2020-2021 Grant Recipients

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Precarity    

Recent work on precarity has theorized it as a mode of existence that emerges in the wake of neo-liberal or millennial capitalism. Thinkers have suggested that new classes such as the Precariat (Standing 2011) emerge in the wake of eroding social welfare systems and a growing ‘gig-economy’. Others have pointed out that rather than being an emergent process, precarity has always characterized informal economies and has been a normative rather than exceptional condition of labour (Millar 2018). Other interventions have moved precarity from the realm of labour and employment to suggest that it is “the politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer…more than others, becoming differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death” (Butler 2009), or more simply, “life without the promise of stability” (Tsing 2015).

This reading group proposes to engage with ideas of precarity and its articulations in political, theoretical, cultural, and disciplinary spaces. We bring with us training in fields like information science, development sociology, anthropology, romance studies, literary studies, and critical theory to question how precarity is named, who is deemed precarious, and by whom. We ask how people, communities, histories, or polities are rendered precarious. What modes of analysis and scholarly, literary or institutional interventions produce or recognize precarious subjects? What are the terms in which precarity is defined and who wields the power latent in these acts of definition? How do we navigate acts of refutation or resistance as we acknowledge the tensions between structure and agency as precarity manifests itself? And, most importantly, what work is done to alleviate or refute the violence propagated through the expansion of conditions of precarity and how do we undertake such work ourselves?

In the wake of increasingly precarious conditions—we are living through a pandemic, deeply inequitable governance and fascism in various parts of the world, and climate crisis—these questions are urgent. We have compiled a variety of sources and texts including novels, poetry, ethnography, theory, cinema, music, and history to help us adequately address these questions. We look to work that discusses how conditions of precarity, disenfranchisement and marginalization are refuted, vociferously, through the tracking of movements such as the NoDAPL movement (Estes 2019), the creation of regenerative archival practices (Hartman 2019), and the radical reimagining of futurity (Tsing 2015, Marez 2016).

In all this, we read whilst being keenly aware of our own position within the university. We are workers who are facing precarious work conditions and more precarious futures, we are scholars deriving our politics by being precarious within institutions and studying up, and we are researchers who occupy institutional spaces that can reproduce and work at the expense of precarious communities and populations. We turn to Lauren Berlant, Fred Moten, Stefano Harney, and la paperson to engage critically with the types of spaces that universities offer—often “a place of refuge” but not always a “place of enlightenment” (Moten and Harney 2013).

Members

Trishna Senapaty — Department of Anthropology

Mary Jane Dempsey — Department of Romance Studies

Kun Huang — Department of Comparative Literature

Palashi Vaghela — Department of Information Science

Xavier Robillard-Martel — Department of Anthropology

Krithika Vachali — Department of English Literature

Stephanie Enloe — Department of Development Sociology

Sampreety Gurung — Department of Anthropology

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Knowledge of Bodies/Bodies of Knowledge

This reading group proposes an examination of different practices of knowledge-making about bodies through a broad interdisciplinary lens. We ask how social, political and scientific forces have produced new visions and experiences of corporeality, and how present crises as well as imaginations of the future raise new questions concerning human and non-human embodiment. Through engagement with a corpus of texts in the history and anthropology of the body, disability studies, queer theory, media studies, and feminist science and technology studies, we will explore how paradigmatic shifts in the sciences, changing flows in the circulation of people and capital, and public health crises have produced modern modes of bodily inhabitation.

