Tag Archives: summer research

Graduate Student Summer: Black in Europe, University of Amsterdam, 2017

By: F. Joseph Sepúlveda

After spending a few weeks traveling throughout Europe, particularly Sweden and Spain, in early June, I ended up attending the 10-day summer school program “Black Europe”, at the University of Amsterdam. Held in the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE) and in collaboration with the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues (Barcelona, Spain), the program features mostly European and North American scholars who work on race, and focuses on the investigation of how race and immigrantion has altered European society and its legal, historical, and cultural institutions. The program was for me most productive as a way to gain insight into how race and racial difference is understood within European contexts, and learning from scholars like Stephen Small, David Theo Goldberg, and Kwame Nimako through daily lecture sections was beneficial for expanding my own understanding of how non-American nations speak about (or fail to speak of) the impact and importance of black and other immigrants to the formation of Europe (although I think the program would have been more useful if broken up by smaller workshops and group discussions). Stephen Small’s work, for example, explores Black Britain’s centrality in European discourses on black civil rights and visibility, and he nicely presented the fact that even in Britain, which has the largest black population, the percentage of blacks in the nation is never as large as in the American hemisphere. However, anti-black discourse in Europe, and in Britain especially, tends to hyperbolically imagine the nation as overrun by “too many” formerly colonial black subjects.

In general terms, the program was useful for teaching three fundamental ideas about the European relation with its black populations: 1. That most European countries regard anti-black racism as an American, and particularly US American problem, and so they adapt a legal and social discourse of color-blindness that prevents coalitions to redress issues through the category of race. 2. Europe has been relatively adept at keeping black migrants outside of its nations (even in Britain the black population resides in major metropolitan areas and constituted less than 5 percent of its national demographics in 2011). 3. Unsurprisingly, important European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden disavow their role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade despite benefitting greatly from it and bankrolling its success.

In sum, the program offered an intellectually engaging ensemble of scholars who spoke about the different European approaches to thinking and resisting race, linking racial discourse with decolonial theory, and showing how to methodically think about race in the modern world. This program thus provided me with suggestions about what a more expansive trans-Atlantic framework to thinking racial formations could look like.  

Graduate Student Summer: Studying in France and Japan

By: Penny Yeung

Find other posts by Penny Yeung here

Since my interest lies broadly in the 20th century novel, particularly in Chinese and French contexts, and also in considering the theoretical framework of global modernisms, one of my goals for this past summer was to learn more about the initiatives that brought Chinese youths in unprecedented numbers to France at the beginning of the twentieth century. With support from the Mellon Summer Grant, I was first able to spend two weeks in Lyon doing archival research at the Fonds chinois housed at the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

The Fonds chinois has a fascinating origin. It came into existence in large part thanks to the library collection at the Institut franco-chinois de Lyon, a short-lived higher education initiative funded largely by the remittance of Boxer indemnity money. In its years of operation, between 1921 and 1946, 473 Chinese students matriculated at the institute. They pursued studies in a variety of disciplines from the natural and social sciences to the humanities, but also for those who, to the administrators’ chagrin, arrived on their doorstep demonstrating lackluster command of the language of instruction, high-school French. Among the wealth of documents available at the archive, there are individual student files and completed theses, correspondence between students and the administration regarding academic progress, sometimes lobbying for better student welfare, and occasionally, intriguing memos from the French authorities querying on the political involvement of individual students.

The Institut envisioned itself as contributing to the education of, to the farthest extent possible, a biculturally literate elite, much like similar initiatives already in place across the Atlantic, in the United States. In this regard, the Institut also distinguished itself apart from the Diligent Work–Frugal Study Movement, another means through which many Chinese youths at the time went to France. In fact, the institute’s policies caused disgruntlement among many a young worker who failed to gain admission and hence, in today’s parlance perhaps, to “switch (immigration) status”. My time at the Fonds allowed me to gain a better understanding of the Institut’s operation and its situation within a larger historical and political landscape. I was also able to peruse works written by and on several individuals who intrigued me particularly, including Maurice Courant, professor at the institute and whose prolific scholarship played a role in introducing Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures to the French scholarly context; and the Chinese poet Dai Wang-shu, often regarded as one of the pioneers of Chinese literary modernism, who was a one-time student at the institute before his expulsion and whose translated works from the French include Paul Van Tieghem’s La littérature comparée (1931).

