Political Concepts

The goal of the Political Concepts Initiative is to serve as a platform for revising, inventing, and experimenting with concepts while exploring the political dimension of their use and dissemination. Political Concepts enhances critical questioning of the political in the widest sense of the notion and creates a framework for an ongoing interdisciplinary conversation in the humanities and social sciences. The Political Concepts Initiative is directed by Adi Ophir, Visiting Professor of Humanities and Middle East Studies. Read more.

The Spring 2022 edition of Political Concepts will feature Brown University faculty. The event will seek to renew our sense of an intellectual community of engaged scholars and foreground our commitment to critique as a mode of being together and shaping the commons. Abstract submissions are due by June 15. Read the call for papers.

Upcoming Events

Details of future events will be displayed soon.

Previous Events

  • Thursday, May 20, 2021: 11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Friday, May 21, 2021: 11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Saturday, May 22, 2021: 11 am – 3:30 pm EDT

    The Spring 2021 edition of Political Concepts at Brown invited the featured graduate speakers and the conference participants more broadly to generate and rethink concepts from the positions of the student. The conference addressed a moment of crisis indicated in the U.S. by the failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, sustained state violence against Black Americans, and increasingly active White supremacist movements. Proposed as early as April 2020, all the concepts discussed from across the humanities and social sciences link the structural conditions of, as well as the persistence of popular resistance to, this crisis. The conference wagered that graduate students have a distinctive political role as intellectual workers whose avowal of their lack of knowledge drives their will to generate concepts—insisting that the world is not reducible to what already is, but might be otherwise.

    The conference was organized by Brown University graduate students Felicia Denaud (Africana Studies), Jeffrey Feldman (Political Science), Julia Huggins (Modern Culture and Media), Kristen Maye (Africana Studies), Marah Nagelhout (English), Rachel Nusbaum (Political Science), and Nick Pisanelli (English).

    Hosted by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities as part of the Political Concepts Initiative and co-sponsored by Hispanic Studies, Italian Studies, Modern Culture and Media and the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, Religious Studies, and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

    Image: “Almost Heaven” by Tate Hudson.

    Conference Website More Information Humanities, Political Concepts Initiative
  • Thursday, May 20, 2021: 11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Friday, May 21, 2021: 11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Saturday, May 22, 2021: 11 am – 3:30 pm EDT

    The Spring 2021 edition of Political Concepts at Brown invited the featured graduate speakers and the conference participants more broadly to generate and rethink concepts from the positions of the student. The conference addressed a moment of crisis indicated in the U.S. by the failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, sustained state violence against Black Americans, and increasingly active White supremacist movements. Proposed as early as April 2020, all the concepts discussed from across the humanities and social sciences link the structural conditions of, as well as the persistence of popular resistance to, this crisis. The conference wagered that graduate students have a distinctive political role as intellectual workers whose avowal of their lack of knowledge drives their will to generate concepts—insisting that the world is not reducible to what already is, but might be otherwise.

    The conference was organized by Brown University graduate students Felicia Denaud (Africana Studies), Jeffrey Feldman (Political Science), Julia Huggins (Modern Culture and Media), Kristen Maye (Africana Studies), Marah Nagelhout (English), Rachel Nusbaum (Political Science), and Nick Pisanelli (English).

    Hosted by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities as part of the Political Concepts Initiative and co-sponsored by Hispanic Studies, Italian Studies, Modern Culture and Media and the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, Religious Studies, and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

    Image: “Almost Heaven” by Tate Hudson.

    Conference Website More Information Humanities, Political Concepts Initiative
  • Thursday, May 20,  2021: 11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Friday, May 21, 2021:  11 am – 2 pm EDT
    Saturday, May 22, 2021:  11 am – 3:30 pm EDT

    The Spring 2021 edition of Political Concepts at Brown invited the featured graduate speakers and the conference participants more broadly to generate and rethink concepts from the positions of the student. The conference addressed a moment of crisis indicated in the U.S. by the failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, sustained state violence against Black Americans, and increasingly active White supremacist movements. Proposed as early as April 2020, all the concepts discussed from across the humanities and social sciences link the structural conditions of, as well as the persistence of popular resistance to, this crisis. The conference wagered that graduate students have a distinctive political role as intellectual workers whose avowal of their lack of knowledge drives their will to generate concepts—insisting that the world is not reducible to what already is, but might be otherwise.

    The conference was organized by Brown University graduate students Felicia Denaud (Africana Studies), Jeffrey Feldman (Political Science), Julia Huggins (Modern Culture and Media), Kristen Maye (Africana Studies), Marah Nagelhout (English), Rachel Nusbaum (Political Science), and Nick Pisanelli (English).

