Agency: What Does It Mean Across the Humanities?
What are the meanings of “agency” in various disciplines and interdisciplines of the humanities? To what extent is it theorized or assumed? Does agency mean the freedom to act? To think? To feel? Is agency individual or collective? Does agency imply autonomy? How does agency relate to structure? Institutions? Oppression? Political Activism? Subjectivity? Identity? Emotion? Morality? Religion? How does agency relate to victims, torture, human rights? Is agency inherent in all forms of creativity? Is agency exclusively “human”? Do (non-human) animals have agency? Plants? Microbes? Do machines have agency? (Remember, “Open the pod door, Hal,” from 2001!)?
“Agency” means something quite different across cultures, including the different academic cultures of the humanities and interpretative social sciences. Agency is also often hotly debated in such fields as feminist theory, race theory, and poststructuralist theory. Is “agency” a product of Enlightenment thought, a keystone of “liberalism”? Or do different cultures and times produce varying notions of individual and/or communal agency? Within the framework of a Foucauldian discourse theory, agency appears as a fiction; within the framework of social movement theory, agency is foundational for change. How do we negotiate the different meanings of agency in our fields and disciplines?
Ask yourself: in your own research, do you assume some form of agency to be at work in what you study? If so, what do you mean by it? Panelists will make short presentations (6-7 minutes) on the meaning(s) of agency in their research for one hour. We will then have one hour of general discussion, so please bring your ideas about agency (especially in relation to your own work) to share with others.
Refreshments available by 2:45 PM.
Kawaii: Fraught Innocence in Asian (American) Commodity Culture
Pink globalization, the spread of cute goods from Japan to other parts of the world, has been a stronghold of consumption in various parts of the industrial world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly with Hello Kitty as its mascot. The Japanese icon that has gone global represents some of the most far-reaching aspects of kawaii (cute) soft power, creating what Yano calls an “empire of cute” that references the character’s global reach, as well as her broad power as a national (Japan) and ethnic (Asian American) icon. This presentation addresses ways by which kawaii (cute) presents a fraught regime in its infantilized familiarity, its unthreatening nature, and its “demand for care.” The critics’ voices rise from their own collective demographic of originary fans – Asian-American, female -- to complicate the picture. In short, the critics decry the stereotype that lives in part through the putative persistence of Hello Kitties in their midst, reinforced by the sexual politics of multicultural America.
Presented in partnership with the Burdick-Vary Lecture Series: Asian Americans and the Pleasures of Fantasy.
Christine R. Yano, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii, has conducted research on Japan and Japanese Americans with a focus on popular culture. Her publications include Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song (Harvard, 2002), Crowning the Nice Girl; Gender, Ethnicity, and Culture in Hawaii’s Cherry Blossom Festival (Hawaii, 2006),Airborne Dreams: “Nisei” Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways (Duke, 2011), and Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty and its Trek Across the Pacific (Duke, 2013). She curated a major exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty,” which ran from 2014 to 2015, and continues to travel. During 2014-2015, she served as Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, resulting in a book project with Asian American undergraduates there entitled Straight A’s: Asian American Academic Achievement.
The Trial Nobody Expected: A Tale of Torture, Music, and Human Rights in the Americas
This is an extraordinary true-life story. It's a tale of murder, human rights, and social justice in the Americas. It's about the power of music in tumultuous times – and also, the power of historical knowledge and the humanities in the wake of atrocity. This is a traveling story – from the 1960s to our times, from a sports stadium in Santiago, Chile to a U.S. federal court in Orlando, Florida. It is the story of Chile's iconic "New Song" artist, Víctor Jara.
Steve J. Stern is the Alberto Flores Galindo and Hilldale Professor of History at UW-Madison. He researches Latin American history, and recently published The Human Rights Paradox: Universality and Its Discontents (2014), co-edited with Scott Straus. Stern's research demonstrates the inventiveness of Latin American responses to unequal structures of power, with sometimes surprising impact on world history. Honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Bolton-Johnson Prize for best book in Latin American history, for Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988; and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Social Science Research Council. Stern is a founding editor, with Scott Straus, of the "Critical Human Rights" series at the UW Press, and has won a UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award. He is at work on a project entitled "Between Human Rights and Social Justice: Latin America and the World in Film and History."
History, Time and Mass Atrocity in Cambodia
Buddhist prophesies about the end of our time and the dawning of a new era tied to the enlightenment of the fifth buddha in our kalpa or “epoch” have circulated widely across the Buddhist world for nearly two millennia. In Cambodia, these millenarian prophesies have also served as a powerful and pervasive response to and explanation for the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, one that is rarely acknowledged in scholarly interpretations of recent Cambodian history. This talk draws on interdisciplinary research investigating the Buddhist prophesies that have inspired millenarian Buddhism in Cambodia from the colonial era to the post-Socialism of the 1990s. It will raise intertwined questions of whether and how Buddhist prophetic conceptions of temporality might serve as an alternative frame for understanding the Cold War in Cambodia as well as questions about the ethics of representing the suffering of others in scholarship.
