arrow grid linear view icon
The College of Arts Sciences Search

Fall 2018 Course Offerings

You are here

SHUM 4625/6625 Deranged Authority: Culture, Power, and Climate Change

(also ANTHR 4025/7025) 
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
J. Carlson.
M: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

Writing on the eve of the US general election in 2016, Amitav Ghosh’s Great Derangement suggests that the world’s collective failure to meet the challenges of climate change stems from an ongoing crisis of culture and, more fundamentally, of the imagination. While the majority of US citizens agree that global warming is real, for example, this knowledge has not moved them to alter their consumer practices, nor to agitate for increased environmental protections on a broad scale. Meanwhile, climate denialism is on the rise, as are reactionary, rightwing politics in the United States, UK, and Germany. In this context, what are the cultural dynamics through which widely publicized, scientific evidence of climate catastrophe falls flat, failing to catalyze social and political reform? Conversely, how does climate denialism become something that people embrace, even and especially with the awareness that climate change is real? All of these questions point to the ongoing importance of authority for legitimating knowledge and moving social change, as well as the ways in which authority is negotiated amid political fragmentation, widening inequality, and the proliferation of digital public spheres.

This seminar asks what kinds of authority—and specifically environmental authority—inhere in our time of present “derangement.” The course will explore multiple sites at which environmental engagement takes place and the kinds of authority and force that animate these engagements, sometimes at cross-purposes. Some of the questions we will consider are: How do environmental advocates come to believe specific actions are necessary to save the world? How can climate justice efforts better integrate local forms of knowledge and expertise? Additionally, how does climate denialism become something that people vote for? Our discussion will be framed by theories of authority, with particular attention to the distinction between evidence and authority, and the ways in which authority is affectively negotiated. Course readings will explore authorizing processes and expertise with regard to climate change and the environment in a variety of settings, including climate research, popular environmentalist texts, and industry campaigns aimed at obfuscating evidence of ecological collapse. We will also engage ethnographies of local and indigenous “ecoauthority” to become familiar with models for ecological resiliency that do not conform to scientific or “expert” discourses of climate remediation.

At issue here is the way in which authority takes form amid declining social mobility and the commodification of knowledge. More fundamentally, the course moves the question of how our own senses of environmental authority are grounded in ordinary life, shaped by our respective social positions as well as our everyday practices. Considering ecoauthority as a deeply situated, aesthetic phenomenon negotiated in everyday life, how might each of us speak to those who engage the environment by other means than we do, and through other moods?

Jennifer Carlson (A.M., University of Chicago; Ph.D., University of Texas) is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the energy humanities. Her research focuses on the relationship between energy infrastructure, public feeling and environmental action, particularly in the United States and Germany. Her book project Unruly Energies (Duke University Press) shows how sentiment shapes public engagement with—and surprising forms of exclusion from—sustainable development in the Energiewende, a national transition to renewable energy. In addition to lecturing in anthropology at Southwestern University, Jennifer is a visiting research fellow at Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences, and recently held a Carson Writing Fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich.


SHUM 4626/6626 Author, Critic, Reader

(also COML 4621, ENGL 4926)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
J. Elam.
R: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

What does it mean to have a relationship with a work of literature? This course explores three relationships between text and human: one of authorship and authority, one of critique and criticism, and one of consumption and reading. What are the social relationships imagined by each of positions? What are their relations to each other? The course treats each position – author, critic, reader – as both empirical description and theoretical position. Thinkers and writers across the twentieth century have attempted to describe these positions under historical conditions ranging from authoritarianism and imperialism (Kojève, Arendt, Viswanathan) as well as from historical conditions of post-totalitarianism (Nabokov, Said, Barthes). What might it mean to be an authority over a text, as Alexandre Kojève argues? What might it mean to ‘love literature’, as Deidre Lynch asks? Who does a person become when they read, as de Certeau asks? Each section draws on essays, literary theory, and an exemplary novel to illuminate the stakes of these questions, for not only aesthetic theory but also political theory and history in the twentieth century.

