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2013-2014 GRADUATE READING GROUP GRANT RECIPIENTS:

CARIBBEAN THEORY

Following what the participants considered a successful and edifying initial year, the Caribbean Theory group hopes to continue meeting in 2013/2014, organized this time around a new special topic: “Strategies of Resistance and Survival.”

If the Caribbean is characterized by a history of genocide of the native peoples, colonial oppression, slavery, and plantation labor, the various forms of resistance engendered by that history equally define it. For the purposes of this reading group our focus will be broad, paying attention to a large variety of forms of resistance, including its violent, political, cultural, and linguistic varieties. In the first year of our reading group, when we dealt with questions of creole and creolization, we focused exclusively on theoretical texts. This year we hope to incorporate into our meetings literary and cultural materials, including novels, poems, visual art, films, music, food, and performance. Our geographic and linguistic focus extends to the Francophone, Anglophone, and Hispanophone Caribbean.

In the second semester, while still looking at specific instances of resistance and survival throughout the Caribbean, we will begin to shift our emphasis from the empirical task of mapping out paths of resistance in the region to asking theoretical questions about the value and limitations an emphasis on resistance has in current postcolonial theory. These discussions will inevitably include a critical engagement with the concept of “writing back,” which has been an important term in postcolonial theory for the last few decades. We will investigate the ways in which this concept has informed the treatment of resistance and survival in postcolonial studies, and we will evaluate its applicability across artistic genres and cultural practices.

As was the case in 2012/13, we hope to meet once every two weeks, this time with the possibility of extra time built in for film screenings or music sessions. We also hope to have at least one event open to the public.

MEMBERS
Honey Crawford, Department of Performing and Media Arts)
Elise Finielz, Department of Romance Studies
Jan Steyn, Department of Comparative Literature
Alex Lenoble, Department of Romance Studies
Neal Allar, Department of Romance Studies

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EXPLORING DIASPORIC CONCEPTS OF BLACKNESS THROUGH THE ARTS

The aim of this reading group is to explore concepts of Blackness across the shifting landscape of time and space that connects African Diasporas as well as how these ideas might manifest in visual, literary, musical, and performative art forms. A term as fluid as the oceans it spans, the idea of Blackness is often imbued with a doctrinal rigidity within individual contexts, thus belying its variability. For instance, historically in the U.S., the “one-drop rule” claimed anyone with African ancestry was Black. In the Francophone Caribbean, Black referred to people of “pure” African descent, while the term Mulatto identified people of European and African descent. In the Hispanic Americas, a variety of definitions exist to describe the varying phenotypes of the population, often to avoid labeling oneself as Black. Furthermore, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., the phrase “Black Power” was coined and it became the rallying cry for social justice movements the world over. In Australia, Aboriginal populations define themselves as Black and in England, South Asian immigrants also call themselves Black, as do the Dalits in India. In fact, in certain communities, the term “Black” has been used to define all non-white people. At the same time, a significant amount of artwork that has sprung out of the Diaspora is either a direct or indirect response to the assault on Black identities resulting from processes and structures of (forced) migration, colonization, and enslavement. Having been subjected to definitions of self from external sources, artists of African descent have often turned to the re-presentation of Blackness.

From the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement to so-called “postblack” art, artists have continually grappled with defining, resisting, and expressing Blackness as well as many other productive challenges that skin color, subject matter, and social dynamics might bring. Likewise, we also hope to contend with these issues by engaging a variety of texts, artists, and theories throughout the upcoming year.

MEMBERS
Honey Crawford
, Department of Performing and Media Arts
Kanitra Fletcher, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies
Aricka Foreman, Department of English
Mariamma Kambon, Department of Art, Architecture, and Planning
Jan Steyn, Department of Comparative Literature
Kimberly Williams, Department of English

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FROM “¡TIERRA Y LIBERTAD!” TO URBANIZACIONALIDADES: LABOR, STATE, AND THE STATELESS IN LATIN AMERICAN URBANIZATION

In 2012, the United Nations reported that Latin America overtook North America as the world’s most urbanized region (UN-Habitat, “The State of Latin American and Caribbean Cities: Towards a new urban transition”). Throughout the 20th century, urbanization has transformed the region’s economy, environment, and social ecology.

Our group proposes to use labor, the state, and the stateless as the heuristic framework through which we will explore urbanization processes in and beyond the city. We aim to challenge the typical conceptions of both the state – often seen as a complete, homogenous national blanket – and labor – generally restricted to traditional industrial sectors and actors. Our project is divisible into two contested and overlapping themes: labor and perpetual state formation, on the one hand, and stateless labor and the informal economy, on the other. These broad themes are essential to understanding urbanization’s fluidity and its permutational effects on Latin America. There has been a great amount of scholarship in recent years on the environment, gender, indigeneity, and labor radicalism. We seek to put these works into the larger context of urbanization and the always incompleteness of state formation. Thus, we will demonstrate how urbanization has been a long-term social process in Latin America, constantly in dialogue with the environment, politics, and non-urban spaces. Theoretically, our group will filter topics of urbanization, labor, and the state through questions of structure and agency, on the one hand, and cultural imperialism and Latin American modernity, on the other.

