The American Dream is a magnetizing abstraction to which many people—official and unofficial Americans alike—relate; it is a narrative frame and an imagined landscape through which many construct their identities and conceptualize their lives. Its narrative of mobility, prosperity, and inclusion provides structure, meaning, and direction to the desires and actions of many in the early twenty-first century, shaping the life trajectories of billions. It exudes an optimistic attitude and frontier mentality in which the future is abundant and one’s possibilities are limitless.
This panel addresses widespread fears that the American Dream is threatened by forces that limit or preclude its promise. We explore the ways in which these perceived threats reveal contradictory currents at the heart of the Dream itself. On the one hand, the Dream exalts ideals of hard work, self-reliance, and free markets. On the other, the life world imagined by the Dream presumes strong community ties, dignity, mutual assistance, health, a thriving environment, equality, and democracy. Free movement of capital and products clashes with desires for distinct borders and identities, generating both nativist and multiculturalist responses. Contradictions between different tendencies in the Dream have become increasingly evident in the context of a neoliberal regulatory framework that promotes unbridled capitalism and a politics of fiscal austerity that have exacerbated inequality. Nevertheless, neoliberal capitalist economic arrangements and social patterns succeed in part due to the many ways they are perceived and experienced as ordinary, moral, vital, desirable, and inevitable—as integral to the Dream itself.
We invite papers that bring ethnographic and theoretical attention to contemporary reconfigurations of the American Dream:
How do people negotiate the contradictions of the American Dream in their daily lives? What forms of life and governance organize the shifting landscapes upon which these lives are experienced? How has the Dream become a globally circulating imaginary?
How do social institutions and practices mediate these contradictions, and attempt to resolve them or ameliorate them? How do novel attempts to make the Dream realizable for previously excluded groups function on this shifting terrain? How do they define threats to the Dream and what solutions do they propose? What are some of the limitations and unintended consequences of these solutions? What trade-offs between material and affective/symbolic forms of inclusion do they normalize? What are their politics and anti-politics?
How have fiscal austerity, constitutional originalism, border security, union-busting, and restrictions on non-procreative sexualities come to be widely imagined as vital to the preservation of a tarnished Dream? How do the discourses that promote these measures draw on idioms of nativism, personal responsibility, morality, and market logics? What are their temporalities and affective qualities?
Conversely, how have visions of an American Dream re-founded on egalitarian, democratic, and sustainable principles caught on? What are their characteristics, and what are some obstacles and limitations to their realization?
Send abstracts to Nick Copeland at firstname.lastname@example.org or Christine Labuski at email@example.com. Deadline: April 6th
Nick Copeland and Christine Labuski
University of Arkansas
Department of Anthropology Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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