Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality 20th Anniversary Symposium (3 of 4)


LINDA ZERILLI:
Welcome, everyone. I’m Linda Zerilli. And I have the pleasure of
chairing this panel, which is called Transformational Texts. And the idea behind
this panel was to ask some of our
distinguished faculty to speak a bit about how gender
and sexuality studies has influenced their own research
and teaching, particularly research, but also teaching. So I’m going to introduce
each one in the beginning, and then we will go
in alphabetical order as it is on the program. So Lauren Berlant over here
is the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service
Professor of English Language and Literature at the
University of Chicago. She’s been here since 1984. And she is the author of “The
Anatomy of National Fantasy– Hawthorne, Utopia and Everyday
Life,” “The Queen of America Goes to Washington City–
Essays on Sex and Citizenship,” “The Female Complaint–
The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality
in American Culture,” and “Cruel Optimism,”
and other books, but I’m going to stop there. [LAUGHTER] George Chauncey, who
we’re delighted to have back here, who was an interim
director at the center, and is now the Samuel
Knight Professor of History and American Studies at
Yale University, who’s the author of “Gay New
York– Gender, Urban Culture and the Making
of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940,” and “Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s
Debate Over Gay Equality.” And he’s currently completing a
book called “The Strange Career of the Closet– Race, the City
and Gay Culture and Politics From the Second World War
to the Gay Liberation Era.” Susan Gal, who’s the
Mae and Sidney G. Metzl Distinguished Service Professor
of Anthropology of Linguistics and of Social Sciences
in the college, and director of the Center
for Eastern European Russian and Euro-Asian studies. Sue is the author of “Language
Shift– Social Determinants of Linguistic Change
in Bilingual Austria,” a co-author with Gail Kligman
of “The Politics of Gender After Socialism– A
Comparative Historical Essay,” and editor with Gail Kligman of
“Reproducing Gender– Politics, Publics and Everyday Life After
Socialism,” and with Kathryn Woolard of “Languages
and Publics– The Making of Authority.” Rochona Majumdar is
the associate professor in the departments of
cinema media studies and South Asian languages
and civilizations at the University of Chicago. That’s here, duh. [LAUGHTER] The author of “Marriage
and Maternity– Family Values in Colonial Bengal,”
“Writing Postcolonial History,” and also the co-editor with
Dipesh Chakrabarty and Andrew Sartori of “From the Colonial
to the Postcolonial– India and Pakistan in Transition,”
and with Margrit Pernau, Helge George Jordheim of
“Civilizing Emotions– Concepts in 19th Century
Asia and Europe.” Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst
Freud Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics
at the University of Chicago, once again here, appointed in
the Law School and Philosophy Department. She’s an associate in
the Classics Department. Divinity School, also my
department, Political Science, and so on. Martha is the author
of many books. I will name a couple
of them. “The Fragility of Goodness– Luck and Ethics in
Greek Tragedy and Philosophy,” “Love’s Knowledge,” “Sex
and Social Justice,” “Women in Human Development.” More recently, “From Disgust to
Humanity– Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law,”
and “Why Love Matters for Justice,” and “Anger and
Forgiveness– Resentment, Generosity, Justice.” And Geoffrey Stone, who is the
Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of
Law at the University of Chicago, author of “Perilous
Times– Free Speech and More Time From the Sedition Act of
1798 to the War on Terrorism,” “War and Liberty– an American
Dilemma,” and “Speaking Out– Reflections on Law,
Liberty and Justice.” And I should also Say
Geoff works for– yeah. What? SPEAKER 1: Lauren? LINDA ZERILLI: I
introduced Lauren. Lauren was first. We’re in alphabetical
order here. Don’t worry. I’m sure Lauren would remind me. [LAUGHTER] It’s OK. We’re friends. And Geoff, I should also
say, writes a column for “The Huffington
Post,” and was provost when the center was founded. We talked about that
last night, who’s been a very good
friend of the center. So we’ll go in the order,
alphabetical order, starting with Lauren. LAUREN BERLANT: Hi, I’m Lauren. My designated pronoun
is “they,” but I’d just like to destroy
it, so everything. So the first thing
I’d like to do today is to thank the staff
at CSGS, Gina Olson, with whom I’ve worked for
over a decade, and Tate Brazas and Sarah Tuohey. Although people yesterday put
an intellectually and visionary collaboration with the staff
into the past of a Utopian intention, the CSGS
staff continues to be not an administrative
unit carrying out the demands, and needs and fulfilling faculty
and student requirements, but genuine consultants
in everything we do, from our
imagination of how things might be from
the finest details to content, and curricular
framing and discussion. And sometimes, collaboration
means not delegating work to other people. Because showing up and doing
the work is one of the things we do. We’ve been incredibly
lucky from the beginning to work with people
who are committed to a broad range of
knowledges and actions that relate to the study
of gender and sexuality, and who are game for the
hard work of making spaces for transformative
thought and practice. Showing up with whatever one
has is at the heart of genuine, as opposed to
formalist world-making. I’m so grateful for that care,
open mutuality and vegan food from the depth of my
low cholesterol heart. [LAUGHTER] The charge for this
Transformative Texts Panel at the CSGS 20th
anniversary fete was to discuss the influence
that gender and sexuality studies in general, but
especially at Chicago, has had on our work. And in particular,
to consider ways in which we could converse
across disciplinary frameworks across
some common themes. Gay marriage and
activism were suggested, but I thought I might
focus on other things. And surprisingly, those
things are theoretical. [LAUGHTER] The whole problem
of the common theme in gender and sexuality studies. I begin by noting that I
am fundamentally a teacher. And it is the teaching,
the co-teaching and editing that I’ve done with others
that matters to me most. Elizabeth Freeman, and Anil
Ramayya, Jennifer Spruill, Ashley Campi, Jay Sosa, Ali
Feser, Omie Hsu, Michael Dango and many others shaped and
experimented with what worked and what matters in the
graduate and undergraduate core classroom. I’ve also been blessed
to teach with Kristen Schilt in the undergraduate
theories course. And although we don’t
know if we’ll ever find a third person
to teach with us or to hand the
course off to, it’s been an amazing, exciting and
frame-transforming experience becoming a teacher
in this context. Anyway, what I’ll
try to do now is track how working
in this context has shaped some fundamental
interests in my work. First, a little story telling. As Beth and George said
so beautifully yesterday, before there was a center,
there were workshops. And then, there was a
faculty-student reading group at the Franke for a year. That workshop was
unbelievably painful, as we tried to teach
each other what a set of recognizable
questions look like from the perspective of
how we sat in our disciplines. If anyone hoped that something
like political solidarity or common theory
emanating from all kinds of disciplines– anthropology,
history, psychology, psychoanalysis, aesthetics,
sociology, philosophy, political theory and
biology would provide a smooth plane of convergence
or a knowledge commons among us, this reading group
experience squashed that hope pretty quickly
and definitively. Disciplinary differences,
institutional hierarchy, clashing aspirations among and
between faculty and students, it was a really tense
space, although not without its pleasures. Because after all,
we were talking about things that matter
to us, and that were not at the time considered central
to our disciplinary homes, either at all or in the
ways we addressed questions. But because it was clear that
no common idiom was in sight, we decided to take
on the non-identity of different
knowledge traditions in our initial curriculum. Our initial course structure
was this– Problems in the Study of Gender, which
was basically historical, Problems in the Study of
Sexuality, which was basically everything else, and then
a third course co-taught, which was a feminist pedagogy
course for graduate students. Not a course in
teaching feminism, but of course in
the tradition of feminist pedagogical
experimental practice commitments. In my version of it, it was a
topical course where students got to teach specific problems
from their perspectives, and then for the
coursework, write a syllabus and a paper on their syllabus. And some of the best
and most transformative work I’ve seen here
came from that course. I think for others, it was more
a scene of disciplinary debate. Whatever it was,
staffing it was also a nightmare, because
it takes faculty out of their primary research zones. And at the University
of Chicago, faculty don’t like being taken
out of their primary research zones. Plus eventually,
the interdiscipline of gender and sexuality
here could not overcome the fact that
grad students are here to learn disciplines. Here too, there was a lot of
methodological and personal stress. And by was, I mean is. Although– although, which
tells you I’m not a historian. [LAUGHTER] Although most of it goes
without saying at this point, because people will tend
to avoid kinds of knowledge outside of their comfort zone. For example, between feminism,
