The cutting-edge yet under-theorized topic of vulnerability in American Studies was at the core of discussions at the 47th annual conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies. The conference took place virtually from October 30-31, 2020, and was hosted by the University of Graz.
The 47th annual conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies focused on the cutting-edge yet under-theorized topic of vulnerability in American Studies. We understand ‘vulnerability’ as both a shared condition of oppression and as emerging resistance and solidarity. As a critical intervention in American Studies, we ask: which themes, theories, and disciplinary directions in American studies can productively engage with questions of vulnerability, and to what extent does current critical work against racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism cohere around a shared sense of vulnerability? What are the prevalent idioms of vulnerability in American Studies, and how have they shaped critical practices in areas such as Affect Theory, Queer Theory, Transnational Feminism, Critical Race Theory, Trans Studies, among others? How can we theorize vulnerability within the context of the United States’ own history of internal and international colonization? How is vulnerability culturally produced and what are the ethics of mediating vulnerability?
The conference followed a workshop format in order to facilitate space for intensive discussions about the possibility of re-framing critical traditions in American Studies as vulnerability studies. To this end, we discussed original position papers (including working bibliographies) which sought to extend our proposed research questions (or others of similar intent) into the various critical traditions and current debates within American Studies.
At this point in time, many things that we take for granted when organizing international conferences are still unfathomable: international travel, lecture halls, receptions, etc. Certainly, we have had to abandon some of our initial plans for our conference. In keeping with the evolving public health and policy situation, we came together in a virtual way, which afforded us the flexibility needed to accommodate last-minute changes spontaneously without compromising the conference or putting its participants in distress.