This conference invites a wide-ranging interrogation of the idea of the voice of the people by scholars from a range of fields. Building from a millennia-old maxim--the voice of the people is the voice of God--the desire to locate, fabricate, and appropriate the vox populi has been especially pervasive for at least the last two centuries. What defines this voice of the people? Is it a voice charged with lore from the ancient past or one as new as today's poll numbers? How is it mediated: who speaks on behalf of the "grass roots," "the American people," the "Arab street"? The concept can challenge authority, promoting populist subversions of hierarchy (carnival, protest, revolution), yet it also feeds an age-old temptation to construct a monologic Voice of a monolithic People, silencing heterogeneous, dialogic voices. Whether sought in man-on-the-street interviews, the "voices of the People in song" (for Herder these included everyone from Homer, to Shakespeare, to Ossian), or contemporary advertising trends, the consensus of popular sentiment remains as elusive (and deceptive) an ideal as ever.
The VOX POP conference will consider the multitudes of peoples and voices that have come under the heading of vox populi, from the ancient populus or hoi polloi to the various "Peoples" of modern nationalism (das Volk, le peuple, narod), and from folksong to political discourse to "the writing on the wall."
A few possible points of orientation and approaches:
populisms: literary, political, religious, etc.
lines of transmission: "through the grapevine," via writers, politicians, and prophets, or--if the voice is silent/silenced--through transformations into other forms of expression (literature "written for the drawer," graffiti, visual arts, etc.)
national and ethnic identity; heritage as tradition or invention
issues of (dis)enfranchisement, literature and democracy, representation in government
questions of power and authority: what gives the vox pop legitimacy?
information technologies and the ways they have inflected ideas of popular expression
relations between ideas of "gender" and "the people"
"pop," folk, and country music, jazz and blues, "world" music, etc.
modalities/tone/intonation of the vox pop: appealing, commanding, mythopoetic, imperative
orality/literacy, national epics (authentic or fabricated)
Keynote Speaker: Russell A. Berman is Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University (German Studies and Comparative Literature). He specializes in the study of German literary history and cultural politics and is the author of numerous articles and award-winning books, including Enlightenment or Empire: Colonial Discourse in German Culture, The Rise of the Modern German Novel: Crisis and Charisma, and Cultural Studies of Modern Germany: History, Representation and Nationhood.
Plenary Speaker: Morag Shiach is Professor of Cultural History in the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing on theoretical approaches and research methodologies from literary studies, cultural studies, history, and political theory. Her publications include Modern Labour: Modernism, Labour and Selfhood in British Literature and Culture, 1890-1930; Hélène Cixous: A Politics of Writing; Discourse on Popular Culture: Class, Gender and History in Cultural Analysis 1730 to the Present; several edited volumes; and numerous articles.
Affiliated Round-Table: "The Voice of the People in the 2004 Primaries," moderated by Charles Bierbauer, Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina. A distinguished broadcast journalist, Bierbauer was for twenty years a correspondent for CNN in Washington, where he covered the Supreme Court, the Bush and Reagan administrations and the presidential campaigns from 1984-96. From 1977-81, he was an overseas correspondent for ABC News, first as Moscow Bureau Chief and later as the Bonn Bureau chief.
Abstracts: Please send one-page abstracts for twenty-minute papers to the conference organizers, via mail, or e-mail them. Broadly interdisciplinary presentations are encouraged. We plan to publish a volume of selected papers from the conference. Updated conference information will be available on the web at our website.
Deadline for proposals: 30 September 2003
Judith Kalb and Alexander Ogden
Comparative Literature Program
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
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