The North Dakota Outrage Summit

A couple of months ago I floated the idea of an “Outrage Summit” as a possible theme for the North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit in late September. We floated the idea around and there were no objections to it, so this weekend, we put together a call for papers and it should appear on the summit’s website this week or next.

One thing that many of the folks who saw early drafts of my outrage idea suggested is that I “keep it academic.” I thought about this a good bit and decided to ignore that suggestion. I decided that was one of the surest ways to rob the arts and humanities of their emotional power. In fact, I got a bit worried that calls for us to “keep it academic” were largely driven by people who were less invested in the distinctive power of the humanities to push human emotions, agitate the irrational, and propel people to act in ways that defy convention, overturn civility, and bring about radical change. 

So my call for papers explicitly makes room for both academic, intellectual treatments of outrage as well as genuine expressions of outrage. The humanities (and arts!) do more than just obfuscate raw human emotions or insert a layer of opaque jargon between experience and understanding. The humanities and arts can and should form a direct conduit for anger, hatred, joy, love, passion, and even OUTRAGE. This summit should, then, embrace both thoughtful, rational, academic, technical treatments of outrage, and genuine or performed outpourings of emotional anger.   

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Finally, I think we have an almost perfect keynote speaker. Hopefully we can make that announcement soon. 

Here’s a preview. 

Outrage has become a dominant feature of the 21st century. It has energized social media, shaped the global political discourse, fueled massive popular movements, and propelled candidates to public office. Outrage has accompanied and amplified mourning, it has been used to resist and affect change, and served both to reinforce authority and to subvert institutions of control. From Occupy Wall Street to the streets of Ferguson, Paris, and Cairo, outrage has become a defining feature of the public sphere.

Historically, college campuses have served as an incubator and a stage for outrage, and recent events at the University of Missouri, for example, have demonstrated that this tradition is alive and well. At the same time, appeals to civility, safety, apathy, and even inclusiveness have challenged the role of college campuses as places for the violent, uncritical, visceral clashes of ideas. The increasingly marginalized place of outrage on college campuses has stifled the often-productive impact of mass movement, spontaneous actions, emotional calls for justice, and cascading, recursive spasms of irrational anger. In many cases, these aspects of outrage are exactly those that the arts and humanities seek to validate, authorize, and instill in our society.

As a result, the Arts and Humanities Summit has decided to embrace outrage both as a form of expression and as an object of study. We encourage the submissions of papers, presentations, and projects that thoughtfully, critically or performatively engage outrage. We encourage contributors to be outraged, to flaunt civility, and to reflect seriously on why outrage matters for the arts and humanities today.

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