Monday, September 18, 2006

CFP: Obscenity: An Obermann Center Humanities Symposium

CFP: Obscenity: An Obermann Center Humanities Symposium

The University of Iowa
March 1-4, 2007
Deadline: December 1, 2006


In 1966, anthropologist Mary Douglas published her groundbreaking study, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concept of Pollution and Taboo, asserting that "dirt" is a "universal theme across human societies." Douglas issued her book during a period of massive liberalization of censorship practices in English-speaking societies that led lawyer Charles Rembar to declare "the end of obscenity." Where Douglas saw a universal cultural theme, Rembar saw a concept that had lost its cultural significance. The proximity of these claims indicates a persistent paradox: while the category of obscenity would appear to be "universal," its meaning is so vague and variable that it is almost impossible to pin down in what this universality consists.

The opening of the 21st century is a felicitous time to interrogate the "universality" of obscenity in terms of the globalization of culture and postmodern skepticism in the human sciences. This symposium is intended to enable an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural dialogue that will analyze this notoriously vague yet apparently perennial concept in an historical and global context. Possible topics will include, but will not be limited to, the following: How do definitions of obscenity vary across cultures and historical periods? How do identity categories of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and disability inflect or inform issues of obscenity? What is the relation between verbal and visual instances of obscenity? To what degree is religion implicated in definitions of obscenity? How is obscenity inflected or informed by family structures and practices? How do issues of obscenity vary across institutional locations? In what ways are attacks on obscenity related to media ownership and the development of new media? How is obscenity related to cognate concepts such as indecency, pornography, and profanity?

Speakers include Nadine Strossen (New York University), Michael Taussig (Columbia University), John D. Peters (University of Iowa), Laura Kipnis (Northwestern University), Linda Williams (UC Berkeley), Judith Krug (American Library
Association), William Mazzarella (University of Chicago), and Lamia Karim (University of Oregon).

Please submit 300-word abstracts online at
by December 1, 2006.

Address any questions to Loren Glass at