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Spring 2019 Course Offerings

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SHUM 4631/6631 The Constitution of Political Authority

Fall. 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 practices. 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 (Simpson, Khosravi) and in courtrooms (Cover). 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 (Borrows, Simpson), the nature of corporate control over workers (Anderson), the authority of religious groups to follow ethical perspectives that violate public values (Masterpiece Cake Shop) 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 (Luxon) or human flourishing.


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

(also CLASS 4602, MEDVL 4632/6632)
Fall. 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 ideas of straightforward transformation and discuss the creativity of rulers, intellectuals, and common people in their discussions 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.

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 particular attention will also be given to themes beyond traditional kingship, such as queenship, rebellion, informal political authority, infant rulers, and portrayals of rulers’ sexuality.


SHUM 4633/6633 Following

(also PHIL 4433/6433)
Fall. 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, STS 4634/6634)
Fall. 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)
Fall. 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.


SHUM 4636/6636 Artists and Writers in Motion: In and around Global London 1948

(also AMST 4636/6636, ASRC 4636, ENGL 4936, HIST 4636/6636)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
P. Von Eschen.
M: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

This interdisciplinary course follows artists and writers moving within metropoles and across borders during and after the eventful year of 1948. This course engages novels, films, modern dance, memoir, cultural theory and political and social history to investigate the ways that creative artists interpreted a world in tumult. The traffic of refugees and exiles moving in the aftermath of war and partitions prompted the UN passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December of that year. Focusing on London, we will investigate the ways in which the massive disruptions of World War II and its immediate aftermath prompted not simply a crisis in hegemonic authority, but a rupture in the fabric of anticolonial counterpublics. The course will move from examining performing artists, to following people navigating the broader social geography of cities, as well as those moving across state borders and newly created postcolonial boundaries. We will consider possibilities for movement envisioned in modem dance performances and follow artists and writers moving within in a decolonizing world, (reading for example, Doris Lessing's novel exploring the post-1948 southern African exile community in London and Edward Said memoir of his childhood in Palestine and Egypt, and Kamila Shamsie's historical novel exploring circuits of post-partition Pakistan from 1945 to the aftermath of91II/200 1). We conclude with a post-colonial reading of George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel, 1984. For the final project, each student will select and investigate themes highlighted in the course for further investigation. Embracing our methodological emphasis on drawing connections between required texts, students will analyze a range of novels, films, press accounts, and primary documents (including political documents produced at local, national and international scales) to produce an original 15-20~page paper. Papers will be produced in three stages, with two earlier drafts undergoing extensive instructor and peer critique.