Department of Music

Vox Pop: Locating and Constructing the "Voice of the People"
Columbia, SC, February 2004


VOX POP: Locating and Constructing the "Voice of the People"

6th Annual University of South Carolina Comparative Literature Conference
26-28 February, 2004 Columbia, SC, U.S.A.

Building from a millennia-old maxim--the voice of the people is the voice
of God--the desire to locate, fabricate, and appropriate the vox populi
has been especially pervasive for at least the last two centuries.  What
defines this voice of the people?  Is it a voice charged with lore from
the ancient past or one as new as today's poll numbers?  How is it
mediated: who speaks on behalf of the "grass roots," "the American
people," the "Arab street"?  The concept can challenge authority,
promoting populist subversions of hierarchy (carnival, protest,
revolution), yet it also feeds an age-old temptation to construct a
monologic Voice of a monolithic People, silencing heterogeneous, dialogic
voices.  Whether sought in man-on-the-street interviews, the "voices of
the People in song" (for Herder these included everyone from Homer, to
Shakespeare, to Ossian), or contemporary advertising trends, the consensus
of popular sentiment remains as elusive (and deceptive) an ideal as ever.

The VOX POP conference will consider the multitudes of peoples and voices
that have come under the heading of vox populi, from the ancient populus
or hoi polloi to the various "Peoples" of modern nationalism (das Volk, le
peuple, narod), and from folksong to political discourse to "the writing
on the wall."  The conference invites a wide-ranging interrogation of the
idea of the voice of the people by scholars from a range of fields.

A few possible points of orientation and approaches:
* populisms: literary, political, religious, etc.
* lines of transmission: "through the grapevine," via writers, 
  politicians, and prophets, or--if the voice is silent/silenced--through
  transformations into other forms of expression (literature "written for
  the drawer," graffiti, visual arts, etc.)
* national and ethnic identity; heritage as tradition or invention
* issues of (dis)enfranchisement, literature and democracy, representation
  in government
* questions of power and authority: what gives the vox pop legitimacy?
* information technologies and the ways they have inflected ideas of 
  popular expression
* relations between ideas of "gender" and "the people"
* "pop," folk, and country music, jazz and blues, "world" music, etc.
* modalities/tone/intonation of the vox pop: appealing, commanding,
  mythopoetic, imperative
* orality/literacy, national epics (authentic or fabricated)

Keynote Speaker: Russell A. Berman is Walter A. Haas Professor in the
Humanities at Stanford University (German Studies and Comparative
Literature).  He specializes in the study of German literary history and
cultural politics and is the author of numerous articles and award-
winning books, including Enlightenment or Empire: Colonial Discourse in
German Culture, The Rise of the Modern German Novel: Crisis and Charisma,
and Cultural Studies of Modern Germany: History, Representation and

Plenary Speaker: Morag Shiach is Professor of Cultural History in the
School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London. Her
research is interdisciplinary, drawing on theoretical approaches and
research methodologies from literary studies, cultural studies, history,
and political theory.  Her publications include Modern Labour: Modernism,
Labour and Selfhood in British Literature and Culture, 1890- 1930; Hélène
Cixous: A Politics of Writing; Discourse on Popular Culture: Class, Gender
and History in Cultural Analysis 1730 to the Present; several edited
volumes; and numerous articles.

Affiliated Round-Table: "The Voice of the People in the 2004 Primaries,"
moderated by Charles Bierbauer, Dean of the College of Mass Communications
and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.  A
distinguished broadcast journalist, Bierbauer was for twenty years a
correspondent for CNN in Washington, where he covered the Supreme Court,
the Bush and Reagan administrations and the presidential campaigns from
1984-96.  From 1977-81, he was an overseas correspondent for ABC News,
first as Moscow Bureau Chief and later as the Bonn Bureau chief.

Abstracts: Please send one-page abstracts for twenty-minute papers to the
conference organizers, Judith Kalb and Alexander Ogden, Comparative
Literature Program, Humanities Building, Columbia, SC 29208, USA, or
e-mail them to  Broadly interdisciplinary presentations are
encouraged.  We plan to publish a volume of selected papers from the
conference.  Updated conference information will be available on the web

Deadline for proposals: 30 September 2003