Sawyer Seminar to Bring International Scholars to UC Davis

“Indigenous Cosmopolitics: Dialogues about the Reconstitution of Worlds,” an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar, will bring together international scholars to explore the ways in which indigenous social movements and recent developments in the philosophy of science blur the division between nature and culture.

Allowing UC Davis to become a research hub in 2012-2013 for this comparative study of cultures, the Sawyer Seminar will discuss the political, epistemic, and ontological implications of indigenous claims to what extractive industries call “natural resources.” The seminar inaugurates a conversation between two otherwise disconnected practices: indigenous politics and critical philosophy of science.

“The issues seminar participants will confront are of particular importance for us at UC Davis,” said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter, noting the campus-wide commitment to environmental research and sustainable innovation. “The seminar exemplifies the way at UC Davis the humanities often provide a framework to better understand the assumptions and ramifications of initiatives involving energy and sustainability.”

The Sawyer Seminar is designed to provide a setting for comparative inquiry that might otherwise be difficult in traditional academic settings. In addition to funding a postdoctoral research fellow and two advanced graduate students, the Mellon grant will underwrite the travel costs associated with bringing to UC Davis an array of scholars working in the humanities and social sciences for a series of symposia and a concluding conference.

Working in partnership with the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the Center for Science and Innovation Studies will provide seminar participants with meeting space and other logistical support. Dean of Graduate Studies Jeffery Gibeling will offer the support of his division for two graduate students.

Under the leadership of de la Cadena, central participants in the seminar will be Distinguished Professor of Law and Science and Technology Studies Mario Biagioli, director of the Center for Science and Innovation Studies, Associate Professor of English Michael Ziser and Professor of Anthropology Joseph Dumit. Ziser is co-Director of the Environmental Humanities Research Cluster, and Dumit directs the Science and Technology Studies program.

“I am thrilled at the possibility of collaborating with all three of them,” said de la Cadena. “We will lead an interdisciplinary year-long graduate seminar for students in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Seminar participants–both graduate students and faculty–will benefit from the monthly presentations by invited scholars. It will be a dream come true–a space to team teach and to think collectively and collaboratively about the intertwinement between politics, science, and the epistemic histories that created the distinction between nature and culture, and which are seemingly being challenged.”

While the seminar’s official activities will not begin until Fall 2012, the planning is already underway. Invitations have been sent and calls have been released for faculty and graduate student/postdoctoral participants. A website to publicize and archive the seminar’s exchanges is being built. And this winter, two scholars, Professor of Anthropology Olga Gonzales of Macalaster College and Juan Obarrio, an assistant professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, will anchor two workshops on “Indigenous Cosmopolitics: Andes and Africa” to address the ways in which the nature-culture divide underpinning modern political projects is being questioned by non-modern groups in the Andes and Africa.