Call for Participants – “Trans-continental/Trans-national Everyday Life”

“Trans-continental/Trans-national Everyday Life”

NYU Graduate Student Working Group, Spring 2012

Call for Participants

In human history, some of the most innovative scholarships/discoveries seemed to have been conceptualized during most mundane moments in everyday life: Newton’s law of universal gravitation is the most cited example. Yet, human history has remained pre-occupied with those extraordinary discoveries neglecting the ordinary, everyday life that made those extraordinary achievements possible. When Henri Lefebvre’s wife spoke to him about the amazing functionality of a new washing powder, he wondered how such a mundane object as washing powder could be assigned an unfamiliar aura. Instead of focusing on the invention – washing powder – he focused on how objects/things affect our daily life. Thus was born the conceptual category of ‘everyday life.’

In this proposed NYU Student Working Group – “Trans-continental/Trans-national Everyday Life” – scheduled to start in Spring, 2012, we would like to refocus on certain aspects of ‘everyday life’ in order to understand why we should study the everyday life of people in their material and cultural dimensions. A crucial impulse behind this project is to de-mystify an obsessive focus on extraordinary events of violence and catastrophe in a global context. The pre-occupation with violence – and it is not our intention to elide violence and discourses of violence, overt as well as covert, that regulate our daily lives – erases the living practices of people across the globe, more so in those parts of the world where violence is an everyday reality. This project would take a different approach as our purpose is to explore how people live their daily lives in different continents and in different national contexts  under conditions of violence and global expansion of capitalist/consumerist culture.

Such an exploration of everyday life will remain inconclusive if it is not conducted in a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. Since ‘everyday life’ lies at the intersections of different disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, economics, history, cultural studies, and literary studies, we will be particularly interested in having participants from these different disciplines so that we can explore aspects of everyday life from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will particularly focus on literary and cultural productions (fiction, film, music, and visual culture) in order to demonstrate their unique ability to explore the everyday in a qualitative manner that the ‘rational’ social science disciplines might find unusual. Anyways, the idea here is to complicate methodologies and bring to dialogue very different approaches to the study of the everyday. We are interested in participants from different disciplines and different areas of literary/cultural specialization (Old English, Middle English, British Literature/Culture, American Literature/Culture, French Literature/Culture, Latin American Literature/Culture, South Asian Literature/Culture, African Literatures/Cultures, Asian Literature/Culture, and other literatures/Cultures) across history (Renaissance, 18th Century, Romantic age, Modern etc.).

While exploring everyday life in the Euro-American context, a considerable part of the project will be devoted to the study of everyday life in the Muslim world. Such an approach becomes imperative as in these societies everyday life is mystified under discourses of violence and religious extremism. Our purpose is to explore how the everyday in Muslim world challenges as well subscribes to cultural norms set by Euro-America. We will investigate how consumer culture mediates the emergence of a new sense of self that negotiates between notions of sacrality and secularity.

To sum up, some of the dimensions of everyday life that this project intends to engage with are:

  • The emergence of a modern self, mediated by capitalism, market-economy, and consumerism.
  • The progressive secularization of everyday life and how such a hypothesis could be meaningfully applied in the case of Muslim societies.
  • Everyday life as a space of negotiation between the demands of religion and secularity, the temporal and the immutable.
  • The artistic mediums that best represent everyday life. The disciplinary constraints in theorizing everyday life. The relation between anthropology/sociology and cultural productions in depicting everyday life.
  • City as the location of the everyday.
  • Postcoloniality and the Everyday

Proposed activities for Spring, 2012:

1)      Read the seminal theoretical texts on everyday life until March, 2012.

2)      In April, 2012, we plan to invite a guest speaker to present on any/all of the aspects of everyday life that we would have explored by then.

3)      By end-April, 2012, we want to organize a long-distance online presentation by a non-Euro-American scholar through Skype.

4)      We would like to close the Spring, 2012 session with a one-day “Graduate Student Conference on Everyday Life.” The call for papers for the conference will be sent out by the middle of March.

5)      We also intend to document different aspects of everyday life by creating an online/digital archive that will store images, videographies, audiographies, and any other digital material one could come up with. This process of “Archiving the Everyday” will be an ongoing one.

6)      As we would like to continue with this project in the next year (2012-13), we plan to launch a “Graduate Student Online Journal on Everyday Life” in the second year.

However, we are completely open to suggestions regarding other events/activities.

If you would like to be a part of this Student Working Group, please e-mail by 29 June,

Student organizer: Mosarrap Hossain Khan, Doctoral Student, Dept. of English, New York University, NY, 10003.

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