In our section on labor and state formation, we will focus on several themes. Through scholars such as Daniel James, Thomas Miller Klubock, and John French, we will explore the state’s fluidity and labor’s centrality in state formation, nationalism, and dictatorship. Beyond the city, Myrna I. Santiago’s work – The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1938 – will provide us with an environmental perspective on urbanization and the global industrial economy’s effects on land and labor.

While labor was essential to shaping many Latin American states in the 20th century, extra-state forms of labor and everyday life were equally fundamental to 20th century urbanization in the region. Using works by scholars such as Dona Guy and Barbara Weinstein will illuminate topics of non-state labor and gender while underscoring the centrality of unregulated labor sectors in the state’s social and cultural imagination. Kirk Shaffer, Edilene Toledo, Luigi Biondi, and others will allow us to examine transnational anarchism across Latin America and the broader Atlantic world. Lastly, Nancy Scheper-Hugher’s book, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, is one example in our quest to explore the intersections of poverty, the family, and violence in urbanization processes.

MEMBERS
Joseph C. Bazler
, School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Paulo E. Ferreira de Souza Marzionna, School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Kyle Harvey, Department of History
Walter Omar Manky Bonilla, School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Geraldine Yvonne Monterroso, Department of Romance Studies
Joshua Savala, Department of History

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INDIGENIZING SOVEREIGNTY: NATIVE CHALLENGES TO MODERN THOUGHT

The reading group’s aim is to reflect on the ways the concept of sovereignty, as an effectively modern idea, may operate – or fail to do so – in the context of indigenous modernities. These modernities often resist characteristics attributed to modernity at large, such as being anthropocentric, individualist, state‐based, or centered around social and political hierarchies. Indigenous modernities therefore render these essential ideas behind sovereignty as well as the status of the term itself ambivalent. We would like to begin our discussions by exploring the European “origins” of the notion of sovereignty and the later critiques that challenge the general validity of the term. Thus, the questions that we pose are: how do indigenous people adapt sovereignty to fit their interests? Is sovereignty as a model of autonomous governance applicable for the creation and sustainment of modern Native nations and political communities?

Since indigenous sovereignty is typically defined by a circumscribed state of autonomy that is dominated by other, more powerful sovereign assertions, we are interested in looking at infringements on indigenous sovereignty. In this context, questions regarding the authority and imposition of legal and state systems, as well as the impact of international law and neoliberal economies will be particularly important. This sort of legal encroachment on sovereignty is, for instance, exemplified by the federally recognized Native American tribes’ legal status of constituting “domestic, dependent nations” to the federal U.S. government (30 U.S. 1 (1831)). Therefore, we see it as an important part of our project to explore the abrogation of certain assertions of American Indian sovereignty through the construction of U.S. federal Indian law as a corpus, a process that largely took place in the course of the 19th century.

Lastly, we will look at assertions of indigenous sovereignty. Since indigenous epistemologies and cultures are so radically different from traditional Western thought, we would like to consider possibilities of cultural sovereignty and cultural revitalization inherent in this dissimilarity. This perspective on the concept will help us think about the ways culture and epistemology act as significant forces in the assertion of political sovereignty. Further, we will explore this impact of culture and epistemology in international social movements as they occur for instance in Chiapas, Mexico and in Bolivia and the ways these claims to sovereignty have been productive in terms of self‐governance and recuperation of previously privatized lands. Moreover, we would like to consider how these sorts of movements can be read with and against other contemporary movements across the globe (e.g. Canada, U.S.A., Finland, Tibet, etc.) as well as how global indigenous modernities might be permitted or constrained in certain ways by claims of sovereignty that are both alike and dissimilar from Western assertions of the same. We hope that looking at these particular cases of political and cultural indigenous sovereignty in a comparative manner might help expand, question, or even further undermine the underlying definitions of sovereignty and help reconsider the state of global modernities.

MEMBERS
Daniel Radus
, Department of English
Emily Hong, Department of Anthropology
Emily Levitt, Department of Anthropology
Kianga Lucas, Department of Anthropology
Lauren Alex Harmon, Department of English
Lena Krian, Department of English
Mariangela Jordan, Department of Anthropology
Namgyal Tsepak, Department of Anthropology
Ting Hui Lau, Department of Anthropology

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POLITICAL ECOLOGIES

Since December 2012, graduate students from the development sociology, natural resources, anthropology, and government departments have been meeting biweekly to discuss both foundational and newer, innovative texts in the broad field of political ecology. Our primary motive has been to develop an explicitly interdisciplinary forum in which to address political ecology’s central concern: an unraveling of the political forces at work in environmental access, management, and transformation. Our secondary goals include creating productive connections with colleagues in multiple departments, gaining a broader understanding of the ways in which the "field" of political ecology is understood in various disciplines, and making a space for constructive critique of one another's work.

