You Can’t Be Serious (CFP, Conference, Ontario, May 2013)

An Exploration of the Idea, Importance and Influence of Seriousness and Nonseriousness in the Contemporary Humanities

The 2013 John Douglas Taylor Conference
May 15-17, 2013
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Confirmed Keynotes: Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London), Julie Rak (University of Alberta).

Scholarship and intellectual work are serious business: serious people thinking seriously about serious things. To be serious is to stake a claim to legitimacy, importance and moral and social relevance. In today’s academic environment, it can seem vital to reiterate the seriousness of one’s work in order to secure promotions, positions, resources and even the notice of one’s peers. And yet to declare seriousness is to deem certain topics, attachments, questions and trends unserious, unworthy of attention, rigorous thought and sustained debate. In staking our work around the unexamined metric of seriousness, what is lost? What questions remain unasked?

Despite its centrality to so much of our practice, the notion of seriousness often goes overlooked and under-thought. Indeed, while much effort is expended on the broad task of delimiting the borders of what could, should or ought to be taken seriously, the question of what constitutes seriousness in our current cultural moment does not receive nearly as much attention.

The purpose of the 2013 John Douglas Taylor Conference is to place seriousness front and centre: to think through seriousness, to consider what it is, what it means, what it might hide or efface. What is invested in a marker like seriousness? Is it important that we retain such a measure and if we were to jettison seriousness, what could replace it? This conference will also call attention to the unserious, considering the value and role of unserious topics, debates and modes of understanding our current cultural moment.

In this approach, we are not interested in establishing a hierarchy of serious and non-serious topics, or advocating a new list of topics to be taken seriously (though we are open to self-reflexive forms of this process) but, instead, in investigating how and why the impulse to construct such a typology works. What is the cultural hold seriousness has over us, how do we fight it, or do we even want to? If we seek to ask serious questions, how do we go about determining what these might be, and how do we know they’re serious? How might an engagement with unserious methodologies and topics enrich or threaten existing knowledge?

Given that seriousness isn’t the subject of any large body of existing scholarship, but rather a common and constant concern across all manner of scholarship, we welcome submissions that engage with seriousness in any number of theoretical, sociological, anthropological, textual, historical, political, activist, ethical, artistic or other methods.

You Can’t Be Serious will involve two different types of panels: the first will involve traditional academic papers, while the second will be based around roundtable discussions.

Morning sessions will be composed of traditional paper presentations. Papers may address topics and questions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • What does it mean to be serious and how does one determine what is serious?
  • Unseriousness: the trivial, the flippant, the glib, the humorous.
  • Unserious affects: boredom, irritation, amusement.
  • Living in Serious Times: 9/11, neoliberalism, global warming, terrorism, precarity, recession, the Euro Crisis, debt.
  • Seriousness in culture: canon formation, preservation, inspiration.
  • Why so serious? The social imperative to be serious.
  • Being taken seriously (1): marginalised identities and social status.
  • Being taken seriously (2): fandom, social media, reality TV, comic books, video games and Bieber Fever.
  • Being taken seriously (3): the Humanities, how we do we defend the value of the work undertaken in our disciplines?
  • The role of the serious in taste, value and cultural hierarchies.
  • Serious Scholarship: The rhetoric of rigour and the demands of funding.
  • Moral Seriousness: responsibility, accountability, justice.
  • We Need to Talk About… Sandusky, Santorum, Strauss-Kahn
  • Serious _______: Business, Crime, Disease, etc.
  • The aesthetics of seriousness and/or unseriousness.
  • The relation of work and play.
  • The ethics of seriousness and/or unseriousness.
  • Seriousness/unseriousness and gender: queer theory, transgender, role play, performance, crossing boundaries
  • Seriousness in political discourse: activism, the Tea Party, political campaigning, the Arab Spring.
  • The role of the academy is determining what is serious.

Individual paper submissions should include a 500-word abstract clearly articulating your thesis and its relation to the conference theme. Please include your contact information and institutional affiliation.

It is our hope that this conference can as much spark discussion and debate as offer a venue by which to present research and work in progress. To that end, afternoon sessions will be devoted to roundtable discussions on themes that take up the question of seriousness within particular topics, fields and questions. Roundtable discussions will include up to five participants who will each deliver a short provocation (5 minutes) designed to generate further discussion between presenters and the audience. The purpose of these panels is to provide a forum to develop, as well as deliver, ideas.

The themes of the afternoon roundtable discussions are as follows:
1)     Is it (always) racist to not take race seriously?
2)     S(queer)iousness?
3)     Why don’t we want to take hipsters seriously?
4)     Is Nature serious?
5)     Is there such a thing as an unserious politics?
6)     The Sokal Hoax, seventeen years on…
7)     What’s more serious, the centre or the margin?
8)     Adorno got picked last in gym class: Sports and Seriousness

To apply to a roundtable discussion, please submit a 300-word response to one of these topics clearly indicating the question to which you are responding and your position. As well, please provide your contact information and institutional affiliation.

Please submit all proposals (paper and roundtable) via e-mail attachment by September 30, 2012 with the subject line “Taylor Conference: Seriousness.” Attachments should be in .doc, .docx or .rtf formats.

You Can’t Be Serious will take place 15-17 May 2013 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The conference is sponsored by the Department of English and Cultural Studies and supported by the John Douglas Taylor Fund.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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