Maristella Svampa Joins NSSR as Spring 2023 Speier Professor

The New School for Social Research welcomes Maristella Svampa as the Spring 2023 visiting Hans Speier Professor in the Sociology department.

Svampa is a researcher, sociologist, activist, and writer. She lives in Argentina and is a researcher at the Conicet (National Center for Scientific and Technical Research), Argentina, and professor at the Universidad Nacional de la Plata (province of Buenos Aires). She received the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Kónex award in Sociology (Argentina) in 2006 and 2016, the Kónex award in Political and Sociological essay (2014), and the Platinum Kónex Award in Sociology (2016). In 2019, she received the National Award in Sociology for her book, Debates Latinoamericanos

Named for Hans Speier, a German sociologist and one of 10 founding members of the University in Exile, the Speier Professorship is a distinguished visiting professorship that brings scholars to the NSSR Sociology department to conduct research and teach, continuing The New School’s tradition of welcoming academics from Europe. Speier’s wife lost her job as a doctor due to being Jewish, and the family found refuge at The New School in 1933, where Speier became a professor of sociology until 1942, returning in 1974 as a professor emeritus.

Research Matters sat down with with Svampa to talk about her research, her teaching, and her time at NSSR.

Research Matters:
What attracted you to a visiting professorship at New School for Social Research?

Maristella Svampa:
When I was young I was hesitating whether to come to study in the United States, here at The New School or whether to go to France. Although The New School appealed to me with all its history as the “University of Exile”, I finally studied in Paris. But long story short, I received an invitation by Carlos Forment [Associate Professor of Sociology] before the pandemic and finally I´m here.

Can you talk a little bit about your research interests, background and the intersections between ecology, economics, and philosophy?

In the last years, I’ve I studied a lot of social movements, first in Argentina, and other countries in Latin America. But in the last 15 years, I’ve amplified my field of research by incorporating many topics related to social environmental conflicts which served as an opening into the realm of the socio-ecological crisis, especially the divide of the relationship between Global North and South. So much of my research lies in interrogating the Anthropocene and the discussions in the global south. I also seek to connect the climate crisis and models of development in the global south and much of my criticisms interrogate neo-extractivism in Latin America and how this kind of model of development expands the fossil fuel industry. So largely my work lies in the connections between the Anthropocene, ecological collapse and how the different ways of transition manifest in the relationship between the Global North and South.

You’re currently teaching a class about neo-extractivism in Latin America. Can you discuss the class and the linkages to colonialism?

I work in different collectives with other colleagues in the south, especially in Latin America. Now, for example, we are reflecting about the consequences of energy transition in the towns, not only in Latin America, but in Asia, and Africa. Many of these places are facing corporate neo-colonial energy transition models that envision energy expansion as a means to get new business. They are not thinking about the urgency for changing social system and energy system. Energy transition is a possibility to accumulate more capital and imply more pressure from the north to the south to have strategic minerals. That is a kind of transition that further reifies old forms of colonialism in new ways.

In fact, it’s not a real transition, its energy expansion, it’s an exacerbation of exploitation of natural resources. We’re not alone when we talk that because there are a lot of resistances in Africa, in Latin America, that link lithium extraction or the exploitation of balsa woods in the Amazon region, the cobalt extraction or even the projects of green hydrogen in Africa. We call that “the false solutions.”

Can you kind of discuss a little bit more about the way this energy transition and this debt specifically, like provide some examples of how it specifically burdened the countries in the Global South compared to the Global North? Can you provide some examples of the communities in the Global South resist neo-extractivism?

There is a growing interest in many forms of energy democratization—decentralized forms of energy controlled by local communities associated with the state in different levels. It’s a kind of small and middle size projects because we have to avoid the big impacts associated with the mega projects. Our proposal is linked to works of decentralized, communitarian energy cooperatives. That is the problem now is a big push to introduce big energy projects such as solar energy but what ends up in happening is dispossession of land from the natives living there.

I study social environmental conflict in Latin America and I especially look into the different forms popular environmentalism manifests for the popular classes, indigenous people, peasant people, women and young people. In the last 20 years, there was an expansion of the frontier of extractivism in Latin America—-open pit mega mining, oil production, fracking and offshore extraction, agribusiness like soy and pol palm, expansion of mega-dams. So, there are many, many resistances linked to this kind of conflicts in Latin America. It was very complicated twenty years ago because it was the beginning of the commodities consensus. I prefer to talk about commodities consensus because there aren’t any differences between neoliberal conservative and progressivist governments. Both sides accepted this possibility to expand the frontier of a commodification and then that a lot of socioenvironmental movements in Latin America arose. There has been uniting amongst different collectives such feminist, youth and indigenous collectives to bring more awareness to these issues since its proliferation twenty years ago.