    Hosted by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities as part of the Political Concepts Initiative and co-sponsored by Hispanic Studies, Italian Studies, Modern Culture and Media and the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, Religious Studies, and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

    Image: “Almost Heaven” by Tate Hudson.

    Conference Website More Information Humanities, Political Concepts Initiative
  • The 2019 conference of the Political Concepts Initiative, subtitled “Retouch,” was co-organized by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay (Brown University), Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (Brown University), Leela Gandhi (Brown University), and Vazira Zamindar (Brown University).

    The conference addressed questions related to structures of imperialism, racial capitalism, and gender violence catalyzed by movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, food sovereignty, and #MeToo. Speakers engaged with concepts through which these crimes and the indispensability of reparations can be described, explained, and analyzed. The conference explored modalities and initiatives of redress, redistribution, and resurgence through which, once these crimes are acknowledged, different worlds can be reimagined and retouched.

    Session 5

    Moderator: Itohan Osayimwese, Brown University
    Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Brown University • Regard (video)
    Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning • Resurgence (video)

    Session 6

    Moderator: Vazira Zamindar, Brown University
    Imani Perry, Princeton University • Mother (video)
    Thangam Ravindranathan, Brown University • Elephant (video)

    Session 7

    Moderator: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Brown University
    Ainsley LeSure, Brown University • Equality (video)
    Patricia Ybarra, Brown University • Debt (video)

    Co-sponsored by the Charles K. Colver Lectureships and Publications, Cogut Institute for the Humanities, Humanities Initiative Programming Fund, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Departments of Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, History, History of Art and Architecture, Literary Arts, and Modern Culture and Media.

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  • The 2019 conference of the Political Concepts Initiative, subtitled “Retouch,” was co-organized by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay (Brown University), Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (Brown University), Leela Gandhi (Brown University), and Vazira Zamindar (Brown University).

    The conference addressed questions related to structures of imperialism, racial capitalism, and gender violence catalyzed by movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, food sovereignty, and #MeToo. Speakers engaged with concepts through which these crimes and the indispensability of reparations can be described, explained, and analyzed. The conference explored modalities and initiatives of redress, redistribution, and resurgence through which, once these crimes are acknowledged, different worlds can be reimagined and retouched.

    Session 1

    Moderator: Patsy Lewis, Brown University
    Jasmine Johnston, University of Pennsylvania  Choreography (video)
    Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, Brown University • Occupation (video)

    Session 2

    Moderator: Paula Gaetano-Adi, Rhode Island School of Design
    Dixa Ramírez D’Oleo, Brown University • Indolence (video)
    Poulomi Saha, University of California, Berkeley • Contingency (video)

    Session 3

    Moderator: Leora Maltz-Leca, Rhode Island School of Design
    Emily Owens, Brown University • Violence (video)
    Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Brown University • Errata (video)

    Session 4

    Moderator: Naoko Shibusawa, Brown University
    Vazira Zamindar, Brown University • Waiting (video)
    Tina Campt, Brown University • Adjacency (video)

    Co-sponsored by the Charles K. Colver Lectureships and Publications, Cogut Institute for the Humanities, Humanities Initiative Programming Fund, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Departments of Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, History, History of Art and Architecture, Literary Arts, and Modern Culture and Media.

    YouTube playlist More Information Conference, Humanities, Political Concepts Initiative
  • The “Science Edition” was co-organized by Timothy Bewes, Leela Gandhi, Adi Ophir, and Lukas Rieppel and brought together scholars with a broad range of disciplinary trainings and affiliations. Speakers presented a single concept, one that needed to be revised, deconstructed, or invented in order to understand, criticize, and, if necessary resist recent changes in the organization of scientific knowledge and academic knowledge more broadly.

    The concepts are tools for a critical explication of the ways in which scientific knowledges have been impacted by, and integrated into, the neoliberal economy and global order, the forces that have eroded liberal democratic regimes and brought about the disintegration of the common, and the struggles for decolonization, democracy and social justice. Presentations questioned, first, the ways these processes, forces, and struggles work through the sciences and transform the inner fabric of scientific research and academic practice, and second, how science itself has been shaped as an arena of political struggle.

    Session 5

    Moderator: Timothy Bewes
    Etienne BensonEnvironment (video)
    Joanna RadinFuture (video)

    Session 6

    Moderator: Leela Gandhi
    Mara MillsImpairment (video)
    Iris MonteroScala Naturae (video)

    Session 7

    Moderator: Lukas Rieppel
    Banu SubramaniamDiaspora/e (video unavailable)
    Suman SethRace (video unavailable)

    Session 8

    Moderator: Jacques Lezra
    Yarden KatzEntrepreneurial Science (video)
    Peter Galison and Noah FeldmanCorporatized Knowledge (video)

    This conference was funded in part by the Herbert H. Goldberger Lectureship, the CV Starr Foundation Lectureship, the Humanities Initiative Programming Fund, and the Program in Science, Technologies, and Society.