and LGBTQI, and feminism and queer theory, especially
between women of color feminism an anti-racist
theory generally, and white Europeanist
traditions and scenes between liberal colonialists
and anti-colonial visions of different stories, and so on. I believe that the
graduate component of CSGS continues to be a problem,
because interdisciplinarity is very demanding,
and may be impossible, and also not everyone’s desire. But there was a good outcome
to this problem, too. So we faced that there was
no common object method or attachment to
theoretical infrastructures. There were commonly
recognized matters of concern related to embodied
situations of power, difference and inequality. We responded to this situation
by using the case study as our way of organizing
knowledge in our courses. The purpose of the
case study method was to organize different
disciplinary ways of addressing a question. The question of
sumptuary laws or dress, the question of citizenship,
of slavery and contract, of rape, abortion,
pornography, the education of children, and at the
university, for example. We would try to
make sure different disciplinary mediations
of these topics would disturb our
assurance in them. And this would also shake up
who the default subject of CSGS study was, where she
lived and migrated from, how she was racialized, and how
her she-ness as common referent and fact had to be
problematized itself, how exploitation
and class history, transgenerational inheritances,
gendered standing in the law couldn’t be presumed. The case study came as a result
of this procedure of demanding the overdetermination
of our objects of study, the opposite of what the
case study usually is. Usually, a case elevates
something to a generality, a kind of thing, a kind of
event, a kind of person. Once the person or event
has been delaminated from their singularity
into the kind of thing that can be compared
to other things and circulated as
generalizations whose patterning can tell
us something about how the world reproduces
itself and runs into trouble when it
encounters inconvenient subjects, or revolutionary
breaks, or system failures or more glitches. But at the Center
for Gender Studies, the purpose of the
case study was not to make one kind of thing, but
was to multiply associations with a question or a topic,
rather than to produce a plane of consistency from it. Which is to say it was
the opposite of what the case study usually is here. The commitment to decalcifying,
or loosening or disturbing the presumptive object in the
moment of encountering patterns of generalization
about it made me want to teach seminars
on the case study and to edit a special issue
of “Critical Inquiry” on it in 2007, because it
turns out there’s been a lot of transdisciplinary
discussion about how we exemplify our
objects and scenes, and what we do when we
can’t achieve generality. John Forrester says, “A case
is what you proceed with when you don’t have a theory.” I wrote my essay, “A Slow
Death” for that issue, an essay whose first
appearance in the world was at a 2002 conference
at the Center for Gender Studies on poverty and obesity,
co-sponsored with the now famous sociologist
Virginia Chang back when she was a grad
student, and thought through with Virginia and Gina
for hours on that couch we heard about yesterday,
and read [? Tremmel ?] to. And really, it was fantastic. The planning was amazing. The group of keynotes, the
social historian Peter Stearns talking about the US and
France, the psychoanalyst who invented feminist fat
studies, Susie Orbach, talking about the global
spread of eating disorders, the cultural historian
Sander Gilman who told the transnational
history of fat erotics as a history of
racialization, and then a whole range of philosophers,
epidemiologists, artists, historians of the food system
and doctors on day two. It was to bring to the room
as many kinds of knowledge as possible to the problem
of the extreme distribution of unhealth as a condition of
global and local inequality. It was listening to the
unbelievable optimism of the epidemiologists that
if only people walk 10 more blocks a day or wrote
down their food, that health would be
returned to them, regardless of race, class, labor,
or familiar conditions or geopolitical location, that
I began to formulate what became “Slow death’s” conception
of lateral agency– an aleatory mode of
coasting in the space of exhausted sovereignty
that enabled people to live without living well in
the normative terms of health. And that made questions of fat
primarily as a feminist issue change, become racialized and
organized by class hierarchies and practices. The largeness or
smallness of bodies and indeed, the whole
rhetoric of crisis shifted as a problem seen
when eating reappeared as a practice of surviving
an economic life that has few and unreliable
spaces of rest and pleasure for the people
who are making it. As method and interest, all
of this came from the way that the Center
for Gender studies, we were training
ourselves to overdetermine our own questions. “Slow Death” was a
descriptive challenge about interdisciplinary
knowledge itself. And all the ways that’s
impossible hang in the essay as it hangs in our
classrooms as a challenge to face the complexities
of achieving a genuinely lived equality that’s better
than the equality of attrition and exposure that is otherwise
left to the army of laborers and lovers. Intimacy, its appetites
and patterns of attachment that create forms of life
and aesthetic mediations, appears here as
an infrastructure and interdiscipline
of knowledges is that don’t quite make a
case for a satisfying story, but that’s what’s been good
about teaching about it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] GEORGE CHAUNCEY:
Hello, everyone. As I said last night,
it’s really great to be back at the
University of Chicago, which was such a formative place for
me as a beginning assistant professor, and then one. And since I said this last
night, and several of us said this last night,
but Geoff Stone was at an event
at the law school and would repeat what
I said and [INAUDIBLE], you were a truly
inspired provost, and played certainly
a fundamental role in making it possible to
establish the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project, but just
supported so many of us in responding to a lot
of creative proposals you got, but really putting
the institution’s weight behind them. And so thank you for that. I think I’m supposed to talk
about “Gay New York,” but– [LAUGHTER] But I think that’s
probably the suspect that got me on this panel. It appeared actually before
the center was established, although in the midst of the
intellectual [? movement ?] that would lead to it. Many, many, many conversations
with many people who were here or who were once
here and have left were really key to
my thinking about it, and then my subsequent thinking. Actually would really
like to single out Leora Auslander, my colleague
in the History Department who was such an
important teacher to me as to so many of us here. In thinking about
Linda’s charge, I realized as we talked
about this on email before we came, that we all
had a slightly different read on what the charge was. So my charge is to think
about getting work. I read it as at a particular
moment in a conversation, and what shaped it,
what it try to do, and then how is the conversation
going on since in ways that would make me read to it,
since we’re all typically the sharpest critics
of our own work. And so I wanted to just briefly
talk about it in relation to three fields. One is the
relationship of women’s and or gender history to
the history of sexuality, critical race studies and then
the larger political context in which we do our
work, and in which we’re trying to intervene. So my early work would
have been impossible as a practical matter, and
unthinkable as an intellectual matter without the work of
women’s historians and gender historians. My advisor as a
dissertation student at Yale was Nancy Cott, an
important women’s historian. Much of the earliest work
on the history of sexuality was done by women’s
historians, work that’s typically forgotten
now when Foucault invented “The History of
Sexuality” one day, so that Carroll
Smith-Rosenberg’s classic 1975 essay on “The Female
World of Love and Ritual,” however one might revise it
today and contest it today in a variety of ways, was
absolutely agenda-setting, and really alerted
everyone to the historicity of sexual categories,
and especially the inapplicability of
the categories of hetero and homosexuality to
earlier times and places. And it was the first essay in
the first issue of “Signs,” which is I think
an important sign of the centrality of such
questions to women’s studies. Likewise, early work on working
class women’s sexuality, Chris Stansell’s
book, “City of Women,” on 19th century New York,
and Kathy Peiss’ book “Cheap Amusements,” on
early 20th century New York, both published in 1986. Both thought really
deeply about relationship between what today we would
call– sorry, too close– what we’d call the
history of capitalism and the history of
sexuality, particularly how women’s movement
into the paid labor force and the expanding
commercialisation or commodification
of social relations and so-called
reproductive labor, the expansion of
commercial amusements and so forth contributed
to a transformation in heterosexual relations. And again, this work
wasn’t theorized in ways that later work would be,
but it was really superb social history,
often gender history under the guise of
women’s history, which uncovered sources,
raised questions and foregrounded questions
of class and working class agency that were all
crucial to my own work. And then I could see already
I’m going to talk too long. So British [? gay ?]
