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Spring 2019 Course Offerings

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SHUM 4631/6631 The Constitution of Political Authority

Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
A. Eisenberg.
R: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

Political authority is often cast in terms of the legitimate power of the state and assessed on the basis of whether state authority is stable, extends too far (authoritarianism and fascism) or not far enough (libertarianism and anarchism). This seminar considers some new directions in thinking about political authority that focus on non-state groups including Indigenous communities, corporations, religious associations and universities. It considers ways in which political authority today is plural, contested, relational, and enacted through practice. We begin by considering some classical treatments of political authority by Sophocles, Weber and Arendt alongside the 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here about the election of an authoritarian candidate to the presidency. We then explore how state authority is enacted or performed at borders and in courtrooms. These ‘performances’ call attention to the precarious nature of absolute state authority, which is also a central theme in Sophocles’s Antigone. The seminar then turns to consider the presence of plural authorities by examining the authority of Indigenous communities over lands and resources, the nature of corporate control over workers, the authority of religious groups to follow ethical perspectives that violate public values and the authority of universities to censor speech. Finally, we consider the ways in which particular practices underlie political authority and can contribute either to crises of authority or human flourishing.

Avigail Eisenberg is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Victoria in British Columbia. She specializes in political theories of diversity and political pluralism in the history of political thought and has published monographs on each of these subjects: Reasons of Identity (2009) and Reconstructing Political Pluralism (1995). She also has written extensively about the relation between the state and religious minorities, Indigenous peoples, and national minorities with a particular focus on Canada. She has held fellowships at Hebrew University, Université de Montréal, and the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio. Her recent scholarship and teaching interests include dissent and resistance, democratic communication, and reconciliation. She is currently researching and writing a book on pluralist understandings of political authority drawing on examples of authority claims made by Indigenous communities, religious groups, and business corporations.

 

SHUM 4632/6632 Emperors, Kings, and Warlords: Political Legitimacy at the End of the Ancient World

(also CLASS 4602, HIST 4632/6632, MEDVL 4632/6632)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
D. Fernández.
T: 10:10 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

This seminar will focus on the transition between the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages from the perspective of political legitimacy. As the symbolic and institutional frameworks of the Western Roman empire crumbled during the fifth century, new alternatives emerged in the so-called barbarian kingdoms. Traditional narratives emphasize the transition from ancient models of authority directly to Germanic and/or Christian rulership. This seminar will challenge narratives of straightforward transformation and discuss the creativity of rulers, intellectuals, and common people in their ideas on legitimate political authority during this neglected period. Ethnicity, religion, gender, and other categories informed the construction of legitimate rulership as well as dissidence and resistance. This seminar will therefore focus on the notions of rebel, usurper, and rebellion during this period.

Discussion of late antique notions of legitimate authority have much to contribute to debunking inaccurate references to this period, most recently by far-right political groups. Contemporary ethno-nationalist discourse has embraced the medieval period as a golden age society led by a white, warrior elite with simple values. This course will provide students with a critical toolbox of historical analysis that emphasizes the period’s cultural and intellectual diversity. It will also show how discourses on legitimate and illegitimate authority were used as tools of oppression and resistance, challenging rose-tinted portrayals of the period.

The seminar will build upon a discussion of primary sources in translation. The professor will provide historical contextualization; thus, no prior knowledge of ancient or medieval history or languages is required. Texts will be organized chronologically but also thematically, to reflect the wealth of themes related to discourses on political authority. We will cover traditional topics associated with late-antique male rulership, namely ethnicity, military identity, religious sanction, and wealth redistribution. But we will also devote particular attention to themes beyond traditional kingship, such as queenship, informal political authority, infant rulers, and portrayals of rulers’ sexuality.

Damián Fernández is an Associate Professor of History at Northern Illinois University. He received his BA in History from the University of Buenos Aires and pursued his graduate studies at the University of British Columbia (MA in Religious Studies) and Princeton University (PhD in History). Damián Fernández’s previous research focused on the social history of the Iberian Peninsula during Late Antiquity. His book, Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, 300-600 C.E. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), examines the relationship between socio-economic elites and state authority during the transition between the Roman Empire and the so-called barbarian kingdoms. His next book will trace the history of ideas on rebellion in the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo, the polity that succeeded the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula before the Muslim conquest of 711. By analyzing the literature on rebellion, the book will argue that ideas on rebel-hood contributed to defining post-Roman government around the notion of “order” (political, military, and cosmic). Damián Fernández is also working on a translation and commentary of the Liber Iudiciodum or Visigothic Code, a seventh-century compilation of laws issued by Visigothic kings.

