Fall 2013 Course Offerings

SHUM 4871 Through the Prison Threshold

(also ANTHR 4071, GOVT 4867, SOC 4860)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
C. Garces
R 12:20 – 2:15

This seminar will explore the rise of mass incarceration and punitive containment strategies around the globe. Considering prison a threshold that resists outsiders’ efforts to comprehend inmate experience, we will read from works of prison ethnography, history, film and memoirs that approach different cultures of confinement and consider how the prison has become a problematic zone of state experimentation.  Emphasis will be given to works that shed light on the professional and religious vocations that straddle prison worlds and the world beyond the prison walls, helping to generate new ethical relationships as well as political associations for social justice with captive populations. Among other topics to be elaborated in this course will include: prisoner’s rights; political imprisonment; everyday life in state custody; gendered, ethno-racial, and/or religious difference and inmate hierarchies; the abolitionist movement; the steady growth and impunity of organized crime networks; prison management by wards of the state; the prison as a site of precariousness and claims to radical potentiality; the worldwide proliferation of  ‘black sites’’ and “supermax facilities”; and the political economy of the prison-industrial complex and today’s security state.    

Chris Garces holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Princeton University.  After teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, he took up a Mellon-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell in 2009 and in 2011 was welcomed into a tenure-track position in the Department of Anthropology.  His ethnographic interests range from the study of politics and religion—or contemporary political theologies—, to the unchecked global development of penal state politics, and the history of Catholic humanitarian interventions in Latin America.  His journal articles have appeared in Cultural AnthropologyAnthropological QuarterlyEcuador DebateCriminal Justice MattersÍconos, and Urvio. During his fellowship at the Society for the Humanities, he will be co-publishing a special journal issue on “Prison Climates in the South,” co-hosting a Central NY Humanities Corridor conference at Cornell (“Religion, Abolition, Mass Incarceration”), and working on a book manuscript-in-progress, “The Prison Threshold: Hyper-incarceration and its Ends in Ecuador.”

SHUM 4872 Psychic Occupations and Disoccupations

(also COML 4021, FREN 4872, HIST 4872)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
C. Robcis
T 2:30 – 4:25

Why do people do certain things even though they may not want to?  Why do our bodies react in certain ways that our minds cannot control?  Why does so much of our psychic life escape our will?  In this seminar, we will ponder these questions by reading some of the major works of psychoanalysis and its critics.  Unlike the autonomous reflexive Cartesian self or the transcendental Kantian actor, the psychoanalytic subject is at all times occupied by the unconscious.  We will begin this class by analyzing how this occupied subject is described in the works of Freud and Lacan.  In a second part, we will read authors influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, who have attempted to decipher this form of psychic occupation and who have sought to “disoccupy” the mind.  Readings may include works by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, and Luce Irigaray.

Camille Robcis is Assistant Professor in the History Department at Cornell University.  She received her B.A. in History and Modern Culture & Media from Brown University and her Ph.D. in History from Cornell.  She was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Humanities Forum in 2008-2009 and a Fellow at LAPA (Law and Public Affairs) at Princeton in 2011-2012.  Her first book, The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France (Cornell University Press, 2013) examines how French policy makers have called upon structuralist anthropology and psychoanalysis (specifically, the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan) to reassert the centrality of sexual difference as the foundation for all social and psychic organization.  More broadly, her research and teaching interests have focused on the historical construction of norms, the intellectual production of knowledge, and the articulation of gender and sexuality in the social sciences and particularly in psychoanalysis.


SHUM 4873 Human/Animal/Machine

(also ENGL 4873, FGSS 4873, STS 4873)
Fall.  3 credits. 
Limited to 15 students. 
J. Puar
M 2:30 – 4:25

In this seminar we will be exploring the borders and boundaries of the construction of “the human” and its triangulated attendants, “the animal” and “the machine.”  We will take as our orientation Gayatri Spivak’s groundbreaking query, “Can the subaltern speak?” The 1988 publication of the article with this title has generated massively prolific feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, and critical race theoretical work examining the politics of poststructuralist knowledge claims and production. However, as has been recently articulated by a range of thinkers, from Rey Chow to Karen Barad to Brian Massumi, the limits of a poststructuralist epistemological corrective—in certain historical and geopolitical locations---have perhaps been broached. In the context of current global conditions of increasing economic stratification and distress, the dissimulation of politically coherent positions, and the growing disillusionment with liberal democratic ideals, the realms of the social and the political seem haphazardly, arbitrarily, and yet systematically “working” through an anthropomorphic vision of politics that takes agency and voice to be its central determinants. 

Drawing on emergent work in posthumanism, disability studies, animal studies, object-oriented ontology (OOO), the “new” materialisms literature, and the “affective turn,” we will rethink the question, Can the subaltern speak?, in relation to ontological becomings and bodily capacities.  According to these fields of thought, ontologies must be central to any notion of politics that takes seriously the senses, sensorial and affective modalities, and the complexity of cognitive processes.  In de-exceptionalizing human language and experience as the dominant forces that impels global change, we will interrogate the boundaries that delineate matter, species, humanities, energies, affects, temporalities, geographies, and most importantly, politics. At the end of the semester we will return to close-read Spivak’s essay and the texts that she analyses, thinking critically about the political horizons of representationalist and non-representationalist knowledge production projections. 

Jasbir K. Puar is Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University.  She has also been a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Performance Studies at NYU and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. She received her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley in 1999 and an M.A. from the University of York, England, in Women’s Studies in 1993. Her research interests include gender, sexuality, globalization; postcolonial and diaspora studies; South Asian cultural studies; and theories of assemblage and affect. 

Puar is the author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press 2007), which won the 2007 Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies and has also been translated into French as Homonationalisme. Politiques queers après le 11 Septembre, (Editions Amsterdam, 2012). Puar’s edited volumes include “Queer Tourism: Geographies of Globalization” (GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies); and co-edited volumes on “Sexuality and Space” (Society and Space); “Interspecies” (Social Text); “Viral” (Women’s Studies Quarterly). Her articles appear in Gender, Place, and CultureRadical History ReviewSocialist ReviewFeminist Legal StudiesAntipode: A Radical Journal of GeographyFeminist Studies, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.