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Proposal for a Modernism/modernity Print Plus cluster on Whiteness

Contacts: Jennifer Nesbitt ( and Sonita Sarker (

• 500-word abstracts due July 10, 2020
• Tentative due date for accepted papers (1500-2000 words): September 18

Anglophone modernist studies, despite explicit gestures of inclusion and scholarship addressing race and colonialism, maintains a speaking silence grounded in and attached to a largely unmarked norm designated “whiteness.” The editors of this M/m Print+ cluster seek position papers between 1500-2000 words that reorient objects of study, methodologies, and pedagogies to name whiteness(es) as a category of analysis and, thus, to render it visible, audible and legible in our field.

The aims of this cluster have acquired greater urgency as the global pandemic highlights the harmful effects of uninterrogated white privilege on the security of peoples, cultures, and polities. Recent protests against shelter-in-place orders join other manifestations of a violent white nativist-supremacist identity that has already named itself explicitly through national elections in 2016, Charlottesville in 2017, racially motivated mass shootings and racialized border enforcements. Democratic and socially progressive potentials in Western institutional and cultural structures are simultaneously vulnerable to the correspondingly deep roots whiteness has in discourses of imperialism and fascism.

If current crises reveal multiple fissures and name the hitherto unnamed, they also present opportunities to reset and redress by examining the impulses in modernism and modernity that lead us to now. On the one hand, it may seem that Anglophone modernist studies has always been talking about whiteness, through careful analyses of race and ethnicity, among diverse forms of othering. There have been publications on whiteness and modernist writers such as White Women Writing White and Faulkner and Whiteness. On the other hand, the continued centrality of white subjects (both as practitioners and objects of study) makes evident the persistence of privilege that is everywhere and nowhere.

Are there influential works on race in modernist literature that need to be critiqued or revised because of a failure to consider whiteness? Of course. Are there canonical works that need to be reread—or works from outside the canon that have been invisible because we weren’t thinking in terms of whiteness? Of course. Consider how Chinua Achebe’s indictment of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as colonialist could be further illuminated by an analysis of white English masculinity embedded in both Conrad’s own imagination and work, and in Achebe’s response. How would Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Doris Kerr appear if the White Australia policy provide a frame for their works? Juxtaposing William Faulkner with Ella Cara Deloria would return the gaze onto formations and practices of whiteness. Similarly, much has been made of Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism without explicating its foundations in his interpretations of, and lived experience of, whiteness.

Analyzing whiteness is not the same as analyzing race: the dynamics of legibility, visibility and positionality are different. For instance, revisiting the works of W. E. B. DuBois, Una Marson, Aimé Césaire, Jessie Fauset, Cornelia Sorabji, or Mulk Raj Anand as analyses of whiteness returns us differently to histories of modernism and modernist studies. Studying modernist artefacts for the effects of whiteness(es) makes a difference because these efforts trace a différance that reverberates through and unsettles habits of thinking about race and ethnicity as a property exclusively of all others but white. As literary scholars, the editors of this cluster draw examples from our field of expertise, but similar productive juxtapositions arise in other media and in comparisons across media.

Anglophone Modernist Studies is premised, at least partially, on the teleological narratives of Western European and North American modernity, and our field lags behind the advances in aligned fields such as cultural studies, critical history, sociology, and feminist/queer studies have made in studying Whiteness. The first-ever Whiteness seminar (MSA 2019) expanded the arena of such publications on three fronts: 1) whiteness is mutually and dialectically formed with its racialized others, 2) naming racializations as constructs do not obscure their material and other consequences, and 3) ‘race’ is defined in relation to gender (including masculinity and trans-identity), class, caste, sexuality, nationality, religion, and dis/ability. In other words, the seminar shifted the gaze from locating whiteness as property/attribute to the processes of experiencing and representing it.

This proposed M/m+ cluster will spark sustained studies of the myriad dimensions of Whiteness. Essays may interpellate whiteness directly and explicitly as a concept and as lived experience in modernist identities and production, but they could also bring to the fore analyses of whitenesses that have always already been present in the field of modernist studies. We invite colleagues working in and across various media and disciplines who are interested in (re)constructing whiteness from within and without to submit papers.

Scope of interest includes, but is not limited to, the following:
• Vocabularies of whitenesses
• Investments in whitenesses
• Feeling/sensing whitenesses
• Historicizing whitenesses
• Mediums of whiteness: How does whiteness emerge across artforms?
• Strategic unity and plurality: whiteness and whitenesses, including theorizations and definitions in relation to ethnicity, Americanness, Englishness, and/or other dominant racialized norms
• Methods of dominance: methodologies, theories, pedagogies, professional practices, institutions.
• International comparative approaches to discourses of white dominance and whitenesses.
• Dialectical production of racial and ethnic identities as “other” and/or “white”
• Intersectionality in the production of white identities (gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, ethnicity, class, nationality, indigeneity, nativism)

Conference Location: n/a, n/a
Conference Starts: September 18, 2020
Conference Ends: September 20, 2020

CFP Submission Deadline: July 10, 2020

For more information, contact: Jennifer Nesbitt/Sonita Sarker