Call for Papers: 6.0: On the Uses of Absence

peer reviewed; open to critical and artistic work; submission deadline: June 10; extended proposals

Can we speak of a turn to absence? Across the contemporary academic conjuncture, theory is reapproaching the absent in all its varying fleshly and rhetorical forms, revalorizing ‘absence’ itself as a critical matter. Enduring scholarly investments in re-presenting and re-presencing the absented body (from the archive and media, from power and institutions, from theory and writing) have become supplemented in current critical work by an affirmative interest in staying with absence as such. We are thinking of Rizvana Bradley’s recent aesthetic analyses of the forms and shapes of the black body as the absence in ontology; of Lee Edelman’s insistence on and reappreciation of queerness as the inevitable, generative absence at the heart of the symbolic; we are thinking of the optimism attached to absence in trans studies’ reappropriation of and investment in techniques of destruction (Marquis Bey) and destitution (Jack Halberstam). The figure and body of the absent has started to matter similarly outside the academic. Absenteeism in the workplace and in university rooms are on the rise; not showing up, not producing or delivering, being absent, and withdrawal - acts such as these formalize and mobilize absence, relocate it at the heart of myriad resistances against exploitation, appropriation, assimilation, and normativity.  

For its seventh issue, Soapbox: Journal for Cultural Analysis invites (young) researchers, (established) scholars and creatives alike to submit work on the uses and aesthetics of absence in and outside of theory today. It is our point of departure that absence fails every time to be purely nothing. In all of the scenes and settings described above and below, absence is given a shape, meaning, form; it is put in writing, where it has a function, a flavor, and a politics - absence rarely looks the same. Staying with absence rather than straying from it, we invite responses to questions such as: What are the shapes and forms of absence that inflect and structure the contemporary theoretical debate? Where does absence turn up, where doesn’t it? How is absence mobilized politically, to what ends and with which results? In your fields or for your objects, how does absence matter, make matter? How is absence formalized (anti-)(re)productively? How is (some) form absent(ed)? What are the uses of absence, what can they be, and what have they been, for better and for worse? Finally, how to think the contradiction and the provocation of a contemporary aesthetics of absence?

possible clusters to think alongside:

absence and queer theory, sex, gender — think, e.g., of the sustaining investments in thinking sex and gender via psychoanalysis and negativity; of Edelman’s turn to ab-sens and sens-absexe; of Leo Bersani’s older investments in impoverishment and ascesis and its entanglements with the critical work of reading and writing; of queer theory’s origins in (AIDS and policy-related) death. 

absence and trans studies — think of trans studies’ increasing embrace of a de-presencing: destruction, destitution, the jouissance of failure; of the ‘afterwards’ of destruction; of what’s at stake and what goes hidden in staking critical programmes on a desire for formlessness. 

absence and afropessimism/afrofuturism — think, e.g., of Frank B. Wilderson III’s claim of “Black absence,” of a blackness ontologically outside the dominant social order; of afrofuturism’s intent on remobilizing or filling such absences as sites of creative and generative reclamation. 

absence and decolonial scholarship & migration studies — think, e.g., of the way absence has been read as problem in decolonial scholarship; of whether an affirmative take on absence can ever be a decolonial praxis; of whether erasure is the same as absence; think of figures of absence tied up in the many layers of discourse surrounding migration (studies) today; of the absence of citizenship; but also of what will emerge if we treat absence as a place that people live and make life in, forced or otherwise.

absence and philosophy — think, e.g., of the epistemological challenge of the nothing; of whether it is possible to demarcate and frame absence; of whether can we know of or appoint meaning to matters which are out of sight, touch, heart and mind; of approaches to absence ranging from phenomenology, making the absent known and felt, to analytical considerations on the structure of absence.

…and then there is absence and abjection, violence, art, the anarchitectural, affect, signification, silence, void, lack, the unthinkable, the unintelligible, the repressed, the dark, the out of reach, and what about anti-absence thought and thinkers?

the details:

We are inviting extended proposals in MLA formatting and referencing style to be submitted to by June 10th, 2024. Each proposal must include an abstract of 300-500 words and a brief outline of the content and its order (up to 200 words, can be in bullet-points!). The outline is meant to give an indication of the intended structuring and weighing of the various elements of your text; we understand and expect that this will change again during drafting and editing. Submissions should be sent as a file attachment to the email, and the content of the file should be anonymised. 

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible. They can be finished works, word-based or otherwise, but please keep in mind our spatial limitations: we publish and print in book format, and we have a limited amount of pages to give to each submission. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues and our Instagram (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We will try to send out conditional acceptance emails by June 21st. Upon acceptance, the authors of the academic essays will be asked to submit a 4000-6000 word full draft by September 2nd. The editing and publishing process will span the next academic year (September 2024 - February 2025). 

It would be very helpful if you could let us know in your email where you saw our CFP. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at

works referenced and suggested

Berlant, Lauren, and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Duke University Press, 2014, Durham and London.

Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” October, vol. 43, 1987, pp. 197–222. JSTOR,

Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit. Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais. Harvard University Press, 1993, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bey, Marquis. Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender. Duke University, 2022, Durham.

