Creating and Consuming the South

The Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies and Center for Transnational American Studies are hosting the 4th "Understanding the South, Understanding Modern America" conference. The core project partners are the University of Manchester, the University of Florida, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen.

About the conference

The creation and consumption of "the South" has long been a feature of southern history, literature, culture, and politics. Certain images of southernness, from the Scopes Trial and Gone with the Wind to Dukes of Hazzard and Kentucky Fried Chicken, proliferated during the twentieth century, an era that witnessed the emergence of "media-made Dixie." In the early twenty-first century, southernness.com markets a cologne that claims to capture "the celebrated Southern ‘sense of place,'" while post-Katrina New Orleans offers "disaster tourism" as one more experience for the visitors on whom so much of the city's economy relies.

This proliferation of "Souths" in and through a media-dominated consumer culture impacts on how southerners imagine and fashion themselves: as Richard Gray observes, "southerners can see themselves in terms of the many South imagined on film, television, and other electronic/mass media." But as James Cobb, Leigh Anne Duck and others have recently emphasized, the creation and consumption of southern identity operates at national and global levels too. This phenomenon has led Amy Elias to ask "is regional identity being created by multinational outsiders now marketing southerners to themselves as lifestyle products as well as lifestyle producers? Are southerners...now products rather than consumers in the global market?" At the same time, the South is being redefined on native ground by an unprecedented influx of immigrants. This process that has led James Peacock to emphasize that "globalization casts people into new spaces in which they create places"-even in a supposedly well-defined (or over-determined) "place" like the South.

The late-capitalist creation and consumption of the South sometimes involves the return of a barely repressed southern history--or mythology. Tara McPherson has noted the continuing selling power of the Old South in "the successful courtship between the region and the titans of international corporate commerce"-an image of the South, McPherson notes, that "reinscribes the region as a site of authenticity at the very moment that globalization blurs the boundaries of the nation." Other commentators complain that gated communities called Tara Club Estates or the design for life provided by Southern Living constitute a disturbing (in Umberto Eco's phrase) "faith in fakes." Recently, however, Scott Romine has emphasized that even if "the South is increasingly sustained as a virtual, commodified, built, themed, invented or otherwise artificial territoriality," this "has hardly removed it from the domain of everyday use." Romine raises the possibility that an increasingly commodified and supposedly inauthentic South may be preferable to a "real South" that so often was defined by racism, poverty, and violence.

This conference will explore various ways in which the South has been created and consumed in history, literature, culture, and politics. Potential subthemes include

  • The emergence of "media-made Dixie"
  • The South, cultural tourism, and the "nostalgia industry" (McPherson)
  • The marketing and consumption of southern history (Civil War reenactments, Civil Rights tours, Hurricane Katrina tours, etc.)
  • Rebranding the region as the New South, the New New South, the Sunbelt, the NuSouth, the Dirty South, etc.
  • Selling southern lifestyles: Southern Living, The Oxford American, and other southern-inflected publications
  • Casino capitalism in the contemporary South
  • Globalization and "southern" corporations: Coca Cola, Wal Mart, etc.
  • (Re)creating and consuming versions of southern womanhood (the lady, the mammy, the belle, etc.)
  • The creation and consumption of a "post-racial" or "multicultural" South
  • Virtual Souths: reimagining region on the worldwide web
  • Creating the urban South and the "world city"/"international city" (i.e., Atlanta, Miami)
  • Creating and consuming southern foods: fast food, soul food, barbecue, etc.
  • Creating and consuming southern music: local scenes, marketing, festivals, etc.
  • Creating and consuming "southern literature"
  • Creating southern identities through monuments/monumentalization
  • How the South has been created and consumed in national and transnational contexts
  • The "Americanization of Dixie" and the "Southernization of America"
  • The conundrum of "conspicuous southernness" (Romine)
  • The creation and consumption of the South in academia: e.g., does the New Southern Studies (NSS) enable us to critique and escape earlier ways of inventing "the South" in academia, or is the NSS itself just one more rebranding of the South and southern studies?

Programme

The conference programme of "Creating and Consuming the South" is posted on the Center for Transnational American Studies' website. Read more