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2017 Meeting: Call for Papers


Call for Papers

5th Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group


University of Nevada, Reno

26-29 October 2017

The 2017 BABEL meeting will assume a hybrid form, one that we hope will facilitate our focus on conditions of labor and  the role of creativity in fashioning productive and counterproductive lives. We aim to offer attendees an embodied knowledge of the risks that labor entails, of the precarity of laboring populations, and of creative resistance to disenfranchising modes of production. In pursuit of this goal, the conference will pair a familiar form of learning–the conference panel–with action-oriented sessions designed to teach skills or offer participants techniques, guides, and advice for making, risking, and working. The beginning of each day will be devoted to these “Practica,” activities modeled partly on the offerings of the MLA Subconference (which subtends/subverts the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association) and partly on THATCamp sessions (designed around creating, building, writing, hacking and problem-solving). We hope that the combination of presentations, projects, and problem-solving will spark attendees to collaborate across disciplines, periods, and institutions in the service of socially just work-worlds.

Calls for papers are listed below. To present a paper or participate in a panel, contact the session organizers  by June 15th. Please limit yourself to presenting on one panel only: we have a limited number of slots and want to offer them to as many participants as possible. Please also note that some of the panels are roundtables or other sessions not involving traditional presentations.

The Practica are open to all conference attendees, whether you’re presenting or not. More details will be available in the online registration form, where you will be asked to register for the Practica you wish to attend.


Take a break from making, risking, and working!  Join us for a trip to Lake Tahoe, just an hour’s drive from the UNR campus. Located in the high Sierra Nevada mountains, the glacial lake is surrounded by hiking trails and sandy beaches. Details available upon registration.


“Blackjack” by Jan Aphelin.



Mapping Spaces
3-D Modeling
Entrepreneurial Collaborations
Making Art/Community


Supporting Arts Communities
Story-based Framing for Activism
Social Media Campaigning
Online Safety Practices
Race and Policing
Lobbying Your Legislature
Students at Risk
Margins of the Precariat


Organizer Training
Grad Unionizing
Faculty Unionizing
Teaching Writing


Dolores Huerta, Richard César Chávez, and Rick Tejada-Flores, 1972. Photo: Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.

PANELS: calls for papers/participants

Please contact the organizers by June 15th, 2017.

Dicey: Six Episodes in the History of Risk

Organizers: Suzanne Conklin Akbari ( & Karla Mallette (

How does narrative structure condition our assessment of and response to risk? The point of departure for this panel is the coordination of a sequence of events into a coherent story about danger: perceiving it, avoiding it, inviting it, falling victim to it, turning it against others. In medieval narrative traditions, storytelling itself is always a gamble. The storyteller rolls the dice, and the tale begins. The story might serve as protection or as shield. It might turn back on the storyteller and destroy her. It might engender something new, even something unintended. In a frame tale, the story might become a termination, putting an end to an orchestrated sequence of narratives. Storytelling might be weaponized to direct risk against a target, in an act of aggression or as a form of resistance. She who controls the story, who mitigates or exploits risk, is best able to wield or to confront power.

To identify and manipulate the function that narratives of control play in risk management, we propose a panel in which aleatory strategies are used to disrupt the chronology in which risk is embedded.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers that address narratives of risk. We are particularly but not exclusively interested in Mediterranean narratives, in part because the dangers of Mediterranean travel during the Middle Ages demanded sophisticated assessment of and response to risk. The Latin word resicum – from the Arabic rizq, which in the Qur’an refers to God’s provisions for humanity and for creation at large – first appeared in the scribal registers of Giovanni Scriba (John the Notary) in Genoa during the decade between 1154 and 1164. Risk was a form of payment leveraged in order to compensate those who invested in transactions whose outcomes were unknown and unknowable. Panelists may consider records and archives, narratives, poetry, histories, or artworks that illustrate the new late-medieval interest in quantifying and protecting oneself from the contingencies of fortune.

Papers may focus on either narratives in which risk is deployed as weapon by an agent of (absolute or absolutist) power or narratives in which risk is deployed as a strategy of resistance to power. Participants will divide their papers into six sections (not necessarily of equal length). At the conference, participants will roll a die to determine in what order these six sections are read. Papers with a strong narrative throughline will respond best to this kind of chronological manipulation.

This aleatory methodology learns from Las Vegas and Los Alamos. By shattering the narrative link that generates the inexorable moral logic of risk, we hope to expose and examine the machinery that punishes the daring. Beyond teleology – without a clear succession of event, beyond the limits of chronological time – risk has no meaning: it is descriptive, not prescriptive. What is life without risk? Let’s find out.


