& the Environment

In our last series, we tried to process the new presidency and make sense of the many--and still, sometimes, seemingly vanishingly few--possible ways to resist the administration's agenda. We expect that this is what we'll be talking about, in different ways, for a very long time.

For this next series, then, we wanted to continue to make space to discuss the Things Happening Now while also shifting our focus, at least a little. We've been planning this series, about the way "the environment" (in all the different ways we imagine it) underlines all of the other things we talk about, for a while. With the new administration in place, however, this issue has taken on a new urgency. 

We'll begin the series by specifically discussing the Trump administration's plans to dismantle Obama-era environmental policy, and how to think about those impending losses, as well as how to resist them. We'll follow that class up with one about environmental anxiety: how do we live in increasingly precarious environments? We'll then consider the effect of environmental instability on social stability with a class on war, immigration, and the environment, finally wrapping up with a consideration of how world religions understand and consider the environment. 

That probably sounds dark, and in lots of ways, it is. But throughout this series, we will also take seriously the question of how we live now: how do we find joy, meaning, a sense of connectedness, and even hope in our rapidly changing environment? Come help us figure it out, okay?   

Events (more details via links)
(No Mon. class; President's Day) Wed., February 22 (am class): Trump & the Environment
Mon. February 27 (pm class) and Wed., March 1 (am class): Anxiety & the Environment
Mon. March 6 (pm class) and Wed. March 8 (am class): War, Immigration, & the Environment
Mon. March 13 (pm class) and Wed. March 15 (am class): Religion & the Environment

All evening classes are held at 7pm at the Motion Media Arts Center (2200 Tillery St.)
All morning classes are held at 10am at Flitch Coffee (641 Tillery St.)
All classes are free

Study the Humanities

"But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.  Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don't want to get a bunch of emails from everybody.  (Laughter.)"
-President Obama, in a 2014 speech at the GE Energy Waukesha Gas Engines Facility

"Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed."
-President Obama, in an apology letter to Professor Ann Collins Johns (Art History, UT Austin)

For our past two Critical Theory Reading Group series, we've discussed the election--and its aftermath--and the role of utopian and dystopian thinking in our current political moment. For the new series, and to kick off an uncertain and, for many, frightening new year, we want to consider a topic at the heart of our critical theory reading group: the humanities.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities (who should know), "The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following:"

language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."

Many writers (some with glee, some with concern) have pointed out that the humanities as an object of study seem to be losing their cultural cachet in American society. Critics argue that the humanities are impractical--unlikely to lead to jobs--and overly specialized: a nice hobby for cultural elites, not to be confused with real disciplines. Interestingly, proponents tend to use the same language as critics, arguing that the humanities do lead to jobs and that they are necessary for a full and enriching life (an argument that can sometimes ignore the material realities that make access to the humanities difficult). 

In this series, we will consider why we study the humanities. What role should art, literature, poetry, theory, etc., play in our lives, our work, our politics? How do we define the humanities, and who are they for? Who might they unintentionally exclude? In this fraught moment, it can be hard to feel justified making time for art and literature. There are so many protests to attend and senators to call, and so many of the people in our community are struggling to meet their material needs. And yet. We believe that the humanities are for everyone, and over this series we will practice articulating why and how they matter.

Events (more details in calendar):
Wed 4th (morning class): Context
Mon 9th (evening class): Read Fiction
Wed 11th (morning class): Read Theory
Thurs 12th (evening field trip): Study Art
Mon 16th (evening class): Read Poetry

Utopias and Dystopias

“There is a tyranny in the womb of every utopia.”
-Bertrand de Jouvenel

“As a culture, we need [utopias] to fail because that failure affirms the inevitability of the dominant economy, with its attendant violence, inequality, and injustice.”
-Erik Reece

"The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds."
-José Esteban Muńoz

A recent New Yorker article by Akash Kapur tracks a resurgence of interest in utopianism, or the idea of the perfect society. Latin for “no-place,” the name “utopia” was first used in a book by a man who fervently believed in, and oversaw, the torture of his religious enemies. Such contradictions continually attend the idea of utopia, which seems to inexorably slide into its conceptual opposite, dystopia. But does this have to be? What are the benefits of utopian thinking, and what are the limits? Similarly, what is the place of dystopian fiction—which is having quite the moment—in political thought?

