Tomas Lima Pimenta has received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Long-term Research Grant Award for the 2021-2022 academic year.
A Philosophy PhD candidate, Pimenta will spend a year at Freie Universität Berlin working with faculty member Robin Celikates. In addition to finishing work on his dissertation, he plans to participate in Celikates’ seminars and research groups, as well as activities of the Center for Humanities and Social Change at Humboldt University, directed by Celikates and Rahel Jaeggi.
“I felt delighted and relieved with the award,” says Pimenta. “I am excited to work with Celikates closely, to live in Berlin, and I am also relieved with the financial support….I am looking forward to focusing solely on my research after October.”
Pimenta’s dissertation addresses the contemporary spread of conspiracy theories as a fundamental tool of right-wing extremism propaganda. It gives an account of the crisis of liberal democracy through the notion of trust and the increasing distrust in institutions. It also offers a political-psychological account of political paranoia as a mode of subjectivity.
“This research is essentially motivated by the genocidal politics promoted by the ultraliberal government in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Pimenta. “It ultimately attempts to understand the suicidal logic, beyond the necropolitical logic, that dominates Brazilian society and explores the fundamental role of the conspirational subject in that process.” His dissertation advisor is Jay Bernstein, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy.
Originally trained as an economist specializing in Marxist Economics and Dependency Theory, Pimenta is deeply interested in both German and Latin American thought. In addition to this upcoming DAAD fellowship, he has twice been a fellow of NSSR’s Janey Program in Latin American Studies. “All my research interests are guided by the relevant social, political, and philosophical problems of Brazil and Latin America,” he says.
Fania Noel has received an AAUW International Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year.
A Haitian-born French Afrofeminist organizer, thinker, and writer, Noel is a Sociology PhD student broadly interested in Africana studies, critical race theory, Black feminism, Haitian diaspora and capitalism studies. For her dissertation, she is studying Black feminism on a global scale, highlighting “tension/divergence and convergence in ideology, praxis and political agenda and organization between Black feminism movement in predominantly non-Black countries and the ones in Black countries regarding white supremacy, neo-liberalism, hetero-patriarchy, (neo)-colonialism and internationalism/panafricanism.” She is working closely on this research with Deva Woodly, Associate Professor of Politics, and Benoit Challand, Associate Professor of Sociology.
Receiving the news about the AAUW fellowship was a joyous moment for Noel amid a year of remote study; she felt “like Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé’s Savage Remix,” she shares. She plans to utilize the fellowship support to do archival research and carry out interviews across Europe in Summer 2021 and in Haïti in December 2021.
In addition to her academic work at NSSR, Noel organizes with grassroots movements such as Mwasi-Collectif Afrofeminist against anti-Blackness and Black feminism in France. She is also deeply involved in writing and publishing; in 2014, she founded Revue AssiégéEs (Besieged), a political publishing project led by women, queer and trans people of color, and in 2019, Syllepse Edition, a radical French publishing house, published her book Afro-communautaire: Appartenir à nous-mêmes (Afro-Community: To Belong to Ourselves). A manifesto, Afro-communautaire presents an Afro-revolutionary and anti-imperialist utopia for the political organization of Black people in France against racial politics and neoliberalism.
“I believe in radical Black feminist futures,” says Noel. “My commitment to Black Feminism politics, and Black liberation anchored the sense of accountability by not reinforcing the ‘carceralisation’ of knowledge in academia. My goal is to use the resources in my disposition to create political collective power where Black struggles are.”
After a three year hiatus, the Memory Studies Group at The New School for Social Research regrouped and reemerged in March 2020. Less than a week after their first event, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world — and halted many of their plans.
“The idea for the Memory Studies Group came up…in Krakow, Poland, during the Democracy & Diversity Summer Institute in 2007,” recounts faculty advisor Elzbieta Matynia, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS), which conducts the annual summer study intensive. She had just taught her first class in collective memory. As her students walked through Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter, they noticed a pattern: “…beautifully renovated buildings, various institutions, cafes, restaurants, and the streets were all named for its Jewish past. The only thing missing was the Jewish people, who had been taken to the Nazi concentration camps, and murdered there. It became visible to us then, this uncanny presence of absence.”
This experience sparked an interest in memory among Institute students, who became the founding cohort of an independent Memory Studies Group: Amy Sodaro, Sociology PhD 2011; Lindsey Freeman, Sociology & Historical Studies PhD 2013; Yifat Gutman, Sociology PhD 2012; Alin Coman, Psychology PhD 2010, and Adam Brown, Psychology PhD 2008 and now Associate Professor of Psychology at NSSR. They organized a conference in the group’s first year, where scholars discussed questions like “Which past is official? What is it that we remember? How do we forget when we are not allowed to remember? How do groups remember their history when their memory is being repressed, and what is happening to people whose very existence is repressed from memory?”
