The CHR supports the humanities and humanities-related research of faculty and doctoral students across the university in the form of semester-long residential fellowships during which fellows are released from their teaching. We also offer competitive summer research grants, open to all 9-month full-time faculty. Regularly occurring research presentations, book talks, panel discussions, reading groups, and workshops—including offerings designed specifically for undergraduates—aim to create a rich and vibrant intellectual environment on campus. The CHR aims to invigorate the research of faculty and students and increase the visibility of Mason’s humanities research both on campus and beyond.
Much of the work undertaken by scholars in the humanities is solitary: faculty members write single-authored journal articles and monographs, and graduate students write dissertations. And yet, humanities research thrives when scholars speak to one another about their work. The CHR thus aims to promote a particular version of intellectual collaboration premised on the idea that intellectual exchange and debate, across disciplinary boundaries, is crucial for knowledge production. These collective exchanges, we believe, fertilize and enrich individual research projects.
Toward this end, the intellectual life of the CHR each semester is built around the residential fellowship program, and the research projects of the fellows. By enabling faculty and doctoral students to pursue their own independent research projects, while in regular, intellectual discussion and debate with others working on thematically related projects, the Center has become a site of transdisciplinary intellectual collaboration; faculty and students think collectively even as they pursue individual projects.
While the fellows form the intellectual nucleus of the CHR, all others in the Mason community are welcome not only to join these discussions, but also to present research publicly, participate in Reading and Working Groups, suggest ideas for programming, and attend all CHR events.
This year’s annual theme calls for literary, cultural, historical, philosophical, artistic, linguistic, anthropological, religious, and archival engagements with the question of disposability.
Forms of disposability have been characteristic (or even constitutive) of modes of social and political life, past, present, and in envisioned futures: the dispossession, relocation, and annihilation of local populations; the forced transportation of enslaved and bonded persons; the migration of refugees escaping war, violence, oppression, famine, and environmental and climate crises; the rule of a necropolitics in various spaces beyond the rule of law (whether within, between, or beyond the boundaries of states); the tyranny of oppressive majorities in majoritarian democracies; the violation of the voiceless and of those whose voices have been suppressed or silenced in public and private spheres; the effort to erase cultures or communities, to plunder and destroy ecosystems--these and other forms of rendering people and places "disposable" haunt and hound the world we live in. To what extent are historical and contemporary political systems dependent on forms of disposability, precarity, and extraction? In what ways are democratic modes of governance bound up with the disposability of human and non-human life? Could democracy offer possibilities for resistance, reparation and repair? We are interested in work that interrogates the intersections of disposability, democracy, capitalism, and environmental and social justice, past and present. How might these issues be illuminated by approaches drawn from the critical humanities including feminist, queer, indigenous, transnational, decolonial, post-humanist, dis/ability, and antiracist theories and methodologies?
“Only connect,” the novelist E.M Forster famously wrote, as though connection itself were a magical end as much as a means. Connect to do what? To ally, or to allay? To compensate? To empathize? To "uplift”? The idea of connection, it seems, has multiple valences, critical and utopian, historical and contemporaneous, affirmative and constrictive, for the humanities.
Connection also shades over into “community,” a term whose apparent desirability—community as voluntary affiliation—bears within it, inevitably, its opposite: forms of exclusion and non-belonging. “Community” can empower people through forms of social and political solidarity, it can serve as a foundation for people’s sense of belonging, and identity, but it can also burden persons with pressures for conformity, with dynamics of definition through antipathies and cleavages, or as naturalized, obligatory belonging. Notions of communal or collective responsibility can serve as the basis for recognition of structural ills and their redress, but they can also serve as the basis for group stigmatization and impulses for discriminatory actions and violence. Communities can be undone through acts of violence, through ideological provocation, or through the struggle over territory. Equally, they can be undone by the slow attrition wrought by social-economic forces (such as gentrification, the passing-away of unions, the loss of jobs or the demands of new forms of labor), by the transformations wrought by environmental and demographic developments, the emergence of a disease, the impact of climate change.
“Community” offers us an important category for thinking about experience, but it can occlude other imaginative possibilities for working or living together, or for understanding social and cultural dynamics: what might be the differences between “community” (as a structure of feeling and/or as a concept for social and cultural analysis) and other ways of experiencing and understanding social and cultural interplay, such as “networks” or “allies and alliances” or “institutions” (parties, unions, corporations, civic groups, churches, professions, etc.) or the traditional counterpoints of “individualism” or “nonconformity”? What are the implications of the technological, broadly construed, for community—or its opposite, alienation? And what role have social media played in heightening these dynamics?
Since March of 2020 we have been living in what political theorist Elizabeth Povinelli might call a “durative present.” The experience of the pandemic brought with it a heightened awareness of the complexity of time. In some ways the past, or pre-times, feels irretrievably lost, and the future unimaginable. But it is equally true that this durative present has revealed that much of what we thought to be past, over and done with, lives on in the present. The Black Lives Matter protests, for instance, have made publicly visible how past racial violence infuses the present, what Saidiya Hartman has called the “afterlives of slavery.” Povinelli’s “durative present” also raises the question of how we may begin to imagine a different future.
Taken together, these experiences remind us that time (how we label it, divide it up, carve it into tenses, etc.) is neither natural nor fixed, that temporality is not inevitably divided into discrete units closed off from one another. Concomitantly, conceptions of time have, historically, delimited what we are able—and unable—to see, lending certain events, peoples, and subjectivities visibility while pushing others into obscurity, affording some individuals and groups rights, privilege and social space, while depriving others of the same. Temporal formations can constrain, do violence, or open up possibilities; they can be mobilized in ways that normalize or become dissident.
Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, the CHR will grapple collectively with these thematics through panel discussions and lectures, fellow research talks and cohort meetings, and an annual symposium.
“Dissents speak to a future age” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
While US constitutional history memorializes Justices John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William O. Douglas as the “great dissenters,” the phrase “I dissent” resonates today with the minority reports authored by the recently deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stripped of its customary adverb of collegiality, “respectfully.” One might think, for example, of her strongly-worded dissent in the case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014), where the court ruled in favor of exemptions for closely held, for-profit companies who claim religious beliefs. Her statement of dissent is unapologetically charged with the anger of one who had witnessed the gradual establishment of women’s rights over the course of the 20th century, only to be presented with cases that sought to limit them. Even as we celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s notorious dissents, the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us daily, and with urgency, how crucial dissent is to our democracy and to the ongoing struggle for racial justice.
In the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, and in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter Movement, the Center for Humanities Research invites applications from faculty and advanced PhD candidates whose research broadly interrogates or intersects with the notion of dissent. Articulations of dissent not only signal a deviation from the common opinion: the create the space for personal, social and political change.
While our theme takes inspiration from the legal sphere, we ask: which other discursive spaces have been opened by dissent over time? In which historical, philosophical, religious, and imaginative texts, contexts, cultural sites and/or practices can we locate dissent? Whose words, acts and gestures are given credence as dissent, and how do the imbrications of race, gender, sexuality, age, class and ability render dissent legible or allow it to be dismissed? If the voice of dissent is generally defined as the minority opinion, then how does such dissent gain traction, and influence, or even become the voice of the majority? How can we trace the relationship between individual dissent and the larger contexts from which it originates, or the uprisings that result? What does public, collective, or shared dissent look like? Or in the words of the late Justice Ginsburg, how do “dissents speak to a future age”?