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CfP: In/humanness in the 21st century: existence, relationality, and precarity at MLA 2021, Toronto

Throughout the past decade, a variety of critical race, queer, disability, and animal studies scholars such as Mel Y. Chen, Eunjung Kim, Dana Luciano, Jasbir K. Puar, and Dinesh Wadiwel have grappled with questions of what constitutes default forms of humanness, how these are upheld and by whom, as well as whether humanity has a future. Indeed, such inquiries have closely linked humanness to productivity, autonomy, and the ability to manifest normative bodily features and identity markers to foster a deeper understanding of how, in certain contexts, one’s objectification as disposable, replaceable, and unworthy of care can register in a way that is not exploitative and destructive. Inspired by Eunjung Kim’s essay in the 2015 special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies and its focus on the questions of what it means to be human and how the category itself inscribes sets of capacities and characteristics that render only certain bodies valuable, this panel seeks to explore notions of un/becoming human or inhuman and their relatedness to social and cultural power structures.[1]

In the vein of interrogating in/humanness, we intend to consider if and how we are able to persist against the demand for productivity and forge connections at a time when our world is shaped by “the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation,”[2] a world that nonetheless holds out the potential for something other than a cruelly optimistic vision of a future. How might becoming in/human allow us to exist and explore forms of sociality and kinship through theoretical, literary, filmic, and artistic approaches that resist the ongoing precariticization of bodies and a demand for agency, sovereignty, and productivity rendered legible through a (homo or hetero)normative, cis, able-bodied, white, middle class, consumer citizen subject? Can different textual and contextual figurations challenge the status of humanity as a locus of sovereignty and power, open possibilities for/imaginations of being in the world, and underscore the limitations of notions of agency and ability?

We seek approaches to notions of in/humanness across media, cultural traditions, and historical periods as they engage critical race, queer, disability, and animal studies to interrogate the possibility of objecthood and inhumanness as an antisocial mode that underscores a refusal to become what society demands.

Topics may include but are not limited to the following:

– processes of othering

– ontological reimaginings

– objectification and dehumanization

– agency and sovereignty

– passivity

– non/belonging

– kinship and sociality

– proximity and copresence

– relationality with land and locatedness

– (forced) migration

– climate change and its effects

Please submit 350-word abstracts and short presenter’s biographies to Carrie Smith ( and Simone Pfleger ( for this Special Session at the Modern Language Association Convention in Toronto, ON, Canada ((January 7–10, 2021) by March 25, 2020. If your proposal is accepted, you must be an MLA member by April 7, 2020. You may only have two roles at the convention.

[1] Kim, Eunjung. “Unbecoming Human: An Ethics of Objects.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21, no. 3–4 (2015).

[2]  Berlant, Lauren. “The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling Times,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24, no. 3 (2016): 414.

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