Department of English

University of Toronto


Event date: Friday, April 27, 2018, from 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM


GraduateEnglish Association, Department of English, University of Toronto

April 27, 2018

 Keynote Speaker: Professor Julietta Singh (Universityof Richmond)

 Language islegislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speechbecause we forget that all speech is a classification, and that allclassifications are oppressive.

Roland Barthes (1977)

 [T]he process ofcategorizing—or, in identity terms, naming—is not unilateral. . . . Recognizingthat identity politics takes place at the site where categories intersect thusseems more fruitful than challenging the possibility of talking aboutcategories at all.

 Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991)


 In the wake of three centuries of Enlightenment philosophy Henri Bergsonattacked the hubris of a scientistic faith in the ability of the human mind toclassify, conceptualize, and master the flux of life through reason. Arguingthat an intellect adapted to the study of inanimate material could nevercapture life itself, he proclaimed that "In vain we force the living intothis or that one of our molds. All the molds crack."

Acts of classification and categorization have found no shortage ofhostility from critics in the last century. This hostility is captured in theabove quote from Roland Barthes, who alleges that "all classifications areoppressive," or Jacques Derrida's insistence that "there is no idealization that keeps itself pure,safe from all contamination." Resistance to the taxonomic impulse hasrecently returned in Graham Harman's account of ontologically"withdrawn" objects, Karen Barad's "intra-action," and ahost of other thinkers engaging with the nascent fields of "SpeculativeRealism" and "New Materialisms."  Ecological thinkers like Lawrence Buell haveattacked the Western world's obsession with rational mastery for being thefoundation of environmental exploitation. Timothy Morton has recently extendedthis argument by asserting that certain beings—"hyperobjects" likeclimate change—exist on scales too large to be meaningfully conceptualized byhumans.

In contrast to thinkers like Barthes who emphasize the violence ofclassification, there are many strands of thought that seek to harness classification'sproductive and critical capabilities. Bruno Latour has recently argued thatfinding “the right interpretive key,” rather than disavowingclassification and conceptualization entirely, is necessary to grapple with thecomplexity of technological modernity. Foucault's "reversediscourse," Spivak's "strategic essentialism," Crenshaw's"intersectionality," and Puar's "conviviality" are a just afew influential concepts that seek to affirm the usefulness of classificationfor the struggles of oppressed peoples.

Lastly, work in areas of literary, film, and visual culture studies arestructured by classifications: historical periods, media, and genres remaindisciplinary forces that organize scholarly work in these fields (and thestructure of university departments, journals, and conferences). In literarystudies, scholars are eager to define and classify modes of reading andinterpretation—suspicious, reparative, distant, and surface are just a few ofthese categories that have received attention. Caroline Levine's recent workhas reinvigorated many critics' desire to name and classify literary forms. Allof this has happened even as scholars increasingly pursue"interdisciplinary" forms of inquiry.

Our conference seeks papers that investigate, criticize, reformulate, orcreate classifications—or that think with, about, or against the theme ofclassification itself.

The “Classification” conference will be held at the University of Toronto’s Department of English in the Jackman Humanities Buildingon Friday, April 27th, 2018. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Papers of 15-20 minutes will be delivered in panels of three, with questio nperiods to follow.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Applications should be sent to by February 23, 2018. Please include:

1.     An abstract describingyour paper (max. 300 words)

2.     A short biography (max.50 words)

For further inquiries, please contact the U of T GEAconference committee at

Possible topics include:

  • - Genre, Canonicity, Periodization
  • - Temporalities: queer time, standardized time, futurity, extinction, deep time, "the Event"
  • - Spatial Scales: geographies, nations, planetarity, "the local," the microscopic
  • - Mixed Media: Comics, illustrated texts, sound studies, language in film and visual art, digital texts
  • - Indigineity, Indigenous nationhood, Indigenous literatures
  • - Diaspora, Migration, Post/colonialism, hybridity
  • - Posthuman, Nonhuman, and Ecological thinking, including Ecocriticism, Object Oriented Ontology, Speculative Realism, New Materialism, Animal Studies
  • - Life writing, biography, autobiography, non-fiction as "literature"
  • - Translation, adaptation, remixes, remakes
  • - Gender, sexuality, queerness, and normativity
  • - Race, racialization, racism, histories of race
  • - Class, class conflict, Marxism
  • - Type, stereotype, personae, character, identity
  • - Types of reading: critique and post-critique; reparative and paranoid hermeneutics; close, surface, and distant reading


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