J. Daniel Elam is an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. He previously taught in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, and was the Mellon Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow in "Bibliomigrancy" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work focuses on anticolonialism and anti-imperial critique from South Asia at the beginning of the twentieth-century. He is the co-editor (with Kama Maclean and Chris Moffat) of two books on South Asian revolutionary anticolonialism and has published essays in Postcolonial Studies, Interventions, BioScope, and PMLA


SHUM 4627/6627 Disobedience, Resistance, Refusal

(also AMST 4626/6627, GOVT 4626, PHIL 4427/6427)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
A. Livingston.
T: 10:10 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

This course will examine the idea of civil disobedience: its origins, its justification, its limits. Philosophers and legal scholars in the 1960s and 70s sought to defend civil rights and antiwar activism by developing a “theory” of morally-justified law breaking or civil disobedience. The liberal codification of civil disobedience offered a powerful language for justifying illegal protests at the cost of legitimating the idea of a consensual social order bound by a common American creed or constitutional morality. The result was a discourse of civil protest that tamed the radicalism of the civil rights and antiwar movements by obscuring the ways the era’s struggles against inequality, racism, and militarism challenged the very foundations of the American political order.

We will study political theories of civil disobedience in context to examine historical and contemporary perspectives on the meaning and justification of political protest, as well as how transformations in law, economy, and technology are challenging received ways of theorizing civil disobedience and redefining dissent in the twenty-first century. Questions to be considered will include: What are the grounds of legal obedience and when does its authority run out? Do acts of law-breaking undermine or stabilize law’s authority? Does disobedience need to be “civil” in order to be justified or can incivility be a vital expression of dissent? How is the distinction between violence and non-violence politically constructed and contested? How do narratives about the past, like the fables surrounding the civil rights movement, shape political judgments about protest in the present? Should civil disobedience still be the framework we use for theorizing contemporary modes of protest or are alternative idioms – like resistance or refusal – available for addressing dissent in an increasingly polarized, globalized, and digitalized world?

Topics to be discussed will include the terms of political obligation, the relationship between law-breaking and law-making, resistance and popular sovereignty, the politics of civility, violence and self-defense, public space and privatization, whistleblowing, the digitalization of protest, and deviance as dissent. Readings will include classical writings on disobedience as well as work by contemporary theorists including John Rawls, Hannah Arendt, Iris Marion Young, Tommie Shelby, William Scheuerman, Robin Celikates, Candice Delmas, Danielle Allen, Juliet Hooker, and Judith Butler.

Alexander Livingston is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government. His research focuses on topics in American political thought, democratic theory, and political ethics. His first book, Damn Great Empires! William James and the Politics of Pragmatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), examines William James’s role in debates about U.S. imperialism at the turn of the century to show how pragmatism developed as a political response to the crises of authority and sovereignty driving the expansion of American power. He is currently writing a book on the genealogy of civil disobedience and the politics of nonviolence in the civil rights and antiwar movements.  

His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as American Political Science ReviewPolitical TheoryContemporary Political TheoryTheory & Event, HumanityContemporary Pragmatism, and Philosophy and Rhetoric, edited volumes including A Political Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as Jacobin Magazine. Livingston teaches courses in the areas of American political thought and philosophy, activism and disobedience, theories of nonviolence, contemporary critical theory, and the history of political thought. Before coming to Cornell, he was a Social Science and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University (2011-2013). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.


SHUM 4628/6628 Authority and Anonymity: Historical Reflections on a Historically Variable Relationship

(also HIST 4628/6628)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
A. McKenzie-McHarg.
M: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

How does authority operate under conditions of anonymity? The proposed course is made up of four modules that draw upon a variety of sub-disciplines within modern historiography in exploring various permutations of the relationship between anonymity and authority.

(i) Pre-Print Text: Under current conditions, authorship bestows authority upon the author in commenting and elaborating upon the text in question. Yet the relationship was not always configured in this manner. Because in pre-print culture textual production was not framed as the creative act of an individual, texts were often linked not to their actual authors but to the authority under whose intellectual influence they were written.

(ii) Print Text: In print culture the author became a bibliographical category. On this basis, authorial attribution became an important worksite in the protracted task of ordering the house of knowledge; every text, even if originally produced under historically different circumstances, can theoretically be assigned an author. And yet there were important—and highly contested—deviations from this principle. In particular, opinions differed on whether criticism became more effective or merely more irresponsible when practised anonymously.

(iii) Post-Print Text: This module draws out the contemporary relevance of issues explored in the course. Recent trends have heightened our awareness of the challenges in establishing authoritative sources of information within a digital environment largely characterized by bidirectional social media and almost instantaneous dissemination of information.

