2023 Presidential Theme: Working Conditions

Christopher Newfield, the 2022–23 president of the MLA, has chosen Working Conditions as the presidential theme for the 2023 MLA Annual Conven­tion in San Francisco.

The diverse teaching and research of MLA members are better than ever. Our working conditions are not. The presidential theme of the 2023 convention asks us to reflect on what our teaching and research tell us about transforming our working conditions so that they do not hold us back as they do now and instead help us do what we need and want to do.

This theme—Working Conditions—asks us to consider questions like these:

  • What are the intolerable conditions under which we work?
  • What are the new conditions we need?
  • What new conditions are emerging from literary thought and research?
  • What new conditions are emerging from our teaching, mentoring, grading, advising, and administering?
  • How can we use our established and evolving expertise to reconstruct our profession for the sake of our everyday labor—and for the transformative things we each envision?

Our work already strives to understand the world in new terms. Literary study uncovers interior visions for another life, for liberation and justice, and for enabling forces not subject to the limits of existing reality. Literary and cultural theory identify transformative methods of counteranalysis. The study of languages, rhetoric, and composition theory builds powers of interpretation and radical rewriting that are relevant to texts and institutions alike. All our activities engender the production of culture and cultural knowledge. The presidential theme encourages members to consider their existing work in the context of conditions that enable or interfere with it and to explore the transformations of those conditions that our work implies.

Our profession needs new working conditions. We already know many of these. Teaching positions should be stable, tenurable, and properly paid: the trend toward precarity must be reversed. Our research needs much better and broader funding; research opportunities must be made available to instructors at all types of colleges, particularly access-oriented and minority-serving institutions. The role of racism in structuring the life of our profession must be stamped out. Humanities departments need real influence over university decision-making; they need resources to affect public understanding of the many areas on which we have distinctive expertise. We need international networks that engage with scholars around the world, particularly in the global South. In short, we have done superb analyses of literature and languages in crisis. This theme invites us to extend and intensify that work and also to use our knowledge to think through the reconstruction of the profession, its institutions, and its wider environment.

In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”  Perhaps we can make 2022 a year that answers.

Visit the MLA website to post a call for papers for the 2023 convention.