Annual Conference of the French Association of American Studies (AFEA)
University of Strasburg, France, 6-9 June 2017

Joint panel sponsored by A19 – L’Atelier xixe and BrANCA (British Association of Ninteenth-Century Americanists)

Technès of Happiness in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction
Thomas Constantinesco and Cécile Roudeau (Université Paris Diderot)

The Declaration of Independence’s claim for the inalienable right of “all men” to the “pursuit of happiness” introduced the challenge of what it could mean to enforce happiness across the nineteenth century. Could it be implemented through law or applied “by force,” “whether this force be direct or indirect, physical or symbolic, exterior or interior, brutal or subtly discursive and hermeneutic, coercive or regulative” (Derrida, “Force of Law”)? A vast range of regulatory institutions, practices and discourses throughout the century attempted to come to terms with this problem, from the policing of bodies and minds with a view to minimizing the distribution of individual suffering and maximizing the happiness of the greatest number, to a variety of efforts at ensuring the conditions of collective harmony through “bribes of pleasure, threats of harm, use of force” (John Dewey, Ethics, 1908). These technologies were extraordinary and seized the literary imagination: reform movements that traversed the nineteenth century (from temperance societies to abolitionism, from women’s rights to free love movements); variegated experiments in pedagogy (Bronson Alcott, the Peabody sisters, Margaret Fuller…) or medicine (homeopathy, vegetarianism, water-cures…); new techniques of work management (Lowell manufactures…); experimental communes across the country and their attempts to enforce brotherhood or sisterhood through communality (from the Owenites to the Fourierites to the Icarians); sustained interest in home management (Catherine Beecher); urban sociology and planning (Jane Addams); alternative plans to settle the West; the designing of prisons and asylums, hospitals and sanatoriums; or the pseudo-scientific dabbling at social, racial and psychological typologies the better to “cleanse” and “civilize” the nation. Appropriating these technologies as literary material, fiction—or literature more broadly conceived—not only reflected but also contributed to manufacturing happiness, by rehearsing a national imperative or laying bare its internal faults and failings.
Focusing on the long nineteenth century, this workshop welcomes papers that connect the “idea” of happiness with the forms of its production, its practices and methods. More specifically, we are interested in papers that explore the literary art and arts of happiness: the making of happiness as an American fiction.
500-word proposals and short biographical statement to be sent before 12 January 2017 to: and

Details about the conference can be found on the AFEA website :