MFS Topics 2011-2012

Midwest Faculty Seminar

Based at the University of Chicago Center for Teaching and Learning, this seminar series brings together faculty from a consortium of private colleges in the Midwest for intensive study of an interdisciplinary topic. Our subscription includes the ability to send up to four faculty members per year to MFS seminars. 2011-2012 topics are below. Elmhurst Faculty interested in attending one of the seminars should apply by email to ksagarin [at] elmhurst [dot] edu. In your application, please indicate how you see participation in this seminar contributing to your development as a faculty member.

Crime and Social Order
Nov 3-5. 2011

Crime has always had a powerful place in the popular imagination. From crime fiction to true crime and the media frenzies that follow, the allure of the criminal is enduring, as are the importance of criminals and crimes to the way we produce and understand the foundations of social order. This seminar will explore the complexities of this relationship from perspectives in both the humanities and the social sciences, looking at cultural objects as well as political and legal history from around the world. We will place particular focus on the different shapes questions of crime and criminality take in South Africa, Europe, and the United States, investigating the different logics by which criminality functions in the production of social order and the meaning of discourses about crime in situations where order is tenuous at best. At a time in which the line between crime and the order it works to produce seems blurrier by the day, we hope to come to a better sense of what criminality means to our societies, and of what its confusion says about the order of our present.

Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man
Jan 19-21, 2012

One of the landmarks of twentieth-century literature, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man ends with the haunting intimation that the troubled voice of its nameless narrator just might, in some way, speak for us. The novel’s conclusion thus not only asks us to think about how the voice of its protagonist can claim to be representative, it also demands that we determine to whom the implied “us” of the conclusion refers. In this seminar, we will focus on the historical and sociopolitical context—and the novel’s response to that context—that made Invisible Man’s final question a pertinent one, not only for it, but for all of black fiction. We will then ask whether or not the same question can be asked in the same way in the early 21st century. Our discussion will take place in conjunction with the Court Theatre’s production of Invisible Man, adapted by Oren Jacoby and directed by Christopher McElroen.

Death and the Politics of Life
February 23-25, 2012

How do life and death assume political meaning? What are the basic processes by which the lives of individuals and of populations become the objects of political control? And how can we understand the impact of the politicization of life on some of the most important political questions of our time? This seminar will look at the emergence of biopolitics in the modern West and at the influence it has had on the development of law, philosophy, politics, theology and medicine. Part of our inquiry will focus on the important accounts of biopolitics and biopower offered by thinkers like Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Derrida. We will, however, also try to construct a link between these theoretical works and the practical effects that biopolitics has had on how we think about life and death in the political sphere. The seminar, therefore, will also consider the politics of life as it pertains to thorny political issues surrounding health care policy and end-of-life care, genomics and medical ethics, abortion and reproductive health, and human and animal rights. Our hope is that these two modalities through which we register the politics of life and death might be brought together in mutually enlightening ways.

Alternative Modernities
April 5-7, 2012

For most of the last two centuries, the conceptual categories of Western modernity have been deployed without alteration as a framework for grasping political, economic, technological, and cultural change in societies outside the West. Increasingly, however, historians, social scientists and others have begun to challenge the universality of the West’s account of modernity with the notion of “alternative modernities”—diverse and culturally-specific manifestations of modernity and modernization. This seminar will draw on perspectives from the humanities and social sciences in order to think about what modernity means across the global South and about the effects that the notion of alternative modernities has had on our understanding of the sites in question. Of particular interest will be different aesthetic forms that these alter-modernities take and the wide range of cultural and artistic practices that register and reflect upon processes of modernization and different experiences of modernity. The seminar will, however, give attention to the way the alternative modernities thesis has shaped thinking about what terms like “development,” “history,” and “politics” mean to contemporary political and social thought as well.