Organizer: Tekla Bude (

This panel invites papers that trace the terms insurance and assurance as words that make risk work.

Insuring and assuring both engage in the linguistic registers of the subjunctive, futural, and the counterfactual. When something is insured or assured, that thing (contingent capital on the one hand, and personal reputation on the other) has been put at stake in an exchange.  Both insurance and assurance acknowledge one potential reality – a reality in which things work, in which there is success – while simultaneously inhabiting another – a world where things go wrong.  Insurance and assurance are not merely ambivalent or equivocal; they are words which exist especially to concretize ambivalence and equivocation, and to make the vague and indeterminate future do work for the present.

Papers that address any aspect of the relationship, tension, or productive meeting of the terms insurance and assurance – in literature and in the cultures and worlds surrounding literary texts – are welcome.

Immigrants[,] Make Medieval Studies

Organizer: Jonathan Hsy (

What would medieval studies be without immigrants?

How many medievalists are expats or refugees or descendants of them? How many of us were born in one country, educated in another, and working in yet another? How many of us are polyglot or became multilingual through our training? How many of us know the discomforts and humo(u)r and annoyances of always moving between cultures? What would medieval studies be without us?

This session centers immigrant voices in the field of medieval studies: from bringing new visibility to foundational scholarship and contributions to the field by people who were expats, refugees, or immigrants to creating (safe) spaces for present-day scholars and scholars-in-the-making who have immigrant backgrounds. This session welcomes proposals along any one of these three themes:

  • MAKE AN ARCHIVE (e.g., England’s Immigrants 1330-1550, Black Central Europe)
  • MAKE A CHOICE (taking political action in an institution or profession)
  • MAKE A WORLD (through art, storytelling, performance, or media)

Any project or presentation format relevant to these themes or otherwise centering immigrant lives (in the historical past, in the present—or both) is invited.

Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with You

Organizers: Ben Utter (, Gabrielle MW Bychowski, Lesley Curtis, Alex Mueller, Noelle Phillips, & Cord Whittaker

Finding, keeping, proclaiming, losing, or breaking with one’s faith is always a risky business, and in America, where faith is a big business, the bad faith of Evangelical Christian voters has made relationships riskier than ever for those who find themselves caught between mutually-antagonistic cultural communities. This roundtable session will be an opportunity for BABELers of faith or with ties to various faith traditions—Christian and otherwise—to address the relationship between faith (i.e. the non-empirical, the spiritual) and action or risk. As people between these communities, we may have acted as interpreters, if not necessarily apologists, between groups that regard one another with deep suspicion or even hostility. What are the possibilities and perils of such a position, now that we can no longer be (and probably shouldn’t have ever been) neutral points of contact? How do we use our positions at the intersection of communities that don’t often talk or get along? What are the struggles and how might these contact points be used or improved in the future? Can we condemn our “post-factual” world while at the same time avoiding denigrating people of faith? By the same token, how might we encourage our faith communities to be skeptical of neo-liberal “data idolatry” and to consider the important relationship between facts (and by proxy, research) and interpretation (and/or belief)?

We invite participation from people of, adjacent to, in recovery from, or without faith or spiritual conviction of any kind. The session will feature a series of ten-minute presentations, followed by a discussion. Please send proposals of 250 words or so describing the story, homily, confessio, prayer, waz, or apostatic manifesto you’d like to share.

Imagining Trans History and Transhistoricism: Creation and/as/or Critique

Organizers: M.W. Bychowski ( & Bruce Holsinger (

Sandy Stone’s foundational transgender studies essay, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” sets out a necessary and broad mission for the future of the past: “transsexuals must take responsibility for all of their history, to begin to rearticulate their lives not as a series of erasures… but as a political action begun by reappropriating difference and reclaiming the power of the refigured and reinscribed body… to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one has been written.” In the spirit of this mission statement, our panel invites a wide examination of the histories and discourses from and through which concepts of transgender develop.

The panel will be open to a range of approaches. History invites creativity. Medieval and modern texts invite both critical readers and artists to imagine the life and lives that occur in the silences, though often in very different ways. Living in a world and language not designed for it, transgender history regularly appears among the contradictions, erasures, and euphemistic metaphors in the official records. As a result, telling and otherwise recreating trans history demands careful scrutiny of the modes and limitations of anti-transphobic creative work. Introducing and connecting ideas from across time, trans historical work time and again forms intersections with transhistorical palimpsests. This panel considers the myriad ways that scholars, authors, poets, lyricists, and artists fill out the interweaving cultural pasts and presents of transgender. The aim is to ask questions, take risks, and play with the arts and sciences that connect generations of trans histories and trans dreams.

