The Third International Conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS)
Cities Under Stress: Urban Discourses of Crisis, Resilience, Resistance, and Renewal
University of California, Santa Barbara, 17–19 February 2022
You can find the conference programme here:
Caroline Levine (Department of English, Cornell U)
Sara Meerow (School of Geographical Science & Urban Planning, Arizona State U)
The 2020-21 pandemic has led to widespread speculation about how cities will change over the decades to come in response to the vulnerabilities of urban populations exposed by the virus. Other recent events have foregrounded the various roles that cities play as sites of political contestation and social conflict. These include the recent unrest over structural inequalities and police violence (in the USA and around the world), debates over public symbols of cultural memory (as in Bristol, UK), protests against gentrification (as in Berlin), and anti-inequality or pro-democracy demonstrations (as in Santiago, Hong Kong and Cairo). Meanwhile, the nexus of existential threats associated with climate change has lent even greater urgency to the question of how cities must evolve, and whether they can do so in ways that promote more sustainable, equitable, and socially cohesive modes of existence.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the triumphalist tone that much urban theory took on at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is now being heard less. This seems, rather, to be a time for recognition of profound uncertainty, and also a time for learning from the numerous crises cities have overcome in the past. In particular, it is a time for awareness of the challenges facing peripheral cities, shrinking cities, and cities in the Global South. And yet, as the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda of 2017 asserts, “If well-planned and well-managed, urbanization can be a powerful tool for sustainable development for both developing and developed countries.” Recognizing the central role that cities have played in human history in the past, for better and for worse, and stressing the apparent inevitability of increasing urban growth in the foreseeable future, the UN document expresses optimism about the future of cities, provided that they can be made “inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.”
Many of the watchwords of the UN document–resilience, efficiency, development, consumption, sustainability–are themselves subject to critique, raising larger questions about how the proper goals of urban development should be defined and what principles should guide city planners and city dwellers in an era of proliferating challenges. What clues does the past offer? Do the kinds of representations found in literary texts offer any special insights? How do specific literary forms, including those found in poetry, drama and both prose fiction and nonfictional prose genres mediate and contest the notion of resilience? These are the questions we hope to address in 2022.
Sponsors: This conference has been organized by the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS), with generous support from Governor’s State University (Chicago), University of Helsinki (Finland), and the University of California Santa Barbara’s College of Letters and Science, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC), Graduate Center for Literary Research (GCLR), Department of French and Italian, and Comparative Literature Program.
Liam Lanigan, Governor’s State University (wlanigan [a] govst.edu)
Eric Prieto, University of California Santa Barbara (eprieto [a] ucsb.edu)
Anni I Lappela, Helsinki University (anni.lappela [a] helsinki.fi)