Following Lyon, I attended Middlebury’s French immersion program held in Paris. During the six weeks, I took three courses, on the History of French Cinema, Paris through 20th-Century Literary Mirrors, and the History of Paris in the 16th and 17th Centuries respectively. The program was composed on average of four hours of class time in the mornings; afternoons were spent in the library completing readings and assignments, and attending weekly topical workshops and city excursions. Among the various excursions offered, including historical and literary walking tours, my personal favorite was a guided tour at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), located across from Bercy on the left bank of the Seine. Besides getting a look at behind-the-scenes operations such as how books are transported to the respective reading rooms, the tour provided a trove of informative fun facts. To name just two, I learned how the garden—the botanical centerpiece at the heart of the library complex—was effected by way of arboreal diasporic movement, and how the BnF’s upper deck, rendered notoriously slippery in the rains, became baptized as the Esplanade des Invalides. (And oh, there’s also a story about rabbits loose in the library.)

Finally, I am most grateful to the program in Comp. Lit. for the additional funding I received, which enabled me to wrap up my summer with two weeks of Japanese language study at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. As I continue to work towards fulfilling my language requirements, I look forward to the new literary imaginations and research pathways this may open up.

Graduate Student Summer: South-South Dialogues Towards Transmodernity

By: Rafael Vizcaíno

                                                           Picture by: Jeong Eun Annabel We

Continuing the decolonial dialogues of the previous two years (2015 CPA Summer School, 2016 Barcelona Summer School), during the summer of 2017, I traveled to South Korea with two main goals in mind: 1) to enter a dialogue with decolonial-oriented scholars in East Asia by participating in two international conferences on Latin American studies; and 2) to find out more about the influence that a current of Latin American thought (liberation theology) has had on the history of South Korean political activism. I met scholars from across the world, with whom I was united in our mutual commitment to decolonial praxis in research and activism. The ensuing discussions and encounters with them persuaded me of the necessity to frame my own work within a larger South-South planetary dialogue. I am now convinced that such dialogues across relational experiences of colonization are a requisite to understanding and overcoming the workings of modernity/coloniality – both the object of study and activist target of decolonial praxis – not in the disavowing sense of (post)modernity but in the transformative sense of transmodernity.

At the 9th Conference of East-West Intercultural Relations, subtitled “Global South, Latin America, and the Luso-Hispanic World,” hosted by Seoul National University in South Korea, several specialists and advanced students in Latin American and South Korean and East Asian relations were gathered to uncover the many ways in which the divergent elements of Latin American culture and history have been represented and assimilated into South Korean and East Asian cultural protocols – our very own Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres was the conference’s keynote speaker. My participation in this conference concerned an analysis of the ways in which Caribbean women of color feminist thinkers such as Mayra Rivera and Jacqui Alexander complicate and challenge the academic secular/religious divide across disciplinary boundaries. These writers suspend our inherited onto-epistemic categories that presuppose a certain (modern/colonial) partitioning of lived experience. Through such a maneuver, their respective critical politico-intellectual projects, their similarities and differences notwithstanding, effectively puts forward a decolonization of the secular/religious divide within a liberatory framework. My aim in presenting this part of my work in South Korea was to lay the foundations for a critical understanding of Korea’s anti-colonial and anti-dictatorship politics in relation to similar politics in Latin America.

Such bridge building across experiences of colonization led me to take advantage of my stay in Korea to further investigate the extent to which Latin American liberation theology has influenced the history of Korean political activism. Born in the late 1960’s, liberation theology has been influential in post-colonial regions of the world and their diasporas. A fact that has yet to receive strong scholarly attention, however, is that Latin American liberation theology curiously manifested a strong impact in South Korean democratization struggles in the 1970s–80s, particularly over the ways in which South Korean Christian organizations and theologians read the Latin American theological project via their own socio-historical context, eventually resulting in the development of a Korean Minjung theology. My findings gesture towards the need to strengthen the intellectual, historical, and political, bridges that unite Latin America and East Asia as spaces of resistance against the impositions of the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality. This is a long-term project that is part of the larger South-South dialogues towards transcending the modern/colonial status-quo, including the secular/religious divide across disciplinary boundaries that thinkers like Alexander and Rivera so powerfully challenge.

