Rice Seminars

2016-17 | Chronotopic Imaginaries: The City in Signs, Signals, and Scripts

In a data-driven world –where insights can now be ‘data-enabled’ and solutions ‘data-inspired’– the meaning and value of quantitative estimations and numerical assessments often add up to no more than forms of obliteration and censorship cloaked in veils of objectivity. The ubiquity of connectedness, however, has produced a new textual medium made of tweets, GPS locations, text messages, online profiles, fora, etc., all due of the ongoing production, collection, and curation of massive amounts of zeros and ones. Data now flows through a pervasive network of computers, tablets, smartphones, PDAs, media players, and GPS navigation units, the ‘text’ of which is in need of a new reader, as critical and perceptive as previous semioticians who had ‘traditionally’ interpreted the signs and signals of often equally disruptive scripts. Unimaginable amounts of data also reside in the databases and computer clusters of government agencies, corporations, and, in particular, municipal agencies that are increasingly creating open digital repositories from which a multitude of file formats can be downloaded, read, and interpreted. It is through this open access to massive amounts of data that the city may indeed become the “discourse” to which Roland Barthes alluded long ago. The city “speaks to its inhabitants,” Barthes wrote and available digital repositories may well constitute treasure troves where scholars can undertake research at a never before seen scale.


2015-16 | After Biopolitics

Over the past twenty-five years, no paradigm has become more central to understanding our own moment than the paradigm of biopolitics—a fact that has, in turn, left hardly any discipline in the humanities and social sciences untouched. How can “life,” the “body,” “environment,” “nature,” “flesh,” “community,” the “viral,” the “object,” and other key terms in the biopolitical lexicon be reconceptualized in such a way as to draw out their potentialities that might elude the capture, canalization, regularization, privatization, and manipulation of life at levels heretofore unknown that have characterized the literature on the biopolitical thus far?  

Faculty Organizers:
Timothy Morton, Rita Shea Guffey Professor of English
Cary Wolfe, Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English; Director, 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory; Editor, Posthumanities


2014-15 | Exchanges and Temporalities in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Victorianism

This seminar will problematize the geographical, chronological, and epistemological assumptions that divide the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries into periods or movements, and addresses cultural exchanges between Britain and the rest of the world.  

Faculty Organizers:
Helena Michie, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor in Humanities
Alexander Regier, Associate Professor of English, Editor, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900


2013-14 | Materialism and New Materialism across the Disciplines

The 2013-2014 Rice Seminar will undertake a year-long inquiry into the “new materialism” in light of the history of science and philosophy. We will consider “new materialism” from the vantage of the longer sweep of discourse about materialism in the Western tradition, examining problems such as: physical mechanism in Descartes and Hobbes; Spinoza’s secular monism; Nietzsche’s naturalism; the physics of motion from classical atomism to quantum mechanics; the concept of self-organization in the biological sciences; feminist notions of embodiment; materialism and the problem of consciousness. 

Faculty Organizers:
Sarah Ellenzweig, Associate Professor of English
Jack Zammito, John Antony Weir Professor of History


2012-13 | Human Trafficking - Past and Present: Crossing Disciplines, Crossing Borders

Human Trafficking has been announced as the topic for the 2012-2013 inaugural seminar. The twenty-first century has witnessed a global expansion of slavery and the slave trade. Long considered a relic of the past that had been dismantled during the emancipation period of the nineteenth century, coerced labor is spreading as part of the informal labor sector not only in economically depressed countries, but also in emerging industrialized economies and the most advanced industrialized and democratic societies. Recent scholarship has emphasized the protean nature of slavery up through the nineteenth century, as well as the new forms of bound labor that emerged in the twentieth. Processes of modern globalization have exacerbated this modern form of slavery and the attendant slave trading that is now most commonly referred to as human trafficking.

Faculty Organizers:
James Sidbury, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Kerry Ward, associate professor of history