The Society for Critical Exchange
  MLA Audit of Allied Organizations, 1996
Contents of Statement
Brief History
Phase I (1975-80)
Phase II (1981-90)
Phase III (1990-present)
SCE Mission
{paper title}
MLA Audit Statement

1.Brief History of the organization since it became an allied organization and a self-evaluation, including comments on the organization's general and particular significance, its activities, the growth of its membership, a description of its programs at the MLA convention including attendence figures, and other relevant information.

The Society for Critical Exchange was organized in 1975 and incorporated in the state of New York as a not-for-profit corporation December 28, 1976. It became an Allied Organization of the MLA shortly thereafter. Founded by Leroy Searle, James Sosnoski, and Patricia Harkin, the Society is designed "to encourage cooperative inquiry and research in criticism and theory." It is the only North American scholarly society devoted specifically to theory, and it has been instrumental in the institutionalization of theory in Literary Studies. Since its founding, SCE members, especially young faculty and graduate students in the modern languages but in other disciplines as well, have benefited from its intensive, interactive colloquia and conferences, its various publications, and its electronic discussion group on theory. The Society currently has approximately 850 members (see Attachment B).

The Society is governed by an elected board of seven directors (including the executive director) who serve staggered terms of four years each. Since 1984 it has also had an honorary president. Its presidents, elected by the Board to a two-year term, have included Ralph Cohen, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Richard Ohmann, and the current president, Edward Said. Its directors are selected from among the scholars active in the Society's research projects. Currently they include Donald Bialostosky, Peter Jaszi, Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, David Ruccio, Mark Osteen, and Judith Butler.

Its research projects, described in varying detail below, are the Society's raison d'etre. They are collaborative and, since the mid-1980s, increasingly interdisciplinary, including in addition to literary scholars a substantial number of scholars from other disciplines such as the Law and Economics. At least 2500 scholars have participated in the Society's projects since its founding.

The topics to which the Society has devoted its energies have placed it in the vanguard of Literary Studies. Indeed, perusal of the attached record of SCE programs at the annual MLA convention shows that a striking number of SCE members have gone on to become leaders of the profession.

SCE topics (with the date of their appearance in an MLA convention program) include: defining postmodernism (since 1978), the pedagogy of theory (since 1979), the nature of disciplinarity and the institutionalization and professionalization of literary studies (since 1983), the role of men in feminism (since 1984), post-colonial theory (since 1986), the relations of writing and reading (since 1987), the problem of affirmation in critical theory (since 1990), the pedagogy of cultural studies (since 1991), the relation of authorship and the institutions of intellectual property (since 1993), and the manifold relations of literature to the economy (since 1994). A complete list of MLA convention programs may be found in Attachment C. The timeliness of its topics has made SCE events popular, with MLA programs regularly drawing a minimum of 50, and more recently several hundred attendants -- e.g., the "Law of Texts" forum in 1992, the "New Economic Criticism" session arranged by SCE director, Martha Woodmansee, for the Division on Literary Criticism in 1991.

Before being placed on an MLA program these topics had typically been addressed at an annual meeting of the Midwest MLA or one of the other regional MLA's (see Attachment D) and, in many cases, at one or more special symposia. Following presentation at the MLA, the majority of these topics occasioned a national conference (see Attachment E), and a number went on to produce a significant publication (see Attachment F). The attached selection of Society newsletters documents this rich and varied activity most completely (Attachment G).

The history of the SCE may be divided into three distinct phases corresponding to its three institutional locations, but also to three stages in the status of theory in literary studies. (Details are sketchiest for phases one and two, most reliable for phase three (the only phase to have been personally experienced by the author of this report).

Phase 1
U of Washington (1976-81)

During the first phase (1976-1981), when the SCE was located at the University of Washington in Seattle, theory was not yet widely practiced or accepted as a legitimate activity. Thus exchange itself was an important mission because it helped to disseminate theory while building solidarity and cooperation among theorists. The Society also established itself as a sponsor of innovative events, taking up "The Function of Controversy in the Language of Critical Exchange" at its first MLA convention in 1977, "Postmodernism and Criticism" in 1978, "Beyond Interpretation" and "Teaching Criticism" in 1979 (and again in 1980 and 1981).

