the writings of Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Eve Sedgwick, Michael Taussig or Lisa Duggan, is only starting in France. Openly political approaches such as black feminism (Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, London, Routledge, 1999 [1990]) or the ethics of care (Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1982) remain largely unexplored in France. The study of the production of immediately contemporary mass culture, which is a core field of cultural studies since its inception, is being renewed through analyses that articulate storytelling with the structural analysis of the cultural industry. For example, the representation of minorities is perhaps less studied today than the cultural production by minority artists, in a field whose methodologies are being redefined.

The conference also hopes to provide a forum to discuss the evolution of research within its institutions and the influence of teaching, and its transformations, on research. From the curricular choices for the Agrégation to the proliferation of pre-professional programs within and mergers between language and humanities departments, our research is influenced by the evolving structure of educational institutions and the current debates on the future of universities, and of the humanities. Scholars in other fields of work are invited to share the way their other activities, whether they are pursued for economic reasons, or as forms of activism or volunteering, feed their research, and vice-versa.

Mathieu Bonzom,
Vincent Broqua,
Anne Crémieux,