Anne R. Hansen is Professor of History and Religious Studies at UW Madison in the Department of History and Program in Religious Studies, where she researches and teaches about the history and development of Theravada Buddhism, Southeast Asian religions, modern Buddhist reform movements, religion and colonialism, Buddhist ethics and moral history, and theory and method in the study of religion. She received a PhD in religious studies from Harvard University and a MDiv from Harvard Divinity School. Hansen is the author of How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860-1930 (2007) and editor of At the Edge of the Forest: Essays on Cambodia, History and Narrative (2008). She is currently working on two books, one on Buddhist conceptions of time, social change and millenarianism in Cambodia, and another on Buddhist ethics of care in Southeast Asian visual culture. Her most recent article “Painting Ethics: Death, Love, and Moral Vision in the Mahāparinibbāna,” appears as part of a symposium on visual ethics in Journal of Religious Ethics 44.1 (March 2016): 17-50.
Plato's Phaedo: The Initiation of a Philosopher
Plato’s Phaedo is one of his literary and philosophical masterpieces, set on the last day of Socrates’ life. How should we understand Socrates’ reference to Pythagorean and Orphic religious views in the dialogue? Is this a separate feature of dialogue, independent of the detailed philosophical arguments? Instead of being religious window-dressing, I argue that Socrates gives these views precise accounts and an important role in the arguments, appropriating and transforming Pythagorean and Orphic views to present a radical new account of the soul, the good life, and the nature of reality. This reading allows us to see how the different elements of the dialogue fit together to form a cohesive philosophical vision.
David Ebrey (Ph.D., UCLA) works on ancient Greek philosophy, primarily on Plato and Aristotle. So far his research on Plato has focused on Socratic inquiry, the value of knowledge, moral education, and Platonic forms. His research on Aristotle has focused on matter in Aristotle's natural philosophy and syllogisms in his logic. He has published in journals such as Journal of the History of Philosophy, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, and British Journal of the History of Philosophy, and he has edited a volume, Theory and Practice in Aristotle’s Natural Science (Cambridge, 2015). He has received a Mellon Postdoc (2007-2009), Alice Kaplan Humanities Institute Fellowship (2011-2012), and a Spencer Foundation Grant (2012-2013). He was a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge in 2013. He is currently working on a book on Plato’s Phaedo.
Madison's Asian American Media Spotlight
Join us for a weekend celebrating brand new Asian American documentaries and filmmakers, brought to you by the Asian American Studies Program at UW-Madison. All films are free, open to the public, and followed by Q&A.
BAD RAP - Friday Oct. 7, 7pm at Elvehjem L140 followed by Q&A with Producer Jaeki Cho. This documentary follows the careers of four Asian American rappers – including Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy and Lyricks -- who must literally and figuratively battle for a space in a hip hop culture that fails to acknowledge their existence.
TYRUS - Saturday Oct. 8, 2pm at Vilas 4070 followed by Q&A with Director Pamela Tom. This documentary reveals the epic achievements of 104-year old Chinese American painter Tyrus Wong, whose watercolors provided the inspiration for Disney’s animated feature BAMBI.
MELE MURALS - Saturday Oct. 8, 7pm at Vilas 4070 followed by Q&A with Director Tad Nakamura. This documentary by Tad Nakamura tells the story of Native Hawaiian youth who are combining indigenous forms of spirituality with the contemporary art of graffiti in order to build community.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF LOVE - Sunday Oct. 9, 2pm at Elvehjem L140 followed by Q&A with Producer Yizhou Xu. Produced by University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Yizhou Xu, this documentary examines the cultural, economic, and political implications of contemporary love in China.
Book Publishing in the Humanities of Today
PLEASE NOTE: this workshop is open to graduate students, faculty, and academic staff. Registration is required: email@example.com. The reservation deadline is 12:00pm on Wednesday, October 5.
Join us for a discussion of the state of academic publishing in the humanities and the process of working with a university press—from project to proposal to publication. The workshop will include a presentation from Ken Wissoker (Duke University Press and CUNY), who will talk about writing first and subsequent scholarly books at a time of significant changes in the academy, in publishing, and in the ways ideas circulate. Moderated by Susan Stanford Friedman.
