This reading group seeks to engage with the production of space within the contested context of the global, international, and/or multinational order from the perspective of migrant/diasporic communities. The world as mapped by the rule of international law and the borders of nation-states, whether conceived of cartographically, historically, or socioeconomically, has been problematized by recent interventions by postcolonial and biopolitical critique. With these critical frameworks as our starting point, we will seek to trace the movement of people as it relates to issues of migration, multilinguality, and multiethnicity, in order to deal with the concerns faced by these people as a result of the violence complicit in the inheritance of the forces of colonial modernity, particularly as this pertains to the geopolitical formation of sites of knowledge production which have long been the domain of Area Studies. As such, the concepts of ‘migrant’, ‘indigenous’, and ‘diaspora’ as produced within this positionality, while of provisional use here, must be held in suspicion, even as they are mobilised as a method of critique. To that end, we include economically or politically displaced peoples, as well as communities that, migrant or not, consciously attempt to displace the identities received from their national, geographic, or communal predication. 
The concept of displacement as a systemic effect thus constitutes a thread which we will attempt to explore through divergent artefacts such as film, literature, anthropological studies, auto-ethnography, and oral histories. With this in mind, some of the questions we wish to address in this group are: how is space articulated, represented, and/or produced by displaced peoples and how do displaced peoples map the space they inhabit? What practico-theoretical possibilities are revealed in following displacement as it relates to the field of power that constitutes the global? And to what extent are notions of indigeneity a reaction to globalisation and the legacy of the colonial, and to what extent can they provide an alternative register in our engagement with these issues? It is our belief that this line of questioning in the production of space and the phenomenon of dis-placement, in its multivalent emergence beyond the geospatial in ethnography, film, literature, art, etcetera, yields a productive field to which our group’s inquiry, ranging from disciplines such as art history, anthropology, area studies, indigenous studies, critical geography, film studies and literary studies, can provide a mutually critical and self-reflexive contribution to the critique of the domain of the global; an question which remains central to any form of politics located within the troubled era of ‘modernity.’

Ryan Buyco – Department of Asian Studies
Andrew Harding – Department of Asian Studies
Paul McQuade – Department of Asian Studies
Mee-Ju Ro – Department of English
Yen Vu – Department of Romance Studies
Elizabeth Wijaya – Department of Comparative Literature 

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Declarations have been made of a ‘return to Marx,’ an end to the ‘end of history,’ and a resurgence of ‘the idea of communism’ in recent years, most notably since the 2007-08 global financial crisis. In academic theory, one of the major ways in which this ‘return’ has been staged is in the questioning and the critique of ideas and perspectives in cultural theory that have achieved considerable hegemony within sections of academia and sections of the left, associated with the linguistic turn, poststructuralism and postmodernism. More established figures in critical theory such as Slavoj Zizek and Fredric Jameson have produced summatory works lending their authority to these new debates (eg Zizek’s Less Than Nothing, or Jameson’s trilogy, Valences of the Dialectic – The Hegel Variations – Representing Capital), while such projects as the sociologist Vivek Chibber’s critique of postcolonial studies or the Badiouian philosopher Peter Hallward’s assertion of the Rousseauian notion of the general will in opposition to denigrations of its primacy in modern critical discourse from Freud to Heidegger to Foucault, have also positioned themselves and been received in the context of this perceived intellectual and political shift.

This story may well prove to be too simplistic, if one considers that debates on the left both within and outside academia regarding such questions as the nature of transformations within global capitalism, the relationship of social class to other forms of oppression, and the continuity of imperialism, never ceased. Indeed, many of those who have made use of discourse analysis, postcolonial theory, the Foucauldian conception of power, and other tendencies often grouped broadly under the postmodern and poststructuralist umbrella, have seen themselves as participants in Marxist theory broadly understood. One aim of this reading group will be to look at the debates regarding the precedence, continuity, and discreteness of this “return.” But we will also take seriously the question of what a specifically contemporary engagement with a Marxist framework for the critique of capitalism and the renewal of the left as a political force might entail.

To this end, we will explore both the many recent forms that Marxist theory has taken in different parts of the world in recent decades, and specific contemporary global sites of political struggle that raise major questions for Marxism today. The latter would include the growing political formations in response to the ongoing Eurozone crisis, and the uprisings in the Middle East since 2011 and the the network of state and imperialist forces that have worked to crush them; though situations closer to home such as the Occupy movement and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States could potentially also come under discussion in this context, as could Latin American politics. As for recent Marxist theory, we would address, but not limit ourselves to, the conversations within political philosophy and critical theory amongst figures like Badiou, Rancière, Balibar and Agamben, to also include work that takes up the material questions of, for example, a Marxist understanding of the financial crisis, or of the ongoing functioning of imperialism in contexts including Iraq, or Ukraine. These could include readings from publications including Socialist Register, Actuel Marx,Jacobin, Tiqqun, Endnotes, New Left Review, Links International, International Socialism, amongst others. We have assembled a group of graduate students from humanities and social science departments at Cornell whose different backgrounds and approaches will inform what we hope to be a lively engagement with both the theoretical and political questions of an approach to the ‘differentiated totality’ of contemporary global capitalism from a perspective informed by the many strands of Marxist thought.