We are driven by recognition that the questions raised in political-ecological scholarship are vitally relevant to broader issues of our contemporary moment. In a time marked by burgeoning discussions around the question of anthropogenic climate change and state shifts in the structure and functions of ecosystems, it is important that we turn our critical scholarly attention to the ways in which resources are (de)politicized, (mis)appropriated, and (re)imagined. Political ecology seeks to transcend human/nature dichotomies to propagate a study of “socio-natures,” drawing on insights from across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In so doing, it proposes a new set of questions: How do the sciences, “social” and “natural,” articulate contemporary socio-ecological dilemmas? How do we attend to material realities that shape people’s material, embodied lives in a world suffused with conversation about, and concern over, ecological crisis? Can critical interdisciplinary scholarship provide productive directions in which to focus existent and emerging practical, political energies for socio-ecological change?

By convening a group of critical scholars from across the schools at Cornell for the study of political ecology, we suggest that the answer to the final question posed here is "yes.” The opportunity to continue our work together with support through the ICM will allow us to deepen our engagement with the variety of approaches presented in the field of political ecology. Through this group we hope not only to have a forum for fomenting vigorous discussion and supporting one another's critical scholarship; we also hope to be able to strengthen collaborations within the university in support of reaching out to a wider audience of graduate students, professors, and the public through various opportunities such as colloquia and public forums on political-ecological themes. Support from the ICM will reinforce our efforts to make more meaningful and material cross-disciplinary collaboration, allowing us to address with our exploration of political ecology such urgent subjects as how to imagine, maintain, or create the possibility for a livable future.

MEMBERS
Youjin Chung
, Department of Development Sociology
Darragh Hare, Department of Natural Resources
Tim McLellan, Department of Anthropology
Elizabeth Plantan, Department of Government
Kasia Paprocki, Department of Sociology
Murodbek Laldjebaev, Department of Natural Resources

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RETHINKING MULTIPLICITY

In the Meditation One of Being and Event, Alain Badiou delineates the reciprocal determination of the one and the multiple as “a priori conditions of any possible ontology”, or rather, as “a priori conditions of” constructing and deconstructing any ontology (23). Our reading group takes this formulation as a point of departure in approaching to the question of one modernity or multiple modernities. We believe that in order to tackle the problematic of multiple modernities, it is necessary to begin with a further elucidation of the notions of the one and multiple. To this date, there have been many critical engagements with the formula of one or global modernity; however, what has been altogether neglected or perhaps only peripherally considered is the origin of the very question at hand: what is to be understood by the concepts of one and multiple? In this context, we think that these notions require a radical and profound rethinking.

Central to this rethinking is the idea of space and time. Therefore, the thesis we set forth is that the notion of multiplicity is relative and contingent upon space and time. By basing our conception of multiplicity on the idea that “multiplicity…is topological” (Deleuze 14), the reading group we propose to the Institute for Comparative Modernities basically aims at the topological examination and reassessment of the notion of multiplicity in conjunction with the structuration of power. In order to pursue this task, we will examine various theoretical conceptions of the singular/local and universal/global with a particular focus on the relationship between space-time and structure.

To identify the ways by which space and time determine the structuration of power, we will turn to architecture both as a philosophical and material practice. As a philosophical practice, the primary purpose of the philosophical architectonics is to examine the topological structure of thought by formulating ideas as spatial and temporal entities. Conceiving of the ideas as spatial and temporal movements posits the matter of truth as the problematic of space and time. In this regard, we will explore the problematic of space and time, and theoretically determine its relation to the notions of the singular/local and universal/global through a selection of works by Gilles Deleuze, Henri Lefebvre, Leslie Jayae Kavanaugh, Claudia Brodsky Lacour, Elizabeth Grosz, Kojin Karatani, Michael Warner, Bernard Cache, David Harvey, Lauren Berlant, Alain Badiou, Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, and Henri Bergson.

In Deleuze`s topology, Ideas are conceived of as singularized structures whose exposition is evental: “Singularities are ideal events” (97). Similarly, Badiou examines singularities in conjunction with the notion of the event: “the category of event is central, because it supports, envelops, dynamizes the category of singularity” (56). Both Deleuze and Badiou delineate the truth of ideas with regard to their local and global ex-positions by defining ideas as site-specific or situational occurrences. The works by these authors will provide us with a broad range of points of reference to employ these theoretical frameworks to examine the interaction between singular/local and universal/global manifestations of artworks and events. As a group, our primary objective is to analyze media-specific discourse such as architectural, cinematic and theatrical media in transnational contexts by grounding our argument on the aforementioned theoretical frameworks.

MEMBERS
Gokhan Kodalak
, History of Architecture and Urban Development Program
Maayan Wayn, Department of Performing and Media Arts
Ozum Hatipoglu, Department of Performing and Media Arts
Stephen Low, Department of Performing and Media Arts
Wah Guan Lim, Department of Asian Studies
Whitten Overby, History of Architecture and Urban Development Program

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