2017 Presidential Letter

Message From CSA President Paul Smith

Dear Colleagues,

I’m delighted to welcome everyone to the 15th annual Cultural Studies Association conference, this year in Washington D.C. in the precincts of Georgetown University.

When the Governing Board began planning for this conference in the earlier part of 2016, we settled on the broad notions of debt and indebtedness as the theme for the year. The role and the consequences of debt in the so-called neoliberal moment, and the political, economic and cultural ramifications of the stifling austerity all around us readily suggested the theme of “Culture in an Age of Mass Debt.”  So, this year’s program features plenty of exciting panels and workshops on that theme, and the closing plenary promises to be a fascinating investigation of it.

But when we began our planning we weren’t able, of course, to foresee the seismic events of the year’s final few months in this country and around the world, nor imagine the anxiety and uncertainty that they would produce. The election of Donald Trump upset and threatened so many assumptions and called so much into question, nationally and globally, that it seemed unavoidable that we should add a second theme to our call for papers. Thus, “Dealing with Trump” is our joint theme for the year. We will hold two plenary sessions which, along with many other panels and sessions, will interrogate the consequences of what I like to call “Trumpery,” and will no doubt provide ways of thinking about this precarious and peculiar moment from a variety of academic and non-academic perspectives. Whichever brand or strand of Cultural Studies you prefer, it’s clear that one of the most persistent claims Cultural Studies makes is that it is and should be engaged with the politics of the present and that it seeks to produce knowledge that will be useful for the politics of the present. I am sure that our proceedings this year will demonstrate the health and the vigor of our field and its multifarious interdisciplinary projects.

This year I have also instituted a new element in our programming. I have invited four academic groups whose work is germane to Cultural Studies to organize special Featured Panels (Saturday, 10.30-12): Georgetown University’s Peace and Justice Program, American University’s Humanities Lab, George Mason University’s Center for Global Islamic Studies, and the Conjunctures group (a group of scholars closely related to the international Association for Cultural Studies). Here again the aim is to show both the depth and the breadth of analysis in our field and related areas.

It’s in part the politic energy of its practitioners that keeps Cultural Studies alive and always in process. In the coming years we want to take that energy and our ongoing work to new venues and new contexts. We expect next year to be in Pittsburgh, and we are working on going to New Orleans in the following year; and for 2020 we’re discussing the possibility of holding a joint conference with the Canadian CSA in Vancouver. There will also be some discussion in our business meeting this year about the pros and cons of trying to take the conference outside of North America at some point in the future. These are the things on the table for now, but that doesn’t mean that wouldn’t welcome ideas and offers from other places and institutions!

As is the case every year, we owe massive thanks to the many people who have worked to support and sustain the CSA throughout the year and who have helped to make this year’s conference a reality: our individual and institutional members, our administrative staff, the Governing Board and the Executive Committee, the Program Committee and the Site Committee, the chairs of our Working Groups, the editors of Lateral, and the many participants and exhibitors who will be attending and presenting.

I also want to give special thanks to Henry Schwarz, our host at Georgetown University. We also thank the English Department, the graduate program in Communication, Culture and Technology, and the Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, each of whom gave generously towards the cost of our receptions. And I want finally to express my deepest gratitude to the two people without whom this year’s whole enterprise would have collapsed—the CSA Treasurer, Sean Andrews, and our superlative Administrative Officer, Michelle Fehsenfeld.

It is only with the support and the hard work of all these people that the CSA can continue its mission of building and nurturing a vibrant intellectual and political community of Cultural Studies in the United States. I am very much looking forward to seeing you all in Washington and to continuing the work that every year appears to me more and more important.


Paul Smith

CSA President 2016-2018