Our theme for the 2019 annual meeting of the American Studies Association, “Build As We Fight,” highlights the challenges and responsibilities we have to envision and bring about sustʻāinable alternatives to heteropatriarchal systems rooted in genocide, dispossession, and extractive capitalism. We intentionally use this Indigenous approach to sustainability, which positions the land (that which feeds) at the center of the concept and praxis. We are committed to putting grounded vocabularies to work that show support for Kānaka Maoli creative praxis and concept work.
This year’s ASA theme is inspired by the lessons James and Grace Lee Boggs drew from Amilcar Cabral and the liberation of Guiné in Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. As the Boggses wrote, “The struggle for power was tied into the gradual realization of socioeconomic structures built by the people themselves.” The goal was to “guarantee that revolution stood for something greater, more valuable, and more meaningful than a mere substitution of African for Portuguese rulers.”
As we gather in Hawaiʻi, we can be inspired by kiaʻi (guardians of lands and water) who hold firm against the material and existential threats facing all our relations—both human and other than human—while simultaneously co-creating new futures. We seek proposals that advance expansive platforms for transformative change and modeled practices that prefigure more just relationships. What lessons can be learned from scholars and artists of Indigenous resurgence, in Hawaiʻi and beyond, who offer alternative governance structures beyond the limits of the nation-state? What critical approaches and paradigm shifts enable political actors and visionaries to establish more relational and sustainable models of work, kinship, justice, and stewardship?
Our conversations offer us the possibility of sharing strategies to guide this journey. We seek to build from and think with the “Resistance” movements that have arisen in response to the growing threat of authoritarianism. Moving beyond protest and opposition, we seek to create space for the multiplicity of political critiques, imaginaries, and actions created by Indigenous peoples and communities of color—including but not limited to Idle No More, NoDAPL, Protect Mauna Kea, the Movement for Black Lives, the Dreamers, and movements against U.S. military expansion throughout the Pacific.
We are propelled forward by the vital work of the ASA’s diverse constituencies—bridging ethnic, Indigenous, queer, feminist, disability, labor, cultural, environmental, settler colonial, and postcolonial studies. Today’s ASA is in many ways the product of a generation of post-nationalist scholars who worked to deconstruct American exceptionalism and queer liberal norms of rights and citizenship. We are now confronted with right-wing ethno-nationalists and billionaire libertarians intent on dismantling—rather than co-opting—existing economic, legal, educational, and political institutions. How can our interdisciplinary and intersectional analyses help us to dissect this historical moment with the urgency and complexity it necessitates, while simultaneously envisioning and preparing for alternative futures?
The cultural changes, demographic transformation, and growing pains inherent in the development of the ASA should prompt us to consider how our organizational practices and priorities can best reflect the scholarly and societal values we seek to promote. How can we, the members of ASA, think and act across multiple scales and temporalities: from our programs and departments to our universities and higher education writ large? from our local sites of embedded practice to national and global policies and institutions? from the immediate survival struggles of our communities to the protracted form of revolutionary transformation that spans multiple generations?
Our convergence in the Pacific further provides an occasion to make connections while reimagining connectivity. Connectivity has become a key way that we understand our relation to self, to other, and to collectivities in the digital age. However, material inequalities organized by extractive and military capitalism often undergird these connections, as with the use of satellites and undersea cables. How might we rethink global connections and modes of refusal? How can we rethink connectivity through Islands epistemes and archipelagos of knowledge? How might we consider new/old models for connections, through the oceanic, through the natural world, to the stars (the original extra planetary source of water), seas and through interconnected forms of solidarity in relation to each human and other than human—and to each other?
Understanding that the systemic crises we face are material, epistemological, environmental, ethical, and ontological, we seek opportunities to foreground situated ways of knowing and doing that can enhance our scholarly research, practice, and accountability to multiple publics. For example, our meeting will coincide with the 20th anniversary of Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s groundbreaking book Decolonizing Methodologies. How can such texts, inspired by critically grounded praxis, guide our designs for social and political transformation?
While the academy is of course not the only place we do our work, it has the distinction of being a powerful site of knowledge production and dissemination. We are called to defend academic freedom in the face of persistent attacks. The Koch brothers have contributed millions to sway higher education toward their ideological interests. Scholars who present not just militant “ideas” but also model the capacity to put radical knowledge to use have been especially targeted. Our aim is to share strategies and tactics, theorizations and critiques, to strengthen our ability to use academic freedom towards freedoms for others and ourselves. How do our vital acts of defense produce new modes of collectivity?
The 2019 Program Committee invites scholars, artists, activists, and educators of all specialties, methods, geographical areas, and historical periods to submit traditional and non-traditional format panel, paper, and workshop proposals. In keeping with the thematic focus, “Build as We Fight,” we particularly encourage submissions for an interactive conference track whose purpose is to develop our individual and collective capacities to effect change that is consistent with the ASA’s mission. This track will be dedicated to organizing, skill-sharing, and coalition building on any topic relevant to the work of ASA constituents and their allies on-campus and off-campus. We also especially welcome submissions of panel and workshop proposals that will model in content and form a commitment to disability rights, universal access, and inclusion.