 Rafael and Fadoua El Heziti (Hassan II University - Morocco)
Photo by: Nelson Maldonado-Torres

Before departing from Korea, I had the privilege of additionally participating in the Latin American Studies Association of Korea annual conference. This was an opportunity to deepen the focus on the dynamics of the ongoing efforts to construct South-South dialogues between Latin America and East Asia. At LASAK, I presented my work on the concept of double translation as articulated by Walter Mignolo, arguing that double translation is a practice that should be made explicit in South-South dialogues that seek both the affirmation of subjugated knowledges and ways of being in the world, as well as the transcendence of Western modernity as an experiential totality. Double translation accounts for a process of transculturation that takes place on a plural egalitarian horizon beyond the empty universality of Western modernity. Mignolo takes as an example the development of neo-Zapatista thought articulated by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Southeast Mexico, formed by the mutual transformative encounter between Marxist and Indigenous cosmologies. Unlike the unidirectional translation model of Western modernity (e.g. Christian missionaries in colonial Latin America), double translation does not seek to absorb difference into the same, but instead enacts a pluriversal impetus illustrated by the Zapatista dictum “queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.” This entails that as we come together across different geo-historical positionalities towards the construction of an-other world, we need to be attentive to our categorical epistemic presuppositions, as well as to the hierarchies of power that exist within the protocols where these dialogues are taking place, such as the university. Otherwise our dialogues would not be premised upon an ethico-political equality and thus would collapse on the unidirectional model of translation.

I would like to thank Professor Maldonado-Torres and the remaining of my doctoral committee (Professor Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel and Professor Carlos Decena), for their intellectual support during this summer and the times a venir. I would also like to extend my gratitude to my interlocutors and new-found colleagues in South Korea and the rest of the world, for their generosity and hospitality – in particular, Professor Suk-Kyun Woo. Special thanks go to Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh, for encouraging me to pursue my comparative research on Korea.  At last, I am indebted to the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature, as well as the Rutgers University School of Graduate Studies for materially supporting my summer research and conference participations.

Graduate Student Summer: Archival Research in Hawai’i

By: Virginia L. Conn

As a result of a generous grant from the Rutgers Center for Chinese Studies (RCCS), I was able to pursue research in the lian huan hua collections at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, this summer—work which will set the foundation for my future dissertation research. The grant was used to purchase a plane ticket to Honolulu and a hostel in the city for nine nights, during which time I was allowed daily access to the special collections’ lian huan hua archive housed at the Hamilton Library.

Lian huan hua literally means “linked serial pictures,” and can be very loosely translated as “comics.” They were widely published in mainland China beginning in the 1920s, but reached their peak in the 70s and 80s following the Cultural Revolution—largely promulgated as a way to bring information to the illiterate masses. Because they were printed on cheap materials and made for mass consumption, originals have largely been lost. UH Manoa, however, holds one of the largest extant collections in the US, and I had the privilege of being able to access them during the latter part of the summer.

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While in the archives, I was primarily looking for depictions of mass mobilization among the people, as well as images of the impact of technology on labor. The lian huan hua were used as a tool of education and propaganda in the state’s move towards modernization, and as a result there were many examples of the impact of trains, mining, agricultural improvements, electricity, telephone lines, and shipping techniques on the development of the country, as well as their impact on individual lives. Of course, the lian huan hua were used as pedagogical tools, largely for children and the illiterate, and the narratives being presented are idealized in the extreme. This does not detract from their value as historical tools, however, and indicates the way that the publishers sought to establish and shape mass opinion of the nation-building process.

As my own research involves the impact of technology on laboring bodies and the way those bodies are subsequently mobilized, the lian huan hua collection was an invaluable resource. Its significance in presenting top-down propaganda about the state’s development following the Cultural Revolution indicated the way the national narrative would be shaped for many years and provided a valuable point of entry for further analysis. I am indebted to the RCCS and the UH Manoa special collections staff for allowing me the opportunity to access these materials. Many thanks!

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Grad Student Summer: Institute for World Literature in Cambridge, MA

By: Ke (Coco) Xu

After Beijing (2011), Istanbul (2012), Cambridge/ Boston (2013), Hong Kong (2014), and Lisbon (2015), this summer the Institute for World Literature met again at Harvard. Since its inauguration in Beijing, this summer program has been a place where genuine thinking and heated debates about world literature are happening. Led by David Damrosch, 14 scholars and over 150 student participants from more than 30 countries gathered for intellectual exchanges over the course of four weeks.

