This reading group proposes to examine theoretical approaches to conventional political economy through a critical lens. We will investigate how standard political economic theories are often embedded in the received narratives of modernity: that modern culture arose in a strictly Western context and that modern thought, economic or otherwise, extended outward from the West through a process of simple imitation and diffusion. In our reading, we will particularly consider how and why these traditional approaches exclude from their perspective (and reproduce) inequities stemming from race, colonialism, class, and gender in specific historical contexts.

The readings critique commonly held assumptions underlying classical and contemporary theories and empirical work conducted on political economy, including such fundamental concerns as how to conceptualize the state and the reification of “the economy'. Through problematizing traditional approaches, the authors we will read (whose perspectives range from postcolonialist to poststructuralist) both provide alternative methodologies for studying global political economy, and argue against the totalizing logic of both neoclassical economics (and its contemporary form of neoliberalism) and Marxism.

One of the underlying themes of this reading group is that politics ultimately arise, in one way or another, out of the way in which social and economic reproduction is organized in a given society. In a more proximate sense, however, we will explore how politics originate from ideation, the capacity of the mind to form and receive ideas. To this end, we have included readings regarding the social formation of economic ideas. For example, grand political economic theories that so fatally influenced the course of the late modernity first arose out of competition between schools of thought founded by charismatic and otherwise gifted thinkers. The competition between these schools of thought, in turn, was disciplined by the extent to which they did or did not explain the perceived material conditions of the time.

Rather than studying the economics as a discipline, with a special logic of its own, a deliberate intention of this group will be to eliminate rigid disciplinary boundaries and study social processes as a whole in their political, historical, economic, social, and cultural manifestations. The aim is to avoid common academic pitfalls, preventing theoretical analyses from being vacuously abstract, social scientific descriptions from being dangerously unreflective – and both from being naively unhistorical. The social formation of modern capitalism is not only about economic and productive relations, but also about power and politics. Economies and markets cannot be understood without the state; the distribution of income and the organization of finance are closely linked with democratic struggles; identity categories of race, ethnicity, and gender feature at the level of economics as well as at political levels. By acknowledging the interdependency between economic phenomena and social phenomena, one can then move a step further and question the very logic behind any specific social formation that constructs itself in relation to a particular economic configuration.

Nolan Bennett, Department of Government 
Fedor Dokshin, Department of Sociology 
Alicia Eads, Department of Sociology 
Joseph Florence, Department of Government 
Alyshia Ledlie, Department of History 
Ningzi Li, Department of Sociology 
Vijay Phulwani, Department of Government 
Michael Siemon, Department of Sociology


Recent attempts to reformulate communism for the twenty-first century, spearheaded by theorists like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, have enjoyed a particularly Eastern Marxist inspiration that begs the question: What in the history of Eastern Marxist thought might allow us to better address our present conditions under late capitalism? Eastern Marxism, hinging on the Lenin-Trotsky-Mao triptych as well as Japanese Marxist thought, has had to address a series of problems, unthinkable in the West, that center on several main theoretical strands: uneven development (Trotsky), imperialism (Lenin), revolutionary violence, three worlds theory (Mao), hegemony, and the vanguard party. Our group proposes to read contemporary interventions in communist thought from Althusser, Badiou, Zizek, and others by departing from primary texts of Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and the writings of several of their contemporaries, such as C.L.R. James and Antonio Gramsci.

Eastern Marxism neither presents itself as a stage in the process of modernization nor as an indicator of modernity itself, but rather as an interrogatory logic that modernity must address. Fashioning Eastern Marxism in this way, is there a linear developmental model for Eastern Marxism? What place does it assign to the domains of art, culture, ideology, and intellectual work? In what ways does it articulate today center-periphery paradigms and Mao’s Three Worlds Theory? What temporalities (i.e. multilinear or nonlinear) are involved in Eastern Marxism?

How does Eastern Marxism fashion itself vis-à-vis other Marxisms or Western Marxism in particular? What is Western Marxism lacking that Eastern Marxism may be able to compensate for? If Western Marxism relies heavily on the appropriation of a certain tradition of Hegelian-Marxist materialism and the specific privileging of concepts like commodity fetishism, reification, historical progress, totality, exchange value, etc., to what extent do Eastern proponents of Marxism lay claim to a different arsenal of Marxist concepts and how does this variance reflect the singular differences in historical situation, material conditions, etc. that determine the non-Western world?

