Archive 2011

Seminar Series 2011

Pious Subjects / Sacred Geometries: Postcolonialism and the politics of Western Modernity

A seminar by David L Martin Lecturer in Visual and International Politics, Goldsmiths.

Tuesday 25 January, 5.30 pm, Senior CommonRoom, Richard Hoggart Building

If postcolonial analysis has done much to correct the singular vision that modernity was a purely Western phenomenon, it has been less successful in dismantling the notion that rationality constitutes the essence of what it is to be modern in the West. In doing so, it has tended to inadvertently re-inscribe the non-West as a site of multiplicity in the face of a robust and coherent Enlightenment rationality: with vision as its guarantor it is the sciences of the *West* which are unquestionably *rational*. This paper takes a different tack. Exploring the visual technologies used to render Western rationality as scientific, it sets in play a series of political ‘visions’ to help shed light on the so-called rational  nature of Western modernity. These visions tell of a European Enlightenment built as much on the appropriation of *sacred* technologies for the production of modern ways of knowing and being, as it was on the repeated denial and repression of this sacred order. Far from heralding the disenchantment of the world, then, what these visions show us is the way the Enlightenment conjured forth a visually pious subject forever doomed to searching for that privileged celestial vantage-point which would make sense of the repression from which it was struck, thereby once again rendering the world knowable and ordered. This we can see in its incessant cartographies and colonial wanderings.

The Postcolonial Subject of Violence: Explorations in Ethics and the Politics of Aesthetics

A seminar by Sam O. Opondo, University of Hawai’i.

Tuesday 8 February, 5:00pm, Senior Common Room, Richard Hoggart Building

In this paper, I examine how current discourses on human rights in Africa [and elsewhere] equip modern politics with an ontology that configures the world as a stable distribution of places, times, identities, functions and competencies. More specifically, I examine the forms of violence or disavowal of violence enabled by a rights discourse that acts as a site for the reconfirmation and protection of ‘our’ present knowledge, beliefs and values. In order to circumvent the vision of ethical and political life elaborated and deployed by the purveyors of human rights discourses, I treat a number of aesthetic events and encounters that interrupt the regimes of intelligibility that it establishes and the idea of the postcolonial subject of violence that it maintains. My primary encouragement for turning to an aesthetic mode of apprehension is that it adds voices and perspectives to a domain of postcolonial thought or experience that has generated silences and narrowed the scope of “the political.” As such, this exploration in ‘fugitive realities’ allows for the possibility of a different thought, a different ethics and different political subjects to emerge. It historicizes human rights and the postcolonial subject of violence in Africa and adds something ontologically different to existing conceptualizations of the familiar “problem of African violence.”

Sam Okoth Opondo is a Phd candidate in Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and is currently a visiting postgraduate researcher at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, Cardiff University. His research centres on the poetics of mediating estrangement, politics of aesthetics and cultural translation in post/colonial societies. His publications include : ‘Genre and the African City: The Politics and Poetics of Urban Rhythms’ in Journal for Cultural Research, Volume 12 Issue 1 2008 , p59 – 79, and ‘Decolonising Diplomacy: Reflections on African Estrangement and Exclusion’ in Costas M. Costantinou and James Der Derian Eds., Sustainable Diplomacies and Global Securities (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010 ) and  is Co-editor with Michael J. Shapiro of ‘The New Violent Cartography: Geo-Analysis After the Aesthetic Turn’, (Routledge , Forthcoming)

Hiroshima “Shadows” and Ontology of the Human Remains

A seminar by Ewa Domanska, Adam Mickiewicz University at Poznań, Poland.