Over the next four weeks, we will consider utopias, dystopias, and the ever-shifting line between the two in a series of classes and events. Our long-standing Critical Theory Reading Group will continue to meet every Wednesday at 10am at Flitch Coffee to discuss articles and short fiction. We will also be reviving our Film Studies program with a showing of the 2006 sci-fi film, Children of Men, and beginning a monthly literature class with a discussion of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

We planned this series before the election happened. However, in this time of fear and anger, it feels especially appropriate to analyze the ways one person’s idea of utopia can look and feel uncannily like another person’s dystopia. Please join us. 

12/15: Queer and Feminist Utopias
In our last class for this series, we'll dig into readings of utopia by feminist and queer scholars. We'll pair Lee Edelman's call for a queer turning away from futurity ("fuck the waif from Les Miz") with Lisa Duggan's conversation with José Esteban Muñoz--a theorist who continually called for queer futurity--about the uses of hope and hopelessness. Muńoz died suddenly in 2013. 

Reading (optional, but encouraged):
"The Future is Kid Stuff: Queer Theory, Disidentification, and the Death Drive" (Lee Edelman)
"Hope and Hopelessness: A Dialogue" (Lisa Duggan and José Esteban Muńoz)
"Vacating the Here and Now For a There and Then: Remembering José Muńoz" (Emily Colucci, The Los Angeles Review of Books)

Bonus Reading:
"Inside the World's Chicest Cult" (Marisa Meltzer on her time with a crunchy women's retreat)


12/7: Dystopias (in connection with Film Studies on 12/6)

In this class, we'll dive into dystopias. We'll begin by discussing our Film Studies showing of Children of Men, paying particular attention to its contemporary relevance. We'll also discuss a short story by Octavia Butler and a TED Talk by Alex Gendler. 

Reading (optional, but encouraged)
The Nerdwriter on Children of Men 
Alex Gendler's TED Talk: "How to Recognize a Dystopia"
"Speech Sounds" (Octavia Butler)

11/30: American Utopias
For this class, we'll consider two instantiations of American Utopias. We'll read an essay about the complicated corporate utopia that is Disneyland, as well as a piece about a Mormon millionaire trying to build an eco-utopia in Vermont. Some questions we'll ask: is there a particularly American impulse to these utopias? How do organizations (religions, corporations, etc.) shape the way we experience utopia? 

Reading (optional, but encouraged)
No Matter How Your Heart is Grieving: Disney for the Sad (Sam Thielman, The Toast)
Joseph Smith's Vermont Hometown is Being Transformed into a Modern Mormon Utopia (Jaimie Seaton, Atlas Obscura)

Bonus Reading:
The Bundy Family's Odd Mormon Connection, Explained (Jack Jenkins, ThinkProgress)

11/16: Political Utopianism and Third Parties
In our first class, we'll introduce the series with a discussion Kapur's New Yorker article. Following that, we'll discuss the heavily contested role that third party candidates played in the election, as well as how utopian thinking shapes the way we understand our political system. 

Reading (optional, but encouraged)
The Return of the Utopians (Kapur, The New Yorker)
Did Third-Party Candidates Cost Hillary Clinton the Election? (The Wall Street Journal)
How Did Donal Trump Win the Presidency? (NPR)
John Oliver on Third Parties

Trigger Warnings

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, we met at Flitch Coffee to consider two controversies in academia: the legality of concealed carry at public universities in Texas, and the continuing controversy over trigger warnings, which got additional attention recently due to a letter published by a dean at the University of Chicago denouncing the practice. In addition to their similar settings, both of these controversial events consider similar issues, including questions of protection, safety, freedom, and access. 

Dr. Steven Friesen, Professor of Religious Studies and active member of Gun-Free UT, joined us and described both the recent history and current state of guns on Texas campuses. In our discussion, we considered the problem of guns on campus, as well as how trigger warnings are defined and mis-defined and how issues of gender, race, and ideas of masculinity and toughness adhere to both these issues (see, for instance, the image below).   

Further Reading:

For a pro-gun response to Cocks not Glocks that gets at the intersections of race, gender, and "political correctness" (or the lack thereof) around these issues: "After Cocks Not Glocks Protest, Pro-Gun Activist Makes Video Depicting Murder of College Student"

For a thoughtful, evidence-based exploration of what triggering really looks like in the classroom"The Trapdoor of Trigger Words: What the science of trauma can tell us about an endless campus debate"

For an in-depth analysis of how the rhetoric of both gun rights and gun control activists stand up to the data (with something for both sides): Science Vs Podcast (Part One: Guns) (Part Two: Gun Control)

While we couldn't find official documentation of this, there is some indication that the Texas GOP has declared permit-less carry ("constitutional carry") as its top legislative priority for 2017. For ideas on how to take action to fight guns on campus, see this article, as well as Gun Free UT and Cocks Not Glocks

Class Reading:
"Why the guns-on-campus debate matters for American higher education" (by Dr. Friesen)
"Texas students can now bring guns to class. "Cocks Not Glocks" is bringing dildos instead" 
John Ellison Welcome Letter and the Faculty Response
On The Media Podcast: Kids These Days (28 min. total; begin at "Free Expression Takes Work" and end at "The Truth About...")