This has brought about a lot of political tensions. it’s important to add that Latin America is the region of the world where more people are assassinated defending nature. Every year there are a lot of people who died defending land, territory, and life, especially in Colombia, in Mexico, in Nicaragua, in Brazil, for example.

That’s it’s really interesting, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Cop City in Atlanta and the destruction of the forest to build a police training facility. One of the activist defenders of the land was murdered by a police officer. And hearing you speak about the situation in Latin America makes me think about similar situations happening in response to the climate crisis. 

I think there are obvious connections because the Global South and North are fighting similar monsters when it comes to the climate crisis such as fires, the destruction of ecosystems, and pipelines expansion, Indigenous people have been on the front lines of many these fights in both the north and south and largely influence other resistance movements. We must look to their beliefs and ideologies around how humans should treat and attend to nature because many of these narratives fuel their climate justice philosophies.

What do you think of frameworks like de-growth that advocate for significantly shrinking our economic output to solve the ecological crisis, and are there any other solutions or frameworks you specifically advocate for?

Degrowth for me is connected with the theory of social metabolism. That implies the abandon the idea of growth and produce with less energy and raw materials in order to preserve strategic ecosystems in order to attend to the climate crisis. Degrowth is necessary in this context of climate crisis, particularly in the Global North, because is its responsibility.  There is an ecological debt from the North in relationship to de South. in South America it’s not a question of the degrowth but to exit to the extractivism. In fact, we have to degrowth in some sectors, but in other sector like health, public services.

My seminar relates to these topics. I orient my class and discussions around four central concepts—-First: the connection between capital and the Anthropocene, and the consequences of the ecological crisis in the global south. Second: collapse, the different narratives about collapse, not only ecological collapse, but systemic collapse. Third: transition such as eco -transition, but especially energy transition and fourth: relational narratives, the different kind of relational narratives, not only in the south, but in the north, for example, in the north there are a lot of exceptional works about the multispecies studies, the relations between human being and not human being. In the South, there is a lot more reflection about the relationship between body, land, territory, water. I try to connect these four big concepts in order to interrogate the most important dimensions of the sociological crisis.

NSSR Welcomes Research Psychologist Shoshana Krohner as a Postdoctoral Fellow

The New School for Social Research is excited to welcome Shoshana Krohner as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Psychology Department.

Krohner is working within the Trauma and Affective Psychophysiology Lab headed by Wendy D’Andrea, Associate Professor of Psychology, and her work there focuses on emotion, cognition, and relational factors in complex trauma.

Krohner spoke with Research Matters about the connection between trauma and overall health, the importance of cultural-focused research, and her non-hierarchical approach to teaching.

RM: Could you say a bit about your academic journey? What was your path to becoming a Postdoctoral Fellow here at NSSR?

SK: I graduated with a major in Psychology from undergrad. I became interested in research, and ended up in a neuropsychology lab at a large rehabilitation institute in Detroit, doing research on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The population there is mostly Black, mostly lower income so in the process of collecting all of this data, I saw how much social factors and social disadvantage, the lack of support systems, whether that’s family or more systematic, impacted people’s trajectory of recovery.

I was accepted to Wayne State University’s clinical psychology doctoral program, and worked in the Stress & Health lab [for a PhD in Clinical Psychology], working with Professor Mark Lumley….[M]y graduate training concentrated on developing and implementing emotion-focused and psychodynamic interventions for people who had [chronic pain and psychosomatic conditions]. In the course of graduate school, I became increasingly interested in the role of trauma in health, and I wound up developing an intervention for my dissertation study for individuals who have chronic pain and a significant history of childhood adversity. That work, along with my clinical training, fed my interest in complex trauma, and so when considering positions for postdoctoral fellowship, I was looking to join a team focused on trauma, which was a pivot away from my background in more traditional health psychology.

That’s how I wound up here with Wendy D’Andrea’s lab. Her research mostly focuses on complex trauma and dissociation, , studying psychophysiology and affect. I was excited about her work, as I had become interested in transitioning from applied interventions-based research to research that was more focused on mechanisms—to get atthe why and the how of things that underlie psychopathology and the relationship between earlier life experiences and adult mental health. The New School has a reputation for being progressive and oriented toward social justice in a way that was also compelling to me so I thought it would be a good fit in terms of my values as well.

