The 2019 Canadian Literature Symposium at the University of Ottawa will be devoted to theme of Institutional Work. A collaborative initiative between Jennifer Blair at the University of Ottawa and Jody Mason at Carleton University, the conference will take place from May 3- 5th 2019 and will include an impressive group of scholars from around Canada whose work presses on the question of how to study literary institutions.

Featured speakers include: Lily Cho (York University); Louise Profeit-Leblanc (storyteller from Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation and former Aboriginal Arts Coordinator at the Canada Council for the Arts); Keavy Martin and Julie Rak (University of Alberta); and Cheryl Suzak (University of Toronto, from Batchewana First Nation).


CFP: Canadian Literature Symposium

University of Ottawa, May 3-5th, 2019

Institutional Work

This conference seeks to engage debates that are currently shaping the field of CanLit—debates generated by the simultaneous collision of the Joseph Boyden controversy and the Steven Galloway affair in 2017 and subsequently deepened by discussion, largely conducted through social media and the #metoo movement, about entrenched cultures of sexual violence in Canada’s schools of creative writing and the forms of racism that continue to shape the institutions of CanLit. This crisis has been producing compelling debates not only on social media but also at academic conferences and in print. While these debates offer timely and necessary analysis of the fine-grained details of the particular controversies that constitute the current crises in the field, this conference proposes a larger lens. As Haudenosaunee author Alicia Elliott urges “we can’t just stand around and complain about the dumpster fire in front of us forever....[W]e have to sit down, assess the criticism and do the work to fix the problems.” But what does this work entail? What potential lies in the analysis of institutions for those seeking to analyze racism, colonialism, and misogyny in the Canadian literary field? How crucial is the study of institutions of the literary to what Rinaldo Walcott, paraphrasing Jacques Derrida, calls “our debt and / or duty to reanimating and remaking the institutions of knowledge production, citizenship, the post-nation nation, and the desire for a ‘democracy yet to come’”? (“Against Institution” 23)


As Diana Brydon acknowledges in a 2007 essay, the first TransCanada conference (2005) raised questions about institutions that produced “uneasiness” regarding the fact that “what were once sociological questions were now overwhelmingly more properly literary ones.” This “uneasiness” speaks to a hesitancy that has, arguably, prevented rigorous analysis of the institutional structures and constraints that mediate the contemporary literary field. If what scholars of CanLit know (more and less successfully) is that colonialism and neoliberalism underpin our locations and methods of study, and if, relatedly, our hesitance to engage sociological approaches stems from our sense that the social sciences, their uses of empirical research, if not disciplinarity itself, is likewise colonial in many respects, are we uniquely poised to press upon the limits of “the sociology of literature” just as this approach is gaining renewed critical interest in literary studies?


Scholars of Canadian literatures have only begun to examine the institutions that have shaped the meanings of the literary. Recent work from the TransCanadas project and on topics such as literary celebrity, literary prizes, pedagogy, publishing, and mass reading events open sociologically oriented lines of inquiry, but there is still much to learn about how institutions–– public and private, mainstream and marginal––and their practices—from cultural policy to hiring criteria to sexual violence policies––shape the literary in Canada. If social oppression is linked to structural inequalities, how have the local, regional, national, and global institutions that have mediated the literary in Canada entrenched or resisted those inequalities?


We invite papers that analyze the literary cultures of Canada / of Indigenous nations within the boundaries of Canada in relation to past and present institutions. Topics explored might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • national and multinational publishing companies *small presses
  • authors’ associations
  • FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) *book prizes
  • Ministry of Canadian Heritage and its provincial / territorial counterparts (or other government agencies)
  • global cultural institutions (UNESCO, etc.)
  • educational institutions
  • residential schools
  • creative writing programs and / or Writer-in-Residence programs *literary agents
  • CBC and other media agencies
  • communications platforms and providers
  • non-governmental agencies
  • Access Copyright
  • law and legal institutions


Please send proposals of no more than 350 words with paper title, audiovisual requirements, a 100-150 word abstract, and a 50-word bio to Jennifer Blair and Jody Mason at by Sept. 1st, 2018. Proposals should indicate your full name and email address