We intend to approach the study of bodily knowledge through three analytical lenses, beginning by examining the ways in which the laboring body has been evaluated, monitored and managed. European scholars like Marx, Foucault, and Rabinbach have shown how eighteenth-century advances in the state management and the sciences conceived of the body as both a machine for laboring and site for biopolitical interventions. We intend to ask how such bodily knowledge was recast in the wake of colonial encounters and the transatlantic slave trade through engaging with the work of Frantz Fanon, Saidiya Hartman, Alexander Weheliye, Jennifer Morgan and other scholars who have examined how categories of racial and gendered difference were key to the construction of ideologies that asserted the superiority of certain bodies while also justifying capitalism and colonialism as systems of (re)production.  From there we will move to an examination of imaginaries of corporeal spaces: how havevarious actors dreamt up spaces for bodily inhabitation and worked to bring them about? Thisanalysis will engage with a broad swathe of work from various fields, from Allen Feldman’s analysis of how the bodies of prisoners both express and resist structures of domination, to the ambiguous heterotopias envisioned in Samuel Delany’s speculative fiction, as well as the real and imagined environments constructed to ensure bodily survival in the face of climate change,epidemic disease, and other disasters. How do visions of future corporeal space index and become imbricated within contemporary moral and political contestations? And how do they relate to the practices by which one might, as Michelle Murphy has put it, “build yourself a body in a safe space?”

The final analytical lens we propose addresses readings in the area of bodily intimacies that examine how conditions of toxicity, disability and contagion unsettle traditional conceptions of the body. How have acts like sex, suffering and consumption become sites for the emergenceof what Alexis Shotwell calls an “embodied ethics”? Concepts like Mel Y. Chen’s notion of the“queer productivity” of viruses and toxins are of particular importance to our reading group’s interests, especially given the context of the COVID-19 crisis which we all now inhabit. How do bodies in containment and quarantine induce their own queer socialites and even pleasures? Asking such questions are of vital importance at a time in which new forms of mediated intimacy and care are emerging in response to the physical distancing of bodies.

Members

Catherine Coyle — Department of Science and Technology Studies

Amanda Domingues — Department of Science and Technology Studies

 Faridah Laffan — Department of Science and Technology Studies

Jason Ludwig — Department of Science and Technology Studies

Alexander Matika — Department of Anthropology

 Donny Persaud — Department of Science and Technology Studies

Rogelio Scott-Insúa — Department of Anthropology

Victoria Pihl Sørense — Department of Performing and Media Arts

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Culture and Imperialism

“The enterprise of empire,” writes Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism, “depends upon the idea of having an empire… and all kinds of preparations are made for it within a culture; then in turn imperialism acquires a kind of coherence, a set of experiences, and a presence of ruler and ruled alike within the culture.” Taking this text as our central object, this reading group proposes to ask: how are cultural formations created and how were they reshaped by political projects that we call imperialist? How does imperialism constellate this otherwise disparate group of practices and objects that come under the sign of “culture”? To what extent are different ideologies and technologies of empire generative of different cultural forms? In our attempt to answer these questions, we intend to spend our first few sessions reading Culture and Imperialism closely, before spending subsequent sessions examining other works that contextualize and tackle problematics similar to those that Said laid out.

Given the interdisciplinary commitments of our reading group, we intend to consider these questions from the perspective of different theoretical, historical, and geographical orientations. In part, this involves examining cultures of imperialism invarious colonial territories, including colonies in Africa (through Achille Mbembe, Bronwen Everill, and Frederick Cooper), in the Pacific Rim (through Rey Chow and Shumei Shih), and also among diasporic populations (through Engseng Ho). This vast geographical scope is intended to displace canonical genealogies of postcolonial theory, which privileges the Subaltern Studies Collective whose theoretical formulations are focalized through the British imperial experience in South Asia. How, in other words,does the location from which one theorizes shape the kinds of knowledge produced about empire? Another spatial dimension that our reading group considers is how imperialism shaped cultural formations at the imperial core. Thinkers that place emphasis on the metropole as a product of its imperial hinterlands include Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall (and other scholars in the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies), and Elizabeth Buettner, along with scholars of U.S. empire such as Victoria de Grazia and David Ekbladh.

Beyond our consideration of the variegated spatial dimensions of empire’s entanglements with cultural formations, this reading group will consider how different temporal locations influence the ways that empire is theorized. In other words, we seek to explore how critical theories of empire shift over time. How do thinkers appropriateand refashion the Gramscian concept of hegemony? To this end, we will read theorists like Perry Anderson, Frederic Jameson and Roberto Dainotto, and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, alongside selections from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, in order to track the shifting grounds on which “culture” is constructed in relation to imperial power.  Such attention to multiple spatial and temporal positions from which to theorize culture and imperialism, we believe, will allow us to resituate our own disciplinary and theoretical commitments in relation to these texts, and to rethink the forms and the boundaries of “culture” in contemporary imperial formations.

