CFP: Forms of Informality: Textual Analysis and Popular Culture in the Global South, March 11-12, 2016

Keynote speakers: Moradewun Adejunmobi (University of California, Davis) and Juan Poblete (University of California, Santa Cruz)

We invite scholars working on popular culture in/of the Global South to submit paper proposals that interrogate the possibilities and limitations of combining formal textual analysis with the question of informal economic activity. How might literary analysis be used for the interpretation of popular culture and vernacular genres that circulate in dynamic informal markets? What is at stake when performing textual analyses of narratives crafted in various media for an immediate financial return? Can formal criticism overcome reified oppositions such as “literary” vs. “popular”? By focusing on the play between formalism and informality, this symposium aims to explore and evaluate textual approaches, such as close reading, being used by a range of disciplines—including cultural studies, literary studies, media anthropology, and ethnography—in the study of Global South cultural objects.

The resurgent regard for formalist approaches—genre criticism in African screen media, for example—suggests that these may play an increasingly powerful role in our understanding of narratives that circulate informally: pirated texts rolling off anarchist or commercial presses in Latin America, vintage cassettes for sale on the streets of Dar es Salaam, Kuduro music traded by Bluetooth in Angola, or pen-drive-circulated videos in Cuba demand criticism that evaluates both the nature of the markets in which they circulate and the formal textual strategies of those markets. What are the useful concatenations and distinctions between technological proliferation and individual sites of meaning? What can we learn about the status of popular texts by focusing on their form? Indeed, if these texts are produced and consumed in informal markets, outside the rules of corporate media industries and state institutions, is informality rearticulated through their aesthetic or semiotic features? Or, on the contrary, does it remain a category incommensurate with aesthetic analysis?

This symposium will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, March 11-12, 2016. UW-Madison is home to a wide variety of Language and Literature Departments and Area Studies Programs with research interests in the Global South. It is also home to North America’s only degree-granting department in African literature, which—in its 50th year—is planning to become a department of African Cultural Studies. The largely Euro-American tradition of cultural studies may be increasingly at work in the study of the Global South, but not without substantial revision and reformulation. What can language and literature departments contribute to this process? And how do they intersect with and depart from other disciplines?

Possible areas of inquiry might include, but are not limited to:

  • Implications of the new “Global South” forum in the Modern Language Association
  • Current conceptualizations of popular culture in/of the Global South
  • The relationship between cultural production and the informal economy
  • Reading practices (close reading, surface reading, symptomatic reading, etc.)
  • Transnational and translocal articulations of informal networks
  • Authorship and intellectual property
  • Theoretical and historical perspectives on the role of digital technologies in the Global South
  • “New formalist” articulations of postcolonial studies
  • Contemporary tensions between cultural and literary studies
  • The institutional implications of conducting research on informal markets in language and literature departments

Some funding is available to defray participant’s travel costs. Selected presentations in this symposium will be combined in a dossier for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Please send a CV and proposals of no more than 300 words—along with name, affiliation, title, and contact information—to Victor Goldgel-Carballo (Spanish and Portuguese) and Matthew H. Brown (African Languages & Literature) at by July 31, 2015.

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