RM: As you’ve explained, your doctoral research focused on how psychosocial influences, especially factors like trauma and social adversity, impact health. Can you say more about the link between our experiences in early childhood and overall health later in life?

SK: There was a landmark study conducted by V J Felliti about 30 years ago finding that experiencing childhood adversity…is predictive of a host of physical and also psychological difficulties in adulthood. My graduate research focused on how these experiences can contribute to physical problems or illness.

In the field of psychology now, the most commonly available treatments for people with chronic pain or psychosomatic conditions are based in cognitive-behavioral theory, and they focus primarily on accepting and managing pain. This approach views chronic pain as something that is lifelong and something to manage, and contrasts with the model that I have worked from, that views some types of chronic pain as being driven by the central nervous system and quite changeable. This approach is based on evidence that childhood experiences of attachment-disruption can lead to these chronic, repeated experiences of suppressing rather than experiencing one’s emotions and the evidence shows that emotional suppression is associated with symptoms. It’s a model that is more psychological or brain-based in terms of what produces and maintains pain, and so the course of treatment aims to increase insight for patients about the link between emotions and pain, and to experience rather than avoid emotions., including: The goal is to encourage recognition that the way that they’ve been managing emotions has a cost, and may not be the most adaptive strategy for their current context, and encourages them to adopt a different pattern where there is more openness to emotional experience.

RM: You’ve also done important work on stress and sexual victimization across different genders and cultural backgrounds. In what way should we approach traumatic experiences differently based on cultural and social context?

SK: The work that you’re referring to was conducted in a population of Arab American women.

In that study, we looked at whether a disclosure-based interview would have an effect on sexual health outcomes, such as sexual self-esteem and satisfaction.,. We found that it actually did have some benefits, and the women who participated reported that it wasa really important experience for them to feel like we could talk openly about sexual experiences, especially those that had never shared with anybody else.

We were also interested in how cultural factors impact Arab American women who had sexual victimization experiences. This was an exploratory study, which found that women who had more conflict between their identities as Arab and as American, or who felt like they couldn’t talk openly with the people in their life, were worse off in terms of psychological and physical health.  

We were interested in studying this population because there are very few studies that have included Arab Americans in general, and even fewer focused on women. This is important because there can be a tension between having sort of broad generalizations about what is healthy for people, or how experiences impact people, and that doesn’t consider these cultural or social group differences which might affect those relationships. That’s where more cross-cultural and cultural-focused research can help to identify cases in which a theory or a model might not apply and what might be particularly beneficial for a subgroup or minority population.

RM: What does your current research within the Trauma and Affective Psychophysiology Lab focus on?

SK: I’m currently working on a large project for which the data has already been collected, and I’m working towards analysis and publication. The data set is from an NIH-funded project on what is called Blunted and Discordant Affect (BADA).

For some background, most treatments for trauma and characterizations of trauma…are characterized mostly by hyperarousal [and hypervigilance] in terms of affect and physiology.

But, for people who have complex trauma with repeated exposures, that are attachment-based or happened in childhood, they tend to show up in clinical settings with a different presentation, characterized by blunted or discordant emotional responses. That might look like people not reacting when they perhaps should be to situations where there’s threat and shut-down instead, or there’s discordant reactions -a mismatch between the situation and their emotional reaction.

So, the project aimed to validate that this is a distinct subtype of trauma reactions, and to characterize this subtype in terms of magnitude and neural and physiological mechanisms. My piece involves looking at various forms of discordance, for example, how is someone’s physiology—what their body is telling us about their response–different or mismatched to what they’re saying is going on with them, or to their brain activity? Or how do people with trauma histories handle conflicting feelings in relationships, and how does having these conflicts impact physiology? Or  you might find verbal disfluencies, where someone is talking about an earlier relationship and switch into present tense or leave out key information as if you already know who you’re talking about, a sort of time discordance, as if the person is experiencing the situation now rather than relating to it as a coherent thing that happened in the past.

RM: You taught Research Methods in Fall 2022 for Psychology MA students. Could you tell us a bit about the class and your pedagogical approach?

SK: I’m working with Master’s students [and] this class is essentially their first experience developing and running a study from the ground up.