This year, the program ran from June 20th to July 14th. Each participant had the chance to choose two from a total of 14 seminars, each of which met four times a week for two consecutive weeks. The seminars were led by prominent scholars in the field; some held broader thematic concerns, such as Eric Hayot’s “The Small and the Large” and David Damrosch’s “Grounds for Comparison.” Some represented more specific topics, such as Bruce Robbins’ “Cosmopolitanism, Atrocity, and Time” and Reine Meylaerts’ “Multilingualism, Translation and World Literature.” Participants were also expected to attend colloquia, panel discussions, and lectures, where they had more time to talk about interests and concerns of their individual research experiences.

As one of the founding members, Rutgers has always been part of this growing program. With Rebecca Walkowitz’s seminar “Close Reading and World Literature” and up to four graduate student participants, Rutgers contributed greatly to this year’s IWL event. Participating as a graduate student from comparative literature, I found the experience at IWL especially valuable for the scope of its theoretical concerns, as well as for the cultural diversity that it represents.

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Each compressed in two weeks, the two seminars required intense work and preparation. However, IWL granted its participants with free and unlimited access to the Harvard libraries and museums, which proved to be very convenient for study and research. In class, I benefited a lot from professors’ theorization of world literature and the various perspectives that the diversity of my classmates’ cultural background made possible. Thanks to the event’s general atmosphere of friendliness, openness, and generosity, discussion and conversation went beyond the classroom. During office hours there were always lines in the waiting room, and before and after classes small gatherings of chatting students were everywhere to be seen.

seminar

Another indispensable part of the IWL experience are smaller meetings called colloquia, where participants with similar research interests get together to talk about their ongoing work each week. In my group “World Literature and Translation II,” there were 12 students and scholars. When it was my turn to present, I gave a presentation on the Chinese artist Xu Bing and received many interesting responses. In a more casual atmosphere, colloquia provided participants with an opportunity to think together and help each other, which eventually opens up new perspectives and brings back unexpected inspirations.

In addition to seminars and colloquia, twice a week the IWL hosted lectures and panel sessions given by participating and guest professors. These events  allowed all participants of the program to gather together and meet each other. Many graduate students found the two panels on publication and the job market helpful, and the warm responses during Q&A sessions confirmed the success of the lectures. (Here is a link to the video of some of the lectures of IWL Harvard 2016.)

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The panel on the job market.

As a bonus for the hard-working participants, IWL also arranged optional museum visits and beach outings, an addition to the fun of staying in Boston. Given the intensity of the program, in recollection I consider the closing of IWL in the middle of this July a start, rather than an end, of a quest for the answers to the many questions the Institute has made me ponder about. I will definitely keep thinking about the themes we have discussed during a very productive month in my future studies, and I look forward to keeping in touch with the friends and colleagues that I have met during the program.

 

Grad Student Summer: Barcelona Summer School

Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona

by Rafael Vizcaino

From July 11 to July 21, 2016, I attended the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, organized by the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. This is an intensive school organized by international faculty that attracts around 60-100 students from around the world each year, primarily doctoral and master students, young faculty, advanced undergraduates, and other professionals in related fields (particularly education and the arts). While attendees come from many different areas within the university and outside, and hail from all continents of the world, what we all share is a deep interest in processes and projects of decolonization (plurally construed). Because we shared the project of decoloniality, our interactions were an incredibly rich resource that allowed us to learn from and challenge one another in the spirit of solidarity. It is safe to say that there is no equivalent space of such strength, at least in the United States.

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The audience (picture by Nelson Maldonado-Torres).

The School consists of two or three intensive lectures a day, each lasting at least two hours. And between lectures was the time for general collective discussion, be it of the reading materials, the content of the lecture, or other concerns one may have. During spare time, people also organized into groups based on discipline or area of work/interest, and discussed in more detail how one’s area specifically relates to the decolonial project, or what kind of work one is doing to enact such relation. Days were very intense, as discussion tended to continue over lunch and dinner, and then lecturers unofficially held “office hours” in the buzzing Plaza del Sol in the neighborhood of Gracia. This was a great opportunity to interact with such thinkers on a one-on-one basis in a relaxed setting, as well as an ideal time to get to know one’s colleagues.