 “No student shall, within the precincts of the University, keep or use any spiritous or vinous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind…” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, University of Virginia, (1824)

“No student shall, within the precincts of the University, keep or use any spiritous or vinous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind…” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, University of Virginia, (1824)

Human Sciences' Second Semester

Human Sciences' second semester begins February 8th at our new space. In addition to the Critical Theory Reading Group, we are excited to announce its companion program, Civic Responsibilities.

In the Critical Theory Reading Group, discussion veered toward topical and current events. We therefore felt the need to create a space specifically dedicated to continuing these dialogues and fostering actionable public responses to program content. 

Civic Responsibilities will be offered Monday evenings. Critical Theory Reading Group will continue to meet on Wednesday mornings and will now be available on Wednesday evenings due to increased demand for this programming.


Over the next two months, we will proceed by deconstructing a critical theory-based curriculum into its constitutive parts. 

Introduction to the Study of Aesthetics will examine the relationship between art and the state, city, and body. In the same way, Introduction to the Study of Language will investigate translation, linguistics, signs, and sounds.

Check out the calendar for more specifics on the programs and be sure to sign up for our email list to be connected to course content.

Gun Violence

Readings for 10/7/15

Gun Violence and Public Health Research

Former Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas authored an amendment that restricted funding for research into gun violence and its effects on public health. Dickey tells Steve Inskeep he now has deep regrets.



Gun Violence and Mental Health Infographics  

Although gun violence in America is frequently attributed to the availability of firearms, another important factor that we must take into consideration is our nation’s broken mental health system. It is unfair to point fingers at people with mental health disorders when we talk about gun violence — knowing that the increased risk of violence for most mentally ill people is minimal — but when we step back and pair untreated mental health illnesses with substance abuse, the risk doubles, forcing us to exam our mental health system.


Where Congress Stands on Guns

Here is ProPublica's comprehensive look at where lawmakers stand on guns, as well as political spending and voting history.


UT's Campus Carry Policy

An esteemed economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin resigned in the wake of a new open carry law that could allow people to have concealed weapons in college buildings.


Readings for 10/14/15

Occupy Takes on Student Debt

The activists had an idea: What if they bought the original debt at its usual deep discount, then, instead of going after the debtors, simply cancelled it?


Net Cost of College

There are two prices for every college degree: the sticker price and the net price. The sticker price is the number that most schools list in their brochures. The net price is that very same number less scholarships, grants and financial aid. It is what you actually pay. For an incoming freshman, this net price is the number that matters the most, and until recently, it was also the number that we knew the least about.


Student Loans

Borrowing by Graduate Degree

Perhaps not surprisingly, grad students tend to take on more debt when going into fields where the pay is higher. Students studying medicine and law typically borrow more than $100,000 to get through school, and many go on to high-paying careers. At the other end of the spectrum, many Ph.D. students wind up in academia. Most get grants and subsidies — and the majority don't have to borrow any money at all to get through grad school.


The Debt Collective

Strike Debt

Epic Journeys

Readings for 9/23/15

Ann Washburn 

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is an American dark comedy play written byAnne Washburn. Mr. Burns tells the story of a group of survivors recalling and retelling an episode of the TV show The Simpsons shortly after a global catastrophe, then examines the way the story has changed seven years after that, and finally, 75 years later. It received polarized reviews and was nominated for a 2014 Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.



In political and social theory, accelerationism is the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain technosocial processes that historically characterised it, should be expanded and accelerated in order to generate radical social change.


Availability Heuristic

The availability of consequences associated with an action is positively related to perceptions of the magnitude of the consequences of that action. In other words, the easier it is to recall the consequences of something the greater those consequences are often perceived to be. Most notably, people often rely on the content of their recall if its implications are not called into question by the difficulty that they experience in bringing the relevant material to mind.