 

SHUM 4633/6633 Following

(also PHIL 4433/6433)
Spirng. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
K. Manne.
T: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

Since Stanley Milgram‘s famous experiments on obedience to authority conducted in the early 1960s, and arguably long before that, it‘s been clear that the majority of people are unreliable judges of who to obey, who to follow, and who to treat as moral authority figures. (The corresponding epistemic problem of who to believe, who to listen to, and who to regard as an expert or an authority on some intellectual subject, is the primary focus of my research proposal.)

This advanced seminar would begin by considering the nature and bases of a mistaken sense of moral obligation to follow someone‘s lead, either because one falsely takes oneself to owe them obedience as such, or because one erroneously treats them as a source of superior moral insight. We will also consider the ways in which agents might muster resistance (both individually and collectively) to such illicit moral demands, and/or reorient to the commands and commanders which genuinely deserve our allegiance.

We will then explore questions about the epistemology and metaphysics of genuine or licit moral authority, which is at least partly a matter of issuing, and not contradicting, independently valid moral requirements. Among other classic metaethical possibilities, we will consider a source of basic moral constraints which I moot in some of my work in metaethics: viz., that a vulnerable, embodied subject‘s will makes authoritative demands on the agents suitably positioned to respond by doing as bidden (if only inchoately or implicitly), and to refrain from acting in ways which they protest against (if only inwardly and silently), all else being equal. I also propose to discuss the subsequent possibility of what I call a democracy of the body, as opposed to one based purely on voting and conscious deliberation. The imperatival nature of complex visceral distress states, such as hunger and humiliation, may be further topics.

 

SHUM 4634/6634 Museums in the History of Capitalism

(also ARTH 4720/6720, BSOC 4634, HIST 4634/6634, STS 4634/6634)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
J. Ratcliff.
T: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

This course considers the place of collecting practices in the history of capitalism. It explores the economic dimension of the emergence of the modern museum as a site of cultural and scientific authority. The birth of the modern museum is often dated to the collecting and classification impulses of the Enlightenment and the early nineteenth century, or to the formation of new national identities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this course we will reconsider the role that museums have played in the sciences and state formation by placing the culture and politics of collections alongside their status as economic objects. Collections have functioned as both repositories of wealth and as potential sites of capital investment or wealth generation. How does the economics of museums matter to our understanding of museums as institutional repositories of cultural and scientific authority? We will consider potential answers to this question by way of a range of case studies investigating the varied roles that economic interest has played in shaping the history of collecting.  Chronologically, the course will range from the trade in curiosities for early modern cabinets to the corporate investment in blockbuster exhibitions of the present day. Geographically, we focus on collections in Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and will also draw important lessons from the global trade in goods and artifacts and recent attempts to regulate that trade.

 

SHUM 4635/6635 Authority and Anti-Authority: Kafka and Genet

(also COML 4622, GERST 4635, ROMS 4635/6635)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
A. Schuster.
M: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

“How sad! There’s nothing to be done with this Kafka. The more I try, the closer I get to him and the further away I go. Am I missing an organ? His anxiety, his anguish, I understand them well but I do not feel them. If he seems to be haunted by the existence of an elusive transcendence, a court of which one is ignorant but on which one depends, a guilt without object, I, on the contrary, feel that I am responsible for everything which happens to me, and even what happens elsewhere and to others.” In a letter to his English translator, Jean Genet expresses both his admiration for and perplexity with Kafka: if Kafka’s fictions stage a dramatic relation to the Law whose strictures and judgements remain inscrutable, Genet takes the subjectivation of guilt as his absolute starting point: he is a criminal, and he writes from the perspective of the one exiled from society, and who is therefore supremely responsible (for himself and others). It is almost as if Genet begins where Kafka ends, with the assumption of the eternal “shame” of K.’s assassination at the conclusion of The Trial. In our examination of authority, we will investigate how the neurotic Kafka and the perverse Genet provide contrasting (and intersecting) perspectives on the drama of Law and the outcast. We will focus in particular on a lesser known story by Kafka, “Investigations of a Dog,” which deals with the authority of knowledge (what Lacan called the “university discourse”), and the possible founding of a new science. Genet’s theater constitutes an extended meditation on the problem of how to separate oneself from power, or how to exorcise the attachment to the master within oneself, and we will read his plays (together with his writings on art) with an eye to the difficulties of the emancipation from authority.

