NSSR Welcomes Anthropologist Katharina Schramm as the 2022-2023 Heuss Professor

For the 2022-2023 academic year, The New School for Social Research is excited to welcome Prof. Dr. Katharina Schramm as the Distinguished Theodor Heuss Professor in the Anthropology department. She will give the annual Heuss Lecture on November 2; register here.

Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Bayreuth and Member of the Anthropology of Global Inequalities Working Group, Schramm sees her current research agenda as situated at the interface of political anthropology and critical race studies, science and technology studies (STS), and critical heritage studies. She has worked on diasporic memory and pan-African identity politics (African Homecoming, Left Coast Press 2010); violence and memorial landscapes (“Landscapes of violence”, special issue of History & Memory 2011); race and technologies of belonging in the European border regime (“Technologies of Belonging”, special issue of Science, Technology and Human Values 2014); race and the sciences of human origins, especially population genomics and biological anthropology (special section “Face and Race”, American Anthropologist 2020; “Race, Genealogy, and the Genomic Archive in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Social Analysis 2021) as well as on the multiple articulations of political subjectivities (special issue “Political Subjectivity in Times of Transformation”, Critical African Studies 2018).

The Heuss Professorship is a distinguished visiting professorship that brings a prominent German academic to NSSR each year to conduct research and teach, maintaining a decades-long bond between The New School and the German academic world.

Schramm talked with Matene Toure, NSSR Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student, about her research interests, the state of anthropology today, and her upcoming Nov. 2 Heuss lecture “Fire Is Good to Think With: Protest as a Mode of Theorizing.”

Research Matters:

How did you learn about the Heuss Professorship opportunity? What intrigued you about teaching at The New School for Social Research?

Prof. Schramm:

Oh, that’s an interesting question (laughs). I learned about the professorship through my predecessor in anthropology, Richard Rottenburg, who was here I believe seven years ago. I knew he was teaching at NSSR and then later I was nominated for the professorship. I feel very honored to be able to be here and to have this opportunity not only to engage with and teach at The New School, but also to have the time for my own projects. Of course, the history of The New School is an interesting one, the kind of specific connection that The New School has had with German scholars in exile.

So there is the ghost of the past that is fascinating. But I also like the reach out between different disciplines: design, social sciences, music, etc. And I think for anthropologists, this is particularly exciting, because we are also experimenting on methodologies in transdisciplinary fields.

Research Matters:

What are your areas of focus within anthropology at the University of Bayreuth? You are part of a working group called Anthropology of Global Inequities. Can you explain more about that?

Prof. Schramm:

My own research interests have always been around questions of race and racism in a very broad sense. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve also worked very much at the interface between anthropology and science and technology studies (STS).

The anthropology of global inequalities is a group of PhD students and postdocs that I relate to in various capacities. The title of the group aligns with our shared interests in matters of inequalities on a global scale. We are particularly interested in forms of classifications that underlie hierarchization in multiple ways. This is heavily informed by feminist and postcolonial approaches in STS that look at the material-semiotic practices through which categories come about, but then also at the effects of what they do and how they can be undone. And I think we also have a shared interest in public anthropology in the sense that we also want our work to be relevant and to speak to current issues and problems.

Research Matters:

Your upcoming Heuss lecture, “Fire Is Good to Think With: Protest as a Mode of Theorizing,” interrogates the protests prompted by colonial practices entangled in education specifically in humanities and social sciences. Can you discuss what brought you to this topic?

Prof. Schramm:

The lecture builds on my research in South Africa, where I’ve been working for almost 15 years. My research in post-apartheid South Africa focused on the ways in which the sciences of human origins were used to contest apartheid racism, while at the same time being haunted by race in many ways. This goes along with a theoretical interest in epistemic practices and in the university as a contested space of knowledge production. In my lecture, I want to explore how to think differently about the connection between activism and scholarship and how we can view protest as a form of knowledge production in its own right.

One of the important insights from STS has been an approach to knowledge not in a hierarchy, but in a symmetrical way, and post-colonial STS has put a heavy focus on that. STS has also helped us to think about messiness in new ways, for example through the notion of “fire objects” that engage us in multiple, and often contradictory, relations. In my lecture, I will extend this discussion to the realm of political protest within the university. During the protests, fire became literally a point of contestation about the modes of conduct and the means of critique. I want to think with fire because it takes us out of the comfort zone of purely academic knowledge production.

Research Matters:

At Eugene Lang this fall, you are teaching a course called Race in Science/Tech Studies. How has anthropology perpetuated white supremacist ideologies through race science? How can anthropology also work towards debunking racism?