Members

Pei-Si Chao — Department of History or Art and Visual Studies

Ayesha Matthan — Department of History or Art and Visual Studies

Aimée Plukker — Department of History

Radwa Saad — Department of Africana Studies

Darren Wan — Department of History

Tsuguta Yamashita — Department of Asian Studies

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 Cultural Cold War in the Global South

In Hollywood's Cold War (2007) Tony Shaw argues that “In the battle for mass opinion in the Cold War, few weapons were more powerful than the cinema.” Shaw’s critique reflects a cultural turn in Cold War studies, in which scholarship has moved beyond the political history of the Cold War and its prior framing in a bi-polar structure. Emerging narratives in Cold War studies pay closer attention to an imagined aspect of the phenomenon and the world order that it produced. For instance, Masuda Hajimu proposes to see the Cold War as “a fantasy of the Cold War world,” which, nonetheless, defined the local reality, including that of the Korean peninsula, the object of his analysis. Another new trajectory in the scholarship is an unfolding of the Cold War beyond the USA-USSR divide. In that spirit, Tuong Vu and Wasana Wongsuravat examine the dynamics of the Cold War in Asia; Natasa Miskovic, Harald Fischer-Tine, and Nada Boskovska study the global non-aligned movement, and Atreyee Gupta explores the aesthetics of that movement in modern art.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the Cold War remains insufficiently theorized from the Global South vantage point. That is particularly so in the field of cultural theory and visual culture. With this gap in mind, our reading group seeks to explore existing texts and advance our thinking on the cultural Cold War in the Global South. We aim to bring an interdisciplinary group of students coming from history, art history, and area studies. Together, we will debate and challenge existing narratives coming from our respective fields of study. Our goal is to develop an awareness about the Cold War’s cultural reality across global margins and bring it to a comparative perspective. Overall, we aspire to form a comprehensive understanding of the Cold War in the Global South as it was seen, felt, and made sense of from the local perspective. This reading group will approach academic texts with attention to the trans-local production of culture, aesthetics, and affects of the Cold War.

The group’s suggested reading list starts with a review of foundational texts – surveys of cultural Cold War studies. Further on, we want to familiarize ourselves with scholarship dealing with various locales in the Global South, especially Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Latin America. We will be interested in multiple aspects of the cultural Cold War in these areas – those pertaining to art, cinema, sports, but also religion, notions of time, subjectivity, and agency. Lastly, we believe it is important to explore all directions of cultural exchange that took place in the Global South during the Cold War decades. Historically, the field’s scholarship focused on the singular vector of the USA’s exchange with a specific national or regional entity in the Third World. At the same time, cultural exchanges, for example, within the Second World, pan-Asian aspirations and Japan’s relationship with other Asian nations, or intra-regional flows trespassing ideological blocs remained understudied. Our reading group will seek texts that deal with these trans-local perspectives and specificities to appreciate a more nuanced and decentered reality of Cold War cultural production in the Global South.

Members:

Anna Koshcheeva — Department of Asian Studies

Cristine Florea — Department of History, Faculty

Ksenia Pavlenko — Department of History or Art and Visual Studies

Manuel Berduc —  Department of History

Aimée Plukker — Department of History

Cristine Florea —  Department of History, Faculty

Tsuguta Yamashita — Department of Asian Studies

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 Freedom in Confinement

 Confinement is ubiquitous today. We are all familiar with its suffocating effects, the way  physical and social limitations all too readily translate into a psychology fixated on what it can no longer do, a mind trapped in a nostalgic longing for past freedoms no longer possessed and  further plagued by the anxieties and fears of not knowing when or how we might retrieve them. But nothing about confinement necessarily leads to this situation. On the contrary, the greatest challenge of confinement is finding in its limitations a new sense of freedom. Our proposed reading group, “Freedom in Confinement,” turns to classic literary, political, and psychological texts that not only emerged out of an experience of confinement but testify to the empowering and transformative freedom to be found there. This freedom does not mourn the present in the light of a lost past; it sees in the present the possibility and necessity of imaging a new future.