Nathaniel Boling – Department of History
Alex Brown – Department of German Studies
Conall Cash – Department of Romance Studies
Jonathan Davenport – Department of Comparative Literature
Katryn Evinson – Department of Romance Studies
Jette Gindner – Department of German Studies
James Ingoldsby – Department of English
Nikolaus Krachler – Industrial and Labor Relations
George Spisak – Department of Development Sociology

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Coming together under the academic theme of South (to) South: Dialogues across Media, our reading group hopes to coalesce our varying interests of colonial and postcolonial Caribbean, Indochina, Latin America, U.S. South  upon the possibility of movement within and throughout these geographic, historical, and imagined spaces. Indeed, the scope of what movement can mean is vast, as it can range from individual iterations of corporeality to collective, diasporic distributions of culture. In other words, both people and ideas can be involved. We hope, then, to begin tracing this scope by localizing movement at the familiar level of the human body, concretely through theatre and performance. This will provide a grounds on which we can then extrapolate ideas of how movement can occur on larger or other levels.

Having chosen theatre and performance as a point of departure, we still take Media to mean different types of literary, artistic, and historical forms. For example, we hope to incorporate Aime Cesaire’s The Tempest,Edouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Le Devin du Village performed in both Saint-Domingue and New Orleans...

It is important to reiterate, however, that Media also significantly represents the very spaces in which our research is concerned. That is, the very land and sea by which diasporic movements of people and ideas have traveled. Rather than taking for granted the archipelagic and marginal geographies in which we ground our research, we recognize that these very places and spaces can be optimal points of encounter for dialogue. In focusing on dialogues from one “South” to another, we hope to move beyond the inevitable and apparent interaction between binaries of a center and a periphery, between colonizer and colonized, to conversations along the margins, and among supposed peripheries. 

That we have come together, that we believe such dialogues are even possible, is an important gesture toward the Institute of Comparative Modernities’ mission to foster interdisciplinarity. With that said, our goal as a reading group is not only to read texts and explore established scholarship. We hope that our meetings will also be opportunities to strengthen our positions as emerging scholars, individually and collectively, in discussing and supporting each other in our own research and writing. With such support in addition to a shared commitment to this academic theme of South (to) South dialogues, we hope these meetings will culminate successfully in a Symposium where we can extend our dialogues as a group to other emerging and established scholars. This would also be an occasion to showcase some of the reading and writing we will have done throughout the semesters. A large portion of the subvention from ICM will be to make such a symposium possible, marking an important beginning moment of further South (to) South dialogues.

Neal Allar – Department of Romance Studies
Elise Finielz – Department of Romance Studies
Marsha Jean-Charles – Africana Studies and Research Center
Magdala Jeudy – Department of Romance Studies
Alex Lenoble – Department of Romance Studies
Marshall Smith – Africana Studies and Research Center
Yen Vu – Department of Romance Studies

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We are broadly interested in understanding how space and place shape resistance and identity in ways generative of what can be considered “alternative modernities” in Latin America. We are a multi-disciplinary team of students from Anthropology, City and Regional Planning, Development Sociology, and Natural Resources brought together by our interest in critical geography and critical development studies.

In Latin America, uneven processes of democratization have given rise to new forms of governance and civic engagement that have empowered historically marginalized groups of people (Arias and Goldstein, 2010). Despite these significant changes, the region continues to be mired in appalling social and economic inequality fueling conflict and violence - and threatening social-political stability. Our own research in several countries of Latin America exemplifies how these tensions arise and are contested within claims of citizenship, security, and land and territorial rights. As emerging scholars, we are interested in exploring how these tensions relate to development in Latin America - how is development conceptualized, deployed and contested at multiple scales?

Our point of departure in making sense of these tensions we observe in Latin America is an understanding of the dynamics that produce space (Lefebvre, 1991), create a sense of place (Tuan, 1977), and open the possibility of resistance (Scott, 2008). We are interested in incorporating this spatial thinking to engage with the debate in development studies over “alternative Modernities.” Building on the critique of development as a continuation of the Enlightenment Project (Escobar, 1992), scholars of alternative modernities have sought to recognize the universality of capitalism and rearticulate the difference of the other as a form of hybrid cosmopolitanism (Gupta, 1998). This concept, however, has received criticism for the lack of attentiveness to global economic inequality and the imperialism of the neoliberal regime (Watts, 2003; Ferguson, 2005). Jean and John Comaroff (2012) argue that modernity is both singular and multiple, discursive and empirical, aspirational and a reality. We want to understand how these notions of space/place and development are (re)articulated in the Latin American experience and how we - as interdisciplinary scholars - can engage with these debates. We aspire to reverse the “order of things” in the production of knowledge (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2012) by engaging scholars of the Global South through our graduate reading group.

