2019-2020 GRADUATE READING GROUP GRANT RECIPIENTS

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FRAMING THE GLOBAL: SYSTEMS, NETWORKS, WORLDING,  AND GLOBALIZATION

“Framing the Global: Systems, Networks, Worlding and Globalization,” emerges out of an interdisciplinary concern for the key debates and discourses  regarding how we think of not only the “global” but of the systems and networks of relation that constitute it. Our primary motive is to develop an explicitly interdisciplinary venue in which to  address contemporary and historical articulations of global assemblages in a literary, political,  sociological, archaeological, and architectural frameworks, to name a few. Our second goal includes a desire to forge productive connections with colleagues in a diverse range of fields so  that we can gain a greater understanding of how globalization, systems, and networks are understood in various disciplines, allowing us to formulate a more robust articulation of globalization from the converging vantage points provided by an interdisciplinary framework.

As Vilashini Cooppan states, “[i]t has become a sign of living in the present to note the increasing globalization of the world - the transnationalism of the currents along which capital, goods, labor, persons, and information flow; the interconnectedness of diverse cultures; the networks and internets that, despite their inequitable distribution, have nonetheless become the icons of rapidly changing, intricately interlinked societies” (15). The question of the global denotes  a conceptualization of the currents and flows of not only material goods but ideologies and cultures, and of the inequitable distributions that occur in rapidly and dynamically interlinked societies. Lisa Lowe also notes that our current understanding of globalization “obscures a much longer history of global contacts and connections,” and of the intermingling of people, ideas, and materials that have occurred through empire, conquest, and the dispersal of persons into various diasporas (119). This reading group situates itself within these discourses, looking into the systematic approaches to globalization from the history and archaeology of the ancient world to the literature, art, and critical theorizations of our contemporary times. We seek to bring together approaches from area studies, comparative literature, poetics, history, architecture, archaeology, anthropology, classical studies, romance studies, political science, and sociology in order to map out a topology of globalization in a trans-historical and trans-continental framework.

MEMBERS

Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu — Department of English

Juhwan Seo—Department of Sociology

Ecem Saricayir— Department of Architecture

Rebecca Gerdes—Department of Classics/Institute of Archaeology and Materials Studies

Mary Jane Dempsey— Department of Romance Studies

Sara Stamatiades—Department of English

Sarena Tien—Department of Romance Studies

 

POSTCOLONIAL ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES

This interdisciplinary group initiates a necessary conversation at the intersections of Environmental Studies, Indigenous Studies, Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies, Black Studies, and Queer Theory. We do so to raise and address questions surrounding the inadequacy of Eurocentric strains of environmental thought, such as posthumanism, object-oriented ontology, and mainstream climate science, in taking up Postcoloniality, Indigeneity, and Queer of Color Critique.

Our inquiries proceed from the point of departure that questions surrounding the postcolonial are necessarily ecocritical. As Rob Nixon has reminded us, the slow violence of climate change disproportionately affects people of color, Indigenous peoples, and the poor. Moreover, in the Caribbean, the European colonial project and its plantation system were founded upon the cultivation and extraction of natural resources. Taking our cue from the thinking of decolonial scholars like Walter Mignolo, we ask to what extent the geologic era now commonly referred to as “the Anthropocene” should also be considered as a “darker side” of Western modernity, coeval with coloniality, the displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the enslavement of kidnapped Africans? How has climate been intertwined with racialized violence since the settler-colonization of the Americas beginning in 1492? What might it mean to be located not only after colonialism but also after the tipping point for the Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene? How can subjects envision themselves in relation to these layered traumas and negotiate the sense of lateness they produce? What is the relation between geological time, postcolonial time, and queer time?