started, especially Jeffrey Weeks and his
book “Coming Out,” 1977. Or independently
developing arguments about the historicity
of sexuality and sexual categories, drawing theoretical
encouragement, especially from work of sociologists,
especially Mary McIntosh’s early work distinguishing
homosexual acts, from identity’s roles. And so a lot of
this work predated the English translation
of Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” in ’78,
and I think really influenced my reading of it. It truly deeply
influenced my work. And that along with
a queer sensibility that I brought to
this work, ultimately allowed me take to question
Foucault’s and Week’s account of the emergence of
what in those days amongst queer
historians was known as the making of the modern
homosexual who seemed unencumbered by family
gender, ties, or gender queerness or racial difference. So first in a paper that
I wrote in Nancy Cott’s graduate seminar
on women’s history and then published in 1983,
“As From Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality” thought a
lot about how gender disrupted this emerging narrative. And beginning there,
and then everything place I looked– because I’m
an old fashioned historian in the end, and I actually
just look at my sources and try to figure out
what’s going on in them– I found the centrality
of queer gender everywhere, from medical
discourse on lesbianism to Naval records about sexual
perverts at a Navy base after World War I to
the incredible records about queer life in early
20th century New York. And so charting the discursive
presence on social worlds, social managed women and fairies
became a really central project for me, and showing how their
presence and their centrality to these social worlds,
these discursive formations, and showing how they disrupted
an easy historical transition from acts to identity was really
one of the central objectives of my work. But this was before
the emergence of trans studies, which
meant that I did not think about transgender
as a category of identity or experience. So I focused, say, on the
frequent self-description of people who
talked about having a women’s soul in a male
body as deeply complicating the genealogy of
homosexuality, but simply didn’t consider such identity
formations as opening up the possibility of a
genealogy of transgender. And I think as David
Valentine has also argued, that it’s actually
more useful to think about these categories
or these contradictions as reflecting the reorganization
of categories of gender and sexuality over the course
of the 19th and 20th centuries. But that’s a debate
that’s really only been made possible by the
emergence of trans studies. And for that, I’m very grateful. Two other fields,
one work on race. The work of black historians
provided a central model for my own work, particularly
the flurry of studies in the ’80s on the first great
migration of African-Americans from the South to the North
during the First World War era, the formation of northern
black communities and ghettos. This work was
enormously useful to me as a model for thinking about
how communities are formed and sustained under
urban conditions, and about class and
other kinds of conflicts within those communities. In “Gay New York,” and
I’m so proud of this, paid more attention
to people of color than most previous
queer histories had. And it’s account of Harlem
in the ’20s was the longest and most substantial to date. But it really did
not foreground race as a central
category of analysis in a way that would be
almost unthinkable today, especially in a moment when much
of the most interesting recent work in the history
of sexuality– We have [INAUDIBLE], Peggy
Pascoe, Chicago’s own PhD, Hannah Rosen, many
others have certainly examined the role
of sexual regulation in shoring up the
colonial order, sustaining the fantasy
of racial purity in which major strands of
white supremacy are based, forming the basis for political
mobilization claims to freedom. So my early work on the medical
literature on lesbianism, I didn’t think about the ways
in which that discourse was profoundly implicated
by– I mean, I mentioned it, but didn’t
really think through [? imprecated ?] with a
discourse of scientific racism or the cross-pollinization
of ideas about racial and
sexual difference, or my writing about
class conflict. And [? Naomi’s ?] right. First panel, I talked
a lot about class and taught a lot about
class, but those conflicts within the gay
world wasn’t really shaped by thinking about
how codes of discretion, gender conformity
of respectability, weren’t just about
class conflict, but a project of racialization. And so this work
is part of what’s made my finishing my
next book so long, trying to actually really do
the social history work that will allow it to be a
multiracial history of queer culture and politics
and post-war New York. But I think it’s well worth it. Third, just to say a word about
the changing political context of public memory. So most of my work has
sought to intervene not just in scholarly
debates, but in the field of popular memory, and
in a way that I certainly couldn’t have imagined when
I got my PhD in the courts. And so I’m lucky enough to
have been doing this work long enough and through a period
of such momentous change that now, 22 years into
“Gay New York” appeared, I’m struck by how much
all three fields– scholarly, popular
and legal have had history and memory have
changed, but in curiously different ways. So 25 years ago,
at a moment when the fragile gains of the 1970s,
and part of the gay liberation movement were under
a sustained assault in the Reagan-Bush
years, the era of AIDS, the era there was the seeming
triumph of the Christian right, most people could
only imagine that all of gay history
before Stonewall had been a story of oppression,
isolation, invisibility and shame. This was also a
narrative cultivated by the Gay Liberation
Movement, which like any successful movement,
successful more in defeating its opponents
within the gay world than in achieving anything
else outside the world, portrayed itself as marking a
decisive break with the past, and at the same
time, as fulfilling the aspirations of all the lost
souls who’d come before it. And to a large
degree, this narrative was reproduced in
scholarly studies. So “Gay New York”
directly engaged with those ideas, or
myths, that I called them, and sought to counter
them by portraying the rich social worlds
that people created in early 20th century
New York, even in the face of
countervailing pressures, though those pressures, I
argued, were not as universal we supposed. But nowadays, my students,
my undergraduates, I take to be the embodiment of
a certain generational moment in public memory, can
barely imagine the extent of anti-gay discrimination
and demonization that came before them, given the
world in which they have grown up, which seems the natural
inevitable and transhistorical state of things as usually
any new generation imagines its world to be. And historians in the meantime
are still mostly telling the story of unadulterated
woe, constant harassment and overwhelming oppression. The courts in the meantime have
gone in the opposite direction. So when I testified
on the history of anti-gay discrimination
for the first time at the 1993 trial in Denver that ultimately
resulted in the Supreme Court’s decision in Romer
v. Evans in 1996, which was really the
first major gay rights victory in the Supreme
Court, the opposing attorney refused to concede
that there had been a history of discrimination. It’s actually my easiest
cross-examination ever, because it was actually pretty
hard for him to argue with me. [INAUDIBLE] beginning assistant
professor of [? still ?] and experience. More recently though,
opposing historians have conceded this history. It’s pretty well established
as a matter of scholarship now. And it’s indeed embedded
in a series of decisions by the Supreme Court, so it’s
hard for them argue against it. But instead, are
trying to undermine its legal significance
by arguing that everything has changed and
everything has gotten better. We even have a friend
in the White House. Now in the old days, that
friend was Hillary Clinton when she was first lady. And now, of course,
that’s President Obama. But we’ve had a friend in the
White House for a long time, it seems. And that means
everything is great. So one effect of my
involvement in this litigation and in the classroom
has been to force me to think more capaciously
about the manifold and subtle forms of anti-gay