Contemporary Heroinism

You think that because we are women we are weak, and that may be true but only up to a point, because even though we have nobody to defend us and we have to work long hours until late into the night to earn a living for our families we can no longer be silent in the face of these acts that enrage us. We were victims of sexual violence from bus drivers working the maquila night shifts here in Juárez, and although a lot of people know about the things we've suffered, nobody defends us nor does anything to protect us. That's why I am an instrument that will take revenge for many women. For we are seen as weak, but in reality we are not. We are brave. And if we don't get respect, we will earn that respect with our own hands. We the women of Juárez are strong.

Second-wave Feminism

Second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. Second-wave feminism also drew attention to domestic violence and marital rape issues, establishment of rape crisis and battered women's shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law.


Readings for 9/16/15

neighbor procedure 

In February 2007, footage was released of an incident involving Sameh Amira, a 24-year-old Palestinian, who video showed serving as a human shield for a group of Israeli soldiers, getting inside apartments suspected to belong to Palestinian militants ahead of the soldiers. A 15-year-old cousin of Amira and an 11-year-old girl in the West Bank independently told B'Tselem in February 2007 that Israeli soldiers forced each of them in separate incidents to open the door of a neighboring apartment belonging to a suspected militant, get inside ahead of them, and open doors and windows


protests in the zocalo 

Journalists and press freedom groups have expressed growing anger at Mexican authorities’ failure to tackle escalating violence against reporters and activists who dare to speak out against political corruption and organised crime.


Here's an article looking at the way travel is marketed to young EU citizens vs how europe's borders are policed

Laptop on beach is the Robinson Crusoe of the techno-industrial age: a global industrial product appearing as a natural product of self-sufficient labor. There are no power outlets or wifi on the beach of the deserted island, but this doesn’t stop neo-Crusoe from recreating his office environment entirely from scratch, digging into the mountain to mine the metals and minerals required for the motherboard, growing corn from a few seeds he was able to rescue from the wreck to make plastic, and setting up a hydroelectric plant in the waves to produce electricity.


and a deep reading on canes as a signifier of status


Pleasure of the Text

Readings for 9/9/15

Roland Barthes

The theory he developed out of this focus claimed that, while reading for pleasure is a kind of social act, through which the reader exposes him/herself to the ideas of the writer, the final cathartic climax of this pleasurable reading, which he termed the bliss in reading or jouissance, is a point in which one becomes lost within the text. This loss of self within the text or immersion in the text, signifies a final impact of reading that is experienced outside the social realm and free from the influence of culturally associative language and is thus neutral with regard to social progress.



In French, jouissance means enjoyment, in terms both of rights and property, and of sexual orgasm — the latter has a meaning partially lacking in the English word "enjoyment". Poststructuralism has developed the latter sense of jouissance in complex ways, so as to denote a transgressive, excessive kind of pleasure linked to the division and splitting of the subject involved.


Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hasn’t been shy on the campaign trail about his Presbyterian faith…. He’s also professed his love for the Bible on many occasions, calling it “the greatest book of all time.” But when given the opportunity to share one or two of his favorite Bible verses, he was uncharacteristically mum…. As a result, the Twitterverse decided to do it for him. That’s where #TrumpBible comes in.


Identity-First Language

In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as “Autistic,” “Autistic person,” or “Autistic individual” because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity — the same way one refers to “Muslims,” “African-Americans,” “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer,” “Chinese,” “gifted,” “athletic,” or “Jewish.” On the other hand, many parents of Autistic people and professionals who work with Autistic people prefer terminology such as “person with autism,” “people with autism,” or “individual with ASD” because they do not consider autism to be part of an individual’s identity and do not want their children to be identified or referred to as “Autistic.” They want “person-first language,” that puts “person” before any identifier such as “autism,” in order to emphasize the humanity of their children.


Maurice Blanchot

In the everyday use of language, words are the vehicles of ideas. The word 'flower' means flower that refers to flowers in the world. No doubt it is possible to read literature in this way, but literature is more than this everyday use of language. For in literature 'flower' does not just mean flower but many things and it can only do so because the word is independent from what it signifies. This independence, which is passed over in the everyday use of language, is the negativity at the heart of language. The word means something because it negates the physical reality of the thing. Only in this way can the idea arise. The absence of the thing is made good by the presence of the idea. What the everyday use of language steps over to make use of the idea, literature remains fascinated by, the absence that makes it possible. Literary language, therefore, is a double negation, both of the thing and the idea. It is in this space that literature becomes possible where words take on a strange and mysterious reality of their own, and where also meaning and reference remain allusive and ambiguous.