As we move from the Obama era into a new phase in the United States, the question of dissent is likely to gain ever greater prominence. What will assent and dissent mean in this period, and how will they be exercised? The dynamic of the last presidential election was itself propelled by dissent against standard narratives on the part of specific sectors of the public. How then will dissent be conceived and organized going forward, whether this relates to the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights, gay and transgender rights, migrant and immigrant rights, human rights, labor rights, education, health and other areas of stress and vulnerability? In an era in which Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia are renascent, questions of solidarity and dissent are likely to take on increasing importance. Where scientific consensus—for example on climate change—is under threat, there may for once be a paradoxical overlap between consensus and dissent. Where ‘truth’ itself has become a malleable political commodity, a matter of performance and simulacrum rather than fact, how will we tie dissent to notions of evidence and truth? How will evidence and truth be legitimated?
The political looms large in this call for applications, therefore. Quite possibly there will be moments of anticipation or inspiration from previous eras, whether the period of the Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle, or struggles for gender and sexual equality. At the same time, we might benefit from comparative approaches. How has dissent been organized and theorized in other times and places, or within specific cultures? Are there test cases we can study, whether in China, Russia, the former Soviet bloc, South Africa, Cuba or the Arab Spring? What are the options for national or transnational links? How is dissent in the personal sphere tied to the collective? Not despite but because of the serious issues, does comedy—and its history—offer a platform for dissent?