We hope to receive proposals that reflect both scholarly and creative work, and ideally a combination of the two. The session will feature a series of ten to fifteen minute presentations, followed by a discussion.

Make + Risk = Craftivism: A Roundtable and Yarnbomb Project

Organizer: Marian Bleeke for The Material Collective (

A dominant symbol of the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington was the pink pussyhat: large numbers of women participated in making the hats and wore them at marches in Washington and other cities.  Yet the hats were also a focus for critique, as the product of a white middle-class feminism that often fails to take into account the experiences of other women, and as excluding transwomen in particular through their reference to biological sex.  In many ways, this combination of responses mirrors the responses to the March itself.  It also demonstrates both the productive potential and the potential pitfalls of “craftivism:” that is, of activism pursued through forms of craft production that have traditionally been done by women.  At Babel 2017, the Material Collective will engage with the issues raised by the pussyhats in two ways.  First, through a roundtable session featuring multiple short presentations, we plan to set the pussyhats within a larger historical context of craftivism, to further explore the potential of this form of activist production, and simultaneously to further its critique.  Secondly, we plan to explore these issues through practice in a “yarmbomb” project produced and installed at the conference itself.

We invite participants to present in the roundtable, to collaborate with us in conceptualizing the yarnbomb project, to make work for that project, to lead a workshop in knit/crochet techniques at the conference, and to contribute materials for the project. Those interested in participating should send a brief statement identifying their interest(s) and describing any relevant background.

Bloody Good: Care, Community Construction, and Staying Alive

Organizers: Kristin Noone ( & Katelynn Carver (

In Staying Alive, L.O. Aranye Fradenburg writes that “given what we know about the biology of communication and social connection…we should, more than ever, understand that everything becomes part of our work, one way or another, and therefore it must always be a deliberate part of our work not simply to think critically about the workings of our own (embodied) minds, but to reflect upon, and engage, our connectedness to wider communities, because they are always in our work.” Later, in her discussion of asthma, Fradenburg links the humanities and the science of the body: “respiratory action is a bridge between affect and language,” a physical embodied response to emotion—when one’s breathing physically changes as a result of love or fear, for instance—and yet also, as in the case of asthma, an embodied element that may shape what we can or cannot do, without our consent. We are interested in the crossings between the physical and the metaphoric: how might bodies and communities, literal or metaphoric, become intertwined and deployed to define (or define against) each other? How might acts of literary creation and meaning-making, or refuges and asylums both literal and metaphorical, or disaster relief (again, both literal and metaphorical), depend on bodies that work and give and donate themselves? How might we productively explore a kind of embodiment that extends the self both physically and not: what about this body of mine? How does it relate to other bodies, other selves, or communities or networks of selves? We also hope to anchor these potentially grandiose gestures in the practical: what work can we do—as poets, as students, as teachers, as community nonprofit directors, as creative authors, as participants in fandom communities—to help construct these vital spaces? How do we, in Fradenburg’s terms, work to help each other to stay alive?

We envision this session more as a discussion space and conversation about these themes and current practices, rather than formal papers or presentations; we invite participants to speak for five to ten minutes, and then discuss with each other and the audience. We are open to proposals across disciplines and temporalities, academic or para-academic.

Strange Work: The Risks of Professionalizing the Occult

Organizers: Asa Simon Mittman (asmittman@csuchico.ed) & Thea Tomaini (

MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application) is organizing a session in which presentations discuss or depict the work and the risks of attempts to extend academic, professional, or scholarly legitimacy to the occult.

Subjects can be derived from anywhere on the globe, can reflect any discipline of study or any genre, and can include any historical or literary period. We are looking for ways in which academics, philosophers, artists, clerics, musicians, writers, and collectors try to, or have tried to, make uncanny or occult subjects “work” as rational subjects. How much work is put into such an effort, and of what kind? And what are the risks? In the case of magic, witchcraft, and demonology in the medieval and early modern periods, one could risk one’s own life. In the case of eighteenth and nineteenth century antiquarianism, the risks to one’s reputation could be dire if one did not collect the right objects and specimens or interpret them “correctly” according to mainstream academic thought or Imperialist ideology. Spiritualists of the nineteenth century also risked their professional reputations if they failed to reconcile their interests and “findings” with mainstream academic thought. The present-day acquisition and display of “occult” objects also presents risks, to academic reputation, to tourist interest, and to the never-ending pursuit of endowments and philanthropic gifts. It’s very hard work, and there are many risks. Sometimes one has to make it work.

