Spring 2013 Course Offerings

SHUM 4971 Risk and Artistic Value

(also ARTH 4971, VISST 4971)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
P. Aroch-Fugellie
T 10:10 – 12:05

Emerging between potentiality and reality, art is indisputably a space of risk. Artworks are sites of negotiation between the unimagined and the real: places where previously undomesticated textures, syntactic and semantic properties become incorporated into objects that circulate in economic and semiotic worlds. Hence, when articulating meaning in unforeseen ways, artists risk their capacity to circulate. How does the willingness to take the risk of destabilizing accepted meaning vary in art with prevailing dominant, residual or emergent features? Does risk increase in relation to the novelty of the sense produced or is it a question of how such sense articulates with dominant forms of meaning-making? We will explore these questions through texts in psychoanalysis, economics, linguistics and cultural analysis. By revisiting the work of artists at the global core and periphery, we will explore artistic value as index and agent in a historically conditioned battlefield of meanings, affectivities and power.

Paulina Aroch-Fugellie holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Amsterdam University, a Master’s degree in African Studies from El Colegio de México and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UNAM. She was born in Chile, 1973, and grew up in different parts of Central America and Africa; later Mexico and The Netherlands. She has studied, taught and worked in theater for over eight years, and has published her poetry in diverse forums. As a scholar, her main areas of interest are semiotics, discourse analysis, postcolonial theory, critical theory, post-structuralism, dialectic materialism, negative dialectics and psychoanalytic theories of language. She has written and/or lectured on related topics in diverse forums in Brazil, Mexico, the U.S., the U.K., The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Croatia and Argentina. Currently, she teaches courses on African history and politics at the ITESM (Mexico City campus), and cultural studies, art theory and interdisciplinary methodologies at the National Center for the Arts, Mexico City


SHUM 4972 Photography in Crisis

(also SPAN 4972, VISST 4972) 
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
P. Keller
M 12:20 – 2:15

Can photography ever adequately capture a disastrous situation or event? Is photography by nature always destined to bear witness to social ills in problematic ways, given its ever-diminishing claims to objectivity and its ever-increasing use of manipulative techniques? To what degree might photography be at odds with aesthetics when mediated by a politics that either precipitates or responds to disaster? Can the photographic image, in being aestheticized, require or even necessitate a politics of reading? And, if so, what are the inherent risks of such a politics? What is at stake in reading photographs both for their political import and their aesthetic quality, as documents and as works of art? And, whether situated within or outside of the realm of politics and aesthetics, how might photographs function not only as historical indexes but also living testimony to a catastrophic event or disaster—a record of its occurrence at a previous moment in time, as well as its legacy, or the way it survives in the present? Drawing on these key questions, this course explores how photography may not only document the reality of crises in their various (and specific) historical and cultural manifestations, but also respond to an ethical demand by offering testimonial affirmation to such events in the wake of their historical, cultural and political denial. 

Our readings, situated at the intersection between photography, philosophy, and politics, will examine competing theories on the nature and situation of photography today—that is, both its physical attributes and qualitative properties, as well as how one places it, as an art form or field of study, in relation to other mediums and disciplines. Class discussions will be based on both canonical and non-canonical theories of photography, including those articulated by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, John Berger, Allan Sekula, David Levi Strauss, Geoffrey Batchen, Eduardo Cadava, Joan Fontcuberta, and Jacques Rancière. We will also consider the philosophical and political implications of not only specific photographic works but also their appropriation and “use value” in determining political responsibility, decision-making, and action or, as is often the case, inaction. Theoretical readings will be complemented with works by (but not limited to) the following artists: Robert Capa, Gideon Mendel, Brian Weil, Alberto García Alix, Pepe Espaliú, Oliviero Toscani, Kevin Carter, Richard Misrach, Yves Marchand, Romain Meffre, Andrew Moore, Joan Fontcuberta, Alfredo Jaar, and Sebastião Salgado. 

Patty Keller is Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. Her research and teaching interests are in the fields of modern and contemporary Spanish cultural studies, with an emphasis on visual culture and the intersections between literary, filmic and photographic texts. Currently, she is completing a book manuscript titled Ghostly Landscapes: Film, Photography, and the Aesthetics of Haunting, which examines the relationship between ideology, spectrality, and visual culture in fascist and post-fascist Spain. Her work on Spanish photography and cinema includes scholarly articles published in the Journal of Spanish Cultural StudiesHispanic Research Journal and Hispanic Issues. She is beginning research for her second book project—Photography’s Wound—a study that explores structures of belief, the ethics of seeing, and figurations of the wound in contemporary Spanish photography. Her additional research interests are fascist technologies and spectacles, new wave cinemas, landscape theory, critical theory, film theory, and philosophical and political approaches to reading photography.


