Announcing the 11th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society 2021

KB Logo“Kenneth Burke in 2021: Seeing the Past, Envisioning the Future”

July 16-19, 2020 Postponed until 2021. Check back here for updates!
Tawes Hall
University of Maryland
College Park, MD, 20740
Conference Organizer: Damien Pfister, University of Maryland,
Submission deadline: To be announced later in 2020.


Keynote Speaker: Barbara Biesecker, University of Georgia
Plenary Speakers: Theon Hill, Wheaton College; Kyle Jensen, Arizona State University

Call for Papers

The Eleventh Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society welcomes proposals for papers and panels on any Burkean subject. However, we do especially encourage proposals that address the conference theme: “Kenneth Burke in 20/20: Seeing the Past, Envisioning the Future.” The conference will take place from July 16-July 19, 2020, at the University of Maryland, and will feature a keynote address from Barbara Biesecker, as well as plenary addresses from Theon Hill and Kyle Jensen, and the return of the KBS seminars. We look forward to welcoming scholars from many disciplines, nations, perspectives, and interests to join us for this enervating few days.

About the Conference Theme

In our current moment, appeals to history are commonplace—whether in slogans seeking to recapture an idyllic “America,” in news stories seeking to link current white supremacist violence to that of past decades, or in academics’ reflection upon the past practices and attitudes that continue to do consequential work in the present. As Burke would remind us, of course, these appeals are quite complex; our narratives of the past are dialectically equivalent to our assumptions about the nature of the present.

Yet, there is another complication at work here. It is the contention of this conference, and of its organizers, that Burke’s writings and thought remain vitally relevant to the analysis and navigating of the conditions of contemporary social life—here in the US and across the globe. Yet, calling us to embrace Burke for the future does require that we take stock of our past. The Kenneth Burke Society, and Burke Studies itself, are, of course, deeply implicated in the conversations started in many disciplines regarding the kinds of scholarship, and scholars, who have been traditionally valued and elevated, and the kinds of systemic inequalities that this has fostered. The Society, and the field of Burke Studies in general, has—without, to draw on a quote from Burke, deliberate intent upon the part of anyone—for too long functioned as an exclusionary space, reproducing an equation of Burke with “white” and “male.” This has worked to denigrate and marginalize work by the many women (starting with Marie Hochmuch Nichols) who have been excellent readers and scholars of Burke. This has also worked to discourage students and faculty of color from finding a home in the Society—and has rendered illegible those scholars of color who do, and have done, excellent work with Burke’s texts.

Although the KBS is not alone in this regard, this is our past. The task, then, is to make something different for the future, to find possibilities in the past that were not seized (by Burke, or those who followed in his footsteps), possibilities that can aid in that effort.

The conference theme thus calls for papers and proposals that explore the relevance of Burkean thought for collectively envisioning—and speaking into existence—a new and different kind of future. As Burke says in his afterword to Attitudes Toward History, “throughout the History (the Changing Story) of Acceptances and Rejections there broods the fantastic Maybe of the transformations.” Over the course of the convention, a combination of keynote and plenary speakers, attendees, and seminar leaders will engage in a collective effort to find the hopeful and just Maybes in our History of Acceptances and Rejections. 

Click on this Submit button to visit the KBS 2020 proposal submission interface at Submittable:

Housing (two options)

  1. College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 3501 University Blvd E, Hyattsville, MD 20783, (301) 985-7300. Reserve your room at Marriott in the Kenneth Burke block.
  2. Dormitory options on campus. Further details on these reservations coming soon.

More information to follow!