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Call for Submissions: Pandemic Patterns

Deadline: Sept. 1, 2021

Call for Submissions:

Special Issue of Amerikastudien / American Studies - Pandemic Patterns: The Cultural Semiotics of Medical Crisis


As COVID-19 has shown, medical crises not only entail extensive shifts within established social and political orders (Ryan 2021), they also serve as magnifying glasses for larger cultural tensions and anxieties. Besides obvious factors of public health inequity and discrimination, outbreaks of diseases, such as smallpox, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, polio, influenza, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika, MERS, or SARS, also temporarily or lastingly reorganize the relationships between individuals and (state) institutions and thus establish situations of flux in the arenas of subjectivity, citizenship, and community. Since at least the plague of Athens in 430 BCE, which shattered balancing acts between cultural openness and national protection and cast Attic democracy into crisis, pandemics have implemented “states of exception” (Agamben) and called specific cultural codes and norms into question.

The contributions to this special issue seek to investigate the various multilateral effects that pandemics have had on American culture from a diachronic and transnational point of view. We take “the plague year,” as Lawrence Wright has termed the COVID-19 pandemic, as a point of departure to address, for instance, the semantic strategies of “outbreak narratives” (Wald 2008), the underlying public health legislation, the impact of pandemics on minorities and identities, their implications for enhanced (digital) surveillance, authoritarian tendencies and “biopolitics” (Foucault 1976), or “necropolitics” (Mbembe 2003), as well as the aesthetic dimensions of framing medical crises. What have COVID-19, the AIDS crisis, or other pandemics in the United States taught us about the imaginary of medical crisis? How do these crises amplify, co-constitute, or even subvert larger political, social, linguistic, literary and cultural contexts?

We invite perspectives from all disciplines of American Studies, including literary and cultural studies, history, political science, media studies, medicine, sociology, and linguistics to explore aspects of medical crisis such as the following:

- Literary and cultural responses in diachronic perspective
- Photographic and artistic perspectives
- Filmic and sonic perspectives
- Narrative and visual patterns and frames
- Pandemics and/in cultural memory
- Normative dimensions, genre conventions, and intermediality
- Changing knowledges? Pandemics and epistemic shifts
- (Viral) news in times of pandemic
- The impact of pandemics on minorities
- The role of religion in pandemic times
- The intersection of race, sex, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability
- Isolation, distancing, and infiltration as social symbols
- Containment strategies and communication
- “Going viral”: Social media and medical crisis
- Origin narratives and national signifiers
- Masks and other (cultural) signs of pandemic
- Contagion as metaphor: zombie narratives, apocalypse, and post-apocalypse
- The aesthetics of disease

Please submit a 250-word abstract and a brief one-page CV to by September 1, 2021. The deadline for complete papers (between 4,000 and 10,000 words) is February 1, 2022.