The UC Davis Humanities Institute is pleased to announce five research clusters for the 2016-17 academic year. Providing a critical space for interdisciplinary research and collaboration, clusters facilitate exchange among faculty and graduate students in workshops, symposia, and mini-conferences.
Black Radical Thought: Traditions, Aftermaths, Futures
Faculty Contact: Laurie Lambert (African American & African Studies)
The main goal of this research cluster is to promote critical dialogue, in the form of research, writing, and publications, on black radicalism across the African Diaspora. We will host a symposium that examines the role of intellectuals in imagining, leading, and promoting radicalism and revolution throughout Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), Martinican psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon writes, “Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different” (6). We are interested in how black intellectuals have experienced and described this fundamental difference between the colonized and the colonizer. What are the key concepts black radical intellectuals have developed to understand anti-colonial struggle? How have these concepts evolved as black freedom struggles have shifted over time? What does black radicalism mean in 2016? How can we situate current concepts of radicalism and revolution in relation to previous iterations throughout the black world? Drawing on the work of Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, our conceptualization of black radicalism does not take for granted the “chronological boundary between past and present inherited from antiquity” (Trouillot 5). Instead we are invested in creating a critical framework that can account for the simultaneity of the traditions, aftermaths, and futures of black radicalism and revolution.
Cluster on Language Research
Faculty Contact: Robert Blake (Linguistics)
Initially founded in 2013 through the joint effort of UC Davis faculty and graduate students and with the support of the DHI, this cluster encourages investigation, exploration, and dialogue between researchers involved in diverse fields such as theoretical and applied linguistics, cognitive psychology, foreign language teaching and education, language policy, sociology of language, language preservation, and philosophy of language. In essence, our mission is to create a space where students and faculty of diverse linguistic training can share their insights and expertise in the pursuit of a more modern and unified vision of language. We are pleased to report that during the last two years we have accomplished this goal and have set the stage for further progress. We are expanding on this interdisciplinary focus by attracting more participation from students and scholars in psychology, computer science, and education, in addition to the active contributions from its core members of the last two years drawn from the Linguistics, Spanish, and French departments.
Cognitive/Social-Science Media Theory (CSSMT)
Faculty Contact: Laramie Taylor (Communications)
Why do films, and audio-visual media in general, have the power they do over their viewers – not only to entertain, but to engage audiences emotionally and even, in some cases, to change the very core of a culture? Why do certain characters (Bale’s Batman, Bridget Jones, Hannibal Lecter) enter the cultural lexicon while others are quickly forgotten? Why do some films succeed while others fail (financially and/or artistically)? These myriad questions about cinema/audio-visual media — one of California’s biggest industries and the US’s key cultural export around the world — point to a fundamental inquiry: what exactly happens in the brains/minds of viewers to make these phenomena and processes transpire in the way that they do? By bringing together faculty and graduate students who study media from diverse perspectives — both humanistic and cognitive/social-scientific, from some eight different departments/programs — we aim to address these kinds of questions that seem central to narratives, their aesthetics, and therefore humanistic studies in general.
New Viet Nam Studies Cluster
Faculty Contact: Caroline Valverde (Asian American Studies)
In the heels of Viet Nam’s dramatic economic rise in the last few years and its concerted efforts to engage internationally as a result of it, there has been renewed interest to study contemporary Viet Nam (V .Nguyen 2015; Espiritu 2014; Valverde 2013; Worrall 2014; Veith 2013; Turse 2013; Wu2013; and L. Nguyen 2012). The New Viet Nam Studies Cluster aims to directly engage and coordinate research to lead this emerging trend. With a population of 94 million and a literacy rate of 92 percent, Viet Nam is moving from the international ranking of ‘poor’ to ‘middle poor,’ making it the fastest growing nation in Southeast Asia. Its recent signing of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) begs the question of how such global trade agreements will strengthen its economy while maintaining its sovereignty and independence. These and many other pertinent research questions will have practical consequences for Viet Nam and its widening global reach. This is the time for us to consider the economic reconstruction and cultural renewal of Viet Nam as it moves beyond the major conflicts of its recent history to chart its own course into the future.
Research, Narrative, and Performance: Explorations in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities
Faculty Contact: Cristiana Giordano (Anthropology)
This cluster explores the cross pollination between research and narrative practices in performance studies, social sciences, and the humanities. By creating a dialogue between these disciplines in a laboratory format, we hope to pose questions and engage techniques in ways that will enrich our engagement with anthropological and humanistic questions, and performative productions. We will explore how social scientists and humanities scholars can learn from theater and the arts a more playful posture towards research, and a more performative understanding of narrative that can translate into either new forms of writing (essays, plays, short stories), or into a revitalized existing practice of academic writing. On the other hand, theater makers, performers, and artists can learn from social sciences’ methods a more nuanced understanding of political and cultural contexts, how to approach the different discourse formations around events, and to pay attention to the complexities of different worlds. We will use theatrical devising techniques to engage ethnographic questions and material. In this context, theatrical devices will provide us with tools to analyze our findings through the body and the embodiment of narratives in space. By exploring our narratives through the elements of the stage (lights, sets, objects, sound, bodies etc.), theater can teach us to engage with them more viscerally in our writing. On the other hand, social sciences can teach us to listen to the intricacies of stories in a way that can broaden and deepen the ways in which theater makers render narratives for the stage.
The Philosophy and Physics of Space-time
Faculty Contact: Alyssa Ney (Philosophy)
The status of space-time in our most fundamental theories has been a topic of research for several members of the Philosophy department. It is also the topic of a popular upper division philosophy course, Philosophy of Space and Time, taught by Professor Cody Gilmore and Professor Elaine Landry. The subject of time in relativity is also addressed in another upper division course, Metaphysics, taught by Professor Alyssa Ney. There is a happy affinity between this philosophical research and the work of several members of the physics department. Professors Steven Carlip, Veronika Hubeny, and Mukund Ragamani all work in the field of quantum gravity. As part of this work, they develop and explore theories in which space-time is not fundamental, but maybe explained in terms of more fundamental frameworks lacking a space-time fabric.
The goal of these interdisciplinary conversations is to achieve a better understanding of the sense in which space and time may be emergent rather than fundamental structures and the extent to which our most fundamental physical theories are suggesting this is so. At this early stage of collaboration, we are most interested in establishing a shared foundation of knowledge and so we propose in this first year to bring in a set of speakers with expertise on the status of space-time in relativity and theories of quantum gravity, as well as the formation of the internal psychological image of space-time.
–Michael Accinno, Graduate Student Researcher and Ph.D. candidate in musicology