discrimination. But the challenge in all
these arenas– and it’s been a really productive
challenge for me– has been to try to
balance any account of all the formal and informal
policing queer people have faced, often much more
draconian than even the worst rhetoric of the gay
liberation movement imagined, both with obvious
change over time, and the remarkable
resiliency of people, and the much more complex story
of a political cultural field in which they built lives where
they often found more support than we usually imagine. And I’m really grateful
for that challenge, and actually grateful to
have been alive at this time and to have witnessed
these changes. [APPLAUSE] USAN GAL: I’m Sue Gal,
and do I need this? Yes. Oh, stereo. [LAUGHTER] GEORGE CHAUNCEY:
You’ll be in stereo. SUSAN GAL: Let me know
if you can’t hear me. It’s a real pleasure
to celebrate 20 years of the Gender
Study Center, the CSGS now. Last night’s reminiscences
were really moving for me. Like some others, I came here
from a campus, namely Rutgers, that already had a very
lively women’s study center and activities. And it was taken for
granted that that was an institutionalized
part of the Rutgers world. And arriving in 1994
here, I was appalled by Chicago’s lack of any
such institutionalized form, but incredibly lucky
to be warmly welcomed by Leora, Norma, Beth, Lauren
and the others who were working hard to create the center. And I joined to make
the rounds, hat in hand, to John Boyer and Geoff
Stone, whose generosity bears repeating from last night. Rebecca Zorach talked last
night about the Constitution Committee in that
fledgling center. The Money Committee,
fundraising, that was me, my assignment. And I have to say that
we failed miserably. [LAUGHTER] I am all the more impressed
by Linda Zerilli’s amazing successes. So there is much to
appreciate about the center– the collegiality, the
provocations and frictions that have been mentioned by
Leora, among others. But the confidence and
security about the center, having many beautiful
rooms of our own, an administrative structure
and wonderful staff and programming. And that’s my piece
for last night. The question Linda
posed to us for today was, how has gender and
sexuality studies at the center influenced our work? And part of the answer
for me, the big part, is students that I
have met and have been able to work with
here, and especially ones that are interested in
comparative and transnational questions, which as George
and others have mentioned, have been part of the
agenda of this center from the very beginning. Leora and Norma, many
people have mentioned it. Let me tell you
about two issues that have been important to me that
are closely related issues. And these are ones that
have given me the chance to work with students in a way
that’s been very gratifying, and hopefully also
good for the students. In 2000, I wrote a
book with Gail Kligman about the role of
gender discourses in the processes that
brought the end of communism. It was inspired by people like
Rayna Rapp in anthropology, Jones Scott in history,
Beth Povinelli, who was a colleague here
in anthropology. In every country except
Romania, the fall of communism meant abortion was
curtailed or outlawed, generous maternity leaves were
cut, pensions were ransacked. The Catholic church took
over all the aspects of reproductive policy. Women were put out of work. And the breadwinner model
of family was reinstituted. And all this, even if there
were some slight exceptions in various places, all
this went under the aegis of freedom, civil
society, democracy, entrepreneurial opportunity
and rule of law. Mainstream scholarship on
the so-called transition from communism completely
ignored the way gender discourses
and sexual policies legitimated the
new forms of power. The book that we
wrote paralleled a collaborative
effort to involve women of the region to write
about their own experiences– intellectuals,
social scientists– to write about their
own experiences and their own
analyses of what it was that they were experiencing
and what it was that was happening in the region. And this was important
because at the time, Western feminists, US
and Western Europe, were riding en massed
in Eastern Europe, and telling Eastern European
women about the wonders of feminism, and trying to free
the oppressed women of Eastern Europe. You laugh now, but the
misunderstandings in [? feis ?] were disastrous
and very painful. Ethnographers and
anthropologists perhaps found this a little
less surprising, given the fact that we had
been studying these societies and had been colleagues
with the women for a while. And we were understanding
how gender relations, understandings of sexuality,
families and motherhood were really quite different
for structural reasons and for historical reasons
in Western Europe, the United States and in Eastern Europe. So we started to write
about the condescensions of Western feminism. And as Erin said
earlier today, making feminism itself as activism
and as a political movement, an object of analysis. So that experience,
those misunderstandings, those really serious traumas
had a deep effect on me. As a linguistic
anthropologist, I turned to what I’m going to call
the second theoretical issue I’ve been interested
in, and that is the theoretical and
practical challenges of cultural and linguistic
translation, the process that is required, even with
the best of intentions, even among societies that are
quite similar to each other, to make transnational
cross-cultural contact, let alone to come to some
sort of an understanding about shared concerns. Or to make actually
through the process of some sort of translation,
shared concerns. And to try to form various
kinds of political alliances. So given those two
big concerns of mine, it’s been very gratifying
to invite students to do feminist political
analyses of gender and sexuality discourse to make
feminism an object of study and to study policy
across the world regimes, across political regimes in
different parts of the world. And this is true especially
now because the sleight of hand, one might
call it, the magic of semiotics meaning-making
that enabled those 1990s legitimation of capitalism
and civil society through gender in
Eastern Europe are once again active and
in very vivid operation. They’re now ushering in
a turn to right extremism across the entire
European continent. Putin’s rhetoric is
perhaps the most famous. So we’ve got pro-regime women
ripping off their clothes for Putin, homophobic slurs as
one upsmanship among leaders, gay pride parades attacked as
obscenity and Western invasion. And all are counting on
the popular reactions to a sexualized
capitalism seen as Western that impoverishes while
pretending to offer freedom. Anti-regime groups like Pussy
Riot that you’ve probably heard about and other
ones that are quieter are arrested and
prosecuted for challenging these oppressive
authoritarian orders. Now speaking just about
Eastern Europe for a second, the migrant crisis
that obviously we’ve all heard about that hit
US newspapers this summer was exacerbating something
that has been going on for much, much longer,
stronge xenophobic and racist trends
all over Europe, and very particularly in
Eastern Europe as well. Many of these right-wing–
I’m calling them right-wing parties–
are headed by women. That’s not the surprise. We know about that. It’s the shape and logic of
their arguments and effects that interest me. Their increasing complexity, let
me say a few words about that. The way they are making
the familiar right-left distinctions that we operate
with increasingly incoherent. Right-wing parties are
nativist, natalist, anti-migrant, anti-Muslim,
anti-Semitic anti-Roma, which basically counts
as racist in Europe. In the US, the region is
often stigmatized as the home of nasty ethnic nationalisms. And I often ask students, nasty
and ethnic complain to what? Us. These parties are taking
advantage of the immiserating effects of the European Union’s
corporate and banking policies. Ironically, it is also the EU
that gives the rightist party’s funding and neighbors a
really close collaboration among parties from
different countries. Just a word about complexity. In Hungary, the extreme rights
nativist anti-migrant rhetoric gets entangled with
leftist feminist critiques of global capitalism. And this is what I wanted to
point to as something that’s troubling. Krisztina Morvai,
rightist leader, argues that in an
unequal Europe, Easterners are second