The SCE held sessions at regional MLAs in its first years as well. At the MMLA, for example, where meetings were most interactive because papers circulated in advance so as to leave ample time for discussion, these included: "Workshop I: The Work of Harold Bloom: The Influence of the 'Influence Poetics'" and "Workshop II: The Concept of the Text: Do recent changes in theories of the text require adjustments on the part of practicing critics? (James Joyce's Araby will be a focus for discussion)" (1978); "Workshop on a Literary Theorist: Refried Frye" and "Workshop on Literary Theory: The Relationship between Theory and Practice" (1979).

While in Seattle the SCE also began sponsoring annual conferences at Indiana University: "Theories of Narrative" (Oct. 1980) and "Theories of Reading" featuring Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Peter Brooks, Louise Rosenblatt, among others (Sept. 1981). This latter conference is covered in SCE Reports #11 (See Attachment H). The next Indiana Conference, "Theories of Representation" (Oct. 1982), explored the problem of reference and representation in four contexts, asking which is the more general category, and what is the role of collectivity in acts of reference and representation, the relation between language and other media, and the role of the individual subject. These three SCE-IU conferences were multidisciplinary, with philosophers, linguists, art historians and critics attending. They were also experiments in conference design. To encourage exchange, papers circulated in advance of the conferences rather than being presented orally, making it possible for plenary panels as well as smaller seminars to be devoted to discussion.

Its innovations in both topic and format, evident at the SCE's MLA sessions and the IU conferences, rapidly gave the SCE a national reputation much larger than its small membership during the period would suggest (200 members). This tradition has survived the growth of the organization (to over 800 members) and its moves first to Miami of Ohio and then Cleveland, and today its conferences are legend: almost anyone who has attended an SCE conference, if querried, would be likely to describe it as the most intellectually intense and satisfying conference s/he can recall attending.

To enhance and preserve critical exchange, the SCE founded a small journal at this time, SCE Reports (see Attachment H). Selections from the proceedings of many of its early public programs were first distributed in this journal -- e.g., "The Language of Criticism" (SCE Reports #1) and "The Function of Controversy in the Language of Critical Exchange" (SCE Reports #3). Many of the themes of other early issues culminate in the important Fall 1980 issue, "Deconstructive Criticism: Directions" (SCE Reports #8). The contributors to this issue, including Barbara Johnson and William V. Spanos, developed in its pages what may now be recognized as the chief insights of poststructuralist thought.

When the SCE moved to Miami of Ohio, SCE Reports was transformed under the editorship of James Sosnoski into two publications: News and Notices, which assumed the tasks of a newsletter, including circulating calls for papers and reporting on the SCE's activities in Oxford, Bloomington, and at the MLA and its regional conventions, and Critical Exchange, a journal designed to disseminate research-in-progress of the Society's various projects (making it easier for this work to get reprinted in other journals and books).

Several issues of Critical Exchange proved to be major contributions, especially #14 (Fall 1983) on the work of Fredric Jameson, #17 (Winter 1985), which included an interview with Jacques Derrida, and #23 (Summer 1987) on the work of Gerald Graff. Other issues led to significant publications, most notably #18, which served as a basis for the collection on Men in Feminism edited by Alice Jardine and Paul Smith and published by Methuen in 1987. Still other issues, such as #22 (Spring 1987) on "Third World Theorizing," took Literary Studies into altogether new intellectual territory.

A selection of News and Notices may be found in Attachment G, and tables of contents for SCE Reports and Critical Exchange are collected in Attachment H.

Phase 2
Miami of Ohio (1982-90)

During its second phase at Miami University of Ohio (1982-1990) membership increased steadily to over three hundred as did the Society's national reputation. New activities reflected the growing institutionalization of theory -- its increasing legitimacy in literary studies. It became less necessary to promote theory, and the SCE could devote its energies to contributing to theoretical practice. Several collaborative study groups and collective research projects developed during this period: GRIP, the Group for Research on the Institutionalization and Professionalization of Literary Studies, MURGE, the Miami University Research Group Experiment, PRISM, a collaborative inquiry into the interconnections of writing and reading, and an investigation of the "Sites and Sources of American Cultural Criticism." Another project, VOCAT, which had as its goal an ambitious reference work on modern criticism and theory, was only partially successful. As indicated above, the active group at Miami also published thirteen issues of Critical Exchange (#11-25).