Presentations can include ideas such as the following. Scholars like Roger Bacon, Marsilio Ficino, and Giordano Bruno worked diligently on their studies and experiments in natural magic and faced huge risks that their efforts would be branded as heresy. Witch hunters and self-proclaimed exorcists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tried to professionalize paranoia. Antiquaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries accumulated vast collections of ephemera, some of which included macabre or bizarre objects from all over the world. Spiritualists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tried to professionalize and rationalize their efforts with experimentalism and through publication of their observations. Auction houses and museums of the present day face many challenges in how to sell, buy, exhibit, and interpret works of art and cultural artifacts that once had, or are still believed to have, occult significance. These are just a few examples of presentations that might be employed in this session.

We are also open to presentations that examine the study and teaching of these fields as forms of magic, of alchemy, enchanting and transforming students, tourists, administrations, kings, and other curious risk-takers. So how do the students, teachers, and curators of occult subjects work their own magic? In this sense, there are even further perils. How might we make risk work where this subject is concerned? Tell us how you work your magic on the job.

Presentations can be of a traditional format, or they can be multimedia explorations of the subject; they can employ art, music, film/TV, poetry, performance, or séance. We would love to see the specimens in your wonder cabinet! Please send proposals of approximately 300 words.

The Hand You’re Dealt

Organizers: Helen Burgess ( & Lara Farina (

Play in the late medieval game of “Triomphe,” ancestor of Whist and Bridge, begins with shuffled cards and a ritualized observation of the workings of chance. After the hands are dealt, the first card from the deck is turned over, and with it, implacable rule is imposed: it and others of its suit are “trump,” outranking all cards from other suits regardless of their usual value. Players of Triomphe (and similar trump-card games) pause to let the moment of revelation sink in; then, they adjust their feelings, assess their odds, and plan their course of play in this sudden new order.

Since card games let us strategize situations we do not choose, using resources we do not deserve, we turn to them as a source of embodied wisdom for post-Trump action. Our  project for BABEL Reno will take the form of a card game and will showcase our players’ strategic work with the collection of material dealt to them. As an ante, each participant in our panel will supply us with three objects of their choosing: these can be textual passages, images, or short sound files. The entire collection of players’ artifacts will be made into cards and dealt back to the participants in hands of five. Each player will then make an exhibit, essay, collage, or other creation relating to the conference theme of Make/Risk/Work using the hands they are dealt.

We will shuffle and deal in advance of the meeting in Reno. At the conference itself, we propose a roundtable discussion of participants’ affective/emotional responses to their hands and intellectual/creative strategies for working with the assigned material.  Creations resulting from the panel may be featured on The Middle Shore, our online space for chance-driven collections (forthcoming in 2017, see The Middle Shore began as the “Beachcombing” panel at BABEL Santa Barbara, which focused on the affective dimensions of work with found objects. That concern subtends our proposed panel here as well.

Players need only notify us of their wish to participate: no abstracts are needed.

Translyricism and Translation: Making/Medieval/Modern

Organziers: Bruce Holsinger ( & Marisa Galvez (

This session will explore the work of lyric and its translation in and beyond the medieval world as both object of historical study and subject of contemporary practice. We can locate lyrical translations within and across texts as well as various situations of possibility through time and space, whether through manuscript adaptations or cultural artifact translations from one site to another. These lyrical modalities and postures resist hermeneutic paradigms through poetic reconfigurations of figures, people, places, and objects. A descriptive historical poetics makes visible adaptive, localized and creative constellations of lyric translation, while an attention to the contemporary works of lyric poets can shed light on the interpretive power and creative risks of lyric making in the contemporary world. In this session we hope to bring together scholars, poets, translators, and other “lyric workers” to think about some of the complex relationships between lyric production, translation, work, risk, and desire in the medieval and modern worlds. We welcome proposals for ten-minute position papers and other mischief from both creative and critical perspectives: brief poetry readings and self-commentary, collaborative poet/critic mini-conversations, conventional critical papers, and poetical interventions of all varieties. Please copy both organizers on submissions.

God Does Not Will It: Medieval Memes and Radicalization

Organizer: Roland Betancourt (

Medieval memes, from Crusader cries to the conquest of Constantinople by Trump and Putin, have figured prominently in recent years, often serving as fodder for the radicalization of the alt-right. This panel aims to survey how memes construe the medieval past, how they are deployed and circulated, and what the medieval antecedents are for such uses of visual culture. At times, the circulation of memes has not only been socially aimed, but rather understood has having real effects. For example, the phenomenon of “meme magic” suggest that memes also have some sort of magical performative function in the world, that they can cause real-life effects. Considering context, iconography, and use, this panel aims to understand the visual culture of online radicalization via the uses of the medieval world, often construed through myths of religious strife, crusades, and a ‘Dark Age.’