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  • The “Science Edition” was co-organized by Timothy Bewes, Leela Gandhi, Adi Ophir, and Lukas Rieppel and brought together scholars with a broad range of disciplinary trainings and affiliations. Speakers presented a single concept, one that needed to be revised, deconstructed, or invented in order to understand, criticize, and, if necessary resist recent changes in the organization of scientific knowledge and academic knowledge more broadly.

    The concepts are tools for a critical explication of the ways in which scientific knowledges have been impacted by, and integrated into, the neoliberal economy and global order, the forces that have eroded liberal democratic regimes and brought about the disintegration of the common, and the struggles for decolonization, democracy and social justice. Presentations questioned, first, the ways these processes, forces, and struggles work through the sciences and transform the inner fabric of scientific research and academic practice, and second, how science itself has been shaped as an arena of political struggle.

    Session 1

    Moderator: Adi Ophir
    Stephanie DickDatabase (video)
    Dan HirschmanStylized Facts (video)

    Session 2

    Moderator: Sharon Krause
    Rebecca NedostupPractice/Praxis (video)
    Barbara Herrnstein SmithScientism (video)

    Session 3

    Moderator: Alka Menon
    Alex CsiszarPeer Review (video)
    Kaushik Sunder RajanValue (video)

    Session 4

    Moderator: Etienne Balibar
    Raphael SassowerScientific Progress (video)
    Tamara ChinHomo Geoeconomicus (video)

    The conference was funded in part by the Herbert H. Goldberger Lectureship, the CV Starr Foundation Lectureship, the Humanities Initiative Programming Fund, and the Program in Science, Technologies, and Society.

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  • The 2017-18 conference was dedicated to analyzing and contesting the transformation of the American political system under the presidency of Donald Trump.

    Session 5

    Moderator: Rebecca Schneider, Brown University
    Wendy Chun, Brown University • Authenticity
    Sara Guindani, Collège d’études mondiales, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme • Transparency

    Video

    Session 6

    Moderator: Timothy Bewes, Brown University
    John Cayley, Brown University • Reading
    Lynne Joyrich, Brown University • Television

    Video

    Session 7

    Moderator: Lingzhen Wang, Brown University
    Nick Mirzoeff, New York University • Love
    Jack Halberstam, Columbia University • Wildness

    Video

    Session 8

    Moderator: Susan Buck-Morss, The Graduate Center/City University of New York
    Claire Brault, Brown University • Uchronia
    Françoise Vergès, Collège d’études mondiales, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme • Water

    Video

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  • The 2017–18 conference was dedicated to analyzing and contesting the transformation of the American political system under the presidency of Donald Trump.

    Session 1

    Moderator: Amanda Anderson, Brown University
    Joan Scott, Institute of Advanced Studies • Trump
    Zahid R. Chaudhary, Princeton University • Impunity

    Video

    Session 2

    Moderator: Ann Stoler, The New School
    Brian Meeks, Brown University • Hegemony
    Lisa Lowe, Tufts University • Migrant

    Video

    Session 3

    Moderator: Elizabeth Weed (Brown University)
    Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University • Academic Freedom
    Beshara Doumani, Brown University • Academy

    Video

    Session 4

    Moderator: Leela Gandhi (Brown University)
    Benjamin Parker, Brown University • Disruption
    Anthony Bogues, Brown University • Disobedience

    Video

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  • Session 5

    Moderator: Kevin McLaughlin, Brown University
    Judith Butler, University of California/Berkeley • Religion
    Patrice Maniglier, Université Paris Ouest/Nanterre • Materialism
    Monique David-Ménard, Université Paris VII; Institute for Cultural Inquiry • Conversion

    Video

    Session 6

    Moderator: Lukas Rieppel, Brown University
    Ann Stoler, New School for Social Research • Interior Frontier
    Stathis Gourgouris, Columbia University • Border

    Video

    Session 7 

    Moderator: Timothy Bewes, Brown University
    Michel Feher, Zone Books • Investee
    Bernard Harcourt, Columbia University • Contre/Counter

    Video

    Session 8

    Moderator: Bonnie Honig, Brown University
    Peter Osborne, Kingston University • Subject
    Étienne Balibar, Université Paris Ouest/Nanterre; Columbia University • Concept

