The goal of our reading group is to focus attention on two areas of Caribbean postcolonial theory: (1) A review and analysis of the related concepts of Creole, créolité, and creolization; and (2) the challenge that Peter Hallward’s Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing Between the Singular and the Specific represents to the field of contemporary Caribbean Studies.

If there is any cluster of concepts that the Caribbean colonial and postcolonial experiences has brought to the attention of theorists, that of Creole, créolité, and creolization stands out as both singularly foundational in the region’s literature, arts, philosophy, and political discourse and generally applicable as phenomena that describe global experiences of modernity. Our goal is to interrogate how these concepts emerged in different linguistic, literary, and artistic traditions of the region (principally Spanish, French, and English) and analyze their contemporary elaborations and theoretical uses. Questions of interest for us include: How do the different Caribbean traditions define these terms? Are there common linguistic traits that will allow us to understand how Creole and creolized language function in the social realm? Is creolization a necessarily anticolonial phenomenon? What are the dangers of universalizing creolization to speak of a global modernity?

In contrast to the ways in which Creole, créolité, and creolization have been broadened (universalized) to include social phenomena, philosophical reflection, and political discourse outside of the Caribbean, a forceful theoretical emphasis on the type, the singular, and the specific has emerged in recent years. Two major theoretical works that have elaborated this thinking are Peter Hallward’s Absolutely Postcolonial and Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery and the Philosophy of History. These texts are dense and require close reading, and our group will concentrate on reading them in conjunction with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire. Although the latter does not focus on the Caribbean specifically, this study will allow for what we hope will be interesting dialogues with Baucom’s study for their common interest in political economy. Questions that interest us for this cluster of readings are: How do we compare Glissant’s ethical advocacy of relation with Hallward’s argument that the postcolonial is best understood as a singular or non-relational idea? What consequences does Hallward’s argument have for Deleuzian inspired theories in Caribbean thought, such as Glissant’s and Benítez-Rojo’s? What advantages and disadvantages do Hallward’s critique of postcolonial theory portend for Caribbean theory, philosophy, and studies?

Alex Lenoble, Department of Romance Studies
Melissa Rosario, Department of Anthropology
Juan Manuel Espinosa, Department of Romance Studies
Kavita Singh, Department of Comparative Literature
Michael Reyes, Department of Romance Studies


Despite the best efforts of pluralist ideology since the late 1980s to globalize the American academy, the United States and Europe continue to monopolize philosophical and critical discourses in and around the arts, humanities and human sciences. Against this reality, our disciplines ought to rethink our founding assumptions in an effort to truly engage in a more global dialogue. In theorizing Latin America, those discourses have long overlooked the region’s own critical traditions, focusing almost exclusively on its literary production, often confined to the narrow genre of Magical Realism and a few others. When Latin American critical thought is accounted for, it is inevitably placed under the generalizing rubric of “Postcolonial Studies” or else dismissed outright as insufficiently rigorous to be of critical, let alone philosophical interest. Academics, thinkers, and cultural elites within the region are not innocent in this evaluation and often collude with their north Atlantic counterparts in marginalizing the region’s critical thought. In 1969, in response to the question that titles his seminal work, “Is there a philosophy of the Americas?” Peruvian philosopher Augusto Salazar Bondy concluded that there was not. In light of changes over the last five decades throughout the region and in North American and European universities, we feel it is time to ask Bondy’s question again.

What is the state of Latin American philosophy and critical thought today? How does it represent and theorize regional cultural products and social formations? In what way does it relate to prevailing European and North American schools of thought? In other words, does Latin American critical thought redefine similar concepts and models first elaborated in the metropole, or is it wholly different in light of its particular objects, concerns, and history? In either case we may ask how the Latin American critical tradition contributes to or challenges prevailing epistemological, historiographical and political methodologies and theories.

Departing from seminal critical texts from the 19th and 20th centuries (Leopoldo Zea, Salazar Bondy, Ángel Rama), our group will read contemporary Latin American contributions and interventions in fields ranging from logic and mathematics (Zalamea, Villoro) and politics (Dussel, Laclau, Moreiras, Scavino, Castro, Nieves, Rojas) to anthropological and sociological discourses (Mignolo, Beverley, Freire) as well as critical essays (Lalo, Sarlo, Richard).

Surveying the thought of a diverse geographical region poses from the start an epistemological problem, which we can only briefly sketch here. Can we even speak, as Bondy does, of a single Latin American critical tradition? It would appear that it is neither a coherent, unified and unassailable philosophical discourse, nor the mere culturally various products of modernity. The elusiveness of our object or, perhaps, the diversity of our set of objects, has likely contributed to its marginalization. That elusiveness also motivates our investigation. For heuristic purposes, we will approach the Latin American critical tradition as a mosaic-like mode of inquiry composed of a complex multitude of interrelated trends.