Monday 21 February, 5:00pm, Richard Hoggart Building, room 150

The purpose of this presentation is to indicate the importance of discussion on the various problems related to the dead bodies and human remains and to address the problem of the materiality of the dead body, its concrete, undeniable presence, its thingnes. The idea is to bring back the subject of dead bodies and human remains to our concerns and put it out of the context of abjection, horror and necrophiliac desires on the one hand, and out of context of sublimation, romanticisation of the dead and necroaesthetics, on the other. In my presentation I am going to focus on nuclear holocaust and the case of the “Human shadow etched in stone” that was imprinted on the stairs of the Sumitomo Bank in Hiroshima during the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945 (exhibited in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum). I would call this phenomenon a “signature of annihilation” and indicate the differences between humanistic interpretations concentrated on the phenomenon as a “shadow” versus analyses developed by biochemists and physicists who consider the material aspect of the “spot” as human ashes which, having been reduced to atoms, have been implanted into stone. How can historical theory deal with the issue of this specific post-mortem status of the dead body that has been annihilated without any possibility of identification? Is this shadow/spot to be considered as a specific trace of the past (a vestige)? and does its uncanny and traumatic presence detach us from the past or rather bring us closer to it? What is the “essence” of this trace that allows us to talk about the past in terms of contradiction (i.e. as non-absent past) rather than as opposition (the past as absent or present)?

Ewa Domanska is an associate professor of theory and history of historiography at the Department of History, Adam Mickiewicz University at Poznań, Poland and since 2002  visiting associate professor at the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, USA. She is working on comparative theory of the human sciences, contemporary theory and history of historiography. She is also interested in topics related to the problem of dead bodies as represented in archaeology, anthropology, history and art and related to genocides and crimes against humanity. She is the author of Unconventional Histories. Reflections on the Past in the New Humanities (2006, in Polish); Microhistories: Encounters In-between Worlds (1999, revised edition, 2005 in Polish); editor of several books including: Encounters: Philosophy of History After Postmodernism (Virginia University Press, 1998); (with Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner) Re-Figuring Hayden White (Stanford University Press, 2009); History, Memory, Ethics (2002, in Polish) and French Theory in Poland (with Miroslaw Loba, 2010, in Polish).

Nation-Work: Towards a Praxeology of Cultural Nationalism

A seminar by Kristin Surak, University of Duisburg-Essen / European University Institute.

Monday 7 March, 5pm, NAB 3.26

In the past two decades, a lively literature focusing on ‘nationness’ the daily sense of belonging to a nation has developed alongside the well-established studies of nationalism engaged with formal ideologies and political movements. Yet there is little dialogue between the analyses of power politics and accounts of quotidian experience, though both are concerned with the subjective pratices and agencies that give objective reality to the nation. In this talk, I will suggest that we can connect these literatures by examining what I term “nation-work,” or the social labor of people who at once attribute national meanings to cultural practices, and act with and through such practices to generate national meanings. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research on the Japanese tea ceremony, I look at the way agents use cultural practices both to define and to embody national identities.  I argue that we can clarify how they apply national “visions and divisions” of the world if we consider the inter-relations between three modes of ethnonational categorization: distinction, specification, and differentiation.

Kristin Surak is an assistant professor of comparative sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen and a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute.  Her forthcoming book, Nation-Work: Making Tea Japanese, examines the intersection of nationalism and culture in the Japanese tea   ceremony.  She has published articles in the European Journal of Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, International Migration Review, and New Left Review.

Art should serve the people

A seminar by Chris Gill, Art journalist & Shanghai resident artist.

Monday 11 April, 4:00pm, Richard Hoggart Building room 137.

What specifically differentiates Chinese art, apart from the obvious regional specification? A major factor was Chairman Mao’s decision that “Art should serve the people,” made at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in the 1940s, which was fully implemented once the Communist Party had taken over leadership of the country. By means of this directive, Soviet style realism dominated, and those artists who had been more integrated into the world art scene prior to this, had to disregard western art practice, which was considered bourgeois. Many artists were denounced, and this became worse during the cultural revolution. Also after the Communist take over of China artists had very little exposure to anything except Soviet style work, and soviet style art education still dominates in art schools to this day. Once the reform process started by the early 80s Chinese artists gradually became aware of the various art movements and ideas that were prevalent outside the Soviet sphere. Currently artists who want to can keep close contact with the art world outside of China, mostly via the internet, and also there are numerous exchanges and travel opportunities available for Chinese artists today. As the institutional, academic, critical and political situation is quite different to ‘the west’ a new emerging way of doing things is emerging in China, loosely referred to as “The Chinese Model.” What is the Chinese model? It is a rough, and often unspoken, collection of strategies for dealing with issues- such as lack of funding- more specifically state funding, censorship, under the table financial dealings, problems with institutions and cultural organizations, who have political directives and agendas that the artists may not want to be associated with. Also art criticism in China has many detractors- mostly due to the perceived idea that art critics now only write about artists for payment. Similarly auctions in China have become a very grey area with a lot of talk of manipulations. What this means in effect that there is a blurring of the lines, as the contemporary art scene rapidly evolves, and the government mechanisms of control also evolve in parallel, so we have a very sophisticated escalation on both sides, which will create a very complex and in some way unscalable monolithic structure, which we call “Chinese Contemporary Art.”

