Power and Change in the Americas in the Modern Era

On 30 April and 1 May 2015 the UCL Americas Research Network hosted its 1st International Conference, called ‘Power and Change in the Americas in the Modern Era.’ Attended by over 60 delegates from all over the world – including Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Mexico, Australia, Chile and Columbia – the conference was a huge success. An attendee review and organiser report were subsequently published by US Studies Online. Below is an outline of the Call for Papers for the 2015 conference, a copy of the program, pictures, and podcasts of the two keynote speakers.


Please consult the programme here.

Selected photographs


Call for papers

This two-day conference catered to an international community of postgraduate and early-career researchers of the Americas from across the humanities and the social sciences. We welcomed paper proposals that addressed the overarching theme of the conference. Geographically, this included the whole Western Hemisphere (Central, South, and North America, as well as the Caribbean). By adopting a broad, hemispheric perspective, we hoped to encourage debates that extend beyond the boundaries of the nation-state, and to question the validity of cultural divides that often limit research agendas and enclose perceptions of complex problems and communalities.

The conference especially invited doctoral students and early career researchers whose work ranged both geographically and temporally, and aimed to encourage interdisciplinary conversations on national, regional and local topics and those whose focus was comparative, transnational and global. By facilitating a space to have these discussions, the conference aimed to create an ongoing platform and network for collaborative exchange.

The structure of the conference consisted of the following three thematic approaches or streams across which different panels were formed to address related topics in an innovative and interdisciplinary manner over the course of the two days.

Stream 1: Representations, Ideology, and Ideas of Change

The end of the Age of Enlightenment witnessed a renewed emphasis on humanism and the rights of man. These ideas directly impacted the upheavals in the British Colonies of America and in France at the end of the Eighteenth Century, irreparably changing the previously unassailable power structures of Old Europe. Within only decades, many other regions in the Americas followed this path of radical renewal and independence. As a result, the Western Hemisphere has spent its time since then wrestling with the challenges stemming directly from these seismic changes. Since this modernist assault on traditional institutions of power, societies throughout the Americas have confronted these changes by developing new modes of thinking and innovative social practices. Thus, there has been an underlying tension and contestation of certain ideas that have a direct impact on our understanding of the world in which we now live

This stream sought papers that addressed the overarching topics of “change” and “power” in the Americas in the modern era. For example, how have these communities in the Americas used these concepts in their attempts to understand themselves in terms of the nation? Or, conversely, how has their understanding of their own nationalism brought them into conflict with the forces of change and power? Within this, the evolutionary and revolutionary in the modern era of the Americas has brought about significant changes to the ways in which societies think and represent themselves. More, historical actors, either individual or collective, have ways of thinking and of representation that have brought them into conflict with the larger forces of change and power. This conflict, begun more than two hundred years ago, continues to affect communities in the Americas on a representational and intellectual level to this day.

We welcomed the submission of papers within the following themes, although non-listed or broader topics were also encouraged:

  • Nationalism and other -isms of modernity
  • Conflict & Crisis
  • History of ideas and mentalities
  • Politics of memory & Identity
  • Gender
  • Discourses of representation and rights
  • Marginalized voices and struggles of recognition

Stream 2: Institutions, the State, and Governments

Stream two focused on political institutions and the State in the Americas. This included the ways in which the State and associated institutions (non-state and governmental) have evolved over time and geographical space, the modes of interaction between States and institutions, both within and across countries, as well as with domestic, regional, and transnational actors.

Papers submitted to Stream Two aimed to cover themes from across the spectrum of political interactions, encompassing debates around sovereignty and global governance, regional integration and subnational decentralization, and institutional design and practice, addressing the changing parameters of power and the political in the Americas in modern times. We encouraged the submission of papers within the following themes, although non-listed or broader topics were also welcomed:

  • Regional cooperation and integration in the Americas
  • Electoral democracy in the Americas: candidates, campaigns, and voter behavior
  • Histories of state formation in the Americas- governing the social in modern times
  • Urbanisation in the Americas
  • Human Rights & Security

We welcomed papers from across the humanities and social sciences that contained a geographical focus on the Americas, including North America, Central America the Caribbean, and South America. We particularly welcomed papers that took an explicit comparative and interdisciplinary approach, and that appealed to students and scholars of the Americas from diverse disciplinary backgrounds

Stream 3: Contesting Power and Social Practices

Social, economic and political changes in the Americas are processes in which social actors are both objects and subjects. Under the banner of modernization, development and globalisation, waves of changes from above have shaken and shaped the daily existence of individuals and collectives in the Americas. Confronted with these changes, historical and contemporary actors have followed distinctive paths, from support and passive acceptance to engagement with and active contestation to these changes.

This stream investigated how different actors, individual or collective, engage and interact with multiple-layered power structures, the State and its institutions, and the wider social system. It focused on social actors whose interests and own understandings of well-being are in opposition to changes driven by capitalist globalisation and its multi-scalar political regimes.

Acknowledging asymmetrical power relations, our interest was put on both the processes of resistance and the emergence of from-below alternatives, driven by non-hegemonic subjects. This includes, but was not limited to resistance to economic and productive models and political and governance regimes; the contestation of hegemonic knowledge; and the bottom-up emergence of social and material alternatives in the everyday life of social subjects and movements. The analysis and study of practices, discourses and representations that subjects develop in their experiences and struggles, were part of the streams’ interests.

We welcomed the submission of papers within the following themes, although non-listed or broader topics were also encouraged:

  • Agrarian movements and “peasantries” in transformation
  • Ecologies in dispute, commodification of life and nature, global productive regimes and ecologist alternatives
  • Feminism and gender perspective in indigenous groups and beyond
  • Contested knowledge, counter paradigms, alternative cultural and educative practices
  • Communicative arenas: mainstream and alternative media and disputed language
  • Communities, social identities and new collective subjects
  • Citizens’ insurgencies and alternative citizenships
  • Protest, social movements, regime legitimacy and political change
  • Cities in dispute, mainstream planning and contested urbanism

We hoped to incite the participation of research post graduate students from the wide spectrum of the humanities and social sciences, as well as those working with interdisciplinary approaches. The wide geographical focus aimed for papers addressing local, regional and global social movements rooted in the different geographical regions of the Americas (North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean).