Program in Comparative Literature

Fourteenth Annual

Reclaiming the Swamp (Thing): Popular Culture and the Public Academy

The 14th Annual

Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature

In Association with the “Barbara Harlow, The Sequel” Conference

 27th-28th October 2017

The University of Texas at Austin

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Richard T. Rodriguez

“Latino/U.K.: Postpunk’s Transatlantic Touches”

Texas Union Building 3.116 Governor’s Room. Oct 28 6PM. Reception to follow.

This conference hopes to bridge the gap between the popular and the academic. Our presenters examine forms of popular cultural inquiry and expression. Panel topics include celebrity culture, identity formation, space/place/non-space, media and new textualities, popular social and gender politics, the divides between “high” and “low” culture, and the role of the intellectual and the humanities beyond the academy.

Individual panels will take place on Friday October 27 12:00-5:00pm, and Saturday October 28 11:00am-5:30pm in the Student Activity Center.  Please visit to view the schedule of events.


When the DC comic Swamp Thing debuted in 1971, the border between human and vegetal was crossed.  This conference hopes to bridge the gap between the comic and the novel, the art film and the vine, Occupy and Gramsci, the poetry slam and the classical stage, that is to say, between the popular and the academic, so as to allow the academy to occupy a public space.  The Graduate Association of Comparative Literature Students presents the 2017 Graduate Student Conference, “Reclaiming the Swamp (Thing): Popular Culture and the Public Academy.” Focusing on the role of Popular Culture in the Humanities today, and remembering the contributions of Dr. Barbara Harlow to education and to the world as a public intellectual, this conference considers how academic scholarship has evolved in its relationship to popular forms of human expression, in whatever medium in a world that has always been filled with cultural objects and discourses.  It also imagines what future directions in such work might take.

Often dismissed as an insignificant, transient form, popular culture plays a persistent and powerful role with political and social consequences. In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as the international word of the year, insisting that the affective had supplanted the analytical and that popular culture and media had erupted into the political sphere. Reality-TV, comedy skits, social media posts, and memes became the vehicle for public discourse in a historical moment that demands an understanding of how and why popular culture and media operate so effectively across borders and across spheres.

Long-standing divides between “high” and “low” culture, which have always been both accepted and suspect, have been revealed as inadequate to accounting for either past or present circulations of culture, let alone imaging future potentials.  From the inception of humanistic studies, the movement from one cultural sphere to another has been fluid, allowing works to be promoted, however popular their origin, to the advantage of such popular and commercial artists as William Shakespeare or François Rabelais. The study of popular culture does more than expand the canon, however, it also shifts our intellectual paradigms to consider what is beyond the academy and to expand and delimit its narrow conceptions of what it means to be a scholar and of what the humanities can do. Our conference invites the examination of such forms of popular cultural inquiry and expression, both within academia and beyond.  

For additional information about the conference, please contact the organizers Xinyao Xiao, Tia Butler, and Monica Mohseni at or visit