Under the direction of James Sosnoski, GRIP, the most successful project launched during this second phase, investigated the ways in which the various "social institutions of knowledge create and constrain choices for teaching and research in literary studies." The program of one of seven meetings devoted to this subject, the SCE-Indiana University conference "Deciding What to Know: The Professional Authorization of Knowledge in the Humanities," may be found in Attachment E. Four issues of Critical Exchange had been devoted to GRIP by the time it became independent of the SCE in 1990. Since then it has produced several more conferences and a book series with the U of Virginia Press, "Knowledge, Disciplinarity and Beyond," the first volume of which, Knowledges: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity, ed. Ellen Messer-Davidow, David Shumway, and David Sylvan, appeared in 1993. Portions of the project have also appeared in Poetics Today.

An experiment carried out by graduate students at Miami of Ohio, MURGE, resulted in a semiotic analysis of James Joyce's "Araby" which was published in the James Joyce Quarterly (Spring/Summer 1981) together with commentaries by Seymour Chatman, Jonathan Culler, and Gerald Prince.

Numerous programs devoted to the place of Men in Feminism, including a session chaired by Phyllis Franklin at the MLA convention in 1984, and an issue of Critical Exchange (#18), led to publication by Methuen of the collection editied by Alice Jardine and Paul Smith, Men in Feminism (1987). See Attachment F.

The VOCAT project to establish a reference data base of the vocabularies of twentieth-century criticism and theory, initial work on which was funded by an Ohio Challenge Grant ($25,000) and by the Online Computer Library Center ($5,000), came to a halt when, although recommended at each stage of review, a grant application to the NEH for $1,200,000 to complete the project was not approved. Some of the work of this project came to fruition, however, in the New Literary History International Bibliography of Literary Theory and Criticism edited by Ralph Cohen, Jeffrey Peck, Christopher Camuto, and Charlotte Bowen which Johns Hopkins UP published in 1988.

Phase 3
Case Western Reserve U (1990-present)

In its third and most recent phase, the SCE moved in January 1990 from Miami to Case Western Reserve University where it was initially directed by Martha Woodmansee and Gary Lee Stonum (1990-94) and is currently under the direction of Martha Woodmansee and Max Thomas (1994 - ). In its new home, Critical Exchange gave way to an on-line forum, the Electronic College of Theory, and a number of innovative new research projects have been initiated. The distinguishing feature of these new SCE projects is their interdisciplinarity: they have opened up substantial continuing dialogue between literary theorists and scholars in both the Law and in Economics. This has increased membership in the Society to approximately 850.

The Electronic College of Theory (ECOT) is an electronic-mail discussion group (or list) devoted to literary and cultural theory. In operation since October 1991, it is one of the oldest continuously operating discussion groups in the humanities. (Prior to fall 1991 the College operated for about a year as a newsgroup or bulletin board maintained on Cleveland FreeNet, but this proved technically inconvenient for members.) ECOT is an organ of the Society inasmuch as subscribers are expected to become dues-paying SCE members and a substantial number of postings are devoted to Society topics/projects, but much of the material broadcast on the list also concerns general topics and events in theory. Typical mailings include calls for conference papers, questions about the teaching of theory, and comments about current issues in the profession.

ECOT operates as a moderated list in that subscribers, or others wishing to contribute, send e-mail texts to the moderator, Gary Lee Stonum, who bundles and edits them before broadcasting an issue to the membership. Issues typically containing two to four messages appear at irregular intervals, depending upon traffic, but during the academic year there are generally one or two issues per week. ECOT archives show the following volume of activity: in 1991 some 9 issues were mailed; in 1992 35; in 1993, 74; in 1994, 31; and in 1995, 53. Its subscribers currently number approximately 340. The great majority are North American faculty and graduate students in literary studies, but the list also includes scholars in other disciplines of the humanites and social sciences and about two dozen subscribers from Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.

