2022-2023 Theme Descriptions


Spring 2023: Take Care

As we continue to live through a global pandemic, a recognition of “care work" has entered our common lexicon. In the 1980s and 90s, social scientists turned attention to the lived experiences of workers in the care professions, coining phrases like “emotional labor” (Hochschild 1983) to describe the management of emotions necessary to perform certain kinds of “pink-collar” work. Scholarship in critical race studies has insisted that intimate labor (Parreñas 2015), rather than being limited to individual professions, is central to the functioning and sustenance of empire, and questioned notions of touch, service, domesticity and disposability associated with "care" in relation to slavery and its afterlives (Spillers). This theme invites reflections on contemporary theorizations of "care", including scholarship on caring relations of all kinds; the ethics and politics of care; and the historical modalities of care work. Who gives and receives care? How do we reconcile the ongoing racialized and gendered weight of care alongside new demands to "automate" care work?  How might caring relations enact their own forms of violence? How do demands to care or express solidarity elide differences and advance the interests of cultural hegemony?  What might a care ethics look like that considers the complexities of relational interdependency, rather than centering  individual rights? Topics may include ethnographies and histories of care professions; unwaged care labor; care robotics and AI; vulnerability and disability justice; critical theorizations of care and antiblackness; political, cultural, aesthetic, and archival economies of care.


2023-24 Theme Descriptions


Fall 2023: Personhood 

What defines and delimits the parameters of personhood?  How has the shifting legal status of personhood been instrumentalized to grant, as well as to deny, rights and recognition to human and non-human subjects past and present? Deriving from the Latin root persona, meaning “mask, character, role,” the fictive dimension of personhood is integral to the longue durée of its cultural lives and historical legacies. Colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade constructed legal fictions about enslaved peoples of African descent and “indios” as non- (or not full) persons, which continue to shape the world today. This semester’s theme invites inquiries into the changing contours and erasures of personhood past, present, and future from across the disciplines, including but not limited to:  studies of anti-Black negations of personhood (and of the juridical fictions and systems of representation that subtend them); environmental personhood (such as the successful advocacy in 2017 by Māori in New Zealand to extend personhood to the Whanganui River as part of ongoing struggles for indigenous recognition, and Bangladesh’s recent granting of personhood to the country’s rivers to mitigate industrial pollution); the contested personhood of non-human animals (such as the Bronx Zoo’s “Happy” the elephant, recently denied legal personhood); the effects of corporate personhood in the wake of Citizens United; the pitting of fetal personhood against pregnant people’s reproductive rights; and the futures of personhood in light of advances in artificial intelligence. How have scholars, artists, writers, and activists engaged with the changing scope of human and non-human personhood?


Spring 2024: Get Real 

What is at stake in appeals to the exigency of the Real?  Imperatives such as “Get real!” urge us to recognize the emergencies of the present moment, as the Real asserts itself in ways impossible to ignore:  war, climate crisis, global pandemics, social inequality, mass migration, deportations, and political volatility, to name a few.  In Black queer ballroom culture, “Realness” is generally understood to be something other than mere verisimilitude, a kind of hyper-Real superlative, or glimmer of possibility.  Laying claim to the Real has a long history, and the paradigms through which such claims are made are multiple, mobilizing the signifying power of words and images to quite disparate political ends.  If such claims now seem ubiquitous and ever more urgent, it is also the case that the bedrock of the Real is ever more contested and difficult to discern in a “post-Truth” world, amid the haze of mis- and disinformation and fog of “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  Screens may distort, distance, or diminish our sense of the Real, leaving us vaguely detached and perennially wondering: “For real?”  What recourse to the Real remains when its rhetoric becomes weaponized?  When wars of aggression are rebranded “special military operations”? When the metaphorical claim of social justice movements that the “world is on fire” becomes realized as the planet burns around us?  Should a shared sense of the Real remain a desideratum? Or are there advantages to embracing the status of the Real as an asymptotic, ever-receding object of desire?  Or putting data and facts, and the materiality of archives, in service to the speculative or utopic? This semester’s theme welcomes scholarship on the imperatives of the Real and claims to realness past, present, and yet to come, from across the disciplines.