What, when & where
Family Portraits: Representing the Contemporary North-American Family
Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September 2018
Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne (CELEC)
The sixties and the seventies marked a turning-point in the evolution of family. Major sociocultural changes undermined certain patterns of gender roles around which traditional families, and the American society at large, were organized. When the Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive back in 1960 and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of legal abortion in 1973 (Roe v. Wade), women were given the right to break free from the normative gendered imperatives of the traditional family. Because the cult of domesticity gradually declined, and the crisis imposed the necessity to move from single-income to dual-income families, an unprecedented number of women – wives and mothers included – joined the workforce in the seventies. This shift in social values combined with new legal developments in family law (California for instance adopted the no-fault divorce in 1970) caused a major upheaval in North-American family structures. New behaviors within the family (how couples relate to marriage; the rise of divorces and remarriages; the decrease in the birthrate; the delaying of marriage and parenthood) have delineated new family forms. Today, married couples with children are no longer the norm; they coexist with other family structures such as single-parent, blended, and homoparental families, unmarried parents or childless couples. To adapt to these new realities, a lexical evolution necessarily ensued. Concepts like “living apart together” or “three-parent families” started to spread in order to define new family forms and reflect the changes that have occurred over the past forty years.
Contemporary family was also labeled as “deinstitutionalized” (Andrew Cherlin) or “declining” (David Popenoe). Its plural modalities are evidence of its constantly changing nature. Though broken and splitting apart, is family at threat? Is it doomed to fail because of the erosion of traditional forms? Many observers sound alarmist as to the future of family. According to sociologist John F. Conway, the Canadian family is “in crisis”; as for the media, some predict “The Slow Death of ‘Traditional’ Families in America” (The Atlantic) or go as far as comparing it to “An Endangered and Disappearing Species” (CNSNews). However, in 2010, 98.2% of American respondents told the researchers of the World Value Survey that family was “important” or “very important” in their lives. On social networks, family hashtags have been flourishing (more than 250 million #family). One of the goals of this conference will be to examine and question this gap between a deep attachment to the family unit – whether real or fantasized – and the proclaimed death of family.
The family ideal thus seems to have survived the major sociodemographic transformations and continues to thrive in the North-American imaginary, as contemporary fiction shows through the extraordinary amount of fictional autobiographies and family narratives. Indeed, family has often inspired North-American writers for, in many respects, it has concentrated all the anxieties of a fairly recent literature which has continuously questioned notions of origins and filiation. As a locus of suffering, misfortune, and neurosis, family is more than ever an obsession for contemporary writers. The Lamberts (Jonathan Franzen), the Lisbons (Jeffrey Eugenides), the Raitliffes (Rick Moody) or the Schells (Jonathan Safran Foer) have superseded the Angstroms (John Updike) or the Wapshots (John Cheever) but they remain families riddled with frustrations, secrets and trauma. So, how can we account for the fact that family narratives still endure and have even expanded in contemporary fiction? The approaching new millennium and the inaugural catastrophe of 9/11 that ushered in a new era led writers to turn to the family and portray it as either an idealized unit, a mere invention, or an alienating space. In this temptation to turn inward, how do writers negotiate family history and collective history? Isn’t this eagerness to fictionalize family – sometimes one’s own family – a sign of withdrawal, a reluctance to engage with the other? Does this phenomenon finally come along with a renewal of literary forms and practices? All those questions can be approached through the fiction of contemporary writers like Rick Moody, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nicole Krauss, Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Donald Antrim or Miriam Toews to draw up here a non-exhaustive list.
We welcome contributions addressing for instance the following topics:
– Family in contemporary novels, poetry and drama (fictional autobiographies, family narratives, autofictions)
– Family and its transformations; representation of identity and roles within the family
– Religion, class, ethnicity, territory: representations and stereotypes
– Staging the family on the public and political scenes
– Families on screen: in the movies, in TV shows (“Modern Family”, “Brothers and Sisters” etc.) or in reality shows (“Keeping up with the Kardashians”, “Hogan knows best” etc.)
– Staging family life in the visual arts
– Digital family identity et glamorization of family life on social networks (Instagram, family vlogs, parental blogs etc.)
– Family and words (family rhetoric, terminological evolutions, lexical creations etc.)
Papers may be presented either in English or French. Abstracts (around 300 words) along with a short biographical notice should be sent to Marie Moreau (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Sophie Chapuis (email@example.com) by April 23rd, 2018.