(iv) Beyond the Text: Anonymity is not only a textual phenomenon. Its nontextual forms include masked balls, the practice of travelling incognito, tombs of unknown soldiers and therapy groups for treating addiction. The focus in this module will fall upon those practices tied to authority such as bureaucracy, a form of impersonal social regulation whose essence Hannah Arendt described as “rule by nobody” and whose absurdities Franz Kafka explored in his fiction.

Andrew McKenzie-McHarg is a historian based at the University of Cambridge whose research interests extend from early modern forms of anti-Jesuit rhetoric to the emergence of the modern disciplines of social science in the twentieth century. He studied at the Free University of Berlin and at the University of Erfurt, where, in addition to writing his PhD, he developed an interest in currents of radical thought in late Enlightenment Germany. Since 2013 he has been a member of the Conspiracy and Democracy Project, a five-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based at CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) at the University of Cambridge. His major output from this project is the book The Hidden History of Conspiracy Theory, which examines the tensions that arise under the conditions of modern, democratically governed societies in which conspiracy theories have been delegitimized by modern social science yet encouraged by trends in democratic politics.


SHUM 4629/6629 On Political Authority and the Power to Expose

(also ANTHR 4029/7029)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
D. Rojas.
T: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

In this interdisciplinary course we will draw on literature from the fields of critical theory, architectural theory, and cultural anthropology to critically study a notion that informs much current political thinking: humans are unique in their capacity to transform natural “exteriors” indifferent to human life into “interiors” in which human needs and wants can be satisfied and political actions advanced. Contemporary notions of political authority, as we will see in the first part of our course, often appeal to certain humanist architectonics. Rulers are sometimes described as legitimate authorities given their mastery of the uniquely human capacity to construct interior spaces that, by sheltering humans from the inclemency of exterior realms, make it possible for culture and reason to flourish.

The second theme we will address involves imperial topologies established on the basis of the exterior/interior opposition. We will examine how territories that since the sixteenth century had been framed as exterior to European law were addressed by imperial projects as open to appropriation. This nomos of the earth (as Carl Schmidt has described it) carries the potential for remaking the globe into an anomic orb in which the interiority of law cannot be set apart from the authoritarian exteriority of force.

Our third theme of concern will be movements of incorporation fueled by the exterior/interior opposition. We will examine “apparatuses” composed of schools, hospitals, prisons, and other such sites which extend over peoples and territories with paradoxical results: their intensifying sway brings human and non-human lives within the sphere of politics while simultaneously exposing the sphere of politics to self-sacrificial wagers.

Our fourth and final theme will involve political projects that, in a context of ecological destruction at a planetary scale, seek to recompose human/nonhuman relations by cultivating modes of care and attention that may be practiced while enduring exposures—rather than within the security of stable shelters.

David Rojas is an Assistant Professor in the Latin American Studies Program at Bucknell University. Since 2009 he has pursued multi-sited ethnographic research in Brazilian Amazonia and United Nations Environmental Forums in collaboration with smallholder farmers and environmental scientists who are involved in emerging climate policy approaches. He studies how his collaborators, peasants, and scientists who live and work immersed in mass-scale ecological devastation, struggle to establish novel relations between humans and nonhumans in an effort to endure increasingly inhospitable environments. A cultural anthropologist by training, he is interested in creativity amidst widespread destruction, generosity in times of mass extinction, and hope for the future in anticipation of impending ruin. For his more recent research, he has joined forces with a grassroots peasant organization which gathers Amazonian smallholders who seek to make their family farms into settings in which humans and nonhumans may transform environmental wreckage into spaces of ecological recomposition. Results of his work have been published in Geoforum, Political and Legal Anthropology Review—PoLAR and the edited volume Anthropology and Climate Change: From Encounters to Actions, among others.


SHUM 4630/6630 Recognition, Abjection, and State Ideology

(also ANTHR 4130/7130)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
K. Yamamoto-Hammering.
R: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

“Recognition, Abjection, Ideology” introduces seminal theorizations of modern state power with reference to ethnographic texts that focus both on the formation of national subjectivity and social exclusion. While the course examines relations between capitalism, ideology, and the effectivity with which states today employ techniques of recognition to produce a body of national subjects, willing to give themselves for the nation, it likewise addresses the abjection of marginalized social groups and the ways in which such groups maintain their own socialities. On this note, there are two objectives to the course. On the one hand, it seeks to provide students with a set of theoretical tools with which to analyze and explicate the normative force of modern state ideologies. The course itself undertakes analyses of rituals and embodiments of state rhetoric, be they online or in the immediacy of the everyday. On the other hand, it seeks to enable an ethnographic imagination of socialities which contemporary state ideologies expel from general sociality. To this end, the course explores the relation of such marginalized socialities to the state, and considers the ways in which state ideologies, and particularly fascism, necessitates the expulsion of differences from the social body. Course assignments ask that students integrate theoretical and ethnographic readings with habitual writings, be it as a meditation on assigned texts or as an ethnographic application to our everyday lives. In the spirit of anthropology, the course is emphatically designed to enable the identification of similarity across difference, and thus asks students to apply readings to contexts close to home.

