Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Consecutive Conference

Not that I want this to dominate my blog, but I went to a conference on Continuity and Change in Berlin this weekend. The post below will try to discuss the conference experience more generally, as well as the specifics of my Berlin interactions.

It was good.

Berlin is a nice city.

It seems like whatever is making it so attractive to a certain subculture right now won’t/can’t past (namely cheap rents) but while it does everyone of our persuasion should probably visit there.

I stayed in a hostel in Kreuzberg. It was my first time staying in a hostel alone. I didn’t get much sleep. I went to Berghain on Friday night. I missed one panel at the conference. Other people missed more. I also shared a room with five teenage Irish girls. They made a lot of noise coming into the room. I didn’t ever speak to them as I left for the conference before they were awake.

The lack of sleep didn’t really affect my conference experience. I was interested in most of the panels. The focus of the conference was change in American studies. I hadn’t really realised until now that I am very much an Americanist. I found out about the British Association for American Studies. I am planning to go to their conference in November.

I felt more like I was hearing papers that dealt with my field compared to my experience in Sheffield.

The conference was well-organised, and the graduate students in charge of it were very enthusiastic about the topic.

Some of the recurring themes of the conference: understanding Obama, American identity, change and formal method, the nature/function of democracy, media semiotics, the function of criticism.

Day 1

The first keynote lecture was by Paul Boyer. He had an infectious enthusiasm for investigating cultural evidence. He stressed the need to try to understand evangelical activism in America. He talked about history’s ability to surprise us. He cited precedents for Obama’s election in prominent black people in power.

The response to this lecture was from Andreas Etges. He raised some interesting points. I don’t really remember what he said. I thought he was very engaging.

I spoke to a Spanish girl in the first break. We talked about the British education system and my anxiety about not knowing languages. We discussed identity and indeterminacy. I didn’t see her at the rest of the conference.

The first panel was on Media Representations of Change. Sarah Wust talked about re-makings. I wrote part of my MRes dissertation on metarepresentations and re-writings. I liked her paper. I wanted to ask about the HBO Grey Gardens remake. There wasn’t time. I asked her about it later. She thought it was interesting.

Simon Schleussner talked about photography and change in formalist terms. I thought about movement photography in connection to McSweeney’s. The difference between two points in McSweeney’s. We understand change by considering the difference between two points. McSweeney’s does not imply linear change. It demonstrates discontinuity.

Olaf Stieglitz presented on “Fantasies of Leadership in Hollywood Movies of the Early Great Depression”. This was more of a ‘fun’ paper for me at first. Olaf talked about international culture and America drawing on that to understand its own problems. That made the paper cohere for me.

I won’t go through all the papers like this. I’m just going to do some highlights.

Amos Nascimento talked about community politics/activism in America post-Obama. This was really good. It meant that when I talked about this in my paper the next day I could refer to this easily. But it was also good in its own right. He said Obama’s supporters haven’t lived up to the levels of activism that were evident in the campaign. He acknowledged it was too early to really assess this.

The closing paper was really interesting. David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of various books, articles, and lectures. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for nearly 40 years.

He talked about hegemonic shifts and the need to understand them. He said we should be thinking on the macro-scale. Not just micro-studies. That social change occurs in  several ways. We cannot think of social change as individual factors. One does not determine them all. Social change is a dynamic, inter-related process. Systemic views are possible even within ethnographic studies. He talked about collective responsibility in the 1970s. He said that in the 2000s individuals are too quick to blame themself. That we have an inability to see systemic problems. He talked about class as a process and not as a fixed identity.

He talked without notes. This always intimidates and impresses me. His website has various videos of him speaking. I am going to watch them.

I saw Thomas Docherty speak last weekend and was influenced by him. Now I am also influenced by David Harvey.

I met some nice people in the reception afterwards. I had been very close to leaving as soon as the lecture ended. I’d not really felt comfortable in the receptions until then. I didn’t want to force people to speak English. There were a lot of German speakers there.

Day 2

I went to Berghain last night so missed the first panel.

The next panel involved three people I met last night. Christina Gerken, Kimberly Singletary and Anita Vrzina. On immigration, the collective ‘we’ in Obama’s campaign and other media cultures, and Toni Morrison’s representation of race and ideology.

I enjoyed this panel. Kimberly talked about American sitcoms briefly. I asked Kimberly a question about The Wire. I think it represents a positive model of American ethnic cultures. Or that it is in context a positive thing. Kimberly had not watched all of The Wire. She thought it was dangerous to represent stereotypes like gangsters. I told her later about the teachers and journalists. She said she would look into it.

Anita told me about the BASS. It felt like a new area of my academic career opened up this weekend.

There were another two panels. The first one was about political theory. I was rewriting bits of my paper. I didn’t listen much. I was on the second panel. I presented second. Selma Mokrani talked about Henry James and ‘The American Scene’ first. I really enjoyed it. I am going to read ‘The American Scene’.

I used a quote from Selma’s paper to introduce mine. That James said of America ‘You are but an instalment’. This connected to seriality and periodicals. I need to think more about what this means. Why periodicals and America go well together. I have a lot of ideas about this already. But I think I can do better.

My paper went well.


Here is what I wrote on Facebook about my trip to Berlin, to offer a different perspective:

Mind-blowing falafal, meeting a guy into documentation as much as me, Berghain 5am, Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, Simon-Dach-Strasse, currywurst, five drunken shouting Irish teenage-girls, having my paper referenced twice in the closing panel by keynote speakers, lots of very large beers, Mauerpark!, Shalechet (Fallen Leaves) at Judisches Museum Berlin, crisp sweet pastries, Viktoriapark view of the city.


Filed under: conferences

One Response

  1. tortietabby says:

    bloody irish girls!

    the conference sounds like it was a really worthwhile experience. glad your paper went well!

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