Prof. Schramm:

Big question. I think anthropology is really an interesting field in that sense because anthropology is a colonial science, it grew with colonialism. It has contributed to the “making of the other” while at the same time voices within anthropology have always questioned these narratives. Your question also relates to the title of my lecture, which might make you think of Ryan Jobson’s recent demand to let anthropology burn which has caused a huge stir in U.S. anthropology.

He made an important point in demanding more from anthropology than to rely on its anti-racist, liberal self-understanding. I think this is a very interesting moment for the discipline that also plays out differently in different contexts in Germany, the U.S., Brazil or South Africa. But I do think that anthropology has interesting means through its methodologies and its openness to reinvent itself, to respond to these challenges.

In the class that I’m teaching this term, we look at some of the ways in which race has been conceptualized and discussed within STS and anthropology. We are specifically interested in the ways in which race is produced and relationally articulated in scientific practices and material assemblages, for example in the fields of genomics, forensics or biological anthropology. In these STS studies, race is understood as a troubling problem, a material semiotic object, and a matter of concern that demands our attention.

Research Matters:

This spring at NSSR, you will teach a course on the Methodologies of Care. Is there more you can share about that right now?

Prof. Schramm:

What I’m interested in is how we can rethink ethnography in this moment when anthropology is under fire? What are different forms of engagement in academia and activism, maybe in the arts as well, and how can we integrate these into our practice? How can we think about methodologies that go beyond the gaze and beyond discourse? I will consider discussions about the senses and around affect to illuminate this.

The care in the methodologies of care comes from discussions that we’ve had with colleagues on how to translate demands or discussions around decoloniality into very concrete empirical research practices. Like fire, care is good to think with, because it’s contradictory. Care also means to cultivate attentiveness. I look forward to exploring this together with the students who will hopefully bring in their own questions and concerns from their various projects.

New Arnhold Forum on Global Challenges Opens with Its First Event

On October 13, 2022, The New School will host the first inaugural event on behalf of the new Henry H. Arnhold Forum on Global Challenges, “American Democracy in Crisis: Perspectives from Tocqueville, Douglass, Wells, Dewey, and Arendt.”

REGISTER FOR THE EVENT HERE

Funded by $3 million gift from the Arnhold Foundation, the Henry H. Arnhold Forum on Global Challenges will give international visibility to New School activities on global issues. Under the lead of Will Milberg, NSSR Dean and Professor of Economics, the Forum will bring together scholars from different disciplines, and sponsor conferences and events on issues such as climate change, threats to democracy, and global inequality. The Forum will encourage an interdisciplinary approach to understanding global challenges and a cross-pollination of graduate student training. According to Dean Milberg, this year, the overarching theme for the forum is to interrogate and locate the relationship between democracy and ethnonationalism with in the U.S. as well as global perspectives.

This year, the forum will focus specifically on threats to democracy, and the “American Democracy in Crisisevent, organized in collaboration with The New School for Social Research, will be a debate and discussion focused on the meaning of democracy in the context of the United States today and the ways in which racism, immigration, and citizenship are entangled in these varying perspectives of democracy.

Watch the livestream here:

American Democracy in Crisis: Perspectives from Tocqueville, Douglass, Wells, Dewey and Arendt

The inaugural event of the new Henry H. Arnhold Forum on Global Challenges. PRESENTATIONS: “Alexis de Tocqueville on democracy and its culture” Jeffrey…

 

This debut event will consist of five presentations and a roundtable discussion to engage the audience and invite different perspectives. Each speaker is a leading expert and has been assigned an important figure in the conceptualization of American democracy based on their expertise and research interests.

  • Jeffrey Goldfarb will present “Alexis de Tocqueville, democracy and its culture.” Goldfarb is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at The New School for Social Research and Senior Fellow at the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies. His work primarily focuses on the sociology of media, culture, and politics.
  • Juliet Hooker will provide insights on “Frederick Douglass, abolition, civil war, and democracy.” Hooker is a Professor of Political Science at Brown University. She is a political theorist specializing in racial justice, Latin American political thought, Black political thought, and Afro-descendant and indigenous politics in Latin America.
  • Paula Giddings will join us from Smith College to talk about “Ida B. Wells, race, gender, and the struggle for voting rights.” Paula J. Giddings is Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor Emerita of Africana Studies.
  • Deva Woodly will give a presentation on “John Dewey, the prospects for democracy in war, peace, and Depression.” Professor Woodly is ​​Associate Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research, interested in investigating democratic politics in a non-traditional way.
  • James Miller will give a lecture on “Hannah Arendt, insurrection and constitutionalism.” Miller is a Professor of Politics and Liberal Studies, and Faculty Director of the MA in Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism at The New School for Social Research. 