Klaus Yamamoto-Hammering’s research and ethnographic writing focuses on current issues relating to the effectivity and failures of statist discourse in the context of Japan. Among other topics, he have written of: the refusal by public school teachers to stand for and sing the national anthem; hate speech by the so-called “internet right-wing”; the demand for violent revolution by the “radical left”; the aftermath of “Fukushima,” social disintegration, and suicide; and the marginalization of construction workers in the vanishing day laborer district of Tokyo, Sanya. Using critical theory, he is invested both in explicating techniques through which the state produces obedient subjects, and in facilitating an ethnographic imagination of socialities expelled from general society.


SHUM 6308 Spatial Tensions: Mapping Global Spatio-politics Through China

(also ARCH 6408, ARCH 6509, ASIAN 6630, COML 6308, VISST 6308 )
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to successful applicants.
A. Bachner and L. Lok.
T: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

China has become the exemplar of contemporary changes in how we imagine, manipulate, and construct space: an uncontested center of global signature architecture as well as a challenge to population management and urban planning, a forerunner in massive infrastructure projects as well as a battlefield against environmental problems on a planetary scale. Contemporary space is becoming increasingly subject to control—thanks to precise mapping, planning, and simulation technologies—even as it is traversed by forces that are increasingly difficult to control, such as massive migratory flows and environmental disasters. This course thinks through the spatial tensions inherent in contemporary Chinese cities through interdisciplinary lenses to study how urbanization transforms spatial and social structures in a context of globalization. It views space as an interface in which the lines between spatial imaginaries and ideologies on the one hand and the concrete policing, shaping, and construction of space on the other have become blurred.

As such, to reflect on the question of how to think spatio-politcally and how we can put concrete insights on-site and conceptual frameworks into critical and productive dialogue, we will move between different scales of analysis: between the material and the conceptual, between the global and the locally specific. Chongqing—the site of the week-long field trip that is part of the seminar—will serve as a case study. Built on mountains and situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Yangtze and the Jialing, Chongqing is a geographically compelling as well as an urbanistically complex city. One of the largest cities in the world with 30 million residents, Chongqing’s central core is a multi-ground city stratified into vertical urban layers while its metropolitan area is surrounded with mostly rural landscape. The region experienced massive spatial and demographic transformations shaped by large-scale infrastructural projects such as the Three Gorge Dam. Our exploration of the spatial tensions within the unique geographic, urban, infrastructural, and cultural context of Chongqing, in comparison with other Chinese (and global) cities will be framed by critically working through the poles of spatial tensions in play, such as urban/rural, surface/depth, water/land, virtual/material, infrastructure/fabric, global/local, construction/destruction, excess/precarity.

The class will travel to Chongqing, China, through a funded week-long field-trip in late September, during which students will get to experience some of the spatial tensions under investigation and meet with local scholars and cultural producers in related fields. In addition to participating in weekly discussions of a wide range of texts and media, students will develop a final project that brings the seminar’s theoretical and analytical tools into dialogue with concrete material in a combination of research and in situ observation.

Call for Applications:

The Fall 2018 Expanded Practice Seminar, “Spatial Tensions: Mapping Global Spatio-politics Through China,” is an innovative traveling seminar for graduate students in the humanities and design disciplines. Expanded Practice Seminars are offered under the auspices of Cornell University’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities grant and are organized by the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the Society for the Humanities.

Selected students receive a $1,500 stipend and a funded, week-long travel program to Chongqing, China, in Fall 2018.

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the Expanded Practice Seminar, a wide range of skills and backgrounds are welcome. Advanced undergraduate students may apply, but preference will be given to students in their first three years of graduate study. Applications require a recent CV and a 500 – 700-word statement of interest describing your background interest in the seminar topic. No letters of recommendation are required. Questions should be directed to Rebecca Elliott (

Applications must be submitted via by May 30, 2018.