The Age of Anxiety: Literary Studies in a Culture of Risk


Age of Anxiety Conference


The Age of Anxiety: Literary Studies in a Culture of Risk

Department of English Twelfth Graduate Student Conference University of Ottawa

Friday, March 8th 5:00-8:00

Saturday, March 9th 9:00-6:00

Sunday, March 10th 9:00-2:30

“We would rather be ruined than changed” - W.H. Auden, “The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue”

Whether understood as a personal sense of apprehension and uncertainty, or as a broader social affect conditioned by various cultural and political parameters, anxiety has expanded beyond its psychological and psychiatric associations and has emerged as a familiar idiom in cultural investigation. In this digital age of constant media engagement, we are inundated with news of threats from all directions. The risks of ecological degradation, terrorism, crime, pandemic outbreaks, war, and political unrest are increasingly visible, but they are not new. Rather, throughout history, cultures have experienced events and threats that resulted in mass cultural anxiety.

Since Ulrich Beck’s seminal work, Risk Society (1992), sociological inquiry has connected‘risk’ and ‘risk consciousness’ with discussions of anxiety. Social theorist Iain Wilkinson has argued that risk has created a language for anxiety as “the more we recognize ourselves to be ‘at risk’ the more vulnerable we become towards anxiety” (Anxiety In a Risk Society 5). This dialectic between anxiety,risk, and security, then, necessarily confronts sociological analyses with “cultural narrative” (5). Fromthe recurring medieval narratives of cultural reformation, the idealization of the pastoral in the wake of industrialization, to the rise of contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction, fears of an uncertain future manifest themselves across literary history. This conference will consider how writers in different historical periods have used literary form to respond to various cultural anxieties and the ways literary texts across time and space have both recorded and shaped our perceptions of risk. We hope to explore how literary studies should respond to the ongoing sense of political crisis, to examine the ways that risk has impacted cultures across history, to explore how specific concerns configure themselves as subjects of widespread cultural anxiety, and to consider the place of literary studies in informing the ways that societies navigate these ongoing and recurring threats.

We have three days of exciting events focused on a diverse range of topics, such as:

  • Apocalypse
  • Mental & Physical Health New Social Realities Globalization Imperialism
  • Climate
  • Gender & Sexuality Racial Identity & Anxiety Industrialization
  • Poverty & Labour Speculative Futures Migration
  • Racism & The Police State Nationalism
  • Political Unrest & Uprising Colonialism
  • Culture in Crisis War & Terrorism

Feel free to contact our conference organizers at if you have any questions.

Past Conferences

Past EGSA Conferences





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