class citizens. Check, good, yes. The women are trafficked for
sex work to Western brothels and used for cheap
labor in Germany. Yes. She talks about center periphery
patterns of exploitation, a brain drain from East to
West, the loss of human rights and women’s rights through
EU’s double standards. Now, I hope you hear the
echoes of exploitation, colonialism, human
rights, women’s rights. So on the one hand, why
isn’t the EU protecting us from invading
migrants, they say? On the other hand, keep
EU’s food [? stamps, ?] regulations and
corporations out of Hungary. So double standards,
colonization, exploitation, these are very familiar
tropes to all of us. The culprit, however,
in these cases is the corporate EU,
but also Zionist gay and Roma conspiracies. The solution is for Hungarian
women to leave the workforce and have more babies to
avoid the looming demographic collapse, which is
in fact, looming. Now teaching about such matters
in our new very successful civilization sequence has
been a revelation for me. And I think the core has also
been to some extent integrated. So that was a conversation
we had earlier today, so I’m pleased to say that
the course sequence is also really quite wonderful. One faces fascinating
situations. Students have often
been politicized by their feminist
parents or by our campus. So the ones who come
to the gender core are many times
already politicized. They’re with the program,
if you know what I mean. They are committed to fighting
for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Discussions in the seminar
get puzzling and heated. Because joining NGOs
to liberate others is a very common, admirable
and well-intentioned reaction. Yet some students sense
the contradictions. And I hope what
I’ve said already shows that there
are contradictions in this kind of effort. I remember one
conversation I had with Erin Moore
many years ago when she was an undergraduate
writing her BA paper. We were talking about
Nicholas Kristof’s encomium to microcredit schemes, women’s
rights and girl’s empowerment. And that seemed like a
good idea at the time. Professor Gal, said Erin
Moore very politely, you don’t really believe
all that stuff, do you? [LAUGHTER] So I’ve been learning
a lot from my student. And what indeed do rights
look like in Poland, in Hungary, or for that
matter, in Egypt, Uganda and any post-colonial context? Feminist anthropologists have
been arguing for some years that while the
language of rights is indispensable in the US, in
legal structures that resemble those of the US and
certain other contexts, it does not travel well. The universalizing of
rights is a flattening of gender and sexuality issues. Rights must be recast,
rethought across languages, social formations, historical
and political divides. The very process of translation,
of changing them in such a way as to make sense for
people elsewhere, guarantees the very dilemmas
of communication and action that we invariably find. It was therefore an
incredible experience for me to work with and learn
from Julie Kowalski, and Erin Moore,
Michaela Appeltova, and there are a lot of
others who I won’t mention. I don’t think that they’re
here because they’re already out in the world. But Erin and Julia both hold
now PhDs from the Committee for Human Development. They both wrote
[? pace-breaking ?] dissertations on processes of
translation of women’s rights in feminist NGOs, or
in “feminist” NGOs. They dissected very
different problems, wrote insightfully
about contextualizations and dilemmas in northern
India and Uganda. With my own work in Eastern
Europe as kind of a background, we wrote a paper together. Now, it’s hard enough
to edit something with lots of people involved. But it’s much, much harder
to actually collaborate on a single paper. And it’s much, much
harder to collaborate on a single paper that
involves at least three kinds of ethnographic background. And it’s a tribute to
these fine young scholars and to the spirit of
this center that we manage through frantic
emails and endless revisions to construct a paper I am
very proud of, now published in the journal
“Social Politics.” I’m sure that many of you
have also done the same thing, faculty and students. But I thought that I
would highlight this. It’s very clear in
my mind because it’s only very recently happened. So as many speakers
last night said, the project for the center
was somewhat a Utopian one. And not everything has
materialized, and some of it is unworkable. But in attracting students
of such critical acumen and intellectual power, and
supporting them in the way that the center has
succeeded, it really has been successful
in amazing ways. And to be negative in the
way that you were last night, the problem that remains is
the replenishment of faculty and the maintenance of
the support for students such as this in the
future, in the near future, under present circumstances
in the university. [APPLAUSE] ROCHONA MAJUMDAR:
I’m really honored, and humbled and actually quite
daunted to be on this panel. But I think my
presence on this panel should tell you something about
the nonhierarchical ethic that may not prevail in the
rest of the university, but certainly does here. I arrived here as a
graduate student in 1996, so the same year that the
Center for Gender Studies, and it was called the Center
for Gender Studies then, was set up. And as I was listening to
the panelists last night, I think Linda mentioned
it, Norma mentioned it, Beth did, and so you
just brought it up again, that the establishment of
the center at this university was belated. And as I listen
to you all, I kept thinking that, true, it was. But that belatedness, it
became possibility for me. Because I came to the
University of Chicago from India via Oxford. And as Martha knows quite well,
in Calcutta, the city where I did my undergraduate
education, at the time, there was one center for
women’s studies at a university that I did not attend. And to this day,
there are no centers that actually identify
themselves as gender centers. Sexuality will never go to the
title of any center in India, especially under the current
political dispensation. In any case, to come from that
background– and in Oxford, it was absent. I think again, it’s safe
to say that there are not going to be any centers for
gender studies in either Oxford or Cambridge anytime soon. But coming from that
background here, in that year when the
center was established, there was something
extraordinarily exciting about studying with
people, and many of whom are here on this table, to
be in classrooms where people were crackling with excitement. And you imbibed that. Leora Auslander
was– is she here? Yes. She was the chair of my
dissertation committee. And I remember taking a
class with George and Leora, that they co-taught. I was in a class
that Lauren taught. I can’t remember if it was the
same year as “Queen of America” came out or the year before. But nonetheless, it
was with [INAUDIBLE]. And I realized it was one of
the problems classes which was– and I actually took
it as a grad student, because I hadn’t been exposed to
any of that before coming here. And over the years, I
have engaged a great deal with the written works
of the two individuals who actually sit next to me,
Martha Nussbaum and Lauren Berlant. Debbie Nelson’s class on
postmodern autobiographies, your first class in the
first quarter, I was there. So my books, “Marriage
and Modernity,” “Writing Postcolonial History,”
as well as my current project, “Art Cinema– the Indian
Career of a Global Category,” bear the imprint of these years. One theme that returns
repeatedly in my work is the relationship
between norm and history. In fact, listening to
the discussion that came after the
first panel today, I was thinking that norms are
incredibly important to me. So all the dead white
men and some handful of dead white women,
but mostly white, these people are
incredibly important to who I am as a scholar
in large measure because reading them gives
me a sense of the world, but also makes me realize
that norms have a seamlessness to them that gets very messy
in historical application. So in my book on
arranged marriage, for example, where I wrote
the last chapter of it was on a set of laws called
the Hindu code bill– they were a set of laws that gave
Hindu women in 1955 and ’56 the right
to institute divorce proceedings, the right
to inherit property after they got married,
inherit paternal property. One of the things that
I showed quite clearly was that it was the extended
family, the extended family, what we often call the
