CFP: Without Naming It: Pragmatics and Poetics of Pronouns, Cornell University, Ithaca NY (31.1.2019)

Sophia Leonard's picture
Call for Papers
March 22, 2019 to March 23, 2019
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
German History / Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Literature, Philosophy, Theatre & Performance History / Studies

Keynote Speaker: Brian Richardson (University of Maryland)

March 22-23, 2019

The graduate students in German Studies at Cornell University invite contributions to this year’s conference centered on pronouns. The conference aims to bring together scholars interested in engaging with these ubiquitous and multifaceted elements of language from varying perspectives. Thanks not least to the work of queer practices and theories, pronouns have recently attained a high-profle role within public discourse and the political sphere. With this, pronouns continue to inform a long history of literary, cultural, and philosophical investigations, whether in shaping character, voice, and perspective, complicating agency and identity, or raising questions of indexicality and reference.

Pronoun, from the Latin pronomen:

  • Pro: for, in the sense of “on behalf of” and “in place of”; initiates a comparison with “behaving as”
  • Nomen: names and naming; related to nosco, “to know,” “to recognize”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a pronoun “designates an object without naming it.” It can refer to either what is “known from context or usage” or an unknown “subject or object of inquiry.” Whether this process of designation is explicitly recognized or not, pronouns always implicitly ask: to whom or what does this refer, and how?

In this way, pronouns invite close reading in their deictic function by prompting questions of reference, identity and agency. Their apparent inability to function meaningfully alone in an utterance makes their meaning dependent on context and assumption. Because the meaning of a pronoun is dependent on context, and this is constantly shifting, to what extent can we say that pronouns participate in the construction of identity or meaning-making at all? These considerations evoke a number of questions that might serve as points of departure for an in-depth multidisciplinary investigation into the pragmatics, poetics and productive capacity of the pronoun. What do pronouns do? How do they function in literary and non-literary contexts, in everyday communication and different kinds of media? What is their role in the construction of social categories such as gender or identity? Might pronouns obscure more than they clarify?

We invite proposals for papers from fields such as literary and cultural studies, philosophy, linguistics, queer studies, science studies, and related felds. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Capacities of pronouns to function uniquely within the literary genres of poetry, prose, and drama
  • Philosophical inquiries into theories of naming and reference, indexicality
  • Translingualism and translation of pronouns
  • Sites of inclusion and exclusion, recognition, legal personhood, cultural identity
  • Pronouns and gender
  • The non-human: non-human animals, machines, things, non-human agents
  • Pronouns and other proxies in film, visual art, music, and other cultural artifacts
Contact Info: 

Abstracts for 20-minute presentations are due by January 31, 2019. Please send your paper proposals (around 300 words) to

Contact Person: Sophia Leonard (