These presentations will be followed by a roundtable discussion with all the presenters interrogating the question “What does democracy mean today in the US?” Participants will be encouraged to ask questions and provide insights into the overarching question as well.

Eiko Ikegami Researches Autistic Communities in the Virtual World

This piece originally appeared at The New School News and is reprinted here with permission.

In their study of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), researchers have devoted most of their attention to the diagnosis and treatment of children.

As a result, says Eiko Ikegami, Walter A. Eberstadt Professor and professor of sociology at The New School for Social Research, researchers know very little about the lives of adults with autism — and even less about the way they interact with one another.

Ikegami wanted to flip the script on ASD research and zero in on adults living with the condition. To that end, she went to a place that happens to be a decade-long focus of her ethnographic research: the online virtual world of Second Life. It’s there that adults on the autism spectrum gather to hang out — and be themselves.

As Ikegami discovered, Second Life is ideally suited to people with autism, as it allows users to come and go as they please — a means of avoiding the real-world threat of sensory overload, a common affliction for people with the disorder. Assuming the form of Kiremimi Tigerpaw, her Second Life avatar, Ikegami interacted with adult autistic people in virtual environments.

Of all the discoveries she made about these individuals, Ikegami was most intrigued by the “incredible richness of their mental life.”

“Although I entered with the expectation of studying people with a disorder, I acquired a heightened appreciation of the neurodiversity among human beings,” Ikegami says. “While people with autism have difficulty with some things that are easy for us neurotypicals, as they call us, they excel in other things to which we are insensitive.”

Ikegami has channeled her research and findings into her innovative new Japanese-language book, Hyper-World: Autistic Avatars in Virtual World (an expanded English version of the book is forthcoming). It is supplemented by a blog, published on her website, that details her interactions with autistic people on Second Life and in face-to-face meetings with them across the United States. Her trip was documented by NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, for a two-part documentary, The World of Autistic Avatars.

During her two-week trip, Ikegami scheduled hours of face time with her autistic friends from Tennessee to Wyoming to California. But they had their most productive conversations on the Internet. As Ikegami notes, because of their “different mental functioning, many autistic people see, hear, touch, or smell the world in ways that differ from those of neurotypicals.” Most crucially, the majority of people on the autism spectrum are unusually sensitive to sensory information. Unlike the real world, Second Life allows its inhabitants to control sensory input and to freely express themselves through the creative use of avatars (furthermore, no one is required to read subtle “social cues”). If an autistic Second Life user becomes overwhelmed, he or she can simply turn off his or her computer.

“Being able to turn down the sound, prevent people coming up to me; not having the movement of air or smells, pollen, insect sounds, intensity of light; being able to be supported in a chair — not falling almost all the time and having to brace myself against objects or be horizontal — yet still being able to move in a space and explore is hugely beneficial,” one user told Ikegami. “This is coupled with the fact that I seem to communicate far more fluently via text than I can by speech.”

The rules of communication in the real world have been made to accommodate the preferences of neurotypical people, Ikegami explains. In virtual worlds, however, “there are technologically defined spaces that democratize the rules of communication and allow autistic and neurotypical people to socialize as equals,” she says.

Given the opportunity, autistic adults have a lot to say. During her trip, Ikegami met Malachi and his friend Jenny, who discussed their lives as members of both the LGBTQ and autistic communities in El Centro, California;  Cora of Little Rock, Arkansas, who shared her “activist outlook” on autism and her experiences of sensory and emotional “melt-down”; and Larre of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, who talked about his life as a musician and trance music DJ (in Second Life) and a merchandise clerk at a local supermarket (in real life). Each person conveyed his or her appreciation for the freedom of expression allowed in virtual worlds.

The experience of autistic individuals on Second Life resonated with Ikegami. Upon moving from Japan to the United States to study sociology at Harvard, her ability to speak or understand English was limited, leaving her with the feeling of being “a self-confined autistic child.”

“Many autistic children have in fact rich mental worlds, even when they cannot express themselves well; When I moved to the United States, I also had a lot to say, but I could not express myself effectively in a new environment,” she says.

Expressing herself not only meant learning a new language, but also breaking with cognitive assumptions rooted in “the culturally defined ways of feeling, sensing, and viewing” with which she grew up.

“It was quite a frustrating experience,” she adds, “but it was curiously enriching.”

She felt a similar sense of exhilaration conducting ethnographic research with autistic people. Just as immersing herself in a new culture led her to “break the boundaries of my cognitive framework,” so too did “interacting with neurologically different people.”