joint family in India, rather than the individual
female citizen subject who emerged as the subject of what
Lynn Hunt called “the family romance” in modern India. She was writing with
a French context. So querying how
certain universalist ideas about rights,
interests, choice play out in particular
historical contexts, in my case, India,
and especially how modern emancipatory
endeavors such as feminism bear the imprint of the
local and the historical is something that is at
the core of my research. But differently, as a historian,
I am committed to querying– and here, I shall
borrow from you– querying why women are
so invested in what you call cruel optimism. In your incredibly
powerful formulation, a relation of cruel
optimism exists when you desire something
that is an obstacle to your flourishing. As a scholar who works from
a post-colonial vantage on modern India, I
approach this question by analyzing the rubric
of women’s desires for relationships that
often go in ways that are against their interests. And I think ideology
critique or certain normative critiques fall short
in understanding these choices fully. Nor is it fruitful to measure
their desires against, as I said, against liberal
or any other standards of rights or duties. This sense of the
self, whether it’s as a lover, a mother, a
sister, a daughter, a wife, they are historically
conditioned. They’re products of history. And I take it to be
my task as a scholar to patiently track the
historical twists and turns of Indian family values. In my earlier work, I
analyzed the reformulation of family values in the
context of colonial rule. In my current work
on Indian art cinema, I analyze how the family
value politics that came to be enshrined as
modern in the colonial period is actually now being depicted
in ruins under the pressure of cultural and
institutional modernisation that followed Indian
independence in 1947. There is, however,
no clear enunciation of what will replace
what used to be called the new patriarchy in
the colonial period that we became familiar
with under the conditions of colonial rule. In the absence of a
programmatic politics, however, it is important
to read closely the ways in which the figure of
the woman in many of my films, the films that I work with,
operates as a site of critique, and also absorbs the
quotidian violence that takes place every day. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Well
when I came here, I was already pretty old. I’d been teaching for 20 years. And so what I want to talk
about is how nonetheless– what did I have under
way when I came here, and how has it
changed by the center? Now, I came from Brown. And Brown was long one of
the pioneering institutions both in women’s studies,
as it was called, and in the study of
lesbian and gay sexuality. So we had the Pembroke Center
that was from the middle ’70s. I didn’t come to
Brown until 1984. But for all the 11
years that I was there Joan Scott directed
the Pembroke Center. It was an extremely
central theoretical place for the whole university. And at the same
time, the university was really open to the
study of sexuality. So already in 1985, we
had a major conference that the university
founded on homosexuality in history and culture,
at which– it’s amazing to remember. The speakers were the late
John Boswell, the late Jack [? Winkler, ?] Biddy Martin,
who is flourishing as president of Amherst, and my
friend David Halperin, who is flourishing at Michigan. So we were on the cutting edge. And by 1993, we had
actually established the first undergraduate
concentration in lesbian and gay studies
in the country, I think. At least that was our belief. So I already had
underway work that touched on all these areas. In terms of the
women’s studies part, I had long been collaborating
with economists and feminists in other countries on what’s
known as the capabilities approach, pioneering
a new way of looking at global development that was
much more friendly to people’s strivings and concerns
on the ground, and not just
measuring everything with reference to
economic growth. I partnered with
economist Amartya Sen, but also with very courageous
feminist activists like Ela Bhatt, the founder of
the Self-Employed Women’s Association, and the one who
headed that center in Calcutta that Rochona mentioned,
namely [INAUDIBLE], a very courageous and
excellent feminist scholar who basically created
single handedly women’s studies in India. So I was doing all this
stuff and writing basically all of what went into
“Sex and Social Justice,” “Women and Human Development.” I was also in my other
area in philosophy, is the study of the emotions,
the philosophical study of the emotions. And I had already written
quite a good deal on that. Although my book
“Upheavals of Thought” did not come out until
2001, I gave the lectures that it was based on in
1993, and came here in ’95. So that was basically done too. And as far as lesbian
and gay sexuality, like George, I was
an expert witness in Romer v. Evans in a very
weird part of that trial where certain witnesses
for the state claimed that Plato and Aristotle
thought that homosexuality was an abomination, as
did all of Greek culture. So I was called as a rebuttal
witness to those people. [LAUGHTER] So it had touched
on my scholarship, and then I started to write
about constitutional law in that area. So I came here. And I want first of all,
to say that I received tremendous support for my
further work in these areas from both the Law School and
the Philosophy Department. There has never been any
hesitation on either front to say that this kind of
interdisciplinary scholarship is very important. And that was true
not only for me, but for other people as well. So when I got here, the
center was under development. And I was not really
part of the development, but I was able to
take part in some of the exciting conversations
that were already underway with Beth, and Norma and Leora. And then later being on
the board of the center, I got to know Lauren,
and George, and then Bert Cohler and other
wonderful people. So what did I find
and what was it that changed what I had already
brought with me from Brown? The first thing I want
to draw attention to is the conception that was
much talked about at the time of the founding. That the center was
going to be a big tent with no orthodox
brand of feminism, no orthodox
theoretical commitment. But a place where many
different theoretical styles and commitments could
converse openly and civilly. And that was very
important in the founding. And I believe that
that’s still extremely important and
difficult to maintain. But at Brown, Jones Scott was
such a powerful personality that really that didn’t exist. That basically, her direction
for the Pembroke Center was the direction
for the center. And it wasn’t that she
was narrow-minded at all. But it was like she didn’t think
of it as part of her mandate to create a home for diversity,
and for the unpacking of the differences between
different theoretical approaches. So I found that remarkably
energizing and fertile. And it really did change both
my teaching and my scholarship. First of all, the teaching. So I teach feminist philosophy. I had been teaching
at Brown already. But now, I structure it around
these theoretical divisions, liberal feminism. Of course, it’s a
philosophy course, so there is a limit to
what you can include. But liberal feminism, difference
feminism, queer theory and then also, of course, the radical
feminism of MacKinnon and [? Jorkin. ?] And I do all
of those things in the class. And I’m going to next spring
when I teach it again, include a segment on trans
issues, which I had never done. So in all these ways, being
on the board of the center and getting to know all these
people was very energizing. But with respect
to my scholarship– so I had been
working on emotions. I began thinking much more
about shame and disgust. And that was because
of my association not only with people
in queer theory here, like Lauren and
George, but people elsewhere, David
Halperin in particular. And that led to my 2004
book, “Hiding From Humanity,” where I gave a philosophical
analysis of disgust and shame, but then tried to show how
it worked in both misogyny and homophobia. And then made an argument
that the law– of course it’s long been a
tradition in legal theory on the conservative side
that the strong disgust of an average
member of society is a sufficient condition for
making a practice illegal, even if it causes no harm. So I went at [? Lord ?]