We will begin with the ongoing academic discourse surrounding the efficacy and shortcomings of the term “Anthropocene” in the U.S. academy, grounded in the contributions of scholars like Dipesh Chakrabarty, Timothy Morton, Donna Haraway, and Jason Moore. From there, we shift to the works of Indigenous, Black, and decolonial thinkers such as Glen Coulthard, Sylvia Wynter, Zoe Todd, Françoise Vergès, Rob Nixon, and others in order to expose the imbrication of climate and environmental violence in histories of colonization. Recognizing that climate violence manifests differently across different localities, we will take up thinkers across the archipelagos of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as those situated in the African, Asian, South American, and North American continents, with attention to the ways in which they engage enduring legacies of coloniality such as extraction, tourism, nuclearism, invasive species, and mobility (in)justice. To that end, by engaging thinkers like Macarena Gómez-Barris, Karin Ingersoll, Kimberly Rifkin, and others, we will consider the culturally specific dimensions of climate change and the ways in which its effects (both present and future) are already being theorized through the frameworks and practices of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and queer communities. Finally, we will center these lived apprehensions of climate and environmental violence from the positionalities of black, latinx, queer, and indigenous bodies by engaging texts by Audre Lorde, Wangari Maathai, Jamaica Kincaid, and others. We will draw upon the expertise of our interdisciplinary group in order to enrich and interweave our intellectual perspectives.

MEMBERS

Jorge Enrique Cartaya—Department of Comparative Literature

Peter Caswell— Department of Romance Studies

Hannah Cole—Department of Comparative Literature

Arielle Johnson— Department of Plant Biology

Jessica Rodriguez— Department of English

Ujjainee Sharma— Department of Development Sociology

Lauren Siegel—Department of Africana Studies

Elizabeth Strayer—Department of English

 

TROUBLING RACIAL CATEGORIES

This reading group explores the ways in which the categorization of racialized bodies is rooted in histories of settler colonialism, empire, and labor in the modern West. We take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding this phenomenon by drawing on scholarship from Ethnic Studies (including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Arab American, and Asian American Studies), Sociology, Literary Studies, Feminist and Queer Studies, History, and Science and Technology Studies.

Research on racial differences and inequalities presuppose and often reify the sui generis nature of racial categories. But, as Omi and Winant1 articulated over three decades ago, the concept of race and other intersecting axes of power such as gender and class are products of knowledge projects.2 Our readings will help us better understand how categories used today without much challenge have always been shifting and contested, as they are shaped by intersecting social forces. We hope to explore the relational processes through which categories are created, questioned, and (re)constituted.

Given that categories and identities are historically constructed, we take a historical approach to examining the development of racialization and categorization in modern history. Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents and Linebaugh and Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra will help us ground our thinking in notable discourses and events from the past that have contributed to knowledge projects on race, ethnicity, and indigeneity. We build on these historical analyses with postcolonial texts that provide theoretical apparatuses for recognizing the ways in which empire and settler colonialism establish difference and (re)define categories.

Women of color feminists theorize how race, gender, sexuality, and the nation are co-constituted by intersecting knowledge projects, as well as how women of color, as minoritarian subjects, have questioned and reclaimed categories that have been imposed on them. Similarly, Ethnic Studies is a discipline dedicated to critically analyzing the racialization of people of color of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, centering the histories and experiences of racialized subjects, and unearthing the complex histories and unstable logics that underlie racial categories.

Though marred by epistemological challenges due to the social sciences’ roots in objectivity, sociology has produced useful scholarship on the role of culture, communities, and institutions in the formation of racial categories. Sociological texts will help us think about the power of individual and community agency in shaping discourses and knowledge projects. Queer theory will provide us theoretical tools to question the formation and endurance of racial categories as products of heteropatriarchy. As queer theorists have articulated, the rise of the nation-state, the ensuing nationalism, and the neocolonial propagation of liberal democracies by the West must be scrutinized as tools of creating legible subjects.

These readings combined will encourage us to consider and reflect on how we as scholars can both problematize and reproduce these categories in our own work. This reading group is composed of graduate students from the humanities, social sciences, and STEM, and we hope to bring together the participants’ expertise from their respective disciplines to learn from each other and explore interdisciplinary possibilities in understanding racial categorization.

MEMBERS

Jacqueline Ho—Department of Sociology

Stephen King—Department of English

Jen Liu—Department of Information Science

Becky Lu—Department of English

Juhwan So— Department of Sociology

Kaye Nantah— Department of Sociology

Palashi Vaghela—Department of Information Science

DISPLACEMENTS OF GRAMSCI

Our reading group proposes to examine key critical concepts from the writings of Antonio Gramsci – hegemony, subalternity, war of positions, conjuncture – and how they have been responded to, engaged with, and reimagined by various scholars working in anthropology, sociology, geography, history, political theory and other disciplines. We propose to meet at least ten times over the 2019-2020 academic year: we would spend the first two meetings reading Gramsci, and the subsequent meetings would focus on the various authors who employ and displace Gramscian concepts.

