Research Rountables

April 17-18,2015: Vernacular Aesthetics

• Judith C. Brown, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University – Bloomington

• Karen Beckman, Professor of Cinema and Modern Media, University of Pennsylvania

• Joanna M. Picciotto, Associate Professor of English, University of California –Berkeley

• Michelangelo Sabatino, Professor and Director of the Ph.D. Program in Architecture, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology

• Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Comparative Literature, Brown University

• Peter Szendy, Professor of Philosophy, University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, and Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature, Brown University, Spring 2015

March 14-15, 2014  Reconsidering the Category of Labor

  • Elias Friedman, Assistant Professor, International and Comparative Labor, Cornell University
    Kimbery Hoang,
    Assistant Professor, Sociology, Boston College 
  • Kathleen Millar, Lecturing Fellow, Thompson Writing Program, Duke University 
  • Kalinda Vora, Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego 
  • Tiantian Zheng, Professor, Anthropology, State University of New York, Cortland

April 12-13, 2013: Perception and the Nonhuman  





Robin Bernstein
, Associate Professor, African and African American Studies and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University  
Tom Conley
, Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University 
Jennifer Fay
, Associate Professor, Film Studies and English, Vanderbilt University
Erkki Huhtamo
, Professor, Design Media Arts, University of California – Los Angeles
Rosalind Morris
, Professor, Anthropology, Columbia University
Natasha Myers
, Associate Professor, Anthropology, York University

April 13-14, 2012: The End(s) of Consent

Jane Gordon, Assistant Professor, Political Science and Jewish Studies, Temple University
Gayle Salamon, Assistant Professor, English, Princeton University
Elizabeth Stewart, Associate Professor, English, Yeshiva University
Sharika Thiranagama, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, The New School for Social Research

Has consent survived the collapse of the liberal paradigm? What are the parameters of consent amid increasingly “permanent states of exception?”  Is consent still relevant?  If we jettison consent, what do we turn to in its stead? 

The roundtable was organized around a central text:  Sigmund Freud’s “A Child is Being Beaten” (1919). Among other phenomena, Freud’s account considers the child and the adult, consent, authority, masochism and sadism, subordination, displacement, violence, shame, fantasy, and the dream.  The text lends itself to a variety of interpretations and to the interdisciplinarity of our roundtable. 

April 20-21, 2011: The Power and Mystery of Expertise

Rachel Buurma, Swarthmore College
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University
Evan Kindley, Princeton University
Sarah Wylie, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Following the research theme of the 2010-11 Pembroke Seminar, leading scholars joined legal scholar and Chesler-Mallow Senior Faculty Research Fellow David Kennedy of Harvard Law School to discuss how expertise writes itself into power. Scholars discussed how expertise is significant for rulership - in the vernacular of national politics, the managements of international economic life, the arrangement of family and gender relations, and more. Using the notion of expertise, scholars explored the relationship between power and knowledge.

April 8-9, 2010: Sites of Critique in a Dystopic World: Innovative Framings of Markets, Bodies, and Transnationalism

Julie Livingston – History, Rutgers University
Sora Y. Han – Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine
Wendy Chun – Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Miglena Nikolchina – Theory and History of Literature, Sofia University, Bulgaria
Clara Han – Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

The Pembroke Center Roundtable is designed to engage sites of critique in a world marked by economic instability, everyday uncertainty, precarious labor, commodification, war and political repression, dispossession, and ever changing modes of digitalized knowledge circulation. Our discussions will examine the analytical and theoretical challenges of research on particular sites and sources of critique; the unfolding of existential, institutional, and structural dilemmas in historical and contemporary contexts; new forms of sociality and politics; and alternative understandings of market logics.

Arguments about the narrowing range of political voices and critiques -- that social movements seem to have lost the power to challenge the status quo through mass protest, that neoliberal policies individualize and redirect subjectivity inwards toward self-care, and that the academy is caught between economic crisis and audit culture -- all beg the question of the status and location of sites of critique at this historical juncture. How can we rethink and broaden our understanding of these sites? To what extent are important sources of critique hidden from us due to our conventions for the framing of academic research? How do we locate and read other sources of critique including historical and international ones? Do the people we appropriate as “critics” in our analyses stand at the margins or do they, in fact, stand at the center of other mainstreams?

Given the increasing specialization of the social science and humanities, and their subfields, how might we revitalize lateral thinking across thematic and theoretical specializations? How can a repositing of the “objects” of inquiry stimulate such lateral thinking, and thus, challenge assumptions -- about sociality and subjects -- that interrogations of the status quo may themselves embody? What might we learn about our own work and analytical positioning though the process of reconceptualizing sites of critique? At this moment of spatial fascination, how can we reconsider the temporality of critique, and its implication for conceptual innovation and the generation of empirical fields of inquiry? What temporalities are demanded of our research methods and our ethical commitments to generate new modes of critique and empirical fields of inquiry?

