Anne H. Stevens

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Call for papers: ASECS 2015, Los Angeles, California

I am proposing a panel for the March 2015 American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual meeting on the topic of “Microgenres in the Eighteenth Century.” 

Here’s the description: 

The long eighteenth century was a glorious age for microgenres, highly specific, temporally bounded subgenres like the it-narrative, the dressing room poem, and the she tragedy. This panel invites papers that consider eighteenth-century microgenres from formal, historical, or theoretical perspectives. 

Send proposals or queries to Anne Stevens, department of English, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (anne.stevens@unlv.edu).

Call for papers: PCCBS Annual Meeting, March 6-8, 2015, Las Vegas, Nevada

The Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies (PCCBS) invites paper and panel proposals for its 42nd annual meeting, to be held at the M Resort, Las Vegas, NV, March 6-8, 2015. We welcome proposals from all fields of British Studies — broadly defined to include those who study the United Kingdom, its component parts and nationalities, as well as Britain’s imperial cultures. We welcome proposals from scholars and doctoral candidates in a wide range of disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, including History, Literature, Political Science, Philosophy, Religion, Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Theater Studies, and Art History.

Proposals for individual papers, partial panels, or complete panels are all welcome, although complete panel proposals are preferred.  We encourage the submission of proposals dealing with interdisciplinary topics, as well as panels on new pedagogies and technologies associated with British Studies.

The deadline for submission of proposals is DECEMBER 1, 2014.  Proposals should include a 200-word abstract for each paper plus a one-page c.v. for each participant.  Those submitting full or partial panel proposals should include a brief description of the panel plus a 1-page c.v. for the panel chair as well as for its commentator.  Please place the panel proposal, its constituent paper proposals, and all vitae in a single file, making certain that your contact information, especially e-mail addresses, are correct and current.  Proposals should be submitted via e-mail attachment by December 1, 2014, to: pccbsproposals@gmail.com

Prospect Park Zoo

Jul 6

A few photos from Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety”

Some terms from Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of culture

Pierre Bourdieu began his career as a structuralist anthropologist. Like his friend and colleague Michel Foucault, he broke from structuralism while being shaped by it. While Foucault used historical inquiry to look at the underlying epistemological structures of different eras, Bourdieu became interested in the mental structures that shape people’s perceptions and taste. What makes us like the things we like? Why do some people prefer action movies and others independent films? And what difference do our tastes make in the world? 

Bourdieu introduced a whole new vocabulary for talking about taste to the sociology of culture. Some of his key concepts include:

  • Habitus. Habitus is the underlying mental structure that determines how people act, what they like, and how they perceive the world. It develops in childhood and is socially and culturally determined rather than innate. Habitus determines our taste. Your taste for food, music, clothing, furniture, and everything else is socially determined, and in turn it helps to determine your social position. As he says in his book Distinction, a massive study of French people’s taste and its relation to social and economic factors, “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make.”[1] He also calls taste a “match-maker,” because couples come together through common tastes in movies, music, hobbies, and other matters.
  • Cultural capital. Taste can function as a type of currency, which he calls cultural capital (as opposed to economic capital). Having refined tastes like a preference for abstract art, classical music, or fine wine marks you out as a member of an elite group and can in turn lead to social advancement. Conversely, a taste for monster trucks and Budweiser can mark you as someone with “lowbrow” tastes and can lead to social scorn among the “highbrow.” In his study, Bourdieu tracks the correlation of economic and cultural capital. Some groups, such as teachers, possess high cultural capital but low economic capital, while others possess high economic capital but low cultural capital, like successful shopkeepers.
  • Fields. Fields are places of competition, like a battlefield or a playing field, with their own rules and their own competitors. Bourdieu analyzes the literary field as one such place, “an independent social universe with its own laws of functioning, its specific relations of force, its dominants and its dominated.”[2] Within a field the actors take positions organized around binary oppositions (such as left-right or high-low). These position-takings depend on the positions of all the other actors on the field, and the arrival of a new competitor rearranges the positions. People with high economic and cultural capital are more likely to stake out new positions, such as the new avant-garde literary movements coming out of France at the end of the 19th century.


[1] Pierre Bourdieu. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. 1979. Trans. Richard Nice. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 6.

[2] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Ed. Randal Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, p. 163.

Friedrich Nietzsche has a lot to answer for, musically speaking

Images of the work of artist Yinka Shonibare

Some more ideas for a new mascot for UNLV

At last count, and despite controversy, UNLV still has a Confederate general as a mascot. I previously had some ideas for a replacement mascot. Here are a few more, and you’re welcome, UNLV.

1. Bartleby

Famous nineteenth-century scrivener. Catchphrase “I would prefer not to.” This could work great at games: “Do you want to lose?” “We would prefer not to!”

2. Milton’s Satan

Another famous literary rebel, who “durst defy th’Omnipotent to Arms.” Great rallying cries like “courage never to submit or yield” and “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

3. Guy Fieri

UNLV alum. “Bad boy” chef. Bonus: he has the same haircut as Billy Idol, who sang “Rebel Yell.”

4. “Ziggy Stardust”/”Diamond Dogs”-era David Bowie

You can’t beat the costumes, plus “Rebel Rebel” is a great song.

5. My dog Rebel

He is cute.

Apr 3

On genres and their histories

What is a genre? For readers, it’s a set of expectations that develops from past experience; for publishers and booksellers, it’s a marketing category; for writers, it can serve as a blueprint for new creations and membership in a community; for critics it’s a set of rules by which to judge a new work. But what does a genre mean for literary historians? Difficulties arise when we try to think of genres over a long span of time, because the boundaries of a genre are constantly changing through the operations of readers, publishers, writers, and critics. Sometimes individual texts can modify a genre so significantly that it initiates a new genre or subgenre, but most often they merely modify the contours of the genre ever so slightly.

Despite the difficulties of discussing genres historically, scholars and critics do so all the time, making claims about which text is the “first” novel, detective story, work of science fiction, etc. Or they make totalizing claims about “the Gothic” or “the romance,” when terms like that mean something very different at any given moment in their history.

My own work is preoccupied with these questions of how to think through genre with precision and specificity. In general, I think scholars need to look at both larger and smaller groups of texts. We need to broaden our reading to include all instances of a genre, including derivative or failed attempts, while at the same time shortening our chronological focus to attempt to understand any given stage of a genre’s history.

American Folk Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg, VA.