Responding to the troubling, yet sometimes hopeful, global conjunctures in politics today, there has been a resurgent interest in Gramsci’s writings across the political spectrum over the past decade. Scholars and political activists have turned to his work both to challenge established political parties and to make sense of their current dissolution. The reformulation of Gramsci’s ideas, above all in the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, has been cited by left-wing political parties in Europe such as Syriza, La France Insoumise and Podemos. Mouffe herself has employed a Gramscian lens to analyze the rise of counter-hegemonic right-wing populism across the continent; the relative success of these parties, often grouped under the derisive moniker of populism, points to the need to unpack the salience of Gramscian-derived political strategies in the contemporary political moment.

Much work in recent decades in the humanities and the social sciences has also taken up Gramscian analytics of subalternity, hegemony and culture: anthropologists, historians and critical geographers such as Jean & John Comaroff, Allan Pred, Michael Watts, Donald Kurtz, Ranajit Guha, Kate Crehan, Paul Robbins, Wendy Wolford and Riccardo Ciavolella have grappled with – and reformulated – Gramscian concepts in their discussions of power and resistance, especially in relation to state and capital in colonial and neocolonial contexts. In reading these works, we hope not only to explore how scholars from the social sciences and humanities have applied Gramscian conceptual frameworks, but also to trace the ways in which they have displaced and reformulated these frameworks in conversation with the historical conjunctures and political imperatives underlying their work, in the societies they work in.

In particular, Gramsci’s work has had a profound influence on the critical study of race. For one, cultural theorist Stuart Hall has drawn extensively from Gramsci’s notions of hegemony, common sense and conjuncture in his analyses of racism and capitalism, Black ethnicity, and neoliberalism. In the United States, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant have also used the concepts war of maneuver and war of position to develop racial formation theory and to investigate what they call “racial projects.” Moreover, Gramsci’s focus on regional inequality and uneven development has made his thought especially relevant to postcolonial theorists like Ranajit Guha, Gayatri Spivak and Partha Chatterjee, who have written on issues of agency and resistance with regard to political struggles by subaltern groups that are excluded from the hegemonic ruling blocs of postcolonial nation-states. Through reading these critical race studies, postcolonial and Marxist appropriations of Gramsci, we hope to glimpse ways of reimagining solidarities and political futures from multiple positions in the current historical conjuncture.

MEMBERS

Aman Banerji—Department of Development Sociology

Manuel Berduc—Department of History

Michael Cary—Department of Development Sociology

Clare Cororaton—Department of History

Daniel Ferman-Leon—Department of Anthropology

Xinyu Guan—Department of Anthropology

Xavier Robillard-Martel—Department of Anthropology

Ujjainee Sharma—Department of Development Sociology

 

RACE, CAPITALISM, AND TECHNOLOGY

Since the emergence of the colonial modern world-system five hundred years ago, “race” has been a central technology of capitalist exploitation (Quijano). The white European ruling class has deployed racist ideology on the global scale to classify colonized populations and impose its regime of racialized governmentality. Differently classified groups have been subjected to various labor disciplines, from wage labor to degrees of forced labor and enslavement. The policing of gender identity and sexual expressions have also worked as technologies of oppression that supplement and reinforce class and racial divisions (Lugones). In settler colonial societies and other capitalist nation-states, systemic racism is inextricably entangled with structures of gender and class inequality. These overlapping hierarchies are secured not only through the deployment of ideological state apparatus, but also through the use of technologies of finance, healthcare, reproduction, surveillance, policing, war, and incarceration. Thus, the current conjuncture compels us to reflect critically on the concept of racial capitalism and the intersection and co- constitution of race, gender, capitalism and technology.

Our reading group will engage with this intersection and co-constitution by reading and discussing scholarship which both encompasses the broader themes of race, capitalism, and technology, and is informed by our own research agendas. We intend to use the concept of “racial capitalism” as our primary analytic, which defines the modern world system as dependent on colonialism, slavery, genocide, imperialism, and violence. One of our first aims will be to explore how racialization and racial regimes, forged within the old European feudal order, were pretexts and preconditions for the “discovery” and exploitation of the New World (Robinson). From the early voyages of European exploration to the Transatlantic slave trade, we will explore the role of financial instruments and capitalist technologies in subsidizing and underwriting processes of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism (Blackburn). Slavery in the Americas and the Transatlantic world are key areas by which to study both race as a technique of stratification and separation, and the visual, scientific, political and economic technologies which have and continue to uphold and reproduce the structural and lived experiences of racialization and white supremacy.