Do Eastern Marxisms present a challenge to or critique of certain scientist or determinist economic theories of Western Marxism? In other words, to what extent do Eastern Marxisms involve entirely different epistemological frameworks or analytical modes that would challenge a privileging of scientific categories in Marxism? In what ways do Eastern Marxisms present alternative modes of organization and cooperation (vanguard parties, councils, etc.)? How was the concept of hegemony (Gramsci) appropriated during certain historical moments, such as the Chinese Long March, as a counter to the particular contours of capitalism in the East? What Eastern Marxist inflections of “hegemony” have been useful for contemporary theorists attempting to rethink communism and socialism?

Finally, our reading group will discuss and critique Marx’s and Marxist thought’s so-called Eurocentrism by rereading his collection of writings on colonialism, Russia, and the Asiatic mode of production, texts that have largely been forgotten in contemporary discourse. Does a Marxist theory of political economy necessarily give rise to Eurocentric models? What questions did Marx ask of the Eurocentrism present Hegelian historicism?

Matteo Calla (Department of German Studies)
Kevin Duong (Department of Government)
Bécquer Medak-Seguín (Department of Romance Studies)
Mariana Saavedra (Department of Anthropology)
Nathan Taylor (Department of German Studies)
Facundo Vega (Department of Romance Studies)


Our aim is to re-examine the current state of postcolonial theory.  The present political moment has seen both the disavowal of the ‘postcolonial’ as well as a persistent reference to this paradigmatic construct. It has been cast aside as ineffectual for its universalizing and ahistorical gestures, as well as for its apparent reference to an obsolete historical and geopolitical circumstance, yet, paradoxically, the term largely still resonates throughout the world as defining the particular moment we inhabit. This being the case, is the concept of the postcolonial, and the framework of postcoloniality, still useful? What can we, within the academy, make of this term? Even as we recognize its limits, we begin with the preliminary position that there is much still to be done under the rubric of the postcolonial. Indeed, we suggest it is the transnational interstitial subject who emerges today as the crucial element in postcoloniality. 

Our task is to unpack postcoloniality in its disparate geographical and historical locations through the varying interrogatory lenses of critical theory, ethnography, literary analysis, gender and sexuality studies, and cultural materialism. In what ways do certain disciplines enable or occlude the study of knowledge and hegemony vis-à-vis the postcolonial? Has the utility and urgency of the “postcolonial” withered away in an epoch of proliferating “post” categories such as postmodern, post-Marxian, postfeminist? In many ways, the postcolonial is a term that largely re-inscribes the same global hegemonic system that it initially sought to disavow. In terms of global hierarchies, what distinguishes the colonial encounter from the postcolonial encounter? Indeed, to what extent does the encounter itself instigate a set of power relations that postcolonial analysis attempts to deconstruct? In order to disrupt these hegemonic echoes, our readings and discussions will investigate upon the porousness of the spatial and temporal limitations of the “postcolonial.” 

Our approach to this problematic involves pairing theoretical with primary texts, staging the limits of interpretation while also preparing the space for new investigation.  We have organized our reading into four thematic stages that will build our discursive paradigm.  We intend to begin with foundational authors such as Edward Said and Homi K Bhabha, testing the grounds of the discipline against a diverse array of both new and established texts.  This entails pairings beyond the expected — for example, how does reading Salman Rushdie’s classic Midnight’s Childrenwith Chris Abani’s recent GraceLand, both with their liminal protagonists, reveal the limits and new horizons of foundational theory?  In our next phase, we turn to Derrida’s writing on hospitality as well as Stuart Hall’s and David Scott’s work on the time and place of the postcolonial; here one of our primary texts will be Turing’s Dilemma by Edmundo Paz Soldan which explores the alignment of right-wing dictators with multinational corporations, and the global hegemonic order in the global South (specifically, South America) and investigates how resistance might be imagined in such a context. Our third stage moves us to the body, to pain, and to the possibilities within the post-colonial envisioned by Elaine Scarry and Sara Ahmed. Our work at this stage pairs the satirical Senegalese film Xala with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead.  In our final phase, we will consider the geographic with a particular focus on the work of geographer Yi-fu Tuan: for Tuan, the environment generates value and affect in humans, making us more aware of the profound relationship between humanity and nature. 

By following this reading trajectory, our reading group hopes rejuvenate encounters with the Other, and to suggest that the very interdisciplinary nature of postcolonial studies is the site of its productive possibility.