When Malkhaz Toria, group coordinator and a Sociology MA student, came to NSSR as a Fulbright scholar in 2011, the Memory Studies Group became an intellectual home for him. “That inspired me to establish a similar sort of group at my home university, Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia,” he says; he also heads that university’s Memory Center.
Upon his return to NSSR in 2019, Toria was instrumental in reviving the group, which had gone on a brief hiatus. Now part of TCDS, the group has new core members of Franzi König-Paratore, Sociology PhD student; Elisabeta “Lala” Pop, Politics PhD student; Malgorzata Bakalarz Duverger, sociologist, art historian, and Sociology PhD 2017; Chang Liu, Sociology MA student; and Karolina Koziura, Sociology and Historical studies PhD student.
“Our goal is also to have some continuity of the transnational and transdisciplinary projects and exchange that Sodaro and Freeman envisioned and implemented when they were steering the group,” König-Paratore says. “My hope is that the group continues to connect past and present members. I personally hope that we open up the group more for professionals or cultural workers outside of academia.”
The revived group’s first and only in-person event was a March 2020 book launch for Museums and Sites of Persuasion, which was edited Sodaro and Joyce Apsel, and includes work by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at the School of Public Engagement, Toria, and many others. Since then, the group has held several online lectures and webinars and on discourses within the field, from a look at revisionist narratives in Russia to an examination of how Frida Wunderlich — the first female economist at NSSR and a founding member of the University in Exile — is remembered.
Memory Studies: A Transdisciplinary Field
Memory Studies spans disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities to explore the ways collective memory is constructed, experienced, repressed, and rebuilt. “The complex field of memory studies employs whole repertoire of approaches from different disciplines including comparative literature, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and politics, among other areas, to address the multifaceted phenomena of both individual and collective memories ,” Toria says. Matynia describes the field as “transdisciplinary.”
For example, Silvana Alvarez Basto, Liberal Studies MA student, looks at the intersections between politicization of art, history, and visual representations of memory in her home country of Colombia. “The topic of memory is very popular right now, since in 2016 the government ended an armed conflict with the FARC,” she says. Her research focuses on the construction of Simón Bolívar’s image as a national symbol across Latin America, in groups like the FARC and beyond. “I’m interested in how his face has become a guiding locus or a symbol for these movements,” Alvarez Basto explains. While her work has primarily dealt with 19th century portraits of Bolívar, she has recently begun looking at the ways “new technologies modify our relationship with canonical images and with the Western tradition of painted portraits.”
Toria works on the role of memory construction in authoritarian regimes and their aftermaths. Collective memory, he explains, does not come into existence organically. “It’s controlled and dependent on political conjunctures…Across the globe, if you have a totalitarian government, they are more keen to control how you remember.” His research looks at citizens in countries that were part of the Soviet Union. “Ukrainians, Georgians, and Estonians have different pictures of the past and past relationships with Russia. That’s why these clashes in questions of the past happen; it is quite a universal mechanism.”
“My first encounter with the Memory Studies Group at the New School was in 2009 when I was pursuing an MA degree. Through the [group] and TCDS I became connected with the interdisciplinary research and networks of the field and it greatly influenced my own MA thesis work,” Pop explains. “Now [that] I’m back at NSSR, I’m excited to be part of the team of graduate students continuing the group’s work and re-launching its activities.”
Memory Studies Today
Memory Studies takes on particular relevance in periods of upheaval, when democracies come into existence or are threatened, when social movements gain power, or when societies experience unprecedented change — periods like today.
Matynia points to several factors that make the current moment crucial for the field. Many countries have experienced what Matynia calls “de-democratization,” under the influence of dictators and “would-be dictators” who weaponize collective memory. “Politics of history and politics of memory became a part of the playbook of many dictators and aspiring dictators,” she explains.
Additionally, social movements have begun exposing and dismantling parts of the past that had been manipulated or repressed out of collective memory. Think of activists taking down statues of Confederate leaders in the U.S, slaveholders in the U.K., and a conquistador in Colombia. “There’s this rippling where people want to ask, ‘what does it mean to memorialize these figures?’” Alvarez Basto says.
Memory Studies doesn’t just look at the past; the field is equally interested in the ways that people form collective memory now in preparation for the future. The massive shift in March 2020 into lockdown and onto Zoom inspired the group’s April 21 conference, “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Speakers will include Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University; Hana Cervinkova, Professor of Anthropology at Maynooth University; and Juliet Golden, Director of the Central Europe Center at Syracuse University.
Toria explains, “There’s a kind of eternal presence that feels never-ending. Our world is reduced to these small screens, where our lives are… We’ll cover multifaceted aspects of Memory Studies in this new light, the context of the pandemic, like problems of democracy, remembrance, the problem of forgetting, shifting senses of time and space, and new issues in memory discourse surrounding gender and race.”
