Fall 2012 Course Offerings

SHUM 4861 Studies in Biorisk Media

(also PMA 4960, STS 4861, VISST 4861)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
B. Ghosh
T 12:20 – 2:15

Risk is the obscene of the present. We live its laws of fear in everyday acts such as the popping of pills or as we watch levels of terror alerts rise on news broadcasts. An introduction to interdisciplinary debates on the “risk society” Ulrich Beck consecrated as a “self-reflexive modernity” in 1986, this course pursues a central thread in these conversations: “biorisk” or a deepened sense of biological insecurity emerging amid regular pandemic outbreaks, toxic exposures, or somatic mass catastrophes. Central to this awareness are the ways that risk media normalize fear, panic, or paranoia: the local news, cinematic conspiracy theories, videogames, meteorological forecasts, and public health advisories…the list is formidable. Yet the conversation on risk media (beyond studies of risk communication in mass media) has been patchy at best. The course hopes to stimulate research and analysis in this area.

Bishnupriya Ghosh is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches postcolonial theory, contemporary 20th and 21st literatures, and global media studies. Much of her scholarly work has been on the cultures of globalization (literature, visual culture, and cinema), the two published (When Borne Across and Global Icons) and one monograph in progress (The Unhomely Sense) variously investigating the relations between the global and the postcolonial; area studies and transnational cultural studies; popular, mass, and elite cultures.  

Ghosh has published essays on literature, cinema and visual culture in several collections and journals such as boundary 2Journal of Postcolonial StudiesPublic Culture and Screen, and a co-edited volume of critical essays on feminist cultural theory, Interventions(Garland 1997). Her first monograph, When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel (Rutgers UP, 2004), addressed the dialectical relations between emerging global markets and literatures reflexively marked as “postcolonial,” while her second, Global Icons: Apertures to the Popular (Duke UP, 2011), turned to visual popular culture as it constitutes the global. She is currently working on a third monograph on the spectral life of the postcolonial in contemporary cinemas, The Unhomely Sense: The Spectral Cinema of Globalization.

Apart from her work on global media, for the last four years, Ghosh has been involved in several collaborations relating to risk media and globalization: the “Speculative Globalities” research cluster housed at the UCHRI (University of California Humanities Research Institute), 2009; the “Speculative Futures” annual program at UCSB, 2011-12; and a planned collection of essays with a supplementary web-based project. Her short monograph on risk media, Speculating Life: Theorizing HIV/AIDS Pandemic Media, arises out of these collaborations.

SHUM 4862 Zoontotechnics

(also COML 4118, ENGL 4862, STS 4862, VISST 4862) 
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
E. Obodiac
W 2:30 – 4:25

Although classical philosophy distinguishes art (techne) from nature (physis), our contemporary world is structured by the intersection of technics and living being: not only does technology continually mediate daily life but increasingly constitutes its beginnings, ends, and management in what has come to be known as biopolitics.  Contemporary thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, and Roberto Esposito have written at length on the biopolitical, but they often leave out—which cannot be ignored in our era of modern technics—the nonliving apparatuses, the technologies that have come to power and have mastered, says Martin Heidegger, our human being. This is why, when discussing biopolitics, we must also take into consideration “zoontotechnics” (animality/technicity) alongside what Aristotle calls the zoon politikon(political living being).

Today, our era of biopolitics and biotechnology challenges traditional theories of human subjectivity, including the rights and privileges that used to be reserved for human beings alone. Citizenship is an example of one such right and privilege: in the future, will animals be citizens? What about creatures that are part animal and part human? And what about robots?  Jaquet-Droz, the creator of the 18th century writing automaton, was subject to punishment from the Spanish Inquisition for exhibiting his non-living writing machine: it was just as heretical to say that man is a machine as it was to say that god is a man. What are we saying when we ask whether or not human beings can welcome animals, robots, and other creatures as citizens?

This seminar will look at philosophical discourses on animality and living being through the lens of the current “digital turn” in the humanities. Digital media and theory not only generate new representations of animals, people, and other living-beings; digitality in general belongs to a larger technological framework that is changing life itself. Biotechnology, genome projects, and the interface between animals, machines, and human beings generate a new biosphere or vivarium ruled by the commonality of our digital condition.

