16th International SAAS Conference

March, 28-30 2023

Universidad de Granada

A Return to (What Never Was) Normal: Discourses of (Ab)normalcy

in US Culture, Literature, Arts and Politics

Past, Present and Future

The term normalcy, that has gained momentum mostly due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, is as controverted for its morphology as it is for its own meaning. In its lexical conformation, the prefix -cy usually adds to adjectives ending in -t, such as president/presidency or immunodeficient/immunodeficiency, for which normalcy does not follow. According to its root ending in -l, the “normal” is to employ the term normality. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the term back to the 19th century and describes that it denoted “mathematical condition of being at right angles, state or fact of being normal in geometry” (1857). However, it gained popularity after Republican Warren G. Harding employed it as his successful campaign slogan for the US presidency in 1920, entitled “Return to Normalcy”, claiming for a return more peaceful times prior to the economic, social, political and military unrest caused by the First World War. But also, and most importantly, in reference to a necessary recovery from the influenza pandemic that devastated world population the two preceding years: “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery,but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality” (Harding’s speech). So, his discourse focused on “America’s present” need for recovery, restoration, adjustment, serenity, dispassion, balance and focus on the nation.

However, its meaning also triggers conceptualizations about what things ought to be like and their deviation from the norm, thus a moral or ethical assessment that is time and place precise, i.e. culturally specific to the US context. In the context of the 21st world pandemic, the #metoo and the #Icantbreathe movements, the recent American political turn from Trumpist era to Democrat Joe Biden presidency, discourses that focus on the (impossible) return to normalcy can be analyzed on many levels. Is such a return possible in US discourses? What affects does this “return to normalcy” narrative trigger? Are narratives of renewal and healing, as was the case of Harding’s speech, mainstream? Or do they coexist, collide, counterpose with other discourses? Do narratives reconstruct a historical vision of a past to which it is possible or impossible to return?

For the 2023 SAAS conference at the university of Granada, we welcome proposals for panels that approach the “return to normal” from sundry theoretical positions within American Studies regardless of whether they further interrogate or challenge US discourses, past and present, based on a “return to normal” logics.


Panel proposal submissions should include:

1. A panel title

2. A brief description of the panel focus

3. A short bio of the panel coordinator and contact information.

At a later date, panels unrelated to the conference theme will also be considered. At this stage, please send panel proposals to Aitor Ibarrola (aitor.ibarrola@deusto.es) and Carmen Méndez (cmmendez@ucm.esbefore April 1, 2022, using THIS FORM.

At a later stage we will be opening a call for talkshops, full panels and papers. Panel coordinators will be informed whether their panels have been accepted before May 15, 2022. All inquiries regarding the submission process should be sent to: Aitor Ibarrola (aitor.ibarrola@deusto.es) and Carmen Méndez (cmmendez@ucm.es).

IMPORTANT: Non-members of SAAS (of all nationalities) are welcome to participate in the conference, but will be required to pay membership dues for one year as well as the conference registration fee. Members of ASA (American Studies Association), AISNA (Associazione Italiana di Studi Nor-Americani), APEAA (Portuguese Association for Anglo-American Studies) and HELAAS (Hellenic Association for American Studies) need only pay the conference registration fee.

Click here to access SAAS website.