Sponsored by the UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities and Center for the Humanities. Space is limited. Registration is required. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Wissoker is the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, acquiring books in anthropology, cultural studies and social theory; globalization and post-colonial theory; Asian, African, and American studies; music, film and television; race, gender and sexuality; science studies; and other areas in the humanities, social sciences, media, and the arts. He joined the Press as an Acquisitions Editor in 1991; became Editor-in-Chief in 1997; and was named Editorial Director in 2005. In 2014, in addition to his duties at the Press, he became Director of Intellectual Publics at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. He has published more than 900 books which have won over 100 prizes, and has contributed to the Cinema Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Prof. Hacker.
Moderated by Susan Stanford Friedman, Director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities, Hilldale Professor in the Humanities, and Virginia Woolf Professor of English and Gender & Women’s Studies at UW-Madison. Her most recent book is Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time from Columbia University Press in August 2015.
Queer Velocities: Untimely Matter in Racine's Andromaque
From “one’s ticking biological clock” to “grow up, be a man,” sex and gender norms are often seamlessly intertwined with temporality in our modern world. But did time always impact sexuality the same way? I examine a mid-seventeenth-century moment in France when the appearance of precise minute and second hands on newly portable clocks revolutionized the very experience of time, offering a new texture to time passing, to haste, and to slowness. Time calibrated sexuality in new ways: from certain socio-sexual tempos (paces of bereavement, reproduction) to the regulated speed of seduction onstage. The performing arts were in fact an essential cornerstone of Louis XIV’s glittering Absolutist spectacle. However, instead of analyzing the explicitly propagandistic uses of theater, I explore theater’s capacity to manage the population through its lived relationship to time. As Foucault argues, biopower, rather than deciding on the citizens’ right to live or to die, sought instead to manage bodies and lives through the controlled flourishing or strategic diminishing of life’s capacities. One essential component of biopower, I suggest, includes the management of speeds and slownesses. My talk will focus on Jean Racine’s Andromaque (1667) and competing temporalities of mourning, strange animacies and queer object attachment.
Jennifer Row is an assistant professor of French at Boston University and affiliate faculty with BU’s Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature (2014) from Cornell University. Her research and teaching interests include French and English early modern theater, queer and feminist theory, and affect theory. Her book project, Queer Velocities: Time, Sex and Biopower on the Early Modern Stage, looks at the impact of newly precise timekeeping technologies on queer erotics onstage in seventeenth-century France; a chapter stemming from this project will appear in Exemplaria (29.1) in 2017. She has also published on masochism and nineteenth century commonplace books in The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (38.4) and on early modern anal aesthetics, dance, disability and contemporary art (“The Adapted Anality of Versailles: Othoniel’s Les Belles Danses" forthcoming in ASAP/Journal, (2.2) May 2017). She has previously taught at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne (Paris-IV) and at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand.
Gendered Dynamics in Hmong American New Media Cultures
For over 260,000 Hmong Americans living in the U.S., mobile media now play a key role in maintaining connections and identities. Yet what role are Hmong women playing in shaping the use of these digital media technologies? How are Hmong women able to use media to influence new cultural practices, or to challenge patriarchal conditions? This research project is based on an ethnographic analysis of Hmong women and the groundbreaking ways that they adapt mobile phone technologies to their own specific needs.
Lori Kido Lopez is Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also an affiliate of the Asian American Studies Program and the Gender and Women’s Studies Department. She is the author of Asian American Media Activism: Fighting for Cultural Citizenship (2016, NYU), and co-editor of the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Asian American Media. She is the founder of the national Race & Media Conference, and was a recipient of the Outstanding Women of Color Award in 2015.
Fantasy as Microaggression?: Racial Caricature, Kawaii-style, and the Anthropomorphic Asian
How does the mundane object serve as a catalyst for exploring the relationship between aesthetics and political injury? Is race always bound to the circulation of negative feeling? We understand the harm embodied by the mammy cookie jar. Yet in the 21st-century, the anthropomorphic object has found new life: geisha cars, Harajuku Lovers perfume bottles, Chanel’s “China Doll” handbags, Alessi’s “Mandarin” juicer. Do these forms of racial kitsch—the Asian figure as salt shaker, decor, or toy—evade contextualization as racist kitsch? This lecture engages the Japanese style known as kawaii or cute style since the 1970s as it finds expression in a specific racial form. In looking at the feeling that the “cute” enables or forecloses, this talk explores the vacillation between pleasure and pain underlying Asian American spectatorship of racialized things. Exploring the convergence among theories of aesthetic form, affect, and stereotyping, this talk seeks to uncover the utility of fantasy and force of nonhuman actants.
Presented in partnership with the Burdick-Vary Lecture Series: Asian Americans and the Pleasures of Fantasy.
Leslie Bow is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor and Mark and Elisabeth Eccles Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of the award-winning, ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South; Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature; and editor of Asian American Feminisms.