Fall 2017

Rethinking Necropolitics

This Fall we will explore necropolitics or the politics of the dead.  Necropolitics was initially defined by Achille Mbembe as a manifestation of sovereignty wherein "To exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment of manifestations of power." (2003) This can take the form of actual control over biological existence or that of social death, be it via exile or systematic exclusion from opportunity.  While not the immediate focus at its inception the issue can be turned to the question of "which lives matter" and which are to be considered excess or surplus. Reinhardt Koselleck provided a different though not unrelated understanding of the "politics of the dead" in his "War Memorials: Identity Formation of the Survivors" and in this light it could be argued that "necropolitics" is a more capacious category: one that applies to all disciplines concerned with the recovery of the past.  Extending beyond Koselleck or Mbembe, necropolitics can be seen as a positive means of constituting community through the practice of caring for the dead.  Here, burial, festival, memorials, and tradition play key roles.  This leads us to issues of memory and memorialization but also back to the question of who and what counts when counting the dead.  Over the course of this semester we will attempt to redefine the concept of necropolitics in light of recent work on questions of disposability(people but also things), extinction, fugivity, memory, animism, hauntology, retroactive ancestral construction, and post-mortem agency but also in relation to more traditional disciplinary approaches and issues.

Spring 2018

Grand Narratives/Modest Proposals

In 1979 Jean-Francois Lyotard famously announced the end of the Grand Narrative ushering in a new epistemological frame based on fragmentation and difference.  The initial impetus of this movement was characterized by a turn to high theory but this eventually shifted toward an interest in returning to the "real", to the evidentiary, and to matters of fact.  More recently, and despite pretensions to divine a more immediate access to the subjects under investigation, this impulse has been characterized in the human sciences by a rhetoric of modesty quite removed from either the grand narratives or high theory of the prior movements.  And yet such modest proposals are now igniting a return to grand narrative be it in evolutionary theory, Big or Deep History, or the vast expanse of the digital humanities.  The counter or companion to this unlikely twinning is a resurgence of apologetic or unapologetic rhetorics of big theory or narrative/interpretation as either counterpoint or support.  In this semester, we will explore the relation of grand narratives, modest proposals, and meta-narratives over diverse periods and places bringing these to bear on our current moment.