Jose Castañeda – Department of Anthropology
Fernando Galeana – Department of Development Sociology
Amir Mohamed – Department of Anthropology
Ryan Nehring – Department of Development Sociology
Jaime Ortiz – Department of Natural Resources
Karla Peña – Department of Development Sociology
Andrea Restrepo-Mieth – City and Regional Planning

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We understand montage as a practice with an eye to a generous conception of totality in which the particular exists safe from assimilation, and that welcomes the antagonisms to which it might give way. This vision is decisively not an authoritarian nor a hierarchically ordered one. The particularity of the elements that engender the montaged whole is heightened, as their semiotic ground is productively destabilized while the numerous constellations brings out the potential new meanings that were inherent in it. In the new constellations imagined by the artists, authors and philosophers, the knowledge of the particular becomes the knowledge of the whole.

Montage interweaves, with a movement from no absolute, and it is a totality of all relatives. It is a generous artistic practice that creates inclusive works, in which elemental significance is not lost in, but rather, is enhanced by its commitments to and embedments in the totality. What the stakes of montage are, and whether it is limited to visual art but can be more broadly construed, will be part of our own generous inquiry, as we explore montage as a way of looking at the relationship between filmic narrative and other forms of narrative practice. Situating text alongside film through the inclusion of both a bibliography and a filmography allows us to explore the umbilical relationship of the medium to montage. This reading group examines the fluidity of film, its generative capacity for the inclusion and translation of other media into filmic representation.

Our group’s intent is to incorporate the study of montage as formal technique and aesthetic practice into our work as scholars in different fields with various methodological and critical commitments. Our interest in montage as a way of relating discrete discourses to one another is reflected in the array of disciplines represented by our participants—Anthropology, Art History, Art Practice, and English. The theme of montage serves not only as a symbolic merging of these separate fields, but also allows for each participant to contribute their own unique investments in the subject. As such, the lenses through which we will interrogate the function and history of montage include: illegality and appropriation, blurred authorship, experimental temporalities, disjointed narrative, post-colonial subjectivities, and archive theory, among many others. This varied list will enable a complete investigation of the myriad meanings inherent to montage as visual language and technical form.

Michaela Brangan – Department of English
Alexandra Delferro – Department of Anthropology
Lara Fresko – Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Asli Menevse – Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Natalie Nesvaderani – Department of Anthropology
Annie Raccuglia – Art, Architecture, and Planning
Lauren van Haaften-Schick – Department of History of Art and Visual Studies

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Rancière’s work is situated both by his pedagogical break with Althusserian post-Marxism and his consequent insistence upon the transformative character of aesthetics. His deep investment in the radical equality of intellect stands in contrast with the Althusserian distinction between scientific discourse and ideology and its suspicion of modes of populist collective engagement. This contrast has led him to develop an exploration of regimes of aesthetic perception and intelligibility, and in turn to fundamentally rethink the nature of politics, the people, and the modes of perception, experience and affect that structure what Rancière calls “the distribution of the sensible,” the way in which we understand, relate to, and perceive the possibilities of our worlds.

It is these powerful and unique contributions to contemporary thought that motivate our reading group’s interdisciplinary focus on Rancière’s texts, alongside key secondary readings, which will provide us with an essential critical lens for examining multiple interrelated questions, including: What is the sensible, and how can we interrogate the category of the sensible through, among others, scientific and affective registers? Moreover, how can Rancière’s reconceptualization of the nature of the political speak to forms of representation and the aesthetic, material economies and exchange, and expanded notions of individual and collective agency? How does Rancière’s presupposition of radical ontological equality inform and confront questions regarding ethnicity, race, gender, postcoloniality, diaspora, and class critique? And how can we as academic interlocutors reflexively engage the pedagogical aspects of Rancière’s formulations of intellectual emancipation, and further, from the perspective of our various disciplines how might we hope to conduct the kinds of readings, conversations, and practices that embody such equality?

Additionally, can we apply Rancière’s idea of distribution to all public spaces? What may persist without recognition in those spaces and how may possibilities expand for public(s) once state recognition is no longer the goal? We aim to locate the idea of distribution in particular times and places, confronting the Eurocentric tradition that Rancière draws from by engaging with resurgent Indigenous movements such as Idle No More through the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Taiaike Alfred, and Glen Coulthard. In turn, our group will expand the idea of distribution by regarding Rancière’s work from new materialisms, considering public spaces as within the biosphere and anthropocene. Once “the sensible” is understood as distributed not only in humanistic fora, but “natural” flora, we confront and seek to revise the ostensible divisions between empirical inquiry vs. rational analysis, sense vs. intellect, and praxis vs. critique. Moreover, to what degree can Rancière’s analysis of displacement of hierarchy and of politics as rupture allow us to engage the problematic conflations of indigenous thinking and new vitalism?

Abram Coetsee – Department of English
Katryn Evinson – Department of Romance Studies
Lara Fresko – Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Paul McQuade – Department of Asian Studies
Annie Raccuglia – Art, Architecture, and Planning
Jacob Swanson – Department of Government 
Tianyi Tong – Department of Psychology