Aaron Schuster (BA Amherst College; MA, PhD Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is a philosopher and writer, based in Amsterdam. He is the author of The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis (Short Circuits Series, MIT Press, 2016). His book Spasm: A Philosophy of Tickling is forthcoming from Cabinet Books, and he is a co-author, together with Eric Santner and William Mazzarella, of Sovereignty Inc.: Three Inquiries in Politics and Enjoyment, to be published in the Trios Series of the University of Chicago Press. Other recent publications include “Being and Enjoyment in Plato’s Philebus: A Lacanian Perspective” (in College Literature: A Journal of Critical Literary Studies, vol. 45, no. 2, Spring 2018) and “Fasting and Method: Kafka as Philosopher” (in Poiesis, eds. Petar Milat and Nathan Brown, Zagreb: Mama Multimedia Center, 2017). He has written on such topics as the history of levitation, the politics of sleep, the psychopathology of AI, the debt drive, the comedy of Lubitsch, Genet’s theater, Kafka’s philosopher dog, Platonov’s Anti-Sexus, and complaining. He has been a fellow at the Theory Department of the Jan van Eyck Academie, the Institute for Cultural Inquiry ICI Berlin, and the Institute for Advanced Studies Southeast Europe, Rijeka, Croatia. In 2016, he was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, at the Center for Disciplinary Innovation, the Franke Institute for the Humanities.

 

SHUM 4637/6637: Viewing Black Girlhood

Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
D. Rogers.
M: 10:10 a.m. - 12:20 p.m.

This seminar explores the narratives of Black girlhood in contemporary media and popular culture. This exploration will also deal with the dearth of existing narratives around Black girlhood and the complexities of their lived experiences in education, sexuality, and interaction with authority.

Students will analyze Black girlhood through a diverse collection of films, both narrative and documentary, in feature length, as well as short form. Historical narratives and fiction literature will also be of focus as blueprints for a number of film adaptations.

We will consider the following questions: How does the intersection of race, class, gender, authority, education, and policing impact the ways we understand girlhood? How have Black girls defined girlhood and the transition from Black girl to Black woman when confronted with authority, be it within systems or asserted by individuals? How has authority rendered Black girlhood invisible and criminal?

We will consider these questions and more through a number of texts, including Monique Morris’ Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Marcia Chatelain’s South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, and Aimee Meredith Cox’s Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. We will also consider a number of films, including Spike Lee’s Crooklin, Dee Ree’s Pariah, Céline Sciamma's Girlhood, Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits, Amanda Lipitz’s Step and Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine's For Ahkeem, and Nijla Mumin’s Jinn.

With these texts will we examine the racialization of girlhood, the criminalization of Black girls, sexual literacy, youth activism, education, and Black girls in social media and hip-hop culture.

Dehanza Rogers is a filmmaker and Assistant Professor in Performing and Media Arts. Her films focus on the intersections of race, gender, and identity. 

Her most recent work, From Land to Land, a video installation, explores the precarious nature of being undocumented in America. Rogers is currently working on a short form narrative #BlackGirlhood which focuses on the criminalization of Black girlhood in America.  

Rogers’ research has been supported by The President Council’s of Cornell Women, Cornell Humanities Council, and the Cornell Council for the Arts. She is currently a Society for the Humanities Fellow and a member of the CIVIC Media Studies Collaborative.  

She received her BA in Anthropology at California State University, Northridge in Anthropology with a focus on folklore and refugee youth culture. She pursued her graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Theatre, Film and Television, receiving an MFA in Film Directing and an MFA in Cinematography.