Workers, the Nation-State, and Beyond

CFP: conference, Chicago, Sep 2008
Call for Papers: "Workers, the Nation-State, and Beyond: The Newberry Conference on Labor History Across the Americas"

Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas invites paper proposals for an international research conference, "Workers, the Nation-State, and Beyond: The Newberry Conference on Labor History Across the Americas," to be held at Chicago's Newberry Library on September 18-20, 2008, with co-sponsorship from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Roosevelt University. Building upon Labor's defined editorial aspirations, this will be a small invitation-only gathering of hemispheric scope that brings together some of the best of current and emerging labor history scholarship on workers, the state, and transnational labor activism and institutions. In doing so, we are especially interested in empirically and theoretically relevant work that contributes to a genuinely transnational and/or comparative history of the Americas.

The basic architecture of the conference has emerged from intensive exchanges among past and present members of the Labor editorial board over the last four months. We have chosen broad themes to animate both the conference panels and the workshops that will feature "emerging" scholarship from graduate students and junior scholars. We foresee fruitful conversations and dialogues within sub regions and across the Americas as we explore new directions for the future of labor history in the twenty-first century.

Although the conference will be held in Chicago, the United States is not taken as the necessary starting point and frame of reference for the conference. Rather, we understand global processes, historically conceived, to be fundamental to labor's history, be it capital and labor mobility, imperial and neo-imperial political economies, or the mobilization of labor internationally and/or across borders. Without slighting work on the U.S. and Canada, the conference will strive to integrate work on and from Latin America and the Caribbean, a region marked by a revival of organized labor, social movements, and the left that has gathered steam in recent years.

In planning the conference, we are especially eager to explore the promise of emerging transnational approaches that look at the way states and working-class people formed notions of citizenship, borders, politics, and class, race, and gender identities. The transnational also opens new avenues for understanding--over time and space--changes in the concepts, policies and practice of states, their interactions with each other and their populations, and the ways in which the popular classes resist, react, and use both the nation-state and the non-state entities to advance their interests. A transnational approach would see the movement of people, capital, state policies, ideologies, and cultures as constitutive of history and therefore central to the historical process that we study.

However, we are equally concerned with nationally-centered scholarship, especially from and about the periphery, which poses new questions about empire, nationalism, and the nation-state, or the dynamics of mobilization by workers to challenge the nation-state or to use its powers on behalf of the popular classes. We see the state itself as central to our collective project, as an agent of regulation and target of popular resistance, as a mechanism of integration and promoter of social division, and as a political framework whose relevance is perpetually a subject for debate and contention, especially within democratic electoral regimes. Indeed, working people have long taken multiple positions on the state and it is fitting that we frame the relationship between workers and states in a similarly complex, multi-directional fashion.

As we address the issue of labor in and beyond the nation state in the Americas, the conference will problematize and broaden the terms of discussion: labor: by looking at a range of work and working people (including casual and family labor); the state: by historicizing state formation and forms of state coercion; and the transnational: by identifying historical patterns of globalization and critically engaging their contemporary forms. We are especially concerned to include all varieties of labor, including paid and unpaid, free and un-free, while eager to push our frame of reference back into the colonial and nineteenth century. Special care will thus be taken to arrange sessions and commentators so as to facilitate transnational connections and dialogue across borders.

In aiming for a conference that is multinational in composition, we have identified a number of broad themes that will provide the basis of conference panels: Coerced Labor; Immigration and Labor Recruitment; Indigenous Peoples and National Labor Systems, Work and Social Welfare; Regimes of Work Regulation; Domestic and Reproductive Labor; Organizing Across Borders; Worker Identities and Conflicted/Divided Loyalties; Alternative Visions; Working-class Nationalism and Empire; The Popular and the Political: Workers and Electoral Politics; Workers and the Rules of the International Economy.

With your help, we believe this conference can be a catalytic moment for the field through the fostering of a dialogue that integrates national communities of labor historians. At its best, we foresee a conference that combines a focused, theory-/concept-/agenda-generating discussion with a broader staging of the dynamism and diversity in the field of labor history. A limited amount of funding is available, as needed, to support the travel of graduate student presenters and participants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

We would like to have paper titles and abstracts in hand no later than September 30, 2007, so that participants can be notified in time to apply for outside funding. Note, established scholars (i.e. post-firstbook) should signal an interest in a particular panel above; junior scholar (i.e. PhD students and pre-first book) applicants by contrast, need only address the relation of their work to the larger conference theme, while also identifying their advisor and stage of matriculation.
Please send inquires, titles and abstracts to [mailto]labor@uic.edu[/mailto].

Sincerely,

Conference Steering Committee:
Shelton Stromquist, co-chair
Eileen Boris, co-chair
Julie Greene
John French
Joan Sangster
Leon Fink
Will Jones
James Barrett