Likewise, the function of memes in our online world are not wholly modern. Manuscripts, reliquaries, monumental wall paintings, and so on, were often able to validate brutal acts of war or violence against other groups precisely through their deployments of early Christian martyrdoms or through the depiction of contemporary host libel. Today, we are as far removed from the eleventh century as the eleventh century was then from the dawn of Christianity and the struggles of the early church. By bridging together contemporary practices around memes with their medieval counterparts we can help nuance and deepen our approach to how acts of visual production in contemporary online popular culture is rooted on a longstanding belief on the – at times, magical – work that images can enact. In as much as this panel aims to study this phenomenon, it also seeks to consider ways in which to critically subvert such deployments of the middle ages by bringing to light the practices of medieval resistance that worked against emboldened Crusader cries and demands for a Reconquista.

Barebacking the Academy

Organizers: Will Rogers ( & Christopher Roman (

Tim Dean, in Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking, writes, “barebacking cannot be understood as restricted to the subculture it has created, since barebacking concerns an experience of unfettered intimacy, of overcoming the boundaries between persons, that is far from exclusive to this subculture (of gay sexual barebacking) or, indeed, to queer sexuality.” But barebacking, as Dean’s book makes clear, is seen as risky behavior. Outside his book, research suggests that sex without condoms will increase the risk of infection for a range of STIs, including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. But, as his book makes clear, for those who bareback, the intimacy and eroticism unleashed by skin to skin contact is a reward which outweighs the risks. What we’re suggesting for a session thread—barebacking in the academy—is risky for both of us. One of us is tenured, the other is tenure track, but tenure, as recent legislation in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa remind us, cannot always be the prophylactic which guards academics from forces which would bump and grind the academy into, at best, a rubber stamp for neoliberal policies and the erosion of academic freedom. But what might it mean to bareback in the academy? That is precisely the risk we went to explore, as we plumb the depths of intimacy which this risk might reward. How might risk, in fact, work for barebackers in the academy? In order to see how we might balance the risks and rewards of academic barebacking, we are looking for papers that imagine the concept of barebacking as the absence and “agitation” of disciplinary boundaries as well as the re-configuration of such things as tenure, peer review, civility, publication, departments, unions, etc.

This panel seeks short (10 minutes, max) papers or presentations that focus on academic risks, rewards, and safeguards. Other formats beyond the traditional conference paper are encouraged.

Odds . . . and Ends

Organizers: Shannon Garner-Balandrin ‎( & and Sharon O’Dair (

To Make / Risk / Work, you’ve got to know the odds.  In Reno, casinos cajole, “Our slots pay back 97.3%!” Which sounds good but isn’t. But at least 97.3% is clear.  To know the odds, you’ve got to know the ends.  Of the game.  But a lot more too. In Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, risk analyst Mitchell Zukor tries to calculate the odds of a hurricane flattening New York City.   But with insufficient information, he’s reduced to “a hunch—nor more, no less. . . He needed better numbers.  When could he get better numbers?” (196)  Isn’t this what we learned from Ulrich Beck?  That without embeddedness, in the realm of self-narratives, we are left to our own devices?  Which invariably means the need for more information? But in the pre- and early modern, in the ages of embeddedness, odds also means inequalities, differences.  Note these words of Cleopatra’s, upon Antony’s death, in Antony and Cleopatra:

O, wither’d is the garland of the war,
The soldier’s pole is fall’n: young boys and girls
Are level now with men; the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.

For this panel, we seek to understand the relation between these two meanings of “odds,” for access to information, that which sets the odds and the risk, is available unequally to us in modernity. And even if we have it, how do we know, without the mathematical abilities of a Mitchell Zukor, whether the information is valid? Or useful? So with knowledge comes the opportunity to be at odds, unequal, to make “money, money, money,” as Zukor knows.  It is a situation that Cleopatra—and perhaps Shakespeare—laments: when the “odds is gone, / . . . there is nothing left remarkable / Beneath the visiting moon.”  And what would we be, where would we be, without the remarkable?  Which leads us to our final question: if we want to Make / Risk / Work, perhaps we need to think about ends.  What are we risking for?  Or working for?  Odds?

We welcome all manner of proposals—from papers to performances.

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