Call for Papers

Conversations about ‘race’ and diversity have existed in the field of American Studies in Germany for many years. Especially in the past few decades, minorities and other marginalized groups could even be said to have advanced to the center of a considerable number of scholarly inquiries. In the majority of cases, however, those discussions have focused solely on the issues of diversity, ‘race’ and racism in literary works, films or specific places in the United States. Moreover, the paradoxical phenomenon that scholars rigorously research and draw their students’ attention to racism in the U.S. while being oblivious to racism in German society and academia seems to be quite prevalent.

Given the fact that it is mainly white scholars who talk about the issue of ‘race’ in American Studies in Germany while black and other scholars of color are, apart from very few exceptions, excluded from the field and consequently missing from these conversations, the question of “Who can speak?” (alluding to Gayatri C. Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” [1988]) has recently received increased attention. However, meta-level discussions of “Who can speak?” in American Studies in Germany have thus far not made it into scholarly discourse. It is precisely this lacuna of scholarly dialogue that this workshop seeks to commence to fill.

While bell hooks observed in the late 1980s that “[p]roblems arise not when white [scholars] choose to write about the experiences of non-white people, but when such material is presented as ‘authoritative[,]’” recent developments in the field of American Studies in Germany now raise the question of what constitutes ‘authoritative presentation’ today (Talking Back [1986]: 48). Discussions about these issues tend to be marked by strong affective investment, ideas of idealism and morality which are – by some – seen to run counter to rational scholarship and the educated quest for “truth.”

Whereas some activists claim that the mere use of analytical tools developed by white theorists is generally unacceptable for research inquiries in Black Studies and Ethnic Studies, academia as such claims to rest on a belief in “the better argument,” thus privileging what is said over who speaks. This conceptualization of scholarship could provokingly be called a “colorblind approach” to thought – the mere question of who can legitimately speak thus potentially shakes an entire professional field to its very foundations. It is therefore indeed difficult to even begin a scholarly conversation about ‘race’ and ethnic diversity in the field of American Studies in Germany, since its rules seem to be diametrically opposed to the premise of such a discussion.

This workshop, aware of said difficulties, seeks to provide a space in which, first, a meta-level discussion can be held regarding ethnic diversity in American Studies and related disciplines in Germany, and, second, issues of ethnic diversity, ‘race’ and racism in U.S. and German society, cultural productions and history can be analyzed while self-reflectively addressing the scholar’s own subject position. We encourage paper proposals on a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Ethnic diversity, ‘race’ and racism in German academia and theory formation
  • Deconstructing the ideology of scholarship as ‘colorblind’
  • The applicability of the concept of ‘race’ in Germany – theorizing the figure of the ‘Ausländer’
  • Guilt, threat, envy – affect and ethnic diversity in academia
  • Ethnic diversity, ‘race’ and racism in U.S. literature, film and other cultural productions
  • Historical/ sociological approaches to ethnic diversity, ‘race’ and racism
  • Discourse, silence and silencing regarding ethnic diversity, ‘race’ and racism
  • Pedagogical approaches which make discussions of ‘race’ and racism in the U.S. resonate vis-à-vis Germany today

For proposals, please include a cover page with paper title, presenter’s name, affiliation, and a current e-mail contact, along with a short C.V. (max. 1 page) of the presenter and an abstract of no more than 300 words. Please submit materials via e-mail to by September 15, 2015.

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