Rose Casey (English)
Ying Cheng (English)
Noor Hashem (English)
Carly Kaloustian (Comparative Literature)
Nicolette Lee (English)
Derica Shields (Africana)
Christine Yao (English)


As Arab insurrections bubble and calm across the Middle East – North Africa region, France bans the niqab, and Peter King holds hearings-cum-inquisitions into the problem of “Islamic radicalization” in the United States, the intertwined problematics of secularism, democracy and modernity again loom in our public sphere. In the modern age defined by the hegemony of liberal democracy, what is the nature of “secularism” in societies experiencing a re-birth of political community after decades of violent repression? What does it entail when so many of the people politically active and raging in the streets and squares of the Arab states are agitating for democracy, but on their terms? What does it mean when these questions are refracted through prevailing American public discourses regarding religion, “Islamism,” democracy, and secularism, and when the pre-requisite for democracy is regarded as an unquestioned, un-interrogated, unexplored, unexplained “secularism”? What does it even mean to make a fundamentalist secularism the baseline and the pre-requisite for participation in Western-style electoral democracy? The reading group will explore these questions through a mélange of empirically-grounded case studies and theoretical excurses on the vexed and contentious inter-relations between “democracy” and “secularism,” particularly within the “Muslim world.” The rise and participation of hybrid social and political movements like Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt bring these questions to the fore. Western discourse stipulates the erasure of culturally meaningful religious practices before Muslims can participate in democratic politics, a requirement that it doesn’t see fit to impose within its own Christian fundamentalist public sphere. What follows? And perhaps more to the point, is it not merely hypocritical but maybe mendacious to stipulate irreligiousness in political movements in a part of the world where it is precisely socio-political movements that make use of a religious cultural substrate to articulate and weave together their politics of resistance that are the most promising forces for bringing any sort of democracy to occupied territories? Does the demand of secularism-as-universal imply a violent imposition of particular notions of political subjectivity? Can such an imposition ever be sheared from the underlying political economy of resistance? Is it mere coincidence that those groups whose religious nature is highlighted as the variable that explains their behavior are exactly the ones struggling – in tragic irony – against a regime (Israel) with an under-noted and waxing religious basis of legitimation? 

Finally, we intend to look into the agent as constituted and inflected by the ostensibly opposed discourses of political Islamism and secularism. In what does this understanding challenge prevailing modernist notions of the liberal subject as defined by a historically and culturally bleached rational-procedural mentality? How might one usefully re-grind the interpretive lens so as to make better sense of the rough texture of reality as it is and as it is lived rather than the smoothed homogenous unreality modernist liberal discourse presents to us?

Max Ajl, Development Sociology 
Kyle Anderson, Near Eastern Studies 
Noor Hashem, English 
Pinar Kemerli, Government 
Andrew Simon, Near Eastern Studies 
Brian Thiede, Development Sociology


STATEMENT OF INTENTThe history of South Asia presents the student of comparative modernities with a variety of national, sub-national, and regional locations for inquiry. Equally complex, the historiography of this immense geographical region confronts such a student with numerous periods of political, discursive, and material transformation: precolonial-colonial, colonial-postcolonial, and developmental-neoliberal. Our proposed reading group seeks to explore the “modernity” of certain sociohistorical processes and modalities of being by tracing each session’s theme explicitly through both sides of these various epochal and national divides. In so doing, we hope to think through and beyond the continuity-rupture debates that have marked the scholarly discussion of South Asian modernities.

Our readings have three primary foci: 1) economic production and material circulation, 2) ritual practice and religious affiliation, and 3) artistic creation and aesthetic engagement. These three areas of investigation speak to each other as veritable reservoirs of epistemological and practical changes associated with modernity, and they are cross cut with other salient issues – such as class, caste, gender, nationalism, and the circulation of knowledge, materials, and people – which will serve as the sub-themes for our enquiries. These focal points will allow us to trace the diverse ways in which larger socio-historical processes become embedded in and manifest at particular places and times.

Our first group of readings confronts economic changes in the areas of property rights and agricultural production. Both discussions have traditionally converged on the socio-historical transformations associated with the advent of capitalism in the subcontinent. Recent work, however, has begun to address divergent conceptualizations of what it means to be modern, to participate in trans-regional economies, and to exist in a productive milieu marked by colonial modernization and postcolonial development. We will also investigate the subtleties of rural and agricultural modernity through comparative consideration of the processes of urbanization in recent centuries.

We will then turn to other forms of production and circulation: the production of religious identifications through innovative ritual practices, and the circulation of these affiliations through new networks of information, travel, and law. This section is organized into two groupings: Muslim community-formation and saints/ascetics, both of which present particularly rich avenues for examining the effects of modern movements of materials, persons, and texts on religious subjectivities.

