Call For Proposals; Discourse & Dynamics: Canadian Women as Public Intellectuals


16-18 October 2014

Mount Allison University
Sackville, New Brunswick

Canadian women have contributed enormously to public discourse, in important but often under-valued ways. Across different generations and cultural communities, women in English Canada and Quebec address key questions that animate intellectual discussion, from concerns about the environment and the economy to issues of social justice, racism, poverty, health and violence. But are their voices valued and heard, or are they subsumed in the general noise of public debate? Why are they not accorded the attention and approbation they merit?

The concept of the public intellectual has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Classic studies such as The Treason of the Intellectuals (Benda 1928) or The Opium of the Intellectuals (Aron 1957) have been succeeded by further investigations, among them The Last Intellectuals (Jacoby 1987), Representations of the Intellectual (Said 1993), Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Posner 2001), Public Intellectuals: An Endangered Species (ed. Etzioni and Bowditch 2006). In 2007,Toronto Star columnist Alex Good asked “What has become of the Canadian public intellectual?” (“Woe is Us,” 8 April 2007) while Queen’s Quarterly published essays on the matter by Michael Ignatieff (“The Decline and Fall of the Public Intellectual” Fall 1997) and Mark Kingwell (“What are Intellectuals for?” Spring 2011). Kingwell, reflecting on Canada’s most important thinkers, acknowledges that identification is controversial, but mentions McLuhan, Frye, Innis, Woodcock, Grant, Gould, Jacobs, Atwood, Taylor, and Ignatieff. This list is not untypical–most names are those of men. The National Post’s 2005 search for Canada’s most important public intellectual repeats this bias; of the twenty-two individuals profiled, only four were women, Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Irshad Manji and Margaret McMillan.

Yet women in Canada and Quebec have spoken and written on subjects of importance and concern in the public domain, from energy resources to free trade, from economic inequality to policies on immigration, from culture to medicine. Where are their names? Does the “public intellectual” brand effectively exclude women? Does its evolving definition take sufficient account of gender? of race? of class?

This national conference proposes to appraise women’s contributions to dynamic discourse in Canada and Quebec. Scheduled in conjunction with Persons Day,
18 October 2014, the conference will feature a number of notable participants (watch the website for updates!).

Proposals are invited for presentations that explore this topic. We are open to a wide range of participation, from individual papers to panels, performances, poster sessions, or other displays. Points of focus might include but are not limited to:

  • refiguring the public intellectual
  • public intellectuals, activists, academics, artists, commentators: what are the relationships?
  • conditions for the public intellectual
  • Canadian/Quebec women as public intellectuals of the past/present/future
  • the internet/blogosphere and the public intellectual
  • the impact of Canadian/Quebec women’s voices in the public sphere
  • substance versus style, whom do we listen to and why?
  • owning public space, daring to speak out

Proposals for individual or collaborative presentations should include:

1. title (up to 150 characters)
2. abstract (100-150 words)
3. description (500 words)

& on a separate page:
4. a short biographical note
5. full contact information

Proposals may be submitted electronically by September 1, 2013 to


Christl Verduyn                                                     Aritha van Herk
Director, Centre for Canadian Studies                   Professor, Department of English
Professor, Department of English                         2500 University Dr. N.W.
Mount Allison University                                     University of Calgary
Sackville, New Brunswick                                      Calgary, Alberta
E4L 1G9                                                                  T2N 1N4

A selection of papers will be considered for publication and a follow-up conference is foreseen in 2016 at the University of Calgary.