Previous Events, 2007

A CONVERSATION: The Meanings of Health and Dirt
March 15, 2007

Featured Participants:
Richard Handler, Wende Marshall, Ravindra Khare, Helen Chapelle, and Claire Snell-Rood

Often, health is discussed as a matter of development, of inequities or disparities, or as a subject of knowledge and healing. But we also understand health in terms of dirt and its opposite, cleanliness. How do we understand health in terms of dirt and how do some people get seen as more dirty–and thus less healthy? For instance, much imagery around mom/pop Chinese restaurants describes the dirtiness of their facilities–what does this mean in terms of space and in terms of social relationships? While trash on Rugby Road is just college students being slobs, on Ridge Street and in urban Detroit it is taken as a sign of immorality, but also public health problems. We limit ourselves by not acknowledging the overlaps between the dirtiness of public health and the dirtiness of social relationships.
During the course of the discussion, here are a few things that could be
helpful to think about:
–As anthropologists, should we separate what is physically embedded (germs, pollution) from what is symbolically there (“low” or “dirty” people)? Is this a fair distinction to make?
–We make a break between “real” dirt and “symbolic” dirt. Can we do this?
–The problem of “dirtiness” is discussed within the frames of public health, of urban planning, of caste, class, race, and gender. What are the overlaps in how “dirtiness” is understood? What overlaps are we comfortable with? What overlaps are unjust?
–Dirt might be “matter out of place” for some people, but for others who are relegated to live in spaces that are considered dirty (the ghetto, the slum, the dump), they have to deal with it. How do they deal with it? Does dirt get re-made as “gritty” toughness? As potential allies of these people, how do we come to reach them where they are at and overcome our own hesitations?
–Within the clean halls of academia, where other people clean away our waste and where we “tidy up” arguments, are there ways that we should or can really understand dirt?
Living in Different Worlds: From the Universal to the Global
November 15, 2007

In this roundtable, participants will present, reflect and retrace the recent, epochal shifts on the global scale after the end of cold war in order to assess the meaning of “globalization” for us today.
“From the Universal to the Global: A Philosophical Perspective”: Volker Kaiser
I would like to draw on the distinction between the concept of the “general” and the “particular” and how it translates into the arena of the political discussion today, ultimately pointing to the shifts in the structures and conditions which the new techno-scientific and economic media have imposed on the notion of a globalized world. My cognitive interest here is to elaborate to what extent we can recall the European enlightenment tradition in order to make sure that this transformation serves the democratic ideals of a self-critical enlightenment.
“History and the Post-Cold War World”: Manuela Achilles
Francis Fukuyama famously argued in 1989 that liberal democracy, having vanquished its major ideological antagonist – communism – was the ultimate form of human government. Fukuyama’s liberal universalism sounds naïve if read against the worldwide resurgence of ethnic, religious and political violence since the end of the Cold War. However, the question remains as to whether the globalization process that undoubtedly characterizes the contemporary world can be grasped in terms of a single universalizing principle. My presentation will argue that in order to think through the problems of the contemporary world, it is important both to historicize thoroughly what we mean by globalization and globality, and to avoid the homogenizing and universalizing tendencies that characterize much of the Western tradition.
Suggested readings: Francis Fukuyama, “Has History Restarted Since September 11?”(available online)
“On Kant’s Cosmopolitan Hopes”: Chad Wellmon
This section will consider how the concept of the universal functions in Immanuel Kant’s essay “Idea for Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.” Of particular interest will be Kant’s suggestion that a ‘cosmopolitan’ history is a project for a future to come.
Suggested readings: Immanuel Kant, “Idea for Universal History.”

“The Return of Yiddish in the Twenty-First Century”: Jeffrey Grossman
In his book The Meaning of Yiddish, Benjamin Harshav argues that when you explore the world of Yiddish you discover “a parable for the human PLONTER, the tangle of words, beliefs, attitudes, traditions, experiences in the flux of culture.”  His use of the Yiddish word “plonter” – a word variously translated as “jumble,” “tangle,” “snarl,” “muddle,” and “confusion” – itself suggests the multiple cultural affiliations and various webs of meaning with which Yiddish has been entangled. The word “plonter,” for instance, has a Germanic form, but is not found in modern German suggesting what is often called the “fusion” quality of Yiddish, construction from Germanic, Slavic, and Hebrew-Aramaic components.  That construction recalls how much Yiddish culture was formed in the course of its progressive geographical dispersion – its movement from Germany to Poland and Russia, and its travels in the twentieth century to the United States and Canada, to Palestine and later Israel, to Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Australia, among other countries.  And yet, the story of Yiddish in the late twentieth century has largely been one of destruction – whether through genocide (Nazi Germany), intellectual decapitation (the former Soviet Union), or atrophy (North America).  Still, as this presentation will show, Yiddish culture nonetheless continues to return in new and often unexpected forms – the study of which has relevance for the study, more generally, of minor languages and cultures in the contemporary world.
“Yiddish has been dying for a thousand years, and I’m sure it will go on dying for a thousand more.”  — I. B. Singer, Yiddish writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, (reputedly) when asked about writing in a dying language.
Suggested Readings: Benjamin Harshav, 1990, The meaning of Yiddish. Berkeley: University of California Press; Chana Kronfeld, 1996, On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics. Berkeley: University of California Press (esp. the “Introduction.”); Jeffrey Shandler, 2006, Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language & Culture. Berkeley : University of California Press.
“What Globalization?”: Peter Debaere
For economists, the term globalization has very specific meanings. Globalization refers most generally to the integration of goods markets, capital markets and labor markets. Hence, to answer the question what the effects of globalization are, economists study the specific (and different) effects of trade liberalizations, capital liberalizations and migration and see whether these bear out the predicted consequences of the economic theories (and there is large and growing literature on this). International Economists have been flattered by the attention that the public debate about globalization has given to their field. However, some of us are increasingly frustrated by the vagueness of the public debate, where globalization is a term that seems to encompass almost anything. My call would be one for precision and transparency. More specifically, it would be important to qualify what aspects of globalization we are debating.
The precision of the discussion may move us beyond a debate for or against globalization – as if one could stop globalization – to one about how to best manage globalization. There are obvious gains from economic integration that relate to a more efficient allocation of resources. These gains are why economists will (continue to) support integration. The real challenge is to address some well-known effects that come with integration: what to do with the winners/and losers of trade liberalizations; what to do with short-term capital liberalizations, labor standards, etc.
Suggested Readings: Deardorff, Alan and Robert Stern, 2001, “What the public should know about globalization and the WTO,” Research Seminar in International Economics, Discussion Paper 460; Cox, S. (ed.), 2006, “Economics, Making Sense of the Modern Economy,” The Economist, Making Sense of Globalization.
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