Cutting through our first two foci is a deep concern with the aesthetics of moral being. In the final section of our reading group, we will consider the production of artistic works and genres, and the circulation of aesthetic sensibilities. How do circulating styles, materials, and judgments effect artistic production and musical performance, and how do aesthetic sensibilities articulate with conceptualizations of what is (and what is not) modern? Of particular interest are the ways in which visual art, music, and performance themselves construct narratives of the past, which can then be deployed for specific political, economic, and socio-cultural projects.

Through these readings we aim to illuminate the connections and differences between multiple proposals regarding what it means to be modern and how “modern” transformations have affected various life-worlds in South Asia across space and time. The final mode of comparison to be emphasized is the marked interdisciplinarity of our project. Drawing on numerous academic fields, we seek to demonstrate how a critical analysis of modernities in South Asia, predicated on historical precision and ethical critique, necessarily complicates more totalizing narratives of modernity, colonialism, postcoloniality, and capitalism.

Andrew Amstutz, History
Rishad Choudhury, History
Anaar Desai-Stephens, Musicology 
Carter Higgins, Asian Religion
Hayden Kantor, Anthropology
Brinda Kumar, History of Art 


The reading group we propose to the is concerned with an interdisciplinary collection of texts that allow us to consider the intersection of the fields of sound studies, performance theory, art history and visual studies, and music. Our aim is twofold: first, not to read modernity as either ocularcentric or phonocentric but understand it beyond the traditional Western opposition of mind and perception, sight and hearing; second, we want to reform models of reading that, for instance, associate queerness with the passage through Western modernity. Our first model of reading  allows us to study expressions of contemporary cultural production from a variety of globalized sites and provide evidence for a reading fallacy as division of mind and ear and its impact on the history of Western modernity and beyond. Our second research focus prompts us to re-examine the epistemological divide between East/West and West/Non-West and the consequences of the Euro-American colonialism for transnational queer studies or post-imperialist studies.

Based on these exploratory questions, we have come up with a small list of readings that range from canonical authors to very recent productions. We will start with less known pieces by well-known authors who have been read in a traditional ocularcentric key such as Descartes and hisCompendium Musicae from 1558, and will inquire into his understanding of subjectivity and “the listener.” We will further read other works that focus on the properties of sound and its capacity to build an audience such as Diderot’s “Principes d’acoustique” (1742). From more recent analyses that have the potential to problematize the mind/ear divide, we will address the power of noise to destabilize the text-audience division and its potential to reform traditional gender divisions as well. To that purpose, we will read studies by Jacques Attali such as Noise (1977) and Douglas Kahn’s Noise, Water, Meat (1999) and ask how the potential of noise can make room for a different understanding of audience beyond gender and national divisions. A number of our readings will focus on explorations of queerness in performance and the ways queer performances engage community. For this part of our inquiry, studies such as Martin Manalansan's Global Divas and Gayatri Gopinath'sImpossible Desire (2005), which both talk about the use of sound for queer community building, will prove useful. The theoretical readings we propose are meant to help us inquire into the meaning of the post-national and transnational in various European and non-European contexts, taking as its point of departure the transnational model of a queer modernity in Taiwan and China. Our broad interests concern some other models of confrontation between the West and the non-West such as the notion of Americanization in Japan and Korea, the post-imperialistic context in Great Britain and its thematization of modernity as  return to earlier modes of opera experiments or the post-Wall literary context in Germany and its tribute to the avant-gardes as a model of dislocation of the national paradigm and a peculiar engagement of the audience/readership/spectatorhip.

We use discussions of cultural production, such as cinema, theater, and other media, in order to access a range of questions, including the notion of spectatorship and audience in a transnational context, the reconsideration of voice in philosophic and performative analyses, the various theories of sound and performance that have emerged after the so-called performative turn. This project allows us to develop an intellectual exchange that does not seek to relegate "cultural practice" to "theory," and thus encourages participation from representatives of a wide range of disciplinary locations. We hope to show how the dissolve of the mind/ear divide has a far-reaching impact into what we now understand as transnational modernities beyond a cultural and national space.

Arina Rotaru, (German Studies)
Caroline Waight, (Music)
Clare Hane, (Theater and Performance Studies)
Minhwa Ahn, (Asian Studies)
Samuel Dwinell, (Musicology)
Walter Jen-Hao Hsu, (Theater and Performance Studies)