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2014–2015 Seminar: Humanity

The annual theme for the Committee on Globalization and Social Change (CGSC) at the Graduate Center CUNY for the academic year 2014-2015 will be “humanity.”

As in our previous years focused on “solidarity” and “temporality,” we will organize our seminar and public programming around this key concept that has variously enabled, shaped, and foreclosed a variety of social, political, ethical, cultural, and aesthetic traditions, processes, practices, and formations on various scales (with emancipatory and heteronomous valences).

The CGSC is a transdisciplinary group whose collective work is not driven by any specific theory or ideology. We begin with the observation that existing categories and analytic frameworks are inadequate to grasp the dynamics of our historical present. We are thus interested not only in questioning conventional assumptions in light of contemporary developments but also in the possibility of reclaiming, reworking, and refunctioning seemingly outmoded concepts in and for these times. Given our interest in reflecting on the relationship between inherited concepts, critical theory, the contemporary situation, and political futures, we believe it will be fruitful to think together about the question of “humanity” today, beyond the familiar debates between abstract universal humanism and concrete cultural particularism.

Scholars have long examined how a certain conception of both the human and humanity as a whole authorized modern scientific rationality, natural law, Enlightenment universality, liberal democracy and secularism as well as corresponding forms of imperial expansion, Atlantic slavery, and colonial racism. Many of these assumptions continue to inform contemporary practices of humanitarianism, human rights advocacy, and international law. Throughout the modern period critical conceptions of humanity have also subtended emancipatory currents of socialism, mutualism, anarchism, feminism, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism. This legacy may be recognized in differently coordinated international solidarity movements for insurgencies across the Global South, Occupy movements against capitalist globalization and neoliberal privatization and in defense of community commons, for a global public sphere or in the name of global democracy and justice. Far reaching questions about the human and humanity continue to fuel other arenas of debate across the disciplines concerning, for example: alternative modernities, non-Eurocentric epistemologies, world literature and translation, global universities, contemporary art, biopower and biopolitics, big science, genomics, and the so-called neuroscience revolution, trauma theory, environmental crisis and the anthropocene, and conventional divisions between humans and non-human animals.