The term normalcy, which has gained momentum mostly due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, is as controversial for its morphology as it is for its meaning. In its lexical conformation, the suffix -cy usually adds to nouns and adjectives ending in -t, such as «president/presidency» or «immunodeficient/immunodeficiency,» a pattern that «normalcy» does not follow. According to its root ending in -l, the «normal» derivation would be to employ the term normality. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the term «normalcy» back to the 19th century and states that it denoted the «mathematical condition of being at right angles, state or fact of being normal in geometry» (1857). However, it gained popularity after Republican Warren G. Harding employed it as part of as his successful campaign slogan for the US presidency in 1920: «Return to Normalcy.» He advocated a return to more peaceful times prior to the economic, social, political and military unrest caused by the First World War, but also, and most importantly, pressed for the necessity of a recovery from the influenza pandemic that had devastated the world population during the two preceding years: «America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality» (Harding’s speech). So, his discourse focused on «America’s present» need for recovery, restoration, adjustment, serenity, dispassion, balance and focus on the nation.
However, its meaning also triggers conceptualizations about what things ought to be like and about their deviation from the norm; thus, it implies a moral or ethical assessment that is time- and-place specific to the US context. In the context of the 21st-century world pandemic, the #metoo and the #Icantbreathe movements, and the recent turn in American politics from the Trump to the Biden presidency, discourses that focus on the (impossible) return to normalcy can be analyzed on many levels. Is such a return even possible in US discourses? What affects does this «return to normalcy» narrative trigger? Are narratives of renewal and healing, as was the case with Harding’s speech, mainstream? Or do they coexist, collide, conflict with other discourses? Do such narratives reconstruct a historical vision of a past to which it is (im)possible to return?
For the 2023 SAAS conference at the university of Granada, we welcome proposals for panels that approach the «return to normal» from sundry theoretical positions within American Studies, regardless of whether they further interrogate or challenge US discourses, past and present, based on a «return to normal» logic.
Topics and areas of study might include (but are not restricted to) the following:
- Discourses of the (ab)normal
- Normalcy after unrest in US culture and society
- Migration and the national normalcy standard in US discourses
- US discourses of the diseased and/or disabled
- Poverty and inequality as normalized abnormalities in US society
- Discourses of environmental pollution and degradation as normal or extraordinary
- Healing, recovery, and growth narratives
- Historical perspectives on discourses that challenge or advocate a return to normalcy
- Normalcy and American exceptionalism
- (Ab)normal sexualities
- Normalcy and technology
- Gender claims and gender divisions
- Normalcy as affect
- Scientific advancements, potential risks
- The «New Normal» in the 21st century