While we wish to read widely, freely crossing disciplinary boundaries, we also recognize the need to be attentive to the relation between different contexts and situations of confinement and how these specifics affect freedom’s form of expression. That is, why does freedom take the form of fiction in one context and the genre of an autobiography, manifesto, letter, or tract of political theory in another? Why does freedom sometimes find its expression in the experience

 of confinement, while, at other times, it only comes to the fore afterwards?   How does its form change when confinement is submitted to freely as opposed to being forcefully imposed? How does freedom transform when what is at stake is the imaging of a new world without the prejudices of class, as opposed to those of race, gender, and sexual orientation? What happens when freedom tries to find its voice and vision at the intersection of such obstacles?

Drawing on readings from literature, political theory, sociology, art, critical theory, anthropology, critical prison studies, Africana studies, psychology, and feminist studies will allow us to explore these questions from a rich set of perspectives across disciplines and ensure that our understanding of freedom in confinement is as variegated and nuanced as the complex, pluralistic world in which it occurs. That is, we do not simply seek to understand how and why freedom has found expression in confinement in the past. Instead, we look to these examples to find the sources we need today to give expression to new forms of freedom in our own moment  of confinement while avoiding the conceptual traps of anachronism, reductivism, and essentialism. Ours is a moment in which the future cannot be seen and must therefore be imagined. Turning carefully to the past, we ask what of the things that have come before might still be able to travel, to help orient us to the imaginative possibilities that exist all around us, even in confined spaces.

Members

Erik Petrie — Department of Government

Shirley Le Penne — Department of Government

Jaimie Luria — Department of Anthropology

Nicolas Rangel Jurado — Department of Geological Engineering

Liang Yu — Department of Anthropology

Stephanie Xinlei Sha — Department of Anthropology

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Radical Landscapes in the Global Imaginary

Originally published in 1937, C.L.R. James wrote in World Revolution: 1917-1937 that the “most consistent and powerful revolutionary urge in all historical periods [is] the hunger of starving peasants for land.” Yet nearly a century later, the central importance of land for the political and social history of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries remains peripheral to much of the current scholarship in social and political thought. We seek to discuss issues of

(anti)colonial land contestation, property ownership, and various practices of and forms taken up by tending to land .  We keep these issues intentionally open, as we recognize the multitude of shapes  they can take given varying contexts across space and time.

Our goal is to establish an explicitly interdisciplinary space in which to investigate these guiding questions, amongst others: what happens to how we conceive of social and political theory when we center the question of land? What role does land play within the construction of social and political imaginaries of the past and present? In what ways might the examination of land illuminate new dimensions of capital accumulation and development? What is the relationship between gender, sexuality, class, and race and settlement, development, and urban design? In highlighting the contextual importance of these questions, this group seeks to trace the historical formations that have undergirded notions such as equality, globalization, enclosure, development, and especially the notion of the south from the second half of the long nineteenth century to the beginnings of the financialization era in the twentieth century, with landscape as our point of departure.

In this interdisciplinary reading group, we plan to explore themes of land development (from plantation to agricultural farmland, for example) and ecological destruction and preservation through a historical lens that spans the pre-industrial, industrial, post-industrial and financialization periods of capitalist development. Drawing upon a wide range of architectural,anthropological, ethnographic, ecological, historical, literary, sociological, and political theoretical materials, this reading group aims to stimulate generative thought on what it might mean to read land(scape) through dimensions of language, space, and sociopolitical organization.  In doing so, we hope to bring into focus a topology of land’s uses and treatments in a trans-historical context, deepening our understanding of key concepts such as agro-ecology, racial capitalism, climate and the environment, and rural and urban development(s).

Members

Alexia Alkadi-Barbaro — Department of Government

Sarah Coomey — Department of Government

Pauline Limbu — Department of Anthropology

Zifeng Liu — Department of Africana Studies

Zeyad El Nabolsy — Department of Africana Studies

Ecem Saricayir — Department of Architecture

Maria Luisa Palumbo — Department of Architecture

Delilah Griswold — Department of Development Sociology

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