MARC and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Penn Present: Protest, A Graduate Student Conference

GSWSThe Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania is hosting its 3rd biannual graduate student conference, co-organized with the Annenberg School for Communications’ Media Activism Research Collective. The theme this year is “Protest” and will feature a keynote address by Marcia Ochoa and presentation by Isa Noyola. Please circulate widely and direct any questions to


University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, April 21-Friday, April 22, 2016

Keynote: Marcia Ochoa

Featured Presentation: Isa Noyola

Organized by Penn’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and Media Activism Research Collective

Protest defines our contemporary moment. From #BlackLivesMatter in the US to anti-austerity movements in Europe to popular uprisings in the Middle East, people have claimed public and digital spaces in response to local and global injustices, such as structural racism, sexual violence, material inequalities, political oppression, environmental degradation, and corrupt governments and corporations. In light of mass mobilizations and creative insurgencies, this conference asks: what is the role of protest in bringing about social change? What forms can protest take? What can protest achieve, and what are its limits? “Protest” is interested in tracing the contours of protest along its varied historical, geographical, social, political, and legal axes.

Protest is at risk of being perceived as obsolete in light of civil rights victories that promote the illusion of living in a world resolved of structural injustice, suggesting we are living in a post-racial, post-feminist, post-gay, and/or post-colonial moment. For example, as trans activist Jennicet Gutiérrez reminded us when she interrupted President Barack Obama’s celebration of LGBT rights at the White House, marriage equality does not begin to address the social, economic, and political grievances of many in the queer community. As a political performance, protest, whether individual or collective, brings the public’s attention to neglected or marginalized causes, making these issues the subject of public contention and policy deliberation. For example, “Carry That Weight,” the mattress performance art of Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, triggered nationwide debate around how universities handle sexual assault on their campuses. Protest may also incite backlash, leading to state-sanctioned violence, repression, surveillance, or other disciplinary measures. The arrest, detention, and persecution of activists in Egypt illustrates the dangers that protest poses for authorities and protesters alike.

While a graduate student conference, we invite submissions from graduate students and activists alike that grapple with the many dimensions and manifestations of protest across time and space. Who gets to protest? Who does protest leave out? What is the role of affect (e.g. hope, despair, depression, shame, anger) in protest? How do new media technologies reconfigure the ways we protest, express dissent, build coalitions, inhabit material space, and mobilize for collective action? What new repertoires of protest are made available by these technologies? Is there a space for protest in the neoliberal university? What is the relationship between art and protest, aesthetics and politics? What is the scale of protest? What are the differences between covert and overt, planned or spontaneous, individual or collective forms of protest? Which protests are heard, and by whom? When does protest slip into speaking for, over, or silencing? How do identity politics reinvigorate or circumscribe protest? “Protest” takes gender, sexuality, and race as pivotal axes along which to consider these questions, and we look forward to addressing the complex personal, institutional, and political meanings of protest from all disciplinary and intellectual backgrounds.

We invite submissions of abstracts from the sciences, social science, and humanities. Please submit abstracts (ca 300 words) and direct any questions to by January 15, 2016. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by February 1, 2016.

Visit our conference website for more information.

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