Fall 2023 Course Offerings
SHUM 4682/6682 Disturbing Settlement - Seminar
(also AMST 4682/6682)
Fall. 3 credits.
*This course will be continued in an optional second part in the Spring of 2024 as SHUM 4683/6683 Disturbing Settlement - Engaged.
This seminar explores—and aims to disturb—“settlement.” Attending to the close historical and economic relationship between the settlement of settler colonialism and the settlement of settled agriculture, the course takes specific plants and animals as lenses onto settler colonial capitalism. It asks: how have land and its inhabitants been practically and conceptually transformed through processes of settlement? How might alternatives to settlement persist and be reactivated even in ecologies profoundly shaped by capitalism and colonialism? The course lays the theoretical and skills groundwork for the community-engaged design projects that will be undertaken in the spring semester, but it can also be taken as an independent seminar.
Students will critically examine settlement by studying the processes that have made land, plants, and animals into objects of extraction—processes like domestication and propertization. They will also learn how to use tools from design and critical theory to imagine alternatives that conceptually or practically disturb colonial capitalist settlement. Particular attention will be granted to movement and hybridity: landscapes are rarely only capitalist or only colonial, but feature complex hybrids of settler and native, domesticated and not, capitalist and not. Examples we will explore include the ongoing use of peach and apple orchards left behind by Indigenous peoples when they were displaced from the Finger Lakes area during the Sullivan campaign; efforts to reorient human attitudes toward beavers in landscapes where their numbers were decimated by trapping; and attempts to rethink capitalist agriculture by reimagining human relationships with highly domesticated farm animals.
Students will mobilize the tools of design justice as they explore settlement and its effects. Readings and talks will introduce the students to perspectives from settler colonial and indigenous studies, environmental anthropology, and multispecies ethnography.
SHUM 4684/6684 The Labor of Images: Encountering the Collective in Visual Cultures
(also COML 4684/6684)
Fall. 3 credits.
What is work, and how has it changed over the last century? This interdisciplinary seminar pairs visual art with critical theory to grapple with work’s central problems: its sensuous and perceptual qualities, shifting status and value, and embodied imaginaries; its collective dimensions and potential futures. The guiding figure of our inquiry is the artworker and their reflections on both their own work and the collective work of others — including crossing class, racial, and national divisions to pursue fraught political friendships.
Art historians, filmmakers, and other visual artists have been at the forefront of thinking what work means and how it has transformed dramatically from the early twentieth century until the present moment. Indeed, several scholars have argued that the artist functions as a cipher for understanding all work today. This course seeks to both engage and trouble this argument, pursuing the collective dimensions of work often absent from these theories.
Weekly seminar meetings are organized around conceptual problems that pair a theoretical text with a work of art — including examples curated by students — to explore how they inform one another, productively contaminating the limits between primary case studies and theoretical texts. Among the problems we will tackle: automation and animation; “waste” and precarity; the labor of the spectator or viewer; operational images and the optical unconscious; affective labor and social reproduction; and anti-work imaginaries and forms of resistance (the strike, the refusal, “quiet quitting.”) Key artists and theorists we will analyze include Harun Farocki, Walter Benjamin, Hito Steyerl, Leigh Claire La Berge, João Moreira Salles, Rahul Jain, Mika Rottenberg, Paolo Virno, Federico León, Sianne Ngai, Jeremy Deller, Claire Bishop, Michael Denning, Verónica Gago, Arlie Hoschild, Augusto Boal, Maurizio Lazzarato, Kathi Weeks, Boots Riley, Jacques Rancière, Claire Fontaine, and Jia Zhangke; along with case studies chosen by students in the course. Throughout, we will consider how medium, coordination, chronotope, and form crisscross both theories of labor and the praxis of visual art. Students working in all periods, regions, and disciplines are welcome to inflect coursework through their specific interests and training.
Finally, we will also reflect on what labor means for us as knowledge workers (students, artists, writers, teachers) in the 21st century. Indeed, some thinkers have posited the university — rather than the art market — as the new “social factory.”
SHUM 4685/6685 Feeling Free: Radical Aesthetics and Political Affects
(also FGSS 4685/6685, GOVT 6985)
Fall. 3 credits.