The utility of ECOT will soon be extended by the establishment of an SCE Web Site, the first threads of which should be in place in April 1996 at Designed by Sharon Scinicariello and Eric Friedman, the site will include areas for both synchronous and asynchronous discussion to accomodate the various SCE projects. The first threads, however, will merely provide information about the SCE and its projects with links to other relevant and interesting pages. Visitors will be able to ask questions and make suggestions. Later, the site will also provide access to the archives of the Electronic College of Theory.

The SCE's move to Cleveland was marked by a conference on "The Role of Theory in the Undergraduate Literature Classroom" (September 21-23,1990). Organized by David Downing at Indiana U of Pennsylvania, the conference represented the culmination of many years of SCE interest in this subject. (Programs going back to the Society's inception may be found in the attached documentation of its MLA and regional MLA activity (Attachments C and D). A selection of the conference proceedings has been published in Changing Classroom Practices: Resources for Literary and Cultural Studies, ed. David Downing (NCTE, 1994). See Attachment F.

Problems of Affirmation in Cultural Theory (PACT), a project initiated by David Downing and James Sosnoski, after several meetings at MLA (1990) convened over 50 scholars in Cleveland in 1993.

A project devoted to Woman - Nation - Narrative constituted the focus of a double MMLA session in 1992 and an MLA session in 1993. An ongoing project of the Society, which is now under the direction of Mary Layoun and Anu Dingwaney Needham, it has gradually expanded to investigate nationalism more generally in a session of the MMLA in 1993 and in a day long workshop involving approximately 30 scholars, "Nationalism(s): Definitions, Explanations, Alternatives," held April 2, 1994, at Case Western Reserve U.

The now widely acclaimed Intellectual Property project was inaugurated in April 1991 at a conference which brought literary theorists together with legal scholars "to explore all aspects of the social and cultural construction of authorship in relation to the evolution of proprietary rights in ideas" (see Attachment E). A selection of the conference papers commanded a special issue of the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal (Vol. 10, No. 2 [1992], 277-725) and were soon reprinted by Duke UP under the title The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, edited by the project directors, Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (1994). See Attachment F. Some of the issues that emerged in this initial phase of the project became the topic of a forum, "The Law of Texts: Copyright in the Academy," at the 1992 MLA convention. Twenty-four scholars and practitioners of the law and literature/rhetoric participated in the forum's plenary session and four workshops devoted, respectively, to "Collaboration: Institutional and Cultural Constraints on Collective Production," "The Construction of Authorship," "Author-ity in New Media: Academic Practice in the Digital Environment," and "'Fair Use'" Scholarly Access to Unpublished Materials and Classroom Photocopying." A comprehensive summary of the conclusions reached in/by the forum may be found in "The Law of Texts: Copyright in the Academy" by the project directors Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi in College English 57 (1995): 769-87.

In a third phase of this project, "Cultural Agency/Cultural Authority: Politics and Poetics of Intellectual Property in the Post-Colonial Era," the Rockefeller Foundation hosted twenty-five lawyers, cultural historians, policy makers, anthropologists, development specialists, and representatives of culture industries from the developed and developing worlds for a week-long seminar in March 1993 in Bellagio, Italy. A policy paper prepared at the seminar is currently circulating internationally (see News and Notices #8 in Attachment G) and a volume of conference papers, contracted for publication by Duke University Press, is in preparation. The work of Bellagio has subsequently been carried forward in programs devoted to the "Legal Foundations of Cultural Authority" and the "International Politics of Cultural Appropriation" respectively at the 1993 and 1994 MLA conventions. Issues of somewhat narrower domestic and institutional concern, meanwhile, have been taken up at regional MLA meetings and at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication. Thus, for example, in 1994 the MMLA was the site of a program on the construction of the notion of plagiarism in the academic setting in relation to the traditional privileging of authorship over corporate forms of cultural production; a Caucus on Intellectual Property and Composition Studies, first held in 1994, has become a standing event at the 4 C's; and at this past MLA convention an SCE session was devoted to "Law and Order on the Information Super Highway." Finally, under the project directors' editorship a new book series, "Cultures of Authorship. From Gutenberg to Internet," is being launched by Duke University Press to investigate historical and theoretical relationships between the ways in which information commodities are produced, disseminated, and consumed, on the one hand, and the process by which the meaning of texts is constructed on the other.

