Fall 2017 Schedule

All sessions to be held at the Seminary Coop, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave, alternate Wednesdays from 8 to 9:30 pm.

October 18: Ronald Inden, “America Communicates to the World,” Bill Sewell responding.

Précis: Representations such as “America is the destiny of mankind,” are often grouped together under the rubric “American exceptionalism.” US leaders placed great weight on “communication” in their representations of the “new world order” they were trying to create after 1945. Their idea of communication became for them a new postimperial instrument for ordering the world. It would counter the threat of Communism and “modernize” the countries of the “third world.” What I argue is that the communication at work here, what I call “cosmic representations,” is quite different from the one US leaders proclaimed and that we have come to take for granted in discourse about communication. Cosmic representations, constitutive of “epochal events,” have always been, I would argue, crucial to the formation and reiteration of most imperial polities. Looked at historically, the form of cosmic representation at issue in the US consisted of a secularized and scientized version of a form of communication central to Christianity as a missionary religion. Intellectuals—sociologists and scholars of the nascent discipline of communication studies—collaborated with government in a project, a secularized “mission”: the “resocialization” (conversion) of people in the underdeveloped world to the American way of life. Such representations consisted of spectacular audiovisual demonstrations of divine will and/or natural, scientific power (“shock and awe” in Iraq) intended to precipitate a mind-changing experience on the part of those witnessing such displays. Polities that hoped to gain and maintain supremacy over their rivals have all had to take and hold on to the “demonstrative function” with regard to making cosmic representations. I conclude with a brief discussion of the problems the US and its academic apologists have encountered here.

November 1: Bob Kendrick, “The Limits of the European Left, or Whatever
Happened to Eurocommunism?” Rebecca West responding

Précis: At a moment of crisis in Social Democracy worldwide, this
presentation looks at the current state of those Italian and Spanish
political forces that define themselves as being to the left of the
Second International.  Clearly, mass migrations provide new challenges
— but also, perhaps, new opportunities — for the European
Mediterranean and its progressive formations. Whatever one might think
of the Syriza government in Greece, its experience has also provided an
identity marker — pro or con — for similarly-minded groups elsewhere,
and thus the relationship between domestic and Europe-wide politics
comes to the forefront.

November 15: Rick Perlstein, “Trump and Conservative Historiography,” Bruce Lincoln responding.

Précis: In the April 17, 2017 issue of the NY Times magazine, Rick Perlstein published an article titled “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.” Seven months later, he will return to that article and the issues it raised, restoring material that was cut from it, rethinking issues in light of subsequent events, and reflecting on the challenge of presenting scholarly ideas in such a high-stakes journalistic context.

November 29: Bruce Cumings, “The Sources of North Korean Conduct,” Robert Pape responding.

Précis: In 1947, George F. Kennan published his famous “X” article in the journal Foreign Affairs, outlining his containment doctrine and his long-term prognosis for the Soviet Union. I will do the same for North Korea, arguing that containing that leadership will be even easier than that of the USSR, since the North has no expansionist goals beyond the Korean peninsula.