“We call it memory studies, but so much of what we think we are rooted in and call our past actually projects into the future,” Matynia adds. “So which past will we download as we moveout of today’s situation, and draw upon as a springboard for reinventing our intellectual lives, spiritual lives, and social lives?”
Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguini and Tortellini.
Santiago Mandirola, a Sociology and Historical Studies PhD candidate, has been awarded the competitive National Science Foundation Science and Technology Studies Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (HEGS-DDRI) for his dissertation “Markets in the Making: Financial Technology and Socio-Economic Life in Latin America.”
Mandirola’s research explores the role of consumer credit scoring systems and Financial Technology (FinTech) in the socio-economic lives of people living in South America’s Southern Cone.
While credit scores have become cornerstones of socio-economic life in the U.S., determining who can afford to buy a house or go back to school, large-scale credit scoring systems have not been able to take hold in Latin America in the same way. The most obvious reason for the disparity, Mandirola says, is that far fewer people there engage with formal banking systems — only about half of the population has access to a bank account, and they generally have enough resources to meet their needs without credit.
Mandirola is particularly interested in the methods FinTech companies have adopted to fill that gap since moving into Latin America’s credit industry in the 2010s. “I’m trying to look at what programmers, engineers, and risk analysts do in order to take information that is traditionally non-economic, like a certain person’s browsing patterns…and how they refine that information so they can make economic predictions about whether or not that particular buyer is credit-worthy,” he explains.
With the NSF grant, Mandirola hopes to travel to agencies developing new methods for credit scoring to observe their processes and conduct interviews with staff. He also plans to attend FinTech conferences and seminars to learn about innovations in the field. While COVID-19 may change his methods, Mandirola says his research style will remain the same. “I’m always concerned about trying to get as close to the subject as I can, and to try to use that information in a way that is as faithful as possible to the source.” he says. “There’s time later to analytically interpret the data collected.”
The topic is a personal one. As a sociology undergraduate in his home country of Argentina, Mandirola became “interested in the processes that try to impose a certain order to that uncertainty, and reliance on that order to make plans, calculations and estimations of how things will go in the future.” When he moved to New York for graduate school at The New School for Social Research (NSSR), he found that every lease he applied for required a credit score — something he did not have — and his interest in that magical three-digit number ignited.
Mandirola says two NSSR faculty members in particular, have played an integral role in this research. Carlos Forment, Associate Professor of Sociology and Mandirola’s doctoral advisor, has provided important guidance that has helped the project evolve. Forment is the Principal Investigator for Mandirola’s project, and has had a pivotal role in supporting his application and in crafting and improving the project itself.
“Working with Santiago over the years has been immensely rewarding. He taught me what I know about the current debates on FinTech,” Forment says. “Once I had a basic understanding of them, I encouraged him to break with the standard accounts that, not surprisingly, remain focused on the ‘Anglo-European’ world. In studying the particularities of FinTech in Argentina, Santiago is in uncharted territory and joining a small group of scholars who are seeking to rethink the terms of the debate. Santiago is eminently qualified for the task he has set himself.”
Emma Park, Assistant Professor of History and a 2020-2021 Heilbroner Center Faculty Fellow, has supported Mandirola by closely and thoughtfully reading his proposal, and helping him perfect his writing.
“Working and thinking with Santiago over the past couple years has been tremendously gratifying,” Park says. “I have no doubt that his research will not only contribute to our understandings of how the market for credit has been assembled by FinTech firms in the Southern Cone, but is poised to make important contributions to the growing scholarship within Science and Technology Studies that takes sites outside of Euro-America as their point of departure. The research is timely and politically consequential. I couldn’t be more thrilled!”
Ultimately, Mandirola aims to de-mystify credit scoring tools and determine what influence they have on people’s lives.
“I think this is a moment in which we have to focus more on the impact that these elements can have on our economic lives, our social lives, and especially the lives of more vulnerable populations, who are the ones usually resorting to alternative financial services,” Mandirola proposes. “Is it an impact that’s improving the lives of the people affected by it or not? Just as simple and complex as that.”
Read about how The New School’s Office of Research Support worked with Santiago Mandirola on his dissertation here.
Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguini and Tortellini.
Karolina Koziura has won a Józef Tischner Junior Visiting Fellowship at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna to work on her dissertation, tentatively titled “Erasing Disaster: The Global Production of Silence and the Great Ukrainian Famine.” From June through October 2021, Koziura will focus on her research, which explores “the production of silence and denial of disasters as shaped by political, media, and scientific narratives.”
Koziura is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research. The roles of political memory and constructed narratives in Central and Eastern Europe play a central role in her work, which has also included a project on the Great Ukrainian Famine. Her work has appeared in many publications, including East European Politics and Societies, Culture, and Ukraina Moderna. Her advisor is Virag Molnar, Associate Professor of Sociology. Koziura is also part of the Decolonizing Eastern European Studies group at NSSR, organized by Jessica Pisano, Associate Professor of Politics.