*Meanings of Modern Work in Times of Disruption, 19th and 21st centuries.*

*A Multidisciplinary Symposium*

*Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. *

*April 8-10, 2016*

An international conference to explore how the humanities can contribute to
an understanding of meanings of work in an age of disruptive changes
brought on by globalization, financial crises, and technological changes.

*Meanings of Modern Work in Times of Disruption* will bring together
scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to explore how the Humanities and
Social Sciences contribute to our understanding of the changing role of
work from a historical perspective, how it affects social organization and
individual identity formation. By concentrating on the nineteenth and
twenty-first centuries, the conference aims to shed new light on the two
eras when technological changes and their concomitant transformations in
social and individual organization brought disruptive change to our notions
of ‘work.’

As economists Erik Brynjolfson and Andrew McAfee argued in their 2012 *Race
Against the Machine* and elaborated in *The Second Machine Age* (2014),
advances in artificial intelligence, computing power, and technologies like
3D printing have brought us to the cusp of a revolution in how humans will
work in the future. As new technologies will do to white collar jobs what
robotics did to blue collar jobs, all aspects of social organization
related to work will be challenged and will need to be rethought. While
economists tend to view such changes and the direction they will take as
inevitable and as determined by the ‘natural’ development of technology,
literary and cultural critics tend to view them as more malleable and open
to choices determined by values-driven cultural and political ideas (i.e.,
by ideologies). Whether or not the details of Brynjolfson’s and McAfee’s
analyses and the envisioned consequences are correct, it seems clear that
big data and changes in production, development, and distribution of goods
and services will significantly affected this rapidly changing environment.
“Work” as one of the basic social and individual organizing principles of
the modern world will therefore fundamentally change. The quantitative
aspect of jobs potentially lost to what John Maynard Keynes termed
“technological unemployment” is only one element of this transformation;
the qualitative changes of the very nature of work and their disruptive
effects on how humans will live will certainly equal those of the previous
disruptive era in the history of work in the nineteenth century.

Most of the cultural criticism on economics has concentrated on topics
related to ‘money’ in a broad sense (see, for example, the major studies by
Marc Schell, Jean-Joseph Goux, Jochen Hörisch, Joseph Vogl, Richard T. Gray
and others, and the groundbreaking collection by Osteen/Woodmansee). They
have also focused on developments around 1800 and contemporary culture.
This conference reaches beyond these established areas by centering on
issues of “work” and by explicitly drawing the parallel between
contemporary developments and those in the nineteenth century. It will
contribute thereby to the more recent attention on “work” by literary and
media scholars, artists, and philosophers who often work in
cross-disciplinary research networks or international collaborative
projects (for example connected to people in “New Economic Criticism;”
various universities in Europe have established research centers on these
issues [Mannheim; Bonn; Duisburg-Essen; Berlin etc.]; the international *Eine
Einstellung zur Arbeit*-project by filmmakers Antje Ehmann and Harun
Farocki; special issue of *Kritische Ausgabe*).  In the United States, too,
there has been increased attention on exploring the aesthetic and
philosophical dimensions of work. The Modern Language Association, for
example, recently sponsored a theme issue of its premier journal, *PMLA*,
on “Work” emphasizing the importance this topic has for the field. Still,
there are few studies that concentrate on the nineteenth century even
though that era saw the most radical transformation of economic, social,
and individual organization and meanings of work.

*Meanings of Modern Work in Times of Disruption *will explicitly link the
two moments of disruptive changes in the organization and social
construction of work.

Featured speakers include Richard Biernacki (Sociology, UC San Diego),
Michael Festl (Philosophy, University of St. Gallen), André Lottmann
(German Studies, Stiftung Charité, Berlin, Germany), and Barbara C. Mennel
(Film Studies, University of Florida).

Send abstracts for proposed papers to [log in to unmask] by
October 15, 2015. Notification of acceptance will be sent by November 1,

Peter C. Pfeiffer
Professor of German
Director, European Studies Certificate Program
Affiliated Faculty, Program in Film and Media Studies
ICC 467
German Department
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057
202.687.5693 (office)
202.687.7568 (fax)
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Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
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