SHUM 4973 Ethnography, Narrative and History of Risk

(also ANTHR 4173, SOC 4870, STS 4973) 
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
G. Mairal
T 2:30 – 4:25

My strategy to transmit and discuss the contents of this course is based on my experience in the ethnography of risk over the last fifteen years. If the concept of risk is to be properly understood, I believe it is necessary to place it in the context of events, and this study must begin with an empirical and ethnographic approach to reality drawn from fields like Anthropology. The course will begin with a brief review of my work in the 1990s in connection with the plans to build new dams on the River Ésera and in other places in the Pyrenees (Spain), which is where my research into risk began. In this introduction, I will address methodological issues and will reconstruct the concept of risk as I first identified it. 

From here, I will address progressively more theoretical issues, arriving at an initial definition of risk as a phenomenon based on the twin properties of location in time and place and the nature of risk as representation. To clarify the concept of risk and prepare the theoretical groundwork, this course will also address two further objectives.  In doing this, I will continue to use ethnographic case studies and examples of crises such as “mad cow disease” and disasters such as floods, epidemics and traffic accidents. In addition, based on the conclusions reached by the European project of the Network for Research into the Construction of Environmental Risk, which I directed in 2000 and 2001, I shall address the definition of risk and the narrative nature of the phenomenon via a model which I shall explain and substantiate using ethnographic data and, in particular, the results of a study I made in 2007 of the wreck of the oil tanker Prestige off the Atlantic Coast of Galicia in northwest Spain in 2003. This will permit me to address the fundamentals of a narrative theory of risk and to discuss narratives of risk. The last part of the seminar will be given over to explaining my research into the history of risk and to a discussion of the History and Narratives of Risk project.

1.         Introduction: why risk?
2.         Ethnographies of risk: dam building in Spain
3.         Risk and culture: conflict on the River Ésera (Spain)
4.         The location and representation of risk
5.         Development of the concept of risk
6.         A narrative model for the study of risk
7.         Risk shadows in Spain: from poisoned cooking oil to mad cows
8.         Narrative matrices of risk: the case of avian flu
9.         Uncertainty, risk, fear and terror
10.       Distinguishing risk from danger
11.       Historical origin and development of a notion of risk
12.       A narrative history of risk

Gaspar Mairal is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Zaragoza (Spain), where he teaches historical anthropology, anthropology of food, and water and risk issues. Tiempos de la cultura. Ensayos de antropología histórica, his most recent book, was published in 2010 in Spanish and his most recent article “The History and the Narrative of Risk in the Media” in Health, Risk and Society 13:1 (2011) in English. He writes about risk, water issues, collective memory, heritage and historical anthropology. In 2010 he spent a period of five months research at the University of Arizona in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology. His current research is concerned to the development of a theoretical work on risk using narrative and historical perspectives.


SHUM 4974 Indebted Histories: Credit and Debt in Critical Thought

(also AMST 4974, COML 4182, ENGL 4974)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
A. McClanahan
T 12:20 – 2:15

In his “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Gilles Deleuze suggests a powerful way to reperiodize the twentieth century: “Man is no longer man enclosed,” he writes, “but man in debt.” Deleuze’s emphasis on the centrality of debt is certainly timely as a historical diagnosis, since the global economy continues to be rocked by debt crises, but it is also of broader theoretical significance to a range of disciplines. Literary critics have tracked the development of the novel to the emergence of a credit economy, while anthropologists have argued that human social organization depends on creditor-debtor relationships. In philosophy and critical theory, likewise, the temporality and ethics of debt have emerged as central concerns for modern thinkers from Nietzsche to Derrida. 

In this class we will explore the place of debt and credit in humanistic scholarship and critical theory, asking in what ways the current debt crisis brings us to these questions with renewed urgency. How does the transformation of credit into a risky speculative investment (the development of financial instruments like CDOs) change our sense of credit as a social mechanism? How do the ongoing debates about national debt reframe the discourse of public borrowing? What are the “moral economies” appropriate to a historical moment in which default and bankruptcy are ever more common? We will explore these and other questions in the context of four disciplines centrally concerned with both the meaning and the history of credit and debt: anthropology, political economy, literary criticism, and philosophy. 

Because many of the thinkers listed below treat debt and credit as conceptual abstractions, we will ground our own consideration by pausing on four specific historico-political “sites”: the development of public credit in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the creation of massive national debts in developing countries during the mid-twentieth century; the securitization of credit in the late-twentieth century; and the anti-debt, mass-default, and “jubilee” movements of the current moment. Each student will select one of these sites and produce a class presentation (and, at the end of the term, a final research paper) on a topic relevant to that site.

Annie McClanahan received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California Berkeley in 2010 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Humanities Center at Harvard University from 2010-2011. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she teaches courses on contemporary American literature, the cultures of financialization and globalization, and the legacies of Marxist thought. She has published in symplokeSouth Atlantic Quarterly, and qui parle, and her essay on horror and credit crisis is forthcoming on Post45.


SHUM 4975 Politics of Risk in Early Modernity

(also GOVT 4775)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
E. Nacol
R 10:10 – 12:05

This course will investigate the relationship between calculation and perception in the designation and management of risk. Contemporary accounts of risk have noticed a problematic break between public perception of scope and location of risk and probabilistic calculation of risk. The assumption of this course is that this is an old problem, one that emerged in early modernity alongside risk as a novel way of imagining the future.  We thus find in early modern sources critical accounts of a politics of risk perception, in which anxiety about widespread social changes moves publics and authority figures to designate and assign blame for risks to particular groups.