    Video

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  • Session 1 

    Moderator: Amanda Anderson, Brown University
    Jacques Lezra, New York University • Relation
    Ellen Rooney, Brown University • Trope

    Video

    Session 2 

    Moderator: Sharon Krause, Brown University
    Jay Bernstein, New School for Social Research • Rights
    Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study/Princeton • Punishment

    Video

    Session 3 

    Moderator: Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Brown University
    Emily Apter, New York University • Equaliberty
    Adi Ophir, Brown University • Political

    Video

    Session 4 

    Moderator: Susan Buck-Morss, City University of New York
    Charles Mills, City University of New York • Race
    Gary Wilder, City University of New York • Solidarity
    Bruce Robbins, Columbia University • Anthropological

    Video

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  • Session 5

    Moderator: Tim Bewes, Brown University
    Joanna Howard, Brown University • Possession
    William Keach, Brown University • Property

    Video

    Session 6 

    Moderator: Stephen Bush, Brown University
    Lukas Rieppel, Brown University • Nature
    Anna Bialek, Brown University • Indeterminacy

    Video

    Session 7 

    Moderator: Gerhard Richter, Brown University
    Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Brown University • Abiura
    Rebecca Schneider, Brown University • Gesture

    Video

    Session 8 

    Moderator: Thangam Ravindranathan, Brown University
    Ariella Azoulay, Brown University • Sovereignty
    James Kuzner, Brown University • Bondage

    Video

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  • Session 1

    Moderator: Amanda Anderson, Brown University
    Sharon Krause, Brown University • Agency
    James Schmidt, Boston University • Publicity

    Video

    Session 2

    Moderator: Nathaniel Berman, Brown University
    Alex Gourevitch, Brown University • Strike
    Thomas A. Lewis, Brown University • Formation

    Video

    Session 3

    Moderator: Bonnie Honig, Brown University
    Joan Cocks, Mount Holyoke College • Disappearance
    Branka Arsic, Columbia University • Desert

    Video

    Session 4

    Moderator: Adi Ophir, Brown University
    Marc Redfield, Brown University • Shibboleth
    Vazira Zamindar, Brown University • Minority

    Video

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  • Session 5

    Moderator: Marc Redfield
    Jacques Khalip • Triumph
    Peter Szendy • Katechon

    Video

    Session 6

    Moderator: Ravit Reichman
    Stephen Bush • Ecstasy
    Michael Sawyer • Sacrifice

    Video

    Session 7

    Moderator: Rebecca Schneider
    Timothy Bewes • Free indirect
    Amanda Anderson • Character

    Video

    Session 8

    Moderator: Michael Steinberg
    David Wills • Blood
    Jacques Rancière • Occupation

    Video

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  • Session 1

    Moderator: Bonnie Honig
    Elizabeth Weed • Reality
    Thangam Ravindranathan • Missing

    Video

    Session 2

    Moderator: Adi Ophir
    Beshara Doumani • Region
    Lukas Rieppel • Organization

    Video

    Session 3

    Moderator: Lynne Joyrich
    Susan Bernstein • Synaesthesia
    Philip Rosen • Cinematic

    Video

    Session 4

    Moderator: Joan Copjec
    Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg • Reclamation
    Gerhard Richter •Inheritance

    Video

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  • Session 5 

    Elias Muhanna, Brown University • Vernacular
    Jacques Lezra, New York University • Like
    Moderator: Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University

    Video

    Session 6

    Eduardo Cadava, Princeton University • Trees
    Bonnie Honig, Brown University • Resilience
    Moderator: Barrymore A. Bogues, Brown University

    Video

    Session 7

    Ariella Azoulay, Brown University • Human Rights
    Federico Finchelstein, The New School • Populism
    Moderator: Stathis Gourgouris, Columbia University

    Video

    Session 8

    Roundtable with Jay Bernstein, Akeel Bilgrami, Stathis Gourgouris, Adi Ophir, and Ann Stoler (Chair and Participant)

    Video

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  • Session 1

    Moderator: Michael Steinberg, Brown University
    Étienne Balibar, Columbia University and Université de Paris X • Exploitation
    Andreas Kalyvas, The New School • Statelessness

    Video

    Session 2

    Moderator: Susan Bernstein, Brown University
    Ellen Rooney, Brown University • Reading
    Linda Quiquivix, Brown University • Map

    Video unavailable

    Session 3

    Moderator: Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Brown University
    A. Kiarina Kordela
    , Macalester College • Horror
    Nathaniel Berman
    , Brown University • Demonization

    Video

    Session 4

    Moderator: Jay Bernstein, The New School
    Kevin McLaughlin, Brown University • Raison d’État
    Adi Ophir, Brown University • Concept (ii)

    Video

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