The Pembroke roundtable format maximizes conversation and critical exchange; our discussions will focus on five brief (20 minute) oral presentations by scholars whose written work the group will sample in advance. Presenters have been asked to focus their introductory remarks on the questions and problematics of our roundtable topic in relation to their own interests. We will have over an hour of wider discussion after each presentation and a final session to discuss overarching issues and ideas for future activities.

April 23-24, 2009: A Speculation on Post-Humanist Narrative

Myra Hird – QueensUniversity, Ontario
Catriona (Cate) Mortimer-Sandilands – York University, Ontario
Teri Rueb – Rhode Island School of Design
Steven B. Smith – Rhode Island School of Design
Scott MacDonald – Harvard University/Hamilton College
Colleen Boggs – Dartmouth College

In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault describes a change in the study of nature from tables of classification in the 18th century to an examination of “deep structures” and a focus on function in the 19th century. Organisms in the Classical Age were represented by tables and charts ordered through resemblances. Organisms with similar outward appearances were grouped together.

In the 19th century, naturalists became interested in “deep structure”, and began to develop theories of biology with an emphasis on functions and historical developments rather than resemblances revealed through appearances. Foucault posits that the 19th century investigation of how organisms function (the science of biology) is, along with language and economics, one of the foundational disciplines of modernity.

Foucault sees the dilemma of man in modernity as one of being at once the subject and object of knowledge, both as a living creature and the subject of knowledge about “life”. He famously speculates at the end of The Order of Things that this era of man in contradiction with himself may be coming to an end.

Taking these views as a starting point, the roundtable may consider the following questions:

What is the future of nature?

  • After Humanism, what is human and what is nature? How is nature redefined in relation to the post human?
  • If “nature” as concept has been entangled with “man” as concept, how do subversive inquiries, such as theories of Difference, affect theories of nature?
  • Do contemporary images of nature: film, photography, landscape, scientific illustration and diagramming, classification/identification etc. reveal any clues to what might be called a post-humanist nature?
  • As human identities are redefined through genetics, cloning, analysis of brain chemistry, prosthesis, etc., can the human be reconstructed as theoretically non-animal? Or non-natural?
  • Do humanism and nature exist in a dialectical pair that will die together? Is the end of “man” the end of “nature”? Or is the end of “man” the beginning of “nature?”

May 1-2, 2008: Self Among Others: The Social Fabric of Subjectivity

James Hopkins –Philosophy, King’s College London
Lynne Layton –Psychiatry and Women’s Studies, Harvard
Ona Nierenberg –Apres-Coup Psychoanalytic Association, Bellevue Hospital Center
Charles Shepherdson –English, SUNY-Albany
Robert D. Stolorow –Psychiatry, UCLA
Lyndsey Stonebridge –Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia

The New York Times recently reported that psychology textbooks describe psychoanalysis as "dessicated and dead." Nevertheless, psychoanalytic theory continues to inform vigorously both large strands of clinical practice and the theoretical work of academic literary and cultural studies. Clinicians and academic scholars both find in psychoanalytic theory support for the fundamental claim that selfhood 
or subjectivity is not an innate given, but an on-going process essentially determined-and therefore potentially disrupted, corrupted, or otherwise troubled-by the relational and more broadly social context. This surface agreement notwithstanding, the theoretical paradigms from psychoanalysis on which clinicians and academic scholars rely remain quite different, thus leading them to offer very different interpretations of this fundamental claim and to draw very different implications from it. For instance, academic scholars tend to take their bearings from Freud and Lacan, whereas clinicians prefer to draw on various forms of "relational" psychoanalysis, initiated by British object-relations theory.

The roundtable will examine and discuss explicitly the contrasts and convergences between these theoretical paradigms, as they bear on the general question of the relation between the psychic and the social (particularly, between subjectivity and intersubjectivity), looking for example at what is invited and what is foreclosed in each discourse. Specific issues that might be addressed in this context include the role of Freudian notions of narcissism and melancholia in the formation of identity; the contrast between Freudian identification and relational (provision/deficit) models of subject formation; the formation and incitement of desire by relational or social configurations; conceptions of otherness and corresponding conceptions of intersubjectivity; theories of the formation, development, or constitution of subjectivity. The roundtable will bring together clinicians accomplished in psychoanalytic theory and academic theorists whose research has been informed by psychoanalytic ideas.