Bradley, Rizvana. Anteaesthetics: Black Aesthesis and the Critique of Form. Stanford University Press, 2023, Stanford.

Brinkema, Eugenie. Life-Destroying Diagrams. Duke University Press, 2022, Durham.

Caseria, Robert L., Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz and Tim Dean. “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory.” PMLA, vol. 121, no. 3, May 2006, pp. 819-828. 

Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke University Press, 2004, Durham.

Edelman, Lee. Bad Education: Why Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing. Duke University Press, 2022, Durham.

Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of  Failure. Duke University Press, 2011, Durham.
[and new and forthcoming work on “destitution”]

Wilderson III, Frank B. Afropessimism. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020, New York.

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

January 17, 2023

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow consistent and complete formatting and referencing style to be submitted to by February 21st, 2023.

While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone. A space in which water and land merge, swamps have long represented an area in which the earth resists being controlled, and have functioned as areas of resistance in many Indigenous epistemes and folklores. Swamps, then, are areas that resist human control, and epitomise agency of the natural world, doing so too on a conceptual level (Wilson 1). At the same time, it has been co-opted semantically, as the term “swamped” has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed - whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. As a result, swamps have become spaces of contestation and transition both as physical environments, and as linguistic ones. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Swamps as they exist in cultural imagination(s).

Swamps speak to the imagination. They feature prominently in folklore and provide fertile soil for myriad mythical creatures: from the nine-headed hydra in ancient Greek mythology, to the South-African grootslang, to the numerous global configurations of the will-o’-wisp. These narratives largely hinge on the swamp’s liminal positioning that makes it hard to traverse, inhabit, or otherwise tame. To this day, when swamps are featured in pop-culture, they are often mythologized to house the monstrous or, at the very least, the off-beat (e.g. Shrek, or the Man-Thing in Marvel comics, or the entire cast of characters in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!). 

In addition to housing imagined creatures, the swamp is also a famously rich archeological site where we can find many well-preserved traces of past human life. Most notable are the so-called bog bodies, eerily intact corpses that date back as far as the holocene. These findings add to the swamp’s mythical appeal, but are also hypothesised to, in some cases, originate from it. A particularly large amount of bog bodies dating back to the iron age were found in Northern Europe, and the bulk of these corpses bear traces of ritualistic human sacrifice. This has led historians to believe that, at the time, the swamp was seen as a transition space, not just between land and water, but also as a gateway between different worlds (Randsborg). 

So, the swamp is charged with a rich cultural history and subject to wide-ranging meaning-making practices. We invite you to delve further into this and open it up. What stories do we tell about swamps? Which narratives are remembered? And, what does that ultimately say about us? 

The swamp as it appears in political rhetoric.

Since its first use in 1881 by Helen Hunt Jackson in her polemical text, A Century of Dishonor, the concept of the swamp as an area to be overcome has resurfaced repeatedly as a powerful metaphor in the arena of political discussion and rhetoric (most often in the context of US federal politics). Arguing against the so-called ‘Indian Appropriations Act’ of 1871, which rendered Indigenous peoples as wards of the state and, therefore, eligible for forcible relocation, Jackson argued that such panacean responses were immoral and did not address the needs and concerns, of Native peoples, nor did it strive towards the reparations that Indigenous nations deserved. Rather than debate the specifics of individual policy decisions, Jackson argued that ceasing to cheat, rob, break promises, and extending ‘the protection of the law to the Indian's rights of property’ (342) would be the most appropriate first course of action. To illustrate this, Jackson presented the following scenario:

When pioneers in a new country find a tract of poisonous and swampy wilderness to be reclaimed, they do not withhold their hands from fire and axe till they see clearly which way roads should run, where good water will spring, and what crops will best grow on the redeemed land. They first clear the swamp. So with this poisonous and baffling part of the domain of our national affairs — let us first "clear the swamp”. (341).

This metaphorical call to clear, or to drain, the swamp was then exercised by socialist and left-leaning politicians and political commentators such as Winfield R. Gaylord and Victor L. Berger who petitioned for draining the swamp of capitalism (Gaylord 8, Berger 107). In 1966, civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin employed the phrase in A Freedom Budget for All Americans, a policy proposal that, among other things, sought to eradicate poverty (14-15). Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase in 1982 when authorising the Grace Commision (which investigated inefficiency within the Federal Government), dragged the phrase across the political aisle. Where it had once illustrated a progressive politics, it henceforth became tethered to conceptions of government waste, cronyism and distrust in Capitol Hill, a claim bolstered by the fact of Washington, D.C.,’s construction on supposed marshlands between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers. From Reagan’s usage  onwards, calls to drain the swamp were almost exclusively directed towards Washington, D.C., as a locus of political venality. The phrase’s most recent, and perhaps most memorable, usage was by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly uttered the phrase at rallies, during interviews, and in countless tweets. 

