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Dr. James Dorson

James Dorson received his doctorate from the Graduate School of North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin in July, 2012. His dissertation dealt with the relationship between art and politics from the perspective of the early Frankfurt School critics to poststructuralism. Specifically, it addressed the problem of the “counternarrative” to dominant American myths in the work of Cormac McCarthy. In this connection, he went on research stays to Penn State University and the Texas State University in San Marcos that houses the recently released Cormac McCarthy Papers.

After completing his doctoral studies, he was funded by the Dahlem Research School Honors Fellowship to develop his next project. He is currently affiliated with the J. F. K. Institute of North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.

Long CV as a pdf-file
Focus of Research

American literature and culture in the 19th and 20th centuries with a special focus on naturalism, the Old West, critical theory, postmodernism, and American Studies metadiscourse.


Postdoctoral Research Project

James Dorson’s postdoctoral research at CAS examines the cultural foundations of modern bureaucracy in American literary naturalism. How did the naturalist aesthetic correspond with and help to legitimate the bureaucratic outlook in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century? And in which ways did it conflict with and challenge the scientific management and reform movements of the Progressive Era?

These questions are framed against the backdrop of the recent challenges posed to the bureaucratic organization of society by a new management regime of decentralization, flexibilization, and a pervasive market rationality that since the 1980s has transformed private and public sectors alike in the Western world. While the social sciences have made significant contributions to the understanding of this “post-bureaucratic” ethos, research in the humanities is still largely oriented toward either a poststructuralist analysis of “disciplinary society” on the one side or a narrow Weberian critique of the “iron cage” of instrumental rationality on the other.

This project aims to amend this cultural lag in the humanities by contributing to the development of a critique that is able to account for the bureaucratization of society as well as its de-bureaucratization. By combining the sociology of capitalism and management theory with literary criticism and cultural studies, the aim is thus to examine how American literary naturalism not only provided cultural legitimacy to the bureaucratic organization, but also paved the way for its future delegitimation and transformation.


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

“’9/11’ and the Rhetoric of Rupture”. REAL – Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 27 (2011), eds. Winfried Fluck, Katharina Motyl, Donald E. Pease, and Christoph Raetzsch. 369-85.

“Demystifying the Judge: Law and Mythical Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian”. Journal of Modern Literature (forthcoming).

Conference Presentations:

“The American Romance as Tragedy in the Border Trilogy”, presented at the New England American Studies Association Conference, “American Mythologies: Creating, Re-creating, and Resisting National Narratives”, held inPlymouth, MA, November 4-5, 2011.

“’9/11’ and the Rhetoric of Rupture”, presented at the International Graduate Conference, “States of Emergency: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Dynamics of Crisis”, held at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin, June 11-12, 2010.

“’The Key to Heaven’: Finding Solid Ground in Cormac McCarthy’s Westerns”, presented at a research seminar held by the English Department of Copenhagen University, November 27, 2009.

“Seeds of Nihilism: Negation, Affirmation, and the Possibility of Literary Counternarratives”, presented at the 24th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Narrative hosted by the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham, June 4-6, 2009.

“’Agony in the Garden’: American Studies and the Subversion of the Virgin Land Myth in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian”, presented at the Nordic Association of American Studies Conference, “Cosmopolitan America: The United States in Transition”, hosted by the English Department of Copenhagen University, May 28-30, 2009.

“’Some Apparition Out of the Vanished Past’: Counternostalgia in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy”, presented the International Graduate Conference, “Divided We Stand – United We Fall. Perspectives on Inclusion and Exclusion in America”, held at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin, June 28, 2008.