Erin Obodiac received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine and has held teaching and research appointments at UC Irvine, the University of Leeds, and SUNY Albany. Her writings inquire about the relation between the institutional history of deconstruction, posthumanist theory, the discourse on technics and animality, and new media art forms. She is currently completing a multi-modal digital version of her dissertation, Technics and the Sublime.


SHUM 4862 The Regulation and Management of Risk: Examples from East Asia

(also LAW 7170)
Fall.  3 credits.  
A. Riles
R 12:20 – 2:15

This seminar series will explore how the law and how states describe, produce and manage risk from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The focus of the series will be on a conversation with a range of outside visitors--some academics from diverse disciplines and some legal practitioners with particular intellectual or practical expertise in the problem as it presents itself today in East Asian societies.  Examples of areas of interest include financial regulation, health care regulation, insurance, environmental disaster, and labor law (the latter focusing on employment and unemployment in the context of economic downturn).  

Students will write short response pieces to the presentations and are expected to attend all sessions of the series and to participate actively.  Law students, graduate students from across the university, and undergraduate students who receive permission of the instructor will also have the option of either taking the class for three graded credits and writing six response papers or of participating in the class for one credit on a credit/no credit basis and writing one such response paper.

Annelise Riles is the Jack G. Clarke Professor of Law in Far East Legal Studies and Professor of Anthropology at Cornell, and she serves as Director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture. Her work focuses on the transnational dimensions of laws, markets and culture. Her most recent book, Collateral Knowledge: Legal Reasoning in the Global Financial Markets (Chicago Press 2011), is based on ten years of fieldwork among regulators and lawyers in the global derivatives markets. She recently co-edited a special issue of the journal, Law and Contemporary Problems, Transdisciplinary Conflict of Laws, which rethinks the field of Conflict of Laws from an interdisciplinary perspective. Her first book, The Network Inside Out, won the American Society of International Law’s Certificate of Merit for 2000-2002. Her second book, Rethinking the Masters of Comparative Law, is a cultural history of Comparative Law presented through its canonical figures. Her third book, Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge, brings together lawyers, anthropologists, sociologists and historians of science. Professor Riles has conducted legal and anthropological research in China, Japan and the Pacific and speaks Chinese, Japanese, French, and Fijian. She was recently featured in the Cornell Chronicle. She also writes about financial markets regulation on her blog, collateralknowledge.com.


SHUM 4864 Pirate Humanities

(also COML 4119, GOVT 4795, PMA 4962)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
B. Sarkar
R 2:30 – 4:25

This course examines pirate assemblages as an ineluctable underside of capitalist modernity. We explore the cognitive, cultural, and political efficacies of the simultaneously romanticized and vilified figure of the pirate—and its recent avatar, the media pirate.  Within a framework of control and emergence (derived largely from contemporary theories of risk, biopolitics, and securitization), the course seeks to develop posthumanist conceptions of the pirate that take us well beyond the domain of bourgeois-liberal law. Along the way, we consider questions of potentiality and foreclosure, intellectual property rights and global governance, the common, pirate modernities of the Global South, participatory cultures and democratization, and cognate monstrous figures such the terrorist. 

The reading list will comprise works by Frank Knight, Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, Partha Chatterjee, Nancy Fraser, Michael Warner, Michel Serres, Lawrence Lessig, Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, Brain Larkin, Shujen Wang, Ravi Sundaram, Melinda Cooper, Eugene Thacker, and Cesare Casarino, among others. 

Film screenings will include Steal this Film I (2006) & Steal this Film II(2007), Proteus (John Greyson, 2003), Pirated Copy (Jianjun He, 2004), Partners in Crime: A Love Story (Paromita Vohra, 2011), and The Supermen of Malegaon (Fawzia Khan, 2008).