Why Culture Matters: the changing landscape of culture and society, Bangalore

A seminar by Tejaswini Niranjana, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore.

Thursday 5 May, 5:00-7:00pm, RHB 308.

The gender-culture conjuncture has been central to how we in India and more broadly in Asia have thought about social change over the last hundred years. The larger framework was provided by nationalism and the anti-colonial struggle in the case of India, and the alignment of women with national culture. Today questions of culture as well as gender are being newly foregrounded as economic reforms and globalization take root. The lecture will discuss three key recent debates that have animated feminist politics in India – around the Miss World Beauty Contest in 1994, the film “Fire” in 1998, and the Pink Underwear Campaign of 2009 – to argue that we should rethink the gender-culture conjuncture to be able to better account for and intervene in our social reality.

Tejaswini Niranjana is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, India, and is currently Visiting Fellow at the Institut d’Etudes Avancees de Nantes. Tejaswini has been awarded the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, the Sephis Fellowship, the Prince Claus Fund award (twice), the Rockefeller Fellowship, and the Sawyer Fellowship. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2007). Her publications include the recent Mobilizing India: Women, Music and Migration between India and Trinidad (Durham, 2006) and Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context (Berkeley, 1992). She has co-edited Interrogating Modernity: Culture and Colonialism in India (Kolkata, 1993). In addition to her academic work, Tejaswini heads the Higher Education Cell at CSCS, with the mandate of creating, fundraising for, and implementing programmes for the positive transformation of the higher education sector in India.

(World) War makes the (World) State, and the (World) State makes (World) War, with apologies to Charles Tilly

A seminar by Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Professor of Politics, UC Santa Cruz

18 October 2011, 4:00pm, Richard Hoggart Building 137

A world state is emerging, not as a result of capitalist globalization (Hardt & Negri) or a teleology of anarchy (Wendt) or nuclear federalism (Deudney).

Rather, as Ellen Meksins Wood and Robert Brenner have argued, compulsion is a much more powerful force than opportunity, and, thus, the compelling force for this world state is world war.  Moreover, war is a powerful force for technological and social innovation, affecting winners as well as losers (and bystanders). As Siniša Malešvić argues (drawing on a long history of war studies), the prosecution of world war requires organizational materialism and a teleological ideologism to mobilize men, materiel and mission, and the results of such wars can be quite unpredictable and contrary to the certainties of those engaged in their planning (as Karl Polanyi observed, “laissez-faire was planned, planning was not”).

The current and ongoing world war began, in fits and starts, sometime in the early 1950s, as the United States used its newly-acquired global power and status to make the country secure by shaping the world in its own image.  The mix of strategic and economic policies, co-constituting a singular, if not always consistent logic, led to the emergence of what I called, in earlier work, Imperium.  The latest phase of this world war began, arguably, around September 2011 and, as the logic of the erstwhile “Global War on Terrorism” eventually settled into a particular pattern of search for dangerous individuals. Thus, world war is being waged not so much against states, nations, ethnies, groups, tribes or clans but, rather, against the world’s people.  In the process or surveilling, assessing and disciplining, an increasingly bureaucratized, steel web (Weber) is being weaved, into which individuals (and civil society and market actors) are being assimilated and governmentalized (Foucault).



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