We are pleased to offer this final report of the 2010 Program committee. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet in San Antonio, Texas, where the conference theme of “Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the Twenty-first Century” fit well with the border location of the conference meeting. If the material conditions of academics in hard times have long informed the topical interests of ASA conferences, an academia laid to siege by the fiscal shock treatments since 2009 made for a conference meeting even more directly concerned with the urgent intersection of academic and other labor (especially other service sector) on the one hand, and policy on the other. The recent passage of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070, and the hotel workers’ labor dispute with the Hyatt, also contributed to the sense of urgency.
In her presidential address inside the convention and at a UNITE HERE rally of Hyatt workers joined by ASA conference attendees, Ruth Wilson Gilmore challenged us to make unions, not task forces, and join Informed Meeting Exchange (INMEX). The first presidential plenary featured inspiring scholars and activists—Vijay Prashad, Christopher Newfield, Klee Benally and M. Jacqui Alexander—who laid out the need for challenges to right wing populism based on better political economy, offered us tools for seeking truth-in-university-budgeting, connected environmental crisis to cultural crisis, and modeled the counter-narrative power of literary storytelling. Other specially featured sessions addressed the recent earthquake in Haiti and the human toll of Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation. In the second presidential plenary, Mark Schuller, Myriam J.A. Chancy, Valerie Kaussen, and Patrick Sylvain situated Haiti’s disaster within a longer history of underdevelopment and Haiti’s significance as the first place in the western hemisphere to have established universal freedom. A session on Arizona’s SB 1070 assembled professors Gerlado Lujan Cadava, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, and Alan Eldaio Gómez, with organizers Sarahí Uribe and Isabel Garcia, and Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, to discuss the circumstances of the law’s passage and the prospects for its reversal. An off venue session at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center organized by the ASA K-16 Collaboration Committee was notably successful in hailing community attendance from local teachers who came to hear Adam Bush, Angela Y Davis, Kevin Gaines, Michael Meranze, and Michael O. Molina speak to teaching race and freedom in the classroom. A distinctive special session led by Laura Liu and Zoe Hammer-Tomizuka offered training in the exercise of Power Mapping, a practical organizing tactic that can help guide the direction of organizing efforts and the production of political knowledge.
Patterns of panel attendance reflected American Studies’ deepening interest in the professional particulars of making good on engaged and interdisciplinary scholarship, and effective pedagogy. There was strong attendance at activism-related sessions, whether they pertained to current organization-building efforts, such as “Indigeneous Voices: Community Activists of San Antonio”, or retrospective reconsiderations of activism in the 70s and the Cold War era, such as Insurgency, Solidarity, and Community: A Roundtable on 1970s Social Movements” and “Putting Another "S" in the USA: Americans in the USSR and Internationalism Between the Wars.” As in previous ASA conferences, the 2010 program reflected members’ ongoing interest in the politics of environmental justice, empires past and present, citizenship and immigration, technologies of the state, inequality, and in critical intersectional approaches to race, gender, sexuality, disability, space, performance, visual culture, and the body. Likely due to conference theme “Crisis, Chains, and Change,” a number of panels were devoted to the prison-industrial complex and other institutions, including educational, and the political and cultural economy of finance capitalism. A number of comparative race panels indicated that ethnic studies continues to be a key area of American Studies, and especially notable was the number of Asian American-related sessions on historically-focused rubrics, reflecting the professional evolution of the field. Early Americanists expressed pleasure in the number and range of panels for a period often underrepresented at the annual meeting.
The conference also evidenced a robust interest in the practice of interdisciplinary research and pedagogy. This was seen in high attendance and lively discussion at methodology-oriented panels, such as “Messengers of Change: Academics on their Practice,” which offered perspectives by senior scholars, at sessions that focused on using visual matter in teaching, the impact of e-learning technologies, sonic cultures, or those that sought to develop a technical vocabulary to describe art’s social work. The audience response to such sessions suggests that as American Studies continues to expand beyond -- or connect-- different literary, historical, and social analysis methodologies, scholars from traditional disciplines seek the re-skilling necessary to live up to our collective interdisciplinary vision. Relatedly, panels and roundtables organized around keywords rubrics elicited much interest, whether they were conceptually capacious, such as “The Subterranean Convergences in the Space-Time of the Americas” or period delimited, such as “Critical Keywords in Early American Studies.”
There were 1575 registrants for the 2010 Annual Meeting, down from a 2009 high of 1975 in Washington; the turnout was high for a non-DC meeting in spite of straitened travel budgets. Reports from panel chairs indicate that even where attendance was small conversations were powerful. The San Antonio Conference Center was not the ideal location for many of our events – especially the book exhibit. We wish to remind the membership that the entire conference was moved from the Hyatt Hotel to the Conference Center as a result of the disputes noted above, and thank everyone for their flexibility.
In conclusion, we thank the 2010 Program Committee for their creative resourcefulness: Avery Gordon (UC Santa Barbara), Zoe Hammer (Prescott College), Sonia Saldívar-Hull (UT San Antonio), Scott Sandage (Carnegie Mellon), Andrea Smith (UC Riverside), Dean Spade (U of Seattle Law School), Priscilla Wald, (Duke) and Alex Weheliye (Northwestern). The staff support of Luke Jackson, Kristen Linder, and above all Gabriel Peoples was indispensable. Priscilla Ovalle and Ben Olguin gave great guidance on local arrangements. Finally, we offer enormous gratitude to John Stephens, the Executive Director of the ASA, whose expertise, institutional memory, and vision are the association’s spirit and backbone.
Ruthie Gilmore, Laura Liu, and Colleen Lye