It’s a challenging class because you’re expected to be able to develop an idea for a study, collect data, and then have it analyzed and presented in a paper and a conference poster within the span of few months. At least half of the class is devoted to problem solving, strategizing about methodology and data collection, and talking about issues as they come up. The other side of it is lecture, where we’re talking about structure and organizing principles for experimental studies. It’s all quantitative.

I like for classes to feel very collaborative and non-hierarchical. I don’t want students to feel intimidated by the content or by it being their first experience. I want it to be all about learning, with the understanding that there’s going to be mistakes that happen, and that no questions are bad questions. I’m also trying to emphasize as much as possible peer-to-peer work where students are looking at one another’s work, developing the ability to critique one another’s work and get feedback in a way that’s professional and helpful. I’m hoping students come away feeling capable and excited about doing research.

Oksana Kis Joins NSSR as 2022-2023 Visiting Professor in Anthropology

The New School for Social Research is excited to welcome Oksana Kis as Visiting Professor in the Anthropology Department for the 2022-23 academic year.

Professor Kis is a feminist historian and anthropologist from Ukraine, head of the Department of Social Anthropology at the Institute of Ethnology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Lviv. She is also a President of the Ukrainian Association for Research in Women’s History, and a Co-founder and Vice President of the Ukrainian Oral History Association.

Kis sat down with Research Matters to discuss her long-standing connection to NSSR, her perspective on Gulag studies, new meta-narratives emerging from the war in Ukraine, and much more.

What was your path to becoming a Visiting Professor here at NSSR?

When Professor Jessica Pisano first contacted me and asked if I would be interested to come for a temporary possession of Visiting Professor of Anthropology, I didn’t know anybody from The New School in a professional context.

On the other hand, it was very symbolic. I knew Professor Ann Snitow, Emeritus Professor and founder of the university’s Gender Studies program, long ago before she passed away in 2019. I really admired her not only as a scholar and professor, but as a role model in terms of feminist activism.

Snitow was a famous activist beginning the late 70s, and she was among the few who actually tried to establish a dialogue between the American feminists and the East European post-socialist feminists who were trying to rediscover feminism for themselves. She was the leader of Network of East-West Women, a transnational organization that advocated for women’s rights and promoted women’s studies in the region. In that role, she supported a publication of a book that was the first-ever reader in feminist and gender studies in Ukraine, a translation of the classic works. Later, she worked to give us a small grant for a library. From this, we were able to purchase about 40 books at a time when internet access was not that widespread and there was a serious shortage of knowledge in gender studies. We had to somehow to catch up the Western academia. When I came back with a full suitcase of 60 pounds of books, <laughs>, everybody was so happy. So now, when I teach the course Women & Post-Socialist Transformation in this same university, I consider it a tribute to her memory.

Your work focus on the human element within political paradigms, which is often neglected in favor of the study of political infrastructure and systems. This is especially clear in your recent book, Survival as Victory: Ukrainian Women in the Gulag (2021). Could you comment on your position within the field of Gulag studies?

When I first approached the topic of women’s experience, I expected that somebody would have already written something at least about the Ukrainian experiences in the Gulag because it is such a painful sore in the history of the 20th century. It turned out that despite there being a number of memoirs published and several oral historical projects, nobody actually had summarized that experience of Ukrainians in general.

There are a couple different reasons why I focused mainly on human, and particularly women’s, experience. On the one hand, there is a huge body of works written about the repressive institution of the Gulag. It emphasizes over and over again how important it was, overshadowing the lives of people who are the prisoners. The Gulag aimed to erase them, and the historiographies erase them over again. It’s absolutely unfair. To counterbalance that, it was important to look not only at the suffering of those people, but particularly their survival strategies.

The history of Gulag studies tends to analyze mainly the experiences of Russian-speaking prisoners, because those stories are readily available . Historians of Stalinism and the USSR usually learn the Russian language and that leaves testimonies in any other languages outside their inquiry. Moreover, major memoirs by Russian survivors of the Gulag are translated into English. For me, it was important to show what is special about Ukrainians and about women in terms of making the history of political imprisonment in the Gulag more comprehensive and accurate. It was also important to remember the impact this period had on society because those people who manage to survive brought these experiences back, including their ideas, habits, and attitudes, which had long-term effects over the generations of their descendants.

Your research practice engages with texts of memoirs and personal interviews of Ukrainians. Do you have a sense of the meta-narratives that are emerging from the war in Ukraine today? Perhaps particularly for women in Ukraine, which is your focus?