Ikegami hopes that through her research, others will come to the same realization — and, in turn, “come to a new level of reflection regarding the depths of our cognitive experience, and appreciating diversity in human intelligences.”

“Knowing oneself is a counsel of various philosophies and religions around the world,” she says. “Paradoxically, however, we often come to know ourselves better only when we interact with and try to know ‘others’; we are able to touch the unseen parts of ourselves only when others hold up a mirror to us.”

Alice Crary On Her Newest Book, Inside Ethics

Marianne LeNabat sat down earlier this year with Alice Crary, Chair of Philosophy and Founding Co-director of the Graduate Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies, to talk about her most recent book, Inside Ethics: On the Demands of Moral Thought, the role of ethics in philosophy, and what philosophy is for. 

The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


Marianne LeNabat: What is the focus of your work?  What kinds of topics do you address?

Alice Crary: The straightforward answer is that I work in ethics.

Ethics as I understand it isn’t a specialized sub-discipline within philosophy, but emerges out of an engagement with many areas. Sometimes philosophers itemize sub-disciplines in philosophy: ethics as opposed to philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, etc. I don’t find it useful to compartmentalize my work like that.  I approach issues in ethics by working in those areas and others as well, including social and political philosophy.

ML: Are there ethical issues in particular that you work on?

AC:In my most recent book, Inside Ethics, I focus on the value of humanity, and the value of being an animal, taking up issues in animal studies and disability studies.  The treatment of animals is one particular concern, and cognitive disability is another. I wanted to combat ways of doing moral philosophy that neglected those cases in ways that seemed just seemed awful.

ML: What is distinctive about the ways that you approach these issues?

AC: Throughout my writings, I argue that the world that concerns us in ethics is brought into focus by moral thought and activity. My idea is that any adequate sketch of the sphere of moral thought needs to include, in addition to specifically moral concepts, efforts to illuminate the features of the world to which these concepts are responsible.

This account of moral thought may seem farfetched, quite untenable really. It’s an account that takes it for granted that we need moral capacities like moral imagination to adequately capture features of the world that moral concepts pick out and that, at the same time, presupposes that the real world is morally non-neutral. A presupposition on these lines is alien to most work in contemporary moral philosophy. It’s at least a tacit premise of most ethical research that reality is as such morally neutral. So, to make a plausible case for my preferred account of moral thought, I have to do significant work to defend this conception of reality. This is one of the projects that leads me to grapple with topics in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and other areas.

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Jay Bernstein, on Torture and Philosophy

Jay Bernstein is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research. His latest book is Torture and Dignity: An Essay on Moral Injury (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Bernstein, who received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 1975, has been at the NSSR since 2001, where he teaches courses on Kant and Hegel, and on topics in ethics and aesthetics. His enormously popular lectures have been collected by his students and published online at The Bernstein Tapes.

He recently discussed his latest book, as well his approach to philosophy more generally, and how he feels about being a part of the faculty here, with Marianne LeNabat, a doctoral student in philosophy.


Marianne LeNabat: First, can you tell us what you work on generally? What sorts of philosophical problems interest you?

Jay Bernstein: Can I give two answers to this question?

Here is the first one: During my job interview at the New School for Social Research, when asked by graduate students what I understood the true purpose of philosophy to be, my mind immediately flew to the panoply of traditional answers to this question: philosophy is the installation of reason as the mechanism for distinguishing appearance from reality; philosophy is an underlaborer to the advanced sciences of its age; philosophy should address Kant’s four fundamental questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? What is man?; philosophy’s task is the comprehension of its own time in thought; philosophy must address the meaning of being.

These are all meaningful answers to the question. But what pressed itself into words at that moment was something more provincial: No academic discipline, no area of the humanities or the social sciences has, as its central task, the recognition, remembering, and addressing of the breadth of human suffering. While making occasional appearances here and there, suffering itself, its character, extent, and reasons, is virtually absent from university studies and research. Philosophy, if it is not to become irrelevant or complicit in what is worst, should become a repository of thought about human suffering. That is a good deal of what I have learned from reading Theodor Adorno for forty years.

The second answer is narrower. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit blew me away when I first read it. It still does. It has two thoughts that have been decisive for my philosophical work: First, in the famous dialectic of master and slave there is the argument that in order to simply to be a person one must be recognized by another person. From this comes the unwelcome thought that we are radically dependent beings, that we owe our being persons at all, as well as whatever independence or freedom we might have, to the persons and institutions that surround us. Thinking about the depth of human dependence has been part of everything I have worked on and thought about. Second, it turns out that the dependence on others entails that we are historical beings through and through.

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