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2009 Interim Report of the Program Committee
2009 Late Program Changes: For changes to your personal information including name changes and affiliation changes, please contact the American Studies Office directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. These changes will appear only in the on line version of the program.
2009 Interim Report of the Program Committee
by Joanna Brooks, Melani McAlister, and Barry Shank
The co-chairs for this year's meeting of the American Studies Association-Joanna Brooks, Melani McAlister and Barry Shank-begin our interim report by thanking the dedicated members of this year's program committee: Luis Alvarez, Devon Carbado, Angela Dillard, Natalia Molina, Kelly Quinn, Robert Reid-Pharr, Sarita See, and Robert Vitalis. This committee has worked tirelessly to create an expansive and inclusive meeting based on the theme of "Practices of Citizenship, Sustainability and Belonging" developed by our president, Kevin Gaines. We would also like to thank the ASA staff, Zachary Gardner, Barry McCarron and Gabriel Peoples, who worked hard to bring order to our meetings and produce quantitative evidence for our generalizations. Our efforts were guided, as usual, by the steady hand of John Stephens, whose expertise and years of experience remain invaluable resources.
The membership of ASA responded warmly and with creativity and intellectual acuity to this year's theme, resulting in a program rich with the interlocking concepts and methods that make ASA a vital intellectual organization. A total of 361 session proposals were submitted; 219 of those will be appearing on the program (69%). Individual paper submissions numbered 399, of which 137 were accepted and shaped into 43 panels (34%). As these percentages indicate, the competition for slots on the program remains high. The chances of appearing on the program are doubled when full panels are submitted. To a certain extent, this difference in success rates can be explained by the difficulty of assembling coherent panels from independent papers. We are lucky to have benefited from a considerable number of experienced ASA members who volunteered to serve as chairs and commentators on these "constructed" panels. But we encourage members who want to increase their chances of appearing on the program to put together thoughtful full-panel proposals.
While citizenship and belonging are long-standing concerns of the association, the triangulation provided by the concept of sustainability provoked our members to rethink the rights, responsibilities, pleasures and terrors of life in and around the United States. Linking these three themes together encouraged a reconsideration of the embodied nature of political rights, resulting in new approaches to issues of security, health and survival. A number of panels will interrogate the ideological interaction between democracy and neoliberalism, framing these concepts as not only active in the present but as an extended stream throughout US history. Investigations of political rights have been linked with issues raised by access to food and water resources. The meaning of security has been expanded by our members to include much more than militarily enforced borders. The fundamental importance of human dignity emerged as a theme in panels concerned with immigration rights as well as those delving into conflicts in the Middle East. The intersection of belonging and sustainability offered a path to reconsiderations of issues of space and place in urban and rural settings. Panels on food, health and sexual rights will be joined by considerations of war, oil, and environmentalism. The insinuations of biopower are foregrounded in many panels that consider the reproduction of cultural and political resources. The election of Barack Obama prompted arguably the largest number of submissions on the work and meaning of a single individual in the recent history of the organization. One thread of panels, sponsored by the editorial board of AQ, is focused on "social death, necropolitics, and disposability." Perhaps the current crisis of the American empire is a forceful stimulant for our intellectual work.
Our committees and caucuses have contributed particularly powerful sessions this year. The Minority Scholars Committee is sponsoring an important panel entitled "Combating Inequalities in Higher Education: An Agenda for Tough Times." The Visual Culture Studies caucus has set up a series of panels that will discuss keywords in visual culture, Western photographic portraits, and visual representations of Barack Obama. Efforts to involve activists from outside the academy resulted in such panels as "LGBT Policy and Movement Activism after Proposition 8," featuring the national policy director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and "Music and Social Activism," with contributions from youth-oriented activists from the DC area. A special session entitled "Palestine in Crisis" will feature Palestinian, Israeli and US scholars who will discuss the current situation in the region, including the status of Palestinian universities. The complex issue of "Academic Freedom and the Right to Education" will be the focus of another important session. The location for this year's meeting offers many local resources for the organization. Planned off-site events include an opening reception at the National Museum of the American Indian, a truly beautiful setting that will set an elegant and forceful tone for this year's meeting. The events sponsored by the Visual Studies caucus will take place at the National Portrait Gallery. This year has also witnessed the passing of two giants of American Studies. Special sessions have been constructed to celebrate the contributions and mourn the loss of John Hope Franklin and Emory Elliott, both past presidents of the organization.
Although the online submission process has been tweaked to the point where it generally works quite well, some confusions and problems still occur. The current database system for submissions has produced important efficiencies for the staff, reducing their workload and increasing the amount of time that the program committee can use to evaluate proposals. While the online process for entering presenters and titles seems clear to those who have used it multiple times, some stumbling blocks still arise from a lack of transparency about terms and some incomplete listing of expectations and requirements for full proposals. For example, some panel proposals were submitted as individual paper proposals and vice versa. Because of the structure of the database system, these incorrect submissions were discarded and could not be considered by the committee. This resulted in quite understandable frustrations. ASA staff is currently working to revise the "help" page to be more easily navigated and more useful, and the staff would like to request that members having any trouble with the process or any questions about it to please contact them. With sufficient lead time, almost all of these problems can be solved and submissions can be completed properly. Finally, despite long-standing policy, quite a few members still allowed their names to be submitted on multiple panel proposals. This always creates an unfair result insofar as one or both proposals cannot be considered. We reiterate, therefore, the annual request that individuals take extra care to ensure that their names appear on only one submission.
The program committee was very pleased with the high quality of work proposed by the ASA membership. We look forward to an intellectually stimulating and provocative meeting next November in Washington, DC.