Call for Papers: “The Crisis of Collectivity” (Northwestern graduate student conference)

The Crisis of Collectivity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives in Political Theory

Northwestern University Graduate Student Conference in Political Theory
November 4th, 2016 at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Jason Frank (Cornell University)
Submissions Deadline May 15th, 2016

Collectivities appear to be in crisis in late modern capitalist democracies and everyday political life. Indeed, concepts familiar to political theory that evoke aspects of collectivity—including democracy, action, solidarity, plurality, identity, and the people—have come under increasing strain in approaching contemporary political developments. Can collectivities remain meaningful for political thought and practice?

This conference asks graduate students in political theory to address questions concerning the relationship between political theory and the experiences of different collectivities. By “collectivities,” we mean a range of forms, including civil associations, political parties, social movements, and popular revolts and uprisings—a wide array of formal and informal modes and practices of politics in contemporary political life. By the “crisis of collectivity,” we refer to a constellation of modern challenges that seem to signal an “undoing” of popular agency wherein collective modes of political action cease to be a meaningful, democratic possibility in contemporary political life.

With this identification of a broad-ranging crisis in mind, we invite graduate students to submit papers engaging the challenges of theorizing, criticizing, and enacting collectivity. How can collectivity reshape our conceptions of agency? And what do we make of the “canonical” concepts associated with collectivity (e.g., Tocquevillian associations, Rousseau’s General Will, or Marx’s proletariat) given modern political developments? How can we think about transformative or revolutionary collective agency (or lack thereof) in neoliberal times? What is the relationship between the crisis of collectivity and the role of political theory as both “vocation” and a multifaceted academic discipline attuned to the study of politics? We are concerned both with how political theory conceptualizes collectivities and how it intervenes in particular contexts surrounding collective action and agency. Papers can include historical, contemporary, and methodological discussions of the topic, as well as approaches that make sense of collectivity and agency in light of global and comparative contexts.

The Political Science Department of Northwestern University welcomes graduate student papers in Political Theory and related fields (e.g. Philosophy, History, Literary Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies). Paper proposals should be approximately 500 words and provide a summary of the arguments, literatures engaged, and contribution to political thought. Selection will be competitive: we anticipate accepting 12 papers, and completed papers will be circulated prior to the conference to participants.
The conference offers graduate students working on political theory an opportunity to present work to receive thorough feedback from NU graduate student discussants. Northwestern faculty will chair panels of 3-4 papers and moderate extended discussion. The conference will conclude with a keynote address and reception. Unfortunately, we cannot provide travel funding for attendees. There will be some accommodations (with NU grad students) available on a first come, first serve basis.

Professor Jason Frank from Cornell University will join us as keynote speaker. His research interests are in historically situated approaches to democratic theory, with an emphasis on early American political thought and culture. His wide-ranging works include Constituent Moments: Enacting the People in Postrevolutionary America, which explores the recurrent legal and political dilemmas engendered by the American Revolution’s enthronement of “the people” as the sovereign ground of public authority; and Publius and Political Imagination, which explores how Publius (and the Constitution he was invented to defend) enlists the public imagination to secure the practical conditions of democratic self-rule. Professor Frank’s keynote address will feature a chapter from his latest book project, The Democratic Sublime: Assembly and Aesthetics in the Age of Revolution.

Submission Information and Timeline:

May 15th: Paper Proposals due via email to as a PDF. Proposals should be formatted for blind review, and submissions should include a separate document including author(s)’ name(s), institutional affiliation, and paper title.

Late June: Submission decisions made, and participants notified.

Full papers will then be required in early October to be distributed prior to the conference.
For further information, please contact Boris Litvin and Emre Gercek at

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