“As a culture worker who belongs to an oppressed people my job is to make revolution irresistible.” Toni Cade Bambara, in an interview with Kay Bonetti.
This course studies how radical movements mobilize both aesthetics and affects in their political organizing. In the broadest sense, the study of aesthetics concerns how we experience beauty in the world and in art more specifically. Affect studies considers how our experience of the world operates at the level of sensation and feeling. In the quote above, Bambara employs her cultural work (aesthetic) to invoke a feeling (affective) which hopefully translates into a political action (revolution). Bambara illustrates how the aesthetic and the affective are linked and co-constitutive. “Feeling Free” considers how affect and aesthetic construct one another, cross over into each other, and how both are used in political action and radical movements. In this course, we will familiarize ourselves with theories of affect and aesthetic as they pertain to political action. We will develop grounding in the key concepts, debates, and methodologies of these fields. After establishing such a base, we will look at specific cultural texts and consider the affective and aesthetic impact they produce, and how/if they contribute to radical politics. Here we will employ the analytic frames we developed earlier to study art by minority communities agitating and organizing for change with and through their aesthetic and affective practices. In both cases, we look especially to theories of affect and aesthetic that prioritize intersectional analyses regarding race, class, gender, sexuality, and other categories of identity. We seek here to establish a critical aesthetic and affective framework that takes into account structures of power and their relationship to feeling, to art, and to action. Art will include literary, visual, audial, and experiential and will be broadly surveyed to resist the false binary of “high” or “low” aesthetics.
SHUM 4686/6686 Textures of Friendship: Ethics, Politics, Crossings
(also FGSS 4686/6686)
Fall. 3 credits.
We all have friends and value the company and trust of others, but what does it mean to be in a friendship? How do we come to recognize certain relations as friendships and what role, if any, do they play in shaping our worlds?
In this exploratory course, we will look at the crafting of friendship, its significance but also its existential ambivalence. We will begin thinking about this particular form of association through several philosophical accounts in the humanities. We will then combine readings in critical feminist studies with multispecies ethnographies to complicate and expand this largely anthropo- and andro- centric canon. Insofar as friendship requires the company of the other, it is a bond that mediates the relation between the individual and the community. Understanding what this bond means and offers becomes even more important in our current moment when capitalist competition, forced displacement, populist politics, and security concerns further oppression, prejudice, and mistrust. In the latter part of the course, therefore, we will zoom onto the contexts of rapid social change, war, colonialism, racism, and exile in which the issue of friendship is posed and made salient as a problem or an aspiration. By exploring the relations between friendship and such concepts as community, desire, vulnerability and care, we will aim at grasping historic and cultural particularities of political imagination and potentiality of friendships but also the forms of risk that they articulate. The disciplinary diversity of readings in this course is meant to prepare students for completing a short-term ethnographic project on friendships on campus: what boundaries does the experience of friendship cross, or reproduce, in the unique educational contexts at Cornell?
SHUM 4687/6687 Trans Theory and Politics Across the Americas
(also COML 4687/6687, FGSS 4687/6687, GOVT 6995, PHIL 4995/6995)
Fall. 3 credits.
This richly interdisciplinary course examines trans issues in a transnational context, focusing especially on North and South America. Drawing heavily from the fields of world languages and cultures, philosophy, and political theory, we explore contemporary transgender theory, politics, and cultural production across the Americas, relying almost entirely on the transgender scholars, activists, and artists producing and leading that work. After a critical exploration of terminological, methodological, and epistemological debates in transgender studies, we turn to address issues of race and ethnicity, legal documents and immigration, human rights, anti- discrimination policies, and administrative violence. We then close by reflecting on the power of history and story within transnational trans movements.
Throughout the course, we pay special attention to the convergences and tensions between trans discourses and experiences in the US and Latin America. Over the course of this seminar, students develop a nuanced understanding not only of the challenges faced by specific transgender communities, but of the wisdom generated within those same communities. The course equips students with the analytical and conceptual tools to engage in critical epistemologies, to practice philosophical and cross-cultural analyses, and to attend to the nuances of language, law, and lived experience.