The interrelations between the disciplines of economics and literary studies constitutes the focus of a current SCE project on New Economic Criticism inaugurated by the appearance on SCE programs at the MMLA and MLA conventions in 1991 of U of Iowa economist Donald McCloskey, known for his work in the rhetoric of economics. With McCloskey's help over forty economists interested in "critical" examination of their discipline were identified and brought to Cleveland October 19-21, 1994 to meet with sixty literary scholars such as Marc Shell, Jennifer Wicke, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith as well as many younger scholars whose work intersects that of the economists in diverse ways which it was the aim of the conference to explore. A selection of conference proceedings, being edited by two of the project directors, Mark Osteen and Martha Woodmansee, will be published by Routledge in 1997 (see Attachments E and F).

This promising project was carried forward in programs at the MMLA and MLA conventions in 1995, in both instances with the participation of economists, and a double session will be devoted to it at the MMLA convention in 1996. Here it is hoped that pedagogy will receive some attention, in particular the prospect of developing undergraduate courses on the relations of commerce and culture.


2. Evidence of ongoing activity.

The attached issues of News and Notices, a newsletter mailed to members approximately twice a year, provide a convenient index to the SCE's diverse activities. The newsletter gives up-to-date information on SCE research projects, announces calls for papers, lists SCE sessions at the annual MLA and regional MLA conferences, provides a membership renewal and application form, and has even been the spot of the beloved columnist of critical theory, "Dr. Truth." See Attachment G for issues mailed from 1990 to 1996 and a few selected earlier issues of News and Notices.


3. Evidence of membership involvement in SCE activities.

The Society's newsletters, contained in Attachment G, list the names of practically all of those who have participated in its programs since 1990. Those who have participated in its MLA and regional MLA programs since its founding are listed in Attachments C and D. Finally, the selection of SCE conference programs contained in Attachment E contains the names of yet further members.

4. Purpose of organization and date founded.

The Society for Critical Exchange was founded in 1976 "to encourage cooperative inquiry and research in criticism and theory." The only such learned society in North America, it is organized as a not-for-profit corporation, with directors elected by its members. Under its auspices over one hundred and fifty professional meetings have been coordinated, including a series of annual symposia and conferences on various aspects of critical theory. As a recognized affiliate of the Modern Language Association, SCE mounts programs annually both at this organization's convention and at various regional MLA meetings. Since its founding it has published a semi-annual newsletter, News and Notices, and between 1976 and 1990 twenty-five issues of Critical Exchange, a journal of research-in-progress which includes papers by known and little known scholars on subjects ranging from disciplinarity and the professionalization of literary study to the relationships between reading and writing and the future of the humanities. In 1990 Critical Exchange was terminated and the function it had served of

stimulating critical discussion on current topics in theory fell to the Electronic College of Theory while members turned for publication of their work to established journals and presses (see above).

5. Organization constitution or bylaws.

The SCE Bylaws were adopted in 1977. They have been revised twice, once in 1982 and again in 1989, which revision stands today as the functioning Bylaws. See Attachment A for a copy of the SCE Bylaws.


6. Current membership numbers and sample membership application.

There are currently 854 SCE members. A sample membership application form may be found in the recruitment flyer sent out when the SCE moved to Cleveland in 1990 (Attachment B) as well as in recent issues of the Society newsletter, News and Notices (Attachment G).

7. Dues structure.

As may be seen from the membership application/renewal form included in recent issues of News and Notices, annual dues varies according to income, status, and geographical location: $15 for regular members; $20 joint; $10 student, part-time, retired, or unemployed; $20 outside North America. Because it receives financial assistance from Case Western Reserve Univeristy (as well as other institutions for certain special events), the SCE is able to rely to some degree on the good faith of members to remit their annual dues, dropping those who are remiss only after three years. Like the MLA it does however require membership of anyone wishing to participate in its conferences and other programs. See the membership form at the end of recent issues of News and Notices for a sample description of the Society's dues structure (Attachment G).

return to top