One way or another, each of our disciplines must come to terms with this complex object or its absence both on its own terms and as it is constructed and construed from without. To do so, we must carefully situate our positions as critics and researchers within a conversation traversed by power. By reading “against the grain,” our group will question the working epistemological categories and their quasi-ontological consequences in and across many disciplines in order to outline the contours of Latin American critical inquiry today.

Geraldine Monterroso, Romance Studies 
Bret Leraul, Comparative Literature  
Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez, English 
Lacie Buckwalter, Romance Studies 
Rebecca Kosick, Comparative Literature 
Christina Soto van der Plas, Romance Studies


Nationalism has long been written about as a project of the elites (e.g. Bayly 2004; Hobsbawm 1990). In “Nationalism and Imagined Communities,” an article appearing in The Journal of the Historical Society, Robert Wiebe (2000) explains how many, if not most, historians account for the popularity of nationalism as a “monstrously successful trick perpetrated by leaders on a susceptible people” (43). It is “an elite,” in this narrative, who “manufactures and sells nationalism either directly to an entire population or to middlemen who then retail it to everybody else.” As a result of this “top-down” chain of transmission, the resulting historical narratives detailing nationalism appear to be one-dimensional; they rarely depart from the realm of elite politics.

By limiting their analyses to state structures, institutions, and dominant political parties, many scholars neglect the roles played by vernacular culture and non-print based material (e.g. theater, cinema, songs, and jokes) in shaping national consciousness. In post-colonial contexts, elite nationalism often underwrote disciplinary practices of modern governance. These projects existed in tension with the multiplicity of embedded forms of cultural practice that were irreducible to the imperatives and rationalities of the modernizing state. Taking into account “bottom-up” approaches to nationalism grounded in vernacular national culture may allow us to conceptualize alternative ways of being in the modern nation-state and thus provide insight into political and social phenomena that do not fit into the ideological meta-narrative of bourgeois national modernity. The merits of “top-down” approaches to nationalism are well known and need not be reiterated. The limits of these elite (and elitist) narratives, on the other hand, are often unexplored and will serve as a major focus of this reading group. The suggested readings will provide examples of “bottom-up” approaches in the context of several case studies (e.g. Egypt, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, France, etc.), along with classical and revisionist theories of national consciousness. We will strive to enrich existing national historiographies by complicating and complementing the story lines of several scholars, particularly those who designate a powerful few as the producers of nationalism and write off ordinary people as the mere consumers of this ideology. By bringing in popular culture grounded in vernacular dialects, we hope to illuminate the various ways that subaltern masses internalized, negotiated with, and subverted the hegemonic norms of nationalism in the modern age.

In addition to identifying ways of “writing in” ordinary people as key players in scholarship, our reading group is also concerned with questions such as: In what ways do popular and elite conceptions of nationalism intersect or diverge? What are the shortcomings and strengths of theories other than imagined communities (Anderson 1983) to interpret nationalism writ large? How has technological innovation in the sphere of mass media, particularly in the last 30-40 years, influenced national consciousnesses? And lastly, what is the potential value of micro-narratives for navigating a nationalism that extends beyond the realm of elite politics? Only by attempting to answer these questions and others will we be able to write a more complete narrative and ensure that the “nation” in “nationalism” is not lost.

Andrew Simon, Department of Near Eastern Studies
Adem Birson, Department of Music, Musicology
Aaron Gavin, Department of Government
Jungmin Kim, Department of English
Kevin Duong, Department of Government
Brian Thiede, Department of Development Sociology
Kyle Anderson, Department of Near Eastern Studies


This graduate reading group aims to critically engage mainstream narratives in international relations and global politics. Its focus is the intellectual tension between critical theory’s critique of structural power and its narratives of freedom and agency. Its members will examine works that challenge, yet are still framed by, the power hierarchies which often narrow contemporary discourse in international relations to the interaction among major powers (particularly the United States and European countries). At the same time, its members will explore agency and freedom through the diversity of ways in which nations and individuals understand, interpret, act upon, and reimagine processes of globalization, sovereignty, and transnationalism. Through emphasis on developing countries’ historical experiences and contemporary perspectives, members will examine the plurality and contestation of understandings of hierarchy and agency, the state and subject, and power and culture. They will do so not by merely reifying synthesis between dominant paradigms and critiques from feminist, critical race, subaltern studies and development literature, but by focusing on the discursive space itself and the limitations of both hegemonic and critical perspectives.

Specific topics the reading group will discuss include: sovereignty; nationalism and self-determination; imposition of imperial or colonial constructions of region and time; construction of North-South identities; gender; globalization; transnationalism; the role of framing and psychology in structuring the perspectives of actors and institutions; and the nature of power and strategic behavior. Drawing upon works primarily in political science, sociology, and anthropology, these topics will be discussed in the context of specific political and historical events, as well as at the theoretical level.

