CFH 2020-2021 Theme Descriptions


At its most elemental level, dirt is soil or earth that grounds the living and harbors the dead. As land occupied, possessed or stolen, it may afford hospitality to strangers, or demarcate corporeal, geographic, and conceptual zones of exclusion. As symbolic currency, it is disseminated through gossip and threats of disorder, contagion, and pollution. Deemed dangerously “out of place” (Douglas 1966), it subtends logics of control, violence, and ostracism. This semester’s theme explores the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of filth, waste, toxicity, and contamination alongside attendant fantasies of purity, hygiene, and cleanliness to address and reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural urgencies bearing on bodies and borders, including histories of corporeal and cultural abjections and exclusions, environmental racisms and racist environments, the ethics of citizenship, and the global movements and plights of migrants and refugees. How has dirt been deployed both against and by indigenous, subaltern, post/neo/settler-colonial, refugee, immigrant, and queer communities, and what forms of violence and resistance has such thinking engendered? How might a subversive poetics of dirt reframe its symbolic potential, its capacity for instilling, but also for troubling, normative social, cultural, and aesthetic hierarchies? We invite inquiries into the uses and abuses of dirt, and its various political, religious, sexual, ethnic, racial and ecological significations considered from below, or from the ground up. 


Pamphlets, photos, postcards, pixels, sketches, scribblings, notes, newspapers, bits, bytes, zines, memes, clouds … the forms of ephemera that define and mediate everyday life are myriad and multifarious (the Encyclopedia of Ephemera catalogues over 1,000 types). Transient and fluctuating by design, they are also fragile, fleeting, insubstantial, and ever-shifting. Easy to discard, yet often cherished and collected as souvenirs or mementos, they materialize the mutability of memory, while challenging the capacities and contingencies of media storage. How might our conceptions of the past, present, and future, shift when we move from monumental objects and hegemonic sites of analysis to ephemeral ones? What happens to our modes and means of narrating and recording cultural events when we shift our attention from the permanence of traditional archives as sites of memory and knowledge production, and as sources of state, legal, social and economic authority, to focus on the fleeting, the forgotten, the happenstance, the affective, the sensory? What furtive connections—and missed or misconnections—are prompted by the circulation of ephemeral texts and objects in unofficial, heterodox, neglected, marginalized, minoritarian, and queer counter-archives? In this semester, we invite ruminations on the roles of the haptic, sensory, transitory, ornamental, occasional and incidental in producing new—even if (and especially if) fleeting—socialities, and disrupting old ones.