I believe that there are core ideas already forming in the midst of this total mess and distress. What is important is that there will be many narratives of this war. Nowadays, we are aware that the experiences of the war are so different for different parts of the population. We have to appreciate and admit all the stories, the stories of pain and suffering, and the stories of glory and survival, and the stories of military valor. Yet, if you try to understand what is the universal among all those stories, I would say that they all contain the sentiment, “We are the people.”

Many diverse groups came to an awareness that despite all the differences among Ukrainians, Russian-speaking, and Ukrainian-speaking, people of different ethnic origin, people affiliated with different church branches like Orthodox or Catholic, they are united with the same set of values for which we are going to fight, to defend to the very end. This togetherness, this feeling of belonging to one nation based on the same set of values, this is important thing to remember. I would call this solidarity. Among the shared values are, importantly, the right to human dignity, democracy in terms of universal equality, and appreciation and tolerance to all the citizens. Also, obviously the freedom to define our future.

In terms of women’s experiences, it is absolutely amazing how women who previously had no experience of public activism…now feel a personal responsibility for their country. There is also a real sense that citizens are doing the same job in different ways, and every contribution is appreciated.

Could you speak about your work with the Ukrainian Association of Oral History which you co-founded? And the Ukrainian Association for Research in Women’s History where you serve as President? What is the current focus of these institutions today?

That’s a very important part of my life. I committed to development of both associations because after 30 years of independence, there is still no Women’s History, no Oral History, no Gender Studies, no Anthropology for that matter, in the official roster of academic subjects in Ukraine. These subjects officially don’t exist. It doesn’t mean that there are no scholars or no scholarship. There is tremendous research in those areas, but they are not properly institutionalized.

Both of these associations serve to promote institutionalization and to create a community for scholars who are working in those areas and who feel lonely and isolated within their universities and receive no support. We also try to establish some basics to create a framework for those areas and reintroduce the discipline into the Ukrainian academy, lest it become falsified.

More specifically, the Association of Oral History was formed to draw attention to the human experiences of the history of Ukraine. And to some extent, question the official memory politics in Ukraine, offering counter narratives of the history of the 20th century.

With Ukrainian Association for Research in Women’s History, it’s a more complicated story because for quite a long time and still today, it’s not taken seriously within academia. It became part of our mission to speak about women’s past outside of the pattern of being as a victim, which is very typical for the Ukrainian historical representation of women’s experience. Women are always portrayed as the biggest losers of all the historical tragedies, even when they are valorized as martyrs who sacrifice it themselves for the Ukrainian cause. Our association is trying to show the variety of women’s experiences and to emphasize specifically women’s agency in different developments. This is helpful and not only for the society at large, but specifically for women themselves to feel entitled to voice their demands and claims and consider themselves equal.

I’d love to discuss your Women & Post-Socialist Transformation undergraduate course at Lang. What was the trajectory of the course? How did you find the NSSR student body received this material?

In the past, I’ve taught the course at the graduate level for students specializing in this region. It was quite a challenge this time around because at least half of my students were freshmen. We first had to establish what is the Soviet Union, what is the Bolshevik emancipation project for women and how it evolved over the course of 70 years, and how the gender policies have changed, how women responded, and how women contributed to the development of the Soviet Union and to its disintegration after all.

For these students, it’s a discovery of a different reality. But on the other hand, since we take three countries, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, as case studies, we are not only dealing with the specific empirical material, but with broader theories and basic concepts that are relevant to their own lives, like gender segregation in the labor market.

I can see that students begin to reevaluate their own experience with their family, education, their gender-based socialization. We not only discuss scholarly texts but explore various materials, including feature movies, advertising, school textbooks, music videos, all of which tell the story of a people. Later in the semester, we focus on trafficking, prostitution, on drug abuse and alcohol abuse. Those are very difficult topics to deal with. But they are not only post-Soviet phenomena.

What can you tell us about the undergraduate Oral History course you are teaching in Spring 2023?

It will be a practice-oriented course for those who in their professional or scholarly career would be interested in using interview as a research method. This course will offer a view of best practices and necessary skills and tools. We will learn how to do an oral history project, how to properly design the project, how to conduct the interviews using different techniques dependent on the purpose, how to process the materials and make best use of those materials depending on the goal. Part of the course will be dedicated to theoretical debates in oral history, to issues related to the ethical and legal dimension of practicing oral history. We’ll speak about all kinds of challenges and shortcomings, but also the advantages of doing oral history to achieve different goals.