The invocation and the power of this phrase can be seen across various areas of cultural and political discourse and analysis; its intent and meaning wavering from progressive to reactionary throughout its history. So begs the question, what does it mean to drain a swamp? Metaphorically speaking, what is the impact of identifying spaces as swamps to be drained? Who does the draining, or the promise of draining, serve? In reality, what are the implications of identifying and draining a swamp? Who does the draining itself? Think of the thousands of people displaced by Benito Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, and the many more thousands of workers who were subject to backbreaking manual labour and exposure to malaria and disease (Snowden 155-6). What bubbles to the surface when we delve into the history, use, and the real-world implications of this charged phrase?

The affective experience of being swamped.

But to be swamped is also to feel swamped; to be overwhelmed with work, a sensory overload, stress and clutter. Infrastructures can be swamped; systems too; and spaces can swamp you with stimuli. How does one endure a state of swampedness, feel one’s way through it, resist it or find rest in it? Can objects or texts be swamped? To disconnect, go offline, turn to self-help books, and take time off work – all these are responses to feeling swamped. But then: who can afford to respond like this, and who is unable to withdraw? Or can information overload – to stay with the swamp – be creatively productive or critical? This is the muddy matrix that feeling swamped opens in theory; a space of excessive encounter between ecologies and affects, where swamps become metaphors, and metaphors swamp. 

Thought on the feeling of being swamped and its social-political relationalities are everywhere: from Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society to Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. So too the desire to escape overwhelm has recently been re-conceptualized in edited volumes like Politics of Withdrawal. But “swamp” as a metaphor has not yet passed the floodgates. We invite you to think with this swamp, feel through its conceptual implication. 

We encourage submissions relating to the themes above, as well as, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Critical engagements with/investigations into environments that could be described as marshlands, wetlands, fens, bogs, moors, etc. 
  • Practices of re-wilding and re-swamping.
  • Cultural ethnographies of muddied environments.
  • Environmental humanities and ecocritical approaches to swamps.
  • Investigations into swamps as liminal, transitional, or mutable sites.
  • Swamps as sites of decay (e.g. die-off and algal bloom) and repair (e.g. as fertile sites of regeneration).
  • Socio-cultural explorations of what it means to feel swamped, its implications, and who this affect can belong to.
  • Socio-economic approaches investigating issues such as: 
  • Who is relegated to the swamp?
  • Who has access to the swamp?
  • What are the social impacts of swamped environments on individuals and groups?
  • Investigations of the function of swamps in political rhetoric.
  • Pieces that investigate swamps as veiled, uncharted, or otherred locales or those that approach swamps as spaces to be traversed.

We invite extended proposals (500-1000 words) to be submitted to by February 21st 2023. Following conditional acceptance, an initial draft version (3000 words) will be due two weeks after receiving the acceptance email. The editing process will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at Editing and peer review guidelines will be sent to authors individually upon acceptance of their submission. For full submission guidelines, see our website.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible and can be finished works, but please keep in mind spatial limitations: there is usually room for one longer or two shorter pieces in the print version. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing and multimedia. These can engage with the theme of the upcoming issue but are not limited to it. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published by reading our submission guidelines and filling in the form.

Works cited.

Berger, Victor L. Berger’s Broadsides, Social-Democratic Publishing Company, 1912.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press 2011.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014. 

Gaylord, Winfield R. “Gaylord Makes a Statement.” Daily Northwestern [Oshkosh: WI], 10 Oct. 1903, p. 8.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Hesselberth, Pepita., and Joost de Bloois, editors. Politics of Withdrawal: Media, Arts, Theory. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United State’s Government’s Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Randolph, A. Philip, and Bayard Rustin. A Freedom Budget for All Americans: A Summary. A Philip Randolph Institute, 1967.

Randsborg, Klavs. Roman Reflections: Iron Age to Viking Age in Northern Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Snowden, Frank M. The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962. Yale University Press, 2006.

Wilson, Anthony. Swamp: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books Ltd, 2018.

Call for Creative Work - 5.0: SWAMPED!

October 2, 2023

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young artists to submit creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting proposals or finished works to be submitted to by October 10th, 2023.

Swamps speak to the imagination. While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone: an area in which water and land merge, a space where the earth resists being controlled. In addition to its geographical referent, the swamp also covers less tangible—though equally murky—semantic ground. It has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed—whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Guidelines for creative submissions are flexible: poems, short-stories (up to 5000 words), visual art pieces, collages, drawings, comics, anything as long as it's printable! Feel free to take a look at our previous issues for inspiration.

Open Board Positions 2023

We are currently looking to expand our team. Soapbox is a student-run journal focused on promoting voices that creatively engage with concepts and cultural objects in the broadest sense, through publishing academic, artistic, and interdisciplinary works. Soapbox is a collaborative effort in gaining experience and experimenting with running a small publishing platform. All members take part in actively shaping what Soapbox is by weighing in on editorial decisions and take part in any aspects of publishing (both online and in print). 

In general, the time commitment expected is between four and six hrs/week, including a weekly two-hour meeting. The journal is run on a voluntary basis. For all roles, applicants should be based in the Amsterdam area and available for weekly meetings for at least the remaining academic year (until June 2024).

If you're interested, please email with the particular role(s) you are interested in and a few words of motivation.

Deadline: Sunday, October 15th


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