Thank you to Sarah Gibbons for this guest post on the 2014 English Graduate Student Colloquium. I was fortunate to attend the morning portion and was impressed by the range and depth of investigation. –JLH
On Friday, March 21, the Students Association for Graduates in English (SAGE) hosted our annual colloquium. This year, I had the pleasure of helping to organize the event with Colloquium Coordinator Dani Stock and a very dedicated planning committee.
Our theme this year was transgression and control. We were interested in thinking about emerging technologies, increased surveillance, and the circulation of power through discursive and bodily norms. Our many questions included:
“What is produced by the tension between transgression and control? How do these tensions shape the bodies and spaces involved? What technologies and strategies are used to regulate and subvert normativity? How does the impulse to control – to regularize and classify – interact with the impulse to transgress? How does one move (or not move) within sites of conflict? When is a body the site of conflict?”
We knew that our colleagues had answers to these questions, as well as deeper questions, and we were interested in finding out how students approaching English studies from multiple perspectives would address our concerns. We wanted to know how writers had negotiated authority in earlier periods, how rhetorics of resistance take shape, and how new technologies change our relationships to systems of authority. We were very excited to welcome Dr. Morgan Holmes, Associate Professor of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University, as our keynote speaker this year. Dr. Holmes is the editor of Critical Intersex (2009) and the author of Intersex: A Perilous Difference (2007). Her work’s examination of regulatory technologies, clinical language, diagnostic labels, and the rhetoric of disorder offered valuable insight into the topics that we wanted to discuss.
The morning of the colloquium began with talks by Sarah Walker, who discussed textual authority in Chaucer’s House of Fame, and Amna Basit, who discussed the multiplicity of meaning in Wayde Compton’s 49th Parallel Psalm. Panel 2, “Adaptive Structures” interrogated dominant approaches to understanding technologies and their users. Judy Ehrentraut’s investigation of mobile technologies questioned the distinction between real and virtual to position the mobile phone as a prosthetic extension of a hybridized body. Lauren Burr examined creative misuses of social media by introducing us to the concept of Netprov, a form of literature theorized through the lens of performance studies that is networked, collaborative, and improvised in real time. Our third set of panelists furthered this discussion, with Christopher Lawrence exploring surveillance and video games through a discussion of digital rights management (DRM), and Eise Vist showing how digital artists have reimagined characters from J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to subvert the limited representations of race and gender found in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the novel.
After lunch, Dr. Andy Houston and Paul Cegys from the Department of Drama came to speak with us about their work directing and designing the set of “From Solitary to Solidarity: Unravelling the Ligatures of Ashley Smith”. Our panel chair for this event was PhD candidate Stephen Fernandez, who worked on an exhibition for the performance entitled, “Small Acts of Repair Towards Mental Health: A Space for Engagement”. The presenters explained that the play was an auto-ethnography, as opposed to a documentary; the performers had contributed to the script by sharing their responses to Ashley’s story, and telling their own personal narratives.
Our last panel examined the body as a site of resistance. Danny Lindsay critiqued the stigma surrounding addiction in popular culture. The other two presenters explored theories of performativity, with Somayeh Kiani focusing on Patricia Powell’s novel The Pagoda and Denise Vaz exploring the embodied rhetoric of pride events.
Dr. Holmes’s talk, “Thinking Cripsitemically about Sexuality in High and Popular Culture “, traced the representations of intersexed characters in literature and film, and outlined the ways in which many representations reinscribe normative power structures through the myths that they perpetuate. Drawing on the work of Dr. Robert McRuer, Dr. Holmes outlined the possibilities of cripestemic approaches, explaining how thinking cripistemically can help us turn away from a deficit model of the body and embrace the messiness of human sexuality.
On behalf of the SAGE colloquium planning committee, I would like to thank our presenters, faculty, graduate students, and visitors for attending the event, supporting student research, and creating conversation. We look forward to seeing you again next year.