[? Devlin ?] from a new direction, from a direction
that focused particularly on the politics of disgust
and not on a much more general [? milieu ?] and
liberal argument. And I was able, I think, to do
something new in that argument simply because my work had been
informed by the work going on in queer theory. The other thing I want
to draw attention to– and I’m sure this has
happened a lot last night and now– is the fact
that this is gender. At Brown, I was involved
in conversations both about women’s studies and
about lesbian and gay studies, but they were two completely
separate groups of people, absolutely separate. So the Pembroke Center
took no interest in the stuff we were doing
on lesbian and gay studies. And by the same
token, the people I was working with lesbian and
gay studies, particularly very great scholars Saul Olyan
from religious studies who works on gay studies
of biblical scholarship. They really didn’t take much
interest in women’s studies. And the students were two
separate groups of students. So when Saul and I had a
conference in about 1993 or something on homosexuality
and human rights in the major US
religious traditions, I don’t think that the people
from the Pembroke’s center showed up at all. So here, I found something that
was much more carefully thought through, with I think a much
deeper intellectual integrity. What I now think in
retrospect that at Brown, these two fields were founded
as a result of political needs and demands, and demands
coming out of oppression. And the two groups
reacted to that without ever stepping
back and thinking through what the discipline
really should look like. But of course, the
belatedness of U of Chicago meant that you had to think,
what should it look like? And I think the
structure of the center, which of course is
ongoing and flexible, has much more intellectual
richness and integrity. And of course, it’s
a no-brainer that you should include the
whole study of gender, and not have women over here,
and lesbian and gay studies over here. But that was not happening. So I felt that was tremendously
energizing and empowering. The conversations we
could have on the board with George and Bert Cohler, but
also Lauren and so many people. And that led to the work
that Linda mentioned in the introduction, “From
Disgust to Humanity– Sexual Orientation and Constitutional
Law,” where I do in fact talk about the whole range of
constitutional issues. It’s for a series
edited by Geoff. So Geoff was
instrumental, because he got me invited, or he
invited me to do that book. I tried to put the
two parts of myself together in talking
about marriage. Because of course
you have to think about the feminist critique
of marriage that was very well developed long ago. But then how it
had to change when you start thinking about
gender in this broader way. So I hope in that
book, but in things that I plan to do in the
future, that broader and richer intellectual base has
been very formative. And so I think I’ll stop there. Thanks. [APPLAUSE] GEOFFREY STONE:
One of the things that I am most proud of in
terms of the accomplishments of the years I was provost
was the ability to support the creation of this center. And that was due to
extraordinary work by the founding
faculty members, most or all of whom are in
the room here today. And they deserve all of the
credit for this happening. And it was not
that easy, in fact. Not because of an objection
to the idea in the abstract, but because it was a
time of scarce resources. And it was a time
when we really wanted to insist upon it having the
kind of intellectual integrity that Martha described
a moment ago. And it wasn’t an
interest group, but it was an intellectual enterprise. And that was part of the process
of working out what that meant. I don’t know whether the
founding faculty members knew how much, however, I was
eager to see this happen from the very first moment. When I was a law clerk to
Justice William Brennan on the Supreme Court, I had had
a small hand in Roe versus Wade and in rewriting one of
the court’s more important gender discrimination cases. In 1970 when I first became
dean of the law school, we sponsored the
nation’s first conference on sexual orientation and
the law at a law school. So I was very much eager
to see this happen. But it would not have
happened but for the fact of the leadership
of our faculty. I’ll mention two ways in
which my own continuing interest in these fields
has manifested itself. One of them is as the
lawyer, and the other is as the scholar. One thing I’ve
done over the years is to write a number of
friend of the court briefs before the Supreme Court
of the United States in most of the major cases
that the court has decided dealing with issues
of sexual orientation and reproductive rights. So for example, I’ve written
briefs in Lawrence v. Texas, in Windsor versus United States,
in Obergefell versus Hodges, all of which were joined by
other constitutional scholars from Harvard, Yale, Stanford,
Columbia and Chicago, making the argument
to the Supreme Court that the various laws
at issue in those cases should be deemed
unconstitutional. And we made a
particular argument in each case, the same
argument more or less, in each of those cases. And it was basically
that discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation should be understood
under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as
analogous to discrimination on the basis of race, or
on the basis of gender or the basis of national origin
on the ground that there has been a long history
of oppression on the basis of
sexual orientation, and that sexual orientation
is not a matter of choice. It is an immutable
characteristic of individuals. And therefore, is appropriately
analogous to race, and gender and so on. That is in my view the
right argument for the court to address these
questions, but the court has not embraced that
argument in these cases. Instead, in a series
of decisions written by Anthony Kennedy, the court
has reached the right result in every one of
those situations, but it has done so with
a weaker set of arguments that leave more
room for ambiguity and resolve less
questions for the future. And so this remains, I think, a
critical argument for the court to hear as we go forward. On the reproductive
rights side, for example, I authored a brief that
was filed in the case pending before the
Supreme Court this year on the various regulations
for about half the states that do not absolutely
prohibit abortion, but which effectively
oppose barriers to the ability of
women to exercise the constitutional right
through a long series of disingenuous
regulations that are under the guise of protecting
the health of the woman, but in fact are designed
to raise the price and make unavailable the
opportunity for choice. And that case is
currently pending before the Supreme Court. The brief that I
authored, again, joined by constitutional
scholars and major law schools, makes the argument
that pretty much as I just suggested, that
those justifications are just ingenuous. They are not sufficiently
weighty to warrant the restrictions. And it remains to be seen
what the Supreme Court will do on those questions. The other side of what I’ve
done is as an academic, although these two sides
obviously reinforce each other. And I am happy to say I’ve just
after many years of working on it, just last week
completed a book called “Sex and the Constitution” that
will be published next year that tries to take a long view
of these issues, that looks at the intersection
between sex, religion, law and constitutional law from the
founding of the United States up to the present. It tries to show how a religious
belief has affected not only private individual belief, but
also the law, and how that has dictated individual behavior,
even by those people who don’t share the
faith of those who’ve put their faith into the law. And so it begins by
looking at the world even before the founders, the
founders, the Second Great Awakening, the evolution over
the course of the 19th century of the Comstock era
restrictions for the first time on obscenity, on
contraception, on abortion, the role of the American
Medical Association. And then, begins to look
at the influence of people like Margaret Sanger,
and the birth of those who contested restrictions on
contraception, on obscenity, eventually on abortion
and ultimately, in terms of gay rights. And then turns in the
second part of the book to the Supreme
Court’s own decisions, and tries to connect
these different strands of constitutional law, tries
to show the relationships between the court’s approach
to issues of obscenity, and reproductive rights, and
gay rights and same-sex marriage and so on, and to
show the interactions between those different themes. And I should say
the book concludes on a tentatively
triumphalist end, where we have both by social
movements and by the actions of the judiciary come a long
way over the last 60 years across all of these issues. But it’s tentative
because the fact is that almost all of
the critical decisions were 5-4 decisions. And we are again at a
point in our history when the makeup of the court
is very much up in the air. And it is not at
all unimaginable that with a President
Trump and one or two vacancies on the
Supreme Court being filled by President Trump,
