Call for Papers
The University as a Theater of Culture Wars: Then and Now
Special Issue of Amerikastudien / American Studies
Edited by Florian Zappe
The institution of the university is at the heart of the culture wars raging in contemporary American society. The multifarious ideological and cultural antagonisms within U.S. culture are often discussed in terms that originated in academic debates on the political implications of canons, curricula and faculty structures before finding their way into broader public discourse: ‘Cancel culture’, ‘wokeness’, ‘political correctness’, ‘de-platforming’, ‘identity politics’, ‘cultural Marxism’ or ‘critical race studies’ have become buzzwords in an increasingly entrenched controversy in which one side claims that basic democratic values such as academic freedom and freedom of speech are under attack, while the other side views the current shifts as a long overdue abolition of the unchecked hegemony of white, male and heteronormative privilege and power. This coincides with a socio-political climate in which the concept of scientific truth has become the object of fierce ideological debates―a fact that can be regarded as an attack on the institution of the university itself if one agrees to John Dewey’s dictum that “[t]he university function is the truth-function.” At the same time, neo-liberal politics have almost completely annihilated the function of the academe as an independent site of knowledge production, intellectual development and civic discourse by subjecting it to the logic of the market.
Taking the current situation as a point of departure, the essays collected in this special issue aim at a comprehensive cultural analysis and etiology of the complex phenomenon of academia as a theatre of culture wars―both in past and present. As such, it is decidedly not conceptualized as a contribution to any of these disputes but aims at providing a forum to reflect on their dynamics and consequences. What sets this issue apart from other recent scholarly or polemical contributions on the topic (Benn 2021, Lackey 2018, Lukianoff and Haidt 2018, Sandoval et al. 2016, Adler 2016, Thomson 2010) is its historical scope. It is based on the premise that the function of the American university as a catalyst for the manifold conflicts between “orthodox” and “progressive” actors (to use James Davison Hunter’s influential terminology) is a historical constant that can, at least, be traced back to the late 18th century when conservative students first complained about the allegedly harmful influence of “the infidelity of the Tom Paine school” and French Enlightenment thought at Yale College.
In order to discuss the structural, processual or ideological similarities and differences between various historical moments in which of the university served as a cultural battlefield, the issue aims to bring perspectives from the entire disciplinary spectrum of American Studies as well as from related fields such as cultural studies, literary studies, philosophy, history, sociology, political science and media studies into a productive, transdisciplinary dialogue to address the following questions:
Are academic culture wars rooted in empowering radicalism or are they a gateway to authoritarian dogmatism? Do they prevent or facilitate intellectual provincialism? Which material preconditions (funding, faculty positions etc.) shape the dynamics of these conflicts? Are culture wars merely Baudrillardian “simulacra of conflicts” or do they have profound political potential? Is the established binary taxonomy that we use to describe culture warriors (orthodox vs. progressive, conservative vs. liberal, traditionalist vs. revolutionary etc.) adequate to properly analyze the complexities of the conflicts? What is the role of the public intellectual or scholar? How have questions of race, class and gender influenced academic culture wars? Is ‘identity politics’ really a new phenomenon and how has its current perception changed the political implications of the concept of identity? How do the influential 20th century polemics against liberal academic culture―William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale (1951), Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) or Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals (1990)―echo in the polarized political climate of the early 21st century? How does the contemporary (social) media environment change the dynamics of academic culture wars? How do representations of these conflicts in literature and film (e.g. in the campus novel or the college drama) contribute to the controversies? What is the impact of American academic culture wars on the globally interconnected system of higher education?
Please send your abstract (300 words) and a short bio-bibliographical note to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 30, 2021.