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Fictions of the Neoliberal City

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Organizer: Weihsin Gui

Co-Organizer: Rituparna Mitra

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How does late-twentieth and early twenty-first century fiction represent neoliberal urban spaces and city life? While there are numerous studies about literature and the modern city in various cultural and geographical contexts, contemporary fiction’s engagement with neoliberalized urban milieus hasn’t been substantially explored. Extant scholarship about neoliberal urbanism comes primarily from the social sciences, such as Jason Hackworth’s Neoliberal City (2006), Tuna Taşan-Kok and Guy Baeten’s Contradictions of Neoliberal Planning (2012), and Gavin Shatkin’s Contesting the Indian City (2014).


Yet it can be no accident that, in their introduction to a 2018 special issue of Novel: A Forum on Fiction about neoliberalism, John Marx and Nancy Armstrong discuss the figures of the dumpster diver and garbage picker along with the prevalence of contemporary novels about garbage and other types of literal and figurative refuse. The detritus of urban existence is one possible motif within what Patricia Yaeger calls a metropoetics that maps out different structures and forces at work in today’s cities. As editor of a 2007 special issue of PMLA on cities, Yaeger highlights overurbanization, infrastructure, shelter, and counterpublics as key topics for metropoetics, but other subjects are undoubtedly worth examining across a range of cityscapes and literary forms. For instance, Yaeger’s call to address the “staggering sublime” reproduced by the “lacks” and “zeros” of non-western overurbanized spaces has been taken up by Achille Mbembe in “The Zero World: Materials and the Machine” (2014) and more recently, the contributors of Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Infrastructure, Literature, and Culture (2018), who among other issues, explore modes of re-opening, repair, and occupation that undercut colonial and neoliberal forms of violence in urban worlds.


Our proposed seminar takes its cue from these scholars and also from Aihwa Ong’s insight that “the proliferation of neoliberal techniques thus contributes to the blossoming of an urban terrain of unanticipated borrowings, appropriations, and alliances that cut across” social, political, and economic boundaries (“Introduction: The Art of Being Global”, 5). We ask: how does prose fiction use existing or develop new metropoetics to depict, negotiate, and interrogate neoliberal urban spaces and city life?


Topics of interest include but are not limited to: infrastructures of violence; interstitial subcultures; turning waste to repair; new materialist and posthumanist urbanisms; conservation and development; public transit and urban mobility; aesthetic innovation in city writing; contesting neoliberal regimes in/through urban forms.


Submit abstract with bio between 8/31 and 9/23 via the ACLA portal. Questions? Contact Weihsin Gui at weihsing@ucr.edu or Rituparna Mitra at rmitra@marlboro.edu.

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