From biopolitical regimes of the nineteenth century to the contemporary postgenomic era, we will delve into global assemblages constituting human genome mapping projects in Southeast Asia that are deeply interwoven with flows and networks of people, knowledge, data, materials, bodies, and capital. Our readings will reflect on how genomic sciences challenges and/or reconstruct racial and ethnic categories as well as social identities in Asian populations and in the United States. We will then engage with literature on the ways in which the emergence of biotechnology gives rise to new forms of global biocapitalism and biopolitical control.

We will also consider the spatial geographies of capitalism by examining how it has intersected - as well as failed to operate under the strictures of - neoliberal and biopolitical regimes of control to create and shape the carceral state; how race, queerness, and mental illness create bodily vulnerabilities to state projects of rehabilitation and citizen-building through incarceration and segregation; and finally, to situate the history of these processes within longer temporal and geographic movements of capitalism, race, and biotechnology.

MEMBERS

Philippa Chun—Department of English

Pichaya (Mint) Damrongpiwat— Department of English

Daniel Ferman-Leon—Department of Anthropology

Tien Dung Ha—Department of Science and Technology Studies

Jeremy Peschard—Department of History

Xavier Robillard-Martel—Department of Anthropology

Juhwan Seo—Department of Sociology

Bruno Seraphin— Department of Anthropology

 

UTOPIAN DREAMS AND POLITICAL IMAGINARIES

Our reading group takes up utopia as a critical notion – as a space and sensibility for reflexivity of the socio-political present. One possible starting point is the doubled signification that emerges in the etymological genealogy of the word Utopia – first articulated by Thomas More’s book of the same name – as both non-place and good place. In reading Plato alongside Al-Farabi, Bloch alongside Glissant and Munoz, or Lenin alongside Fanon and Bogdanov, we explore, whether, and if so, how this double signification is employed in and by various experiential, conceptual, historical, as well as geo-political settings that give rise to articulations of political utopias, imaginaries and dreams; and what political social and aesthetic imaginaries might emerge when allowing these two seemingly contradictory qualifiers of topology to coIncide in overlapping, converging, coeval and simultaneous ways. Reflective of our collective research projects, we examine such openings from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including political theory, anthropology, critical social theory, Africana studies and philosophy, as well as technological and environmental sciences.

Rather than a mere conversation across disciplinary canons, however, we seek to deploy the particular conceptual frameworks that emerge from these to explore how different cultural productions, such as cinematic, performance, soundscape, literary and artistic instillations, engage and articulate notions of utopia, and instil socio-political imaginaries and dreams in their various audiences. What emerges is an aesthetic engagement with utopia’s related themes. Our viewing of Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Afro-futurist Naked Reality, as well as Haile Gerima’s Sankofa as cinematic engagements with the latter’s philosophical and temporal interweaving of past and future,alongside a reading of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on History, for example, allows for an exploration of the relationship between utopia and the rhythmic movements of the quotidian.

Similarly, our reading of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers, alongside, Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Michelle Commander’s Afro-Atlantic Flight, and Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed probes the relationship between positivism and historicism, to consider how reimagined past connections produce alternate future visions and desires. Finally, a reading of Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s ‘Anthropology and the Savage Slot’ alongside More’s Utopia probes the tension between the material and the imaginary both in historical and creative articulations of utopia. Taken together, it is through our collective cross-disciplinary reading of these various ‘texts’ that we hope to explore, in the spirit of Frederic Jameson, the particular relationships that arise between form and content; material and ephemeral; embodied/corporeal experience and existential experience; the conscious and unconscious; foundational categories of utopia and its presence in political thought, action and praxis across various regions and centuries.

MEMBERS

Zeyad El Nabolsy -- Department of Africana Studies

Daniel Ferman-Leon —Department of Anthropology

Re’ee Hagay—Department of Near Eastern Studies

Esther Schlosser—Department of Government

Lauren Siegel— Department of Africana Studies

Sarah Then Bergh—Department of Africana Studies