that all those decisions are vulnerable. And most obviously on the
realm of reproductive rights and abortion, but also
on the rights of gays, and lesbians and
transgender persons. The progress that we’ve
made could in many ways be reversed and
certainly be halted. And so I think
it’s a point where the work of this
center in continuing to pursue these issues,
understand them, understand the replications not
only academically, but for society and for the
law is really fundamental. And so I’m delighted at the
work that the center does, and the role I’ve been
able to play in it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] LINDA ZERILLI: So technically
we’re out of time. But since we have
an hour for lunch, I’d like us to be able
to take a few questions. So please– SPEAKER 1: OK, well, hello. Well first of all, I want
to thank all of you guys for being here. As a graduate student
who has benefited from the center, and its
resources and our teachers, and I think I could
speak for all of us here, it has been really amazing. So my question is not totally
specific to the center necessarily, but more of
a curiosity, which was I was hoping that the two legal
scholars on the panel, Martha and Geoff, could respond a
little bit to the problem that was set out about what it
looks like to translate rights in a context in which rights
are not always the only form and space of discrimination
in our political processes. MARTHA NUSSBAUM:
Well, that’s something that in the
international work, I’ve done I’ve grappled with a lot. And I actually
prefer the language that our group, this
international group, our Human Development and
Capability Association has members from 80
different countries. But the language of
human capabilities is to me, more neutral. Of course, I don’t think the
rights are exclusively Western. In fact, I think rights have
not been Western enough. But there is that debate,
and there is that perception. So what I prefer is the idea
that human beings are entitled to be and do certain
things, and then when one could spell that out. And most of my normative
work on capabilities is profited by studying
the constitutions of India and South Africa. Those are the two nations
that most inspire me. And I feel that
we’ve encountered on the ground a great
response to the language of capabilities, because people,
no matter whether they’ve ever thought normatively or legally,
they’re asking themselves, what can I do? What am I able to do? And so that’s a much more
immediate on the ground way of approaching things
and formulating it. And it’s not as
though it’s totally distinct from rights analysis. There is a lot of overlap. But anyway, so that’s
what I’ve been doing. [LAUGHTER] LINDA ZERILLI: Yes? AMANDA: I always
have a question. I’m Amanda. I’m one of Linda’s students
in the political science department. So my question is more of
historical view of we’ve heard about the texts
that have transformed you. And now, I think
a lot of us have been transformed by your text. And so what was that transition
like for you as a scholar from being someone
who was influenced by all these texts to then
helping to foster students be able to create those
texts potentially by using some of your own work? MARTHA NUSSBAUM: You should
do that because you’re the youngest. You’re the youngest one. ROCHONA MAJUMDAR: I think
that’s why I probably shouldn’t because I’m still
being transformed, but sure. I sometimes feel
like a [? dilatant ?] because I started as a
historian of South Asia and then wrote this book
on post-colonial theory and history. And now, I am in cinema. And in my head, there
is actually a link between all of these things. And it’s one of the links is,
in fact, gender and sexuality. And the other is my
post-colonial vantage. But really what I
want to say is that A, I don’t think I’ve ever
stopped being a student. So I continue to be
transformed by the people I’m in conversation with,
the people I read, the people who are dead. And I think that’s my
goal in the classroom. This is again something I say. I’ve said to various students,
I don’t think I’m an activist. But really, I
consider the classroom my space of activism,
if I can call it that. And I suppose the one thing
that I do try in the classroom to accomplish is to get people
to feel as excited as I do. And I think that once that
happens, you produce good work. Whether that’s a
transformational text or not remains to be seen,
but it’s good work. LAUREN BERLANT: I just
have something to say this. Nobody could really answer
your question because then, they would have to be talking
about the impact they have, and who knows? [LAUGHTER] But I [INAUDIBLE] say three
things in response to it. And one is I’m really interested
in a [? non-memetic ?] pedagogy that is how is it that you can
teach people without making them feel like you’re trying
to reproduce yourself in them? And so what are
the kinds of things that you can do to
get them to have a free relation
to their thought, or a relation to
their thought that might produce objects
that don’t look like they have a
[? market yet ?] or aren’t recognizable yet. Or what we were talking
about this morning, which is inconvenient knowledge. How do you have
inconvenient knowledge in the space of a discipline? And also, is there support for
you having the whole question of cool or a hot academic tone? We raised a lot of
issues this morning. That’s one but. The second thing is about work. I don’t think I ever
finish anything I write, but I just stop. I get tired. I get tired of it and I have
to get it out of my house. And so that’s why I
write series of things, because the work is ongoing. So it’s not just like
you wrote a big thing. Now, you have an impact. It’s like, you
stopped writing that, but there are still
unfinished questions, and you have to keep
moving along with that. So I have been
saying to myself, I want to have a tattoo
here that goes, what would it mean
to have that thought? And that’s a kind
of thing I would want to say about
teaching and learning. Which is that you
can read something, and if I ask you what you read,
you can tell me what you read. But actually becoming
changed by what you read is a long metabolizing
process, and forever. And the thing that
you thought you knew becomes a thing that
you try not to have known parts of because you
hadn’t known everything yet. So everything
changes because it’s in context of other things. I think the emphasis
on important books and important work is a
really, that’s a market issue. What’s more important is
that you have fidelity to the unfinished part of
what you’ve thought yet, and keep having
fidelity to that. That’s what I would say. SUSAN GAL: So I agree
with both of you. And I just wanted to add that
one of the things that I found really important is that in
classrooms, conversations often get very uncomfortable. And it’s really important
to go right through them, and through silences
the way that we did in asking for a question. And that turns out to be hugely
important in getting people to actually read
carefully, because reading comes in many different forms. And then, to engage with the
reading, not to mime it back, but to have some sort
of connection to it that might be violent
or conflictual. So as a matter of classroom,
and even one-on-one teaching, I think that moment of silence
and of possible conflict and discomfort is
really important. GEORGE CHAUNCEY: And I would
just say that really in a way, the point of my
remarks were that we’re engaged in a conversation, and
that somebody will always say about what we do as scholars. But I wanted to make
it very concrete. Work that comes
before us enables us to raise certain questions,
to ask certain things, to think in new ways. And then we try to intervene
in that conversation. And maybe we move it
a little bit forward, and then the conversation
keeps moving forward. And eventually, we have to
go back and rethink the work that we’ve done before
through the new lenses that are made possible by all
the work of our generation. And so in a way, I
partly think I’ve become more generous
in my reading of work, realizing that everyone is
doing their little bit to try to engage with these
questions, move them forward. And maybe we disagree with some
of the things they’ve said, but they helped us think
anew about questions. I think that’s often
said, it’s a problem of graduate classrooms, where
the only thing you want to do is slash and burn. And in fact, to think
about how can you really take from this work,
and be inspired by, and learn from and
move it forward. But also to say that in a really
profound way, I think all of us are students of one another. And so I feel like I’m
just all the time learning from my graduate students. Certainly, one who is
writing their dissertation is getting so much more deeply
into some thing, some problem than I ever could, and
I’m learning from that. And in classroom, people are
bringing not just the work that they’ve read
that maybe I’ve read more of in some areas than
they have, but not in others. But also, a
generational experience that’s different from
my own that means they take certain
things for granted that we had to
really figure out, and they’re exploding
other things that we’ve taken for granted. So it’s part of the
thrill, and the excitement and the pleasure
of doing this work. [APPLAUSE]

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