Weeks 1-3 of the course will look at contemporary literature on risk perception and calculation to familiarize us with two important ideas: the connection between probabilistic and predictive knowledge and risk, as well as the observation that public risk perception often distorts or breaks with probabilistic knowledge about the future.   Possible sources from social theories and the history of probability include the work of Lorraine Daston, Mary Douglas, Ian Hacking.  

The remainder of the course will think through the ways in which calculation and perception are often out of joint in political and public discourse about risk, using some of the earliest social and political theorizing about the politics of risk perception.  In particular, the writings surrounding the emergence and promotion of large commercial societies in the eighteenth century provide fruitful materials for thinking about how societies politicize particular risks within a broader climate of uncertainty about the future.  In these instances of generalized anxiety about the future, how do we decide what constitutes a risk?  Why do we choose to focus on some possible threats over others?  What is the connection between designating risks and assigning blame?  These are high stakes questions for any society, and this course locates early struggle with these familiar questions in commercial writings in the eighteenth century, especially in Britain.  In particular, early modern sources already point to a persistent problem: that the perception of risk often reveals more about collective social anxiety in the present than it does about the likelihood of material danger in the future.

The course will focus on particular groups that come up frequently in British writings about the dangers and risks of commercial society: the poor, prostitutes and other criminals, and colonial subjects. Readings will include frequently canonical texts in the history of political thought, but we will also study more ephemeral writings from the period.  We will also analyze literature or art from the period, in search of homologous or dissenting accounts of risk perception and blame in popular sources.  Authors include Adam Smith, Daniel Defoe, Bernard Mandeville, Jonathan Swift.

Emily Nacol is a political theorist at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests lie primarily in the history of political thought, especially early modern political theory. In particular, her work focuses on the intersection of knowledge and politics in early modernity. Nacol is currently at work on a book manuscript, Governing Risk: Politics and Economy in Early Modern Britain. The book traces our current attitudes to risk to their early modern roots and asks how attention to and shifts in thinking about risk, and related conceptions of danger and uncertainty, produced a complex and nuanced conversation about the relationship among knowledge, politics, and order in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British writing on politics and political economy. Nacol’s teaching interests include ancient and early modern political thought, theories of capitalism and political economy, and democratic theory.  After completing her doctorate in political science at the University of Chicago in 2007, she held a research fellowship at Brown University’s Political Theory Project.

SHUM 4976 Risk, Romance, and Revolution

(also GOVT 4736, HIST 4976)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
C. Verhoeven
W 2:30 – 4:25 

The title of the seminar that I would like to offer is “Risk, Romance, and Revolution.” It would investigate the history of revolutionary “moments” around the globe from the early 16th century Anabaptist Münster Rebellion to the Occupy movement. Other episodes might include 1789, 1848, the Paris Commune, 1917, the Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler Revolutions, the Cuban Revolution, and 1968, plus perhaps 1989 and the Color Revolutions. The point of the seminar would be to study the heightened existential experience that comes with living through the extraordinary, hyper-consciously historical time that is characteristic of revolutionary moments. How does this temporality support historical actors in daring to think in otherwise unimaginable directions (including very violent ones)? What is it about this experience that supports the leap into the unknown and, as such, generates a romance with risk? How did sharing this experience affect the private (romantic) lives of revolutionary actors? And finally, how were these experiences manifested and commemorated in art and literature? Readings might include Convolute V in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Lenin’s/Zizek’s Revolution at the Gates, Griffin’s Modernism and Fascism, Schmitt’s Theory of the PartisanThe Diaries of Ernesto Che Guevara, and Augst’s The Baader-Meinhof Complex (as well as Edel’s 2008 film).

Claudia Verhoeven is assistant professor in the History Department at Cornell University. She received her Ph.D. in 2004 from UCLA and was assistant professor of modern European history at George Mason University from 2006-2009. Her first book, The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism (Cornell UP, 2009), is a micro/cultural history of the 1866 attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander II by the student radical, D. V. Karakozov. More recently, she has published a series of chapters and articles examining terrorism’s temporality, e.g. “Time of Terror, Terror of Time: On the Impatience of Russian Revolutionary Terrorism” in Jahrbücher für die Geschichte Osteuropas and “Oh, Times, There is No Time (But the Time that Remains): The Terrorist in Russian Literature, 1863-1913” in Terrorism and Narrative Practice. She is also the co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of the History of Terrorism (forthcoming from Oxford UP in 2013-14) and “Cultures of Radicalization: Discourses and Practices of Political Violence and Terrorism,” a special issue of the Social Science History Journal (forthcoming Fall 2012). Besides terrorism and related forms of irregular violence, her research interests include the revolutionary tradition; the history of modernism and the avant-garde; literature; historiography and historical method; and Russian, German, and European cultural-intellectual history.