Critical Platform Studies

Faculty Leader: Melissa Bailar (Director of Grants & Initiatives, Humanities Research Center, and Adjunct Lecturer in Humanities)

Student Participants: Andrew Battaglia (English), Annie Lowe (English), Michael Miller (English), Waleed Rikab (Religion), Clint Wilson III (English), Els Woudstra (Engilsh)

Web platforms are transforming the ways in which we communicate, find information, make purchases, and conduct research, and we in academia ought to study closely their construction and both their immediate and tangible as well as their long-term and dispersed effects. The seminar will explore, critique, and experience digital knowledge platforms (i.e., e-learning, publishing, collaborative research, or crowd-sourced) that uphold our academic mission to disseminate knowledge by enabling teachers, students and researchers to discover, analyze, share information without regard to barriers of space and time, and publish work widely. These same platforms, however, raise questions about what counts as expertise, who controls access to information, what gets lost in translation, what power is likely to shift from educational institutions to profit-seeking companies, how the privileging of quantification and metrics affects humanistic wisdom, and how academic autonomy and diversity are ultimately disrupted. The seminar will include readings, films, invited speakers, and workshops. Graduate students will help shape the syllabus so that their expertise and interests are incorporated.

Emerging Religions Writing Workshop

Faculty Leader: April DeConick (Isla Carroll and Percy Turner Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity)

Student Participants:  Learned Foote (Religion), Timothy Grieve-Carlson (Religion), Charles Joseph Schmidt (Religion), Victor Nardo (Religion)

This is a Mellon Writing Workshop focused on the emergence of new religious movements. Fellows will be responsible for generating questions and knowledge on this subject from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, using appropriate primary and secondary sources as well as case studies. The purpose of the seminar is to workshop papers written by Fellows and develop professional editing and writing skills in the direction of dissertation chapters and publishable papers.

When Was Waste? (Fall 2018) / Waste: Now & Next (Spring 2019)

Faculty Leaders: Joseph Campana (Alan Dugald McKillop Professor of English) and Cymene Howe (Associate Professor of Anthropology)

Student Participants: Melanie Ford (Anthropology), Kevin MacDonnell (English), Allen Porter (Philosophy), Clint Wilson (English)

When Was Waste?: Waste is omnipresent. The more it surrounds and shapes the conditions of life and culture, the more urgently it solicits attention. Since the pioneering work of Mary Douglas, who understood waste as “matter out of place,” waste has been understood by a range of disciplines through ideas of materiality or the object. A set of linked terms—garbage, detritus, rubbish, 4and trash—have come to the fore as have analyses dominated by tools, commodities, and things. Without excluding such approaches to the encroaching solidity of waste, we might approach waste not merely as a noun but as a verb and thus as a process, a system of use, a nexus of interconnection, and a set of relations. Waste is not merely an assemblage of things to be analyzed but a set of activities and impulses. More particularly, as we ask ourselves is waste a thing, a space, or a process, we might always wonder when is or was waste? Is it a signature of the past or harbinger of the future? Is this the recent past (what was just used) or of a future to come (dystopic or utopic?). In this course we’ll consider longer histories of the concept of waste from the point of view of multiple disciplines with an eye to how those histories precondition and impact the way we understand waste now and the futures we imagine relative to waste. We’ll consider texts and objects and questions from classical Greece to Enlightenment Europe and from history to philosophy and literature and the arts and beyond. In addition, participants will conduct their own research on a case study about waste in a moment, culture, and context of their own choosing. Conversations throughout the semester will happen in concert with the Rice Seminar: “Waste: Histories and Futures.” A number of sessions will focus on the work of a cluster of scholars who will have virtual meetings with us. The course culminates in a symposium in early December. This course takes place in conversation with an Anthropology graduate seminar offered by Cymene Howe in spring 2019 focused on the presents and futures of waste.

WASTE: NOW & NEXT: We might begin with a set propositions about what waste is: accumulated and deteriorated, produced and decomposed, alive and inert, mutable and recalcitrant, acute and infinite. And we could continue with this series of qualifications—about substances, processes and timescales—in order to make waste recognizable in its many manifestations. What waste is, most certainly, is a human preoccupation in the present, often affectively wound-up into imaginaries of futures that are either full or evacuated of it. In this class, the second in the Rice/Mellon Seminar Series on the thematic of waste, we will explore waste as proximate encounter and deferred condition. To do so, we will go to waste through a handful of field visits to sites of disposal and refigurations of medical waste, food refuse, and water hygienics. We will also get into waste through a series of texts concerned with things, people and other-than-humans that are intimates with waste in one (or many) way/s and across many geographic domains. In our online conversations with several leading scholars of waste, we will unravel some of the conundrums and paradoxes involved in the study of it, asking (maybe): “how does one get ahold of this thing called waste?” Throughout the course, we will be attentive to distinguishing the particular conditions that contextualize waste, allowing it to appear as one thing in one place and a very different thing in another. We will be cognizant of waste as an opportunity for some and a burden for many others. Using the tools of the environmental humanities and eco-oriented social sciences, as well as STS and materialist theorizations, our project will be to create a portrait of waste in the multiple, in its “now” and its “next.”