Proposed Special Session for MLA2018

The story of professionalism in the history of capitalism is most often understood within a broadly Althusserian, structuralist frame. A panoply of recent studies has understood professionalism as the ideology of an emerging class (the “professional-managerial class”) over the course of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Work on professionalism in literary studies has frequently dedicated itself to the task of demystifying professionalism, revealing its enmeshment within the very economic and social systems from which it so insistently claims a crucial, enabling degree of autonomy. As a number of scholars have noted, the scholarly project of demystifying the professional took place alongside and in relation to an analogous demystification of the aesthetic, whose similar claim to autonomy from economic and social forces was repeatedly subjected to critical exposure as "bad faith."

With these parallels in mind, we ask, what new questions might we pose about the relationship of professionalism--as ideology, as practice, as discourse—to the aesthetic? What debts to or interactions with aesthetic theory can be traced in professionalism's historical emergence, or to the roughly contemporaneous emergence of the "aesthetic regime of art" as posited by Ranciere? Does lived professionalism generate (or necessitate) new forms of aesthetic experience? Conversely, do we need aesthetics to adequately grasp the materiality of professionalized bodies—their modes of being, their affective states, and the forms of writing and inscription their professions make possible? Finally, as some critics profess exhaustion with the routinized practices of critique, is it time to revisit John Guillory's claim, in Cultural Capital, that the dominance of critical theory itself was “determined…by...a crisis in [literature's] market value...occasioned by the emergence of a professional-managerial class which no longer requires the (primarily literary) cultural capital of the old bourgeoisie” (xii)?

Please submit 250 word abstracts by 20 March 2017 to David Babcock ( and Brian Sweeney (