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.

NSSR Welcomes Melany Rivera Maldonado to the Psychology Department

“By listening as someone puts their story into language, you foster a space where recreating and transforming a narrative becomes possible,” Melany Rivera Maldonado, NSSR’s new Assistant Professor of Psychology and director of the Safran Center for Psychological Services, tells me. Before she was a therapist and a professor, Rivera Maldonado was a journalist, and the transformative power of stories and of narrative space has never been lost on her.

A Procession from Journalism to Psychology

Writing has been a large part of Rivera Maldonado’s life. It first came in the form of poetry, under the mentorship of Puerto Rican writers Mayra Santos Febres, Mairym Cruz Bernal, and Mayda Colón. Later, as a communication student, she researched social issues in journalism. That work taught her how to interview people — what to ask, and how to approach certain subjects.

After creating profiles for community and non-profit stakeholders for Puerto Rico Solidario, a section of El Nuevo Dia newspaper, Rivera Maldonado got more involved in psychological work and decided to pursue her PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Puerto Rico. There, as a first-generation doctoral student, she learned how to ask questions from multiple angles to access pieces of life that people may not know are affecting them. In the therapy room, her background in writing helps her find metaphors, create connections, and foster opportunities for those who often feel unheard to find their voice.

After, Rivera Maldonado moved to New Jersey to complete her internship year at the YCS Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health, then worked as an Assistant Professor at Felician University teaching both counseling and ethics courses. Since then, she has been involved in direct services, leadership, and advocacy efforts related to immigrant children and youth. As part of her program development experience, she created a program for Latin American immigrant youth to process the transition, stressors, and mourning experiences that come with their journey to the U.S. Another program under her leadership for children of immigrants and their parents fostered a space for connection and understanding between and within the families. Rivera Maldonado’s focus on migrant communities allows her to provide them a space to find their voices as they navigate a convoluted immigration process and heal at personal and communal levels. Rivera Maldonado calls this focusing on developing participatory interventions that come from the community and go to the community.

Rivera Maldonado also tries to bring the particularly Latin American psychology of liberation to her work. “Psychology as a practice, inside and outside the therapy room, is political,” she tells me, and requires looking at the interconnection of both social and individual factors. She described how the pandemic has brought to the surface inequalities already present — medical health services are usually harder to access overall for communities of color and disadvantaged communities, and therapy continues to be unaffordable for many, especially with high out-of-network prices.

Teaching with an Integrated View of Psychology

Now, Rivera Maldonado’s work has brought her to NSSR, where she tells me that her social justice-oriented sensibilities fit in seamlessly with the school’s ethos. She and her Psychology faculty colleagues study and teach their students how to transfer their academic knowledge to their one-on-one work with patients. “You have to understand the sociopolitical and historical climate that surrounds the communities we work with” to establish a critical lens for understanding patients, she emphasizes. At the same time, each doctoral student in their first year engages in a clinical experience, for which Rivera Maldonado shared that it’s important to “be able to also support students on the front line and promote their personal development.”

In tandem with her teaching, Rivera Maldonado is the Director of the Safran Center for Psychological Services, which provides tailored foundational training in psychotherapy and psychodiagnostic assessment to NSSR Clinical Psychology PhD students through close supervision of practical application of learned skills. It also offers low-fee psychological services to New School students and the surrounding community, and collaborates with The New School’s Counseling Center to provide psychological assessments for New School students. With their sliding scale rates, the Center serves people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be able to access therapeutic services. The Center is a training clinic born out of past New School professor Jeremy Safran’s and other faculty members’ interest in pursuing their research while fostering student’s development as psychologists. It’s also a place where questions about the purpose of therapy, and whether it’s meeting its goals, can be addressed in real-time — a place where the therapeutic process can be monitored through a process of research, reflection, and program evaluation.

As part of her work leading the Center and admitting patients, Rivera Maldonado makes considerations about which communities are underserved, following principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Due to the increased need for services in the area, the Center is currently at capacity. Rivera Maldonado says she is looking forward to “the possibility of generating projects and identifying funding opportunities that will strengthen the Center’s infrastructure to continue to expand our services.”

If you or somebody you know would like to inquire about accessing services, you can contact the Safran Center by emailing ​​ or calling 212.229.570. The clinic is accepting patients for the spring 2022 semester.


Bessie Jane Rubinstein is a writer and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Brooklyn, are rotating between 3+ books, and are always taking recommendations for more.