The readings begin by critically engaging the constitutive impact of power hierarchies on discourse and knowledge creation, through a selection of works by Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Members will continue to consider the production and contestation of state sovereignty and its constitutive implications for societal relations and identity in works by writers including Christian Reus-Smit, Antony Anghie, and Catherine MacKinnon. Building on this topic, a further cluster of readings examine understandings of nationalism and movements towards self-determination as both instances of internal structural political change and externally-inspired ideological entrepreneurship, through writings by authors including Eric Hobsbawm, Omar Dahbour, and Partha Chatterjee. The impact of imperial construction of spatial region and historical time will be explored by reading James Ferguson, Uma Narayan, Edward Said, and Marshall Sahlins. The construction of North/South identities and the powerful impact of gender are discussed in writings including those by Faranak Miraftab, Louise Fawcett, Yezid Sayid, Judith Butler, and Cynthia Enloe. Readings from authors such as Sidney Tarrow, Aihwa Ong, Saskia Sassen, Peter Katzenstein, and Arjun Appadurai will focus on the tensions of power/culture and hierarchy/agency, as illustrated by experiences (on both the national and individual level) of globalization and transnationalism.

Michael ‘Fritz’ Bartel, Department of History
Nanjie Caihua, Department of Anthropology
Toby Susan Goldbach, Law School
Matt Hill, Department of Government
Wendy Leutert, Department of Government
Chan Suk Suh, Department of Sociology
Rebecca Townsend, Department of History


The interdisciplinary field of sound studies is now, in 2012, one in which current intellectual endeavor spans and draws into dialogue a range of disciplines and methodologies, including historical, theoretical and ethnographic modes of critical inquiry, disciplinary trajectories located in both the humanities and the social sciences, and a broad spectrum of artistic and activist ventures. Our readings and discussions in the context of the ICM group “The Mind/Ear Binary and Transnational Modernities” in 2011–12 revealed this breadth of sound studies in the contemporary moment, along with the need for scholars to understand sound and the sonic not as simply resounding across seemingly innumerable sites of critical and cultural concern, but as doing so profoundly.

Thus, this second iteration of our reading group, “Sonorial Cartographies: Sound, Space, and Social Praxis,” takes as its point of departure the resonance of sound within transnational modernities, examining the relationships among sound, globalized and globalizing spaces, and the cultural and social experiences—the material weight—of modernity. In the context of the recent, purported “spatial turn” within cultural studies, our reading group finds geographic concepts—such as diaspora, migration, deportation, the gated/the imprisoned, the built/the war-torn, globalization, neoimperialism, transnationalism, and planetary ecology—have all become newly indispensable to scholars within a wide variety of disciplines and fields. Often described in terms of both ineffability and temporal unfolding or patterning, sound in fact impinges significantly upon these spatial and social questions in a variety of contexts. “Sonorial Cartographies,” in other words, seeks to highlight the spatial dimensions of sound alongside its more frequently regarded temporal aspects.

Our readings bring together a range of texts that allow us to discuss the resonances between aspects of sound, space and social praxis in the transnational experiences of modernity. We look to the broad field of sound studies, in which we find a collection of studies of sound within ecological, urban, suburban, subaltern, cybernetic, and avant-garde aesthetic practices, contexts and histories. We constellate these particular readings to ask how sound has been understood as defining and confounding spatial entities that have otherwise been interpreted largely as established via visual parameters. In particular, we discuss related topics including the aural dimensions of architecture, municipal and retail environments, sonic subcultures, such as those resounding within globally circulated religious music and speech, and the developments of sound art as an artistic and political medium.

We also turn to key and current literature in the field of critical geography or the cultural studies of space. In texts such as Sara Ahmed’s Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Postcoloniality, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, Pheng Cheah, Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire, David Harvey’s Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography, Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, Eithne Luibhéid and Lionel Cantú’s Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings, Nirmal Puwar’s Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place, Gayatri Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Fatima El-Tayeb’s European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe, and Karen Tongson’s Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries, we track the surprising number of ways in which sound indexes the global, the spatial, and the social. Our discussion of sound studies, both in this and the earlier reading group, will allow us re-conceive these cultural studies texts in terms of the co-implications of sound and space.

Thus, across all our readings and discussions in the group “Sonorial Cartographies,” we seek to show how sound constitutes and is constitutive of the spatial, or the cultural and social experience of space in contemporary, transnational contexts. Sound, as indexical of the temporal, becomes not simply another way of understanding particular historical and theoretical case studies, as a good deal of the literature in sound studies would perhaps contend; rather, we seek to examine the time/space binary in transnational modernity from the perspective of sound in order to reposition the historical and the continual as key components of the new and revised networks, borders and boundaries that remain characteristic of modernity under conditions of transnational capital.

Sam Dwinell, Department of Music
Arina Rotaru, Department of German Studies
Clare Hane, Department of Theater, Dance and Film
Caroline Waight, Department of Music
Jen-Hao Walter Hsu, Department of Theater, Dance and Film
Pei Jean Chen, Department of Asian Studies