This year, Ramon Grosfoguel (UC Berkeley) opened the School with an introductory lecture in which he situated the historical context of the rise of coloniality as a pattern of power, going back well beyond the commonly held standard for such rise (the so-called “discovery” of the Americas in 1492) to the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire during the 4th century of the Common Era.

barcelona-pablo-photo-1Ramon Grosfoguel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

During the first week, our very own Nelson Maldonado-Torres gave a series of lectures titled “10 Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality,” where he outlined the analytics of coloniality and illuminated on three interrelated spheres where decoloniality takes place: theory, arts, and activism.

barcelona-zingisa-photo-2Nelson Maldonado- Torres (picture by Zingisa Mqalo Nkosinkulu).

Linda Alcoff (CUNY) also gave a series of lectures, titled “Decolonizing Epistemology.” Alcoff highlighted the importance of epistemology and normativity for the project of decoloniality, as the modern/colonial horizon relies on these elements for its own justification. Moreover, Stephen Small (UC Berkeley) gave a lecture on “Black Europe,” focusing on the politics of race in Great Britain, and Dew Baboeram (IISR) held two sessions on “Decolonizing the Mind,” where he put forward a critique of critical sociological theories from the perspective of epistemic decolonization.

barcelona-pablo-photo-3Linda Alcoff (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

The second week saw new lecturers with Enrique Dussel (UNAM) who presented a series of talks on many of the themes of the Philosophy of Liberation: a new vision of world (political) history, an ethical critique of capitalism following a groundbreaking reading of Karl Marx, an alternative vision of politics and political philosophy, and an analysis of the notions of interculturality and transmodernity for the near future.

barcelona-pablo-photo-4Enrique Dussel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY) too held a series of seminars, focusing on the recently deceased Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. Gilmore brought to the school a refreshed radical politics that is as relevant as ever, given the contemporary status of racial politics and their material ramifications in the United States, as well as the constant rise of neoliberalism in all corners of the world. Sabelo Ndlovu (UNISA) closed the School’s schedule with two lectures on “African Decolonial Thought,” in which he mainly looked at the pitfalls of postcolonialism as a lens through which to understand the reality of the continent of Africa.

barcelona-pablo-photo-5Ruth Gilmore (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

While all sessions were beneficial to my intellectual interests, I am very satisfied to have discussed the work of Enrique Dussel with other voracious readers (and critics) of him, as well as to have had the privilege to have many one-on-one conversations with Dussel himself. These discussions were a continuation of an exchange started here at Rutgers University when he visited the Latino Caribbean Studies Department in April of 2015, that then continued at a philosophy conference at Villanova University in April of 2016. These have re-energized me to continue doing the work that I am doing, as well as given me many lines of thought to explore this year and beyond as I prepare to put together my doctoral dissertation. Yet, besides holding these theoretical concerns, in Barcelona I also managed to connect with local activists who are in one way or another realizing, on the ground, some of the aspects of the discourse and practice of decoloniality at many levels: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, Europe. They are anti-gentrification activists, activists in defense of migrant rights or minorities within Europe (such as the Romani people), as well as those interested in the independence of Catalonia from Spain. Of particular importance to my own developing interests in discourses of citizenship, migration, racialization, and coloniality, was meeting some of the actors involved with the Espacio del Immigrante, a health/socio-cultural center in an occupied flat in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of El Raval. This is a center that for approximately two years has been providing free healthcare to undocumented migrants to counteract the actions of the Spanish government that has made it illegal for undocumented migrants to receive basic care at public hospitals (language classes and seminars on critical thought are also held among other events). While I was in Barcelona the local police force had orders to evict those inside the Espacio (an extension of 45 days was granted at the time of this writing). This event made me grasp the complicated socio-political atmosphere currently in Barcelona, beneath the city’s public appearance as the most progressive city in Europe open to refugees. Put simply, these interactions with local activists were as important and thought-provoking as were the series of lectures I attended at the School. They were another decolonial dialogue, not unrelated to those I had at the Summer School.

Overall, the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School is a crucial space in the development of the decolonial project. The project is a plural endeavor, not without its internal critiques, that seeks to challenge the abundant colonial legacies across all levels of experience in our shared world. I am grateful to both the Program in Comparative Literature and the Graduate School at Rutgers University that supported my trip. I definitely encourage anyone interested in processes and projects of decolonization to attend this School. The best time to apply is during the fall semester, as it increases one’s chances of receiving travel support from the university and/or external sources. The deadline for applications is usually early in the following year. For more information, this is the School’s website.