Bhaskar Sarkar, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara, works in four broad fields: 1) Postcolonial Media Theory, 2) Globalization and Media, 3) Asian Film and Video Cultures, and 4) Risk, Uncertainty and Speculation. He is currently associated with two long-term collaborative research projects, with multiple volumes in the works: “The Subaltern and the Popular,” and “Speculative Globalities.” The author of Mourning the Nation: Indian Cinema in the Wake of Partition (Duke University Press, 2009), he has also co-edited a volume of essays, Documentary Testimonies: Global Archives of Suffering (Routledge, 2009), and special issues of The Journal of Postcolonial Studies (“The Subaltern and the Popular,” 2005) and BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies (“Indian Documentary Studies,” 2012).  He has also published widely in journals such as Cultural Dynamics, Rethinking History, and Quarterly Review of Film and Video.


SHUM 4862 Neurosis and Systemic Risk

(also COML 4181, PMA 4963)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
M. Smith
T 10:10 – 12:05

One of the characteristic features of modernity is an understanding of catastrophe neither as fated nor as God-given but rather as systemic—that is, as a predictable consequence of a dangerous system.  This understanding of disaster arose hand-in-hand with the modern insurance and psychoanalytic professions, and with the identification, treatment, and compensation of conditions such as neurasthenia, hyperactivity, nervous degeneration, nervous trauma, and post-traumatic stress.  In this seminar, we will examine the mutual development of modern conceptions of neurosis and systemic risk.  Our timeframe will be the mid-nineteenth century to the outbreak of World War II and our geographic scope will be Western Europe and the United States.  

The first half of the course will concentrate on the cultural impact of railroads in the late nineteenth century, the second half on responses to World War I.  Sources for the first half may include Charles Dickens’ short story “The Signal-Man” (1866), two formative tied-to-the-tracks melodramas (Augustin Daly’s Under the Gaslight [1867] and Dion Boucicault’s After Dark [1868]), selections from the first volume of Das Kapital (1867), George Miller Beard’s “Neurasthenia or Nervous Exhaustion” and selections from American Nervousness (1869, 1881), Emile Zola’s dramatic adaptation of Thérèse Raquin (1873), Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), excerpts from insurance-industry risk-assessment handbooks, and Freud’s Studies in Hysteria(1895).  Sources for the second half may include Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (1919), Abel Gance’s J’accuse (1919), Georg Kaiser’s trilogy of Gas plays (1917-1920), assorted Futurist and Dadaist interventions, and Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle(1920).  Our primary-source readings will be accompanied by excerpts from Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France and Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience (1996), among other theoretical texts.

Matthew Wilson Smith is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University.  His interests include modern theatre history and theory, relations between theatre and early film, and digital media.  His first book, The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace (2007) presents a history and theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk in relation to technology and mass culture, placing such diverse figures as Wagner, Moholy-Nagy, Brecht, Riefenstahl, Disney, Warhol, and contemporary cyber-artists within a coherent genealogy.  He is also the editor of Georg Büchner: The Major Works, a Norton Critical Edition (2012), and serves on the editorial board of Modern Drama.  He is currently at work on a study of the parallel emergence of modern theatre and modern neurology in nineteenth-century Europe, and is co-editing a volume of essays on opera and modernism.  His plays have been performed at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre, The Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s, Henry Street Settlement, and other stages.

SHUM 4866 Risk Work

(also ANTHR 4166, STS 4866)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
M. Welker
M 12:20 – 2:15

Theorists of modernity have argued that we live in a risk society. This seminar explores these arguments and develops conceptual tools for ethnographic analysis of the everyday work of risk professionals and ordinary actors. Risk professionals are paid for their capacity to investigate, document, control, imagine, and capitalize upon economic, social, and environmental risk. Ordinary actors increasingly live in and produce knowledge of human and environmental risks and orient their action around this practical consciousness. We will examine how risk work produces knowledge, ignorance, and affect management projects, as well as how it recognizes and distributes risk across space and time, nature and culture, and across social divisions of class, gender, ethnicity, race, and age. 

Marina Welker is an Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department and a member of the Southeast Asia Program. Her research and teaching interests include the international development industry, corporations and capitalism, extractive industries, cigarettes and tobacco, and business education, with a regional focus on Southeast Asia and the United States. Her journal articles have appeared in American EthnologistCultural Anthropology, and Current Anthropology.