Dr. Georgiana Banita
Department of Literature and Media
University of Bamberg
Markusstrasse 12b
D-96047 Bamberg

Dr. Sascha Pöhlmann
American Studies
Shellingstrasse 3
D-80799 Munich

Electoral Cultures: American Democracy and Choice

Amerika-Haus, München

1.-4. November 2012

Organizers: Dr. Georgiana Banita (Bamberg) and Dr. Sascha Pöhlmann (LMU München)

In his 2004 autobiography My Life, Bill Clinton writes: “For me, election days have always embodied the great mystery of democracy. No matter how hard polsters and pundits try to demystify it, the mystery remains.” From the 1st to the 4th of November, scholars from Germany, the United States, and Australia will meet in Munich to discuss the longevity and appeal of this mystery. Somehow, Clinton maintains, Americans “usually pick the right leader for the times.” But do they really? And who would be the right leader on November 6th? Who indeed makes the decisions that legitimize and perpetuate American elective democracy?

We take the election 2012 as an opportunity to reflect on the practices and rituals that underwrite U.S. Presidential elections, from Lincoln to Goldwater to Obama. Electoral Cultures seeks to establish the study of elections both as an independent discipline and one closely entwined with the protocols of other fields: political science, history, American studies, literary scholarship, narratology, and above all cultural studies. U.S. elections require a cultural studies approach because what is at stake in these elections is culture itself as a sum of personal and collective choices. An interdisciplinary group of scholars will investigate what shapes these choices in specific periods, how American decisions in election years redraw the maps of global culture, and how we can make sense of elections by scrutinizing their representations in film, literature, and other media.

Three keynote speakers—Diana Owen (American Studies, Georgetown), John Aldrich (Political Science, Duke), and Brendon O’Connor (U.S. Politics, Sydney) will look at American elections in historical depth, cultural detail, and transnational perspective. In four workshops, scholars familiar with the field who haven’t yet had the opportunity to think together will address the problems of race and suffrage, the role of corporate lobbying in the electoral process, political assassinations, the performative aspects of media campaigns, the shifting grounds for candidate electability at different historical moments, and the articulation of Presidential narratives both in the course of campaigns and in their fictional accounts.

Faculty and students are warmly invited to join us for a four-day debate that the organizers hope will galvanize scholarly activity around the cultural politics of U.S. elections and how international voices may converge to unpack their historical premises and transformations.