About "Worldly Compositions"

Worldly Compositions: Humans and Nonhumans in the Making of Global Publics

The imperative of “worldliness” is a cornerstone of Global Humanities initiatives, namely the ability to think critically and approach complex global problems as citizens of the world. Political theorist Hannah Arendt used the term amor mundi (“love of the world”) to characterize the human condition as an unfinished project: Whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it is a decision that ultimately determines the meaning of human existence itself. Adopting Arendt’s framework as a methodology for investigating the role of the humanities in global affairs, the “Worldly Compositions” seminar series aims to develop a wider sense of human affairs and global knowledge and action through two interconnected research goals: First, the seminars will explore the intersection of research and qualitative methodologies in a transnational context. The seminars feature an interdisciplinary forum of scholars who have taken up the call for worldliness by challenging conventional ways of doing and presenting research, re-arranging fields of knowledge, and opening up new areas of humanistic engagement.

Second, the seminar series will forward a research agenda that contributes to new understandings and practices of “making publics.” We open up Arendt’s formulation of the human condition to underscore how amor mundi gestures toward a new sense of the public as something that is enacted. Encompassing a worldwide network of relations, the participatory aspects of this public formation extend beyond the human. Worldly action is possible through increasingly global material exchanges and networks. Faculty research shared in the seminar series will investigate how social institutions, knowledge structures, technologies, actors and objects are mobilized in the shaping and transforming of political alliances. Researching material relations and networks among humans and nonhumans—from paintings to drones, satellites to nuclear waste—troubles categorical assumptions about science, international affairs, art and politics, and emphasizes the transnational materialization of culture. The seminars will address the disciplinary limitations of humanistic inquiry focused solely on human agents and will de-center state actors as the primary unit of analysis within international relations, to foster twenty-first-century transnational public cultures and political structures.

The collaborative and synthetic format for the seminars will activate new configurations of research around three key areas of ‘worldly composition”: media, museums, and matter. Each of the three seminars will be convened by core faculty within the Culture and Politics Program, and will feature three other faculty participants representing a mix of disciplines from the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The seminars are designed to be interactive workshops with pre-circulated papers. The four participants on each panel will be asked to contribute a short essay (1500 – 2000 words) that explores how their current research contributes to the theme of the seminar. These short texts will be circulated in advance of the panel. At the event, panelists will share brief five-minute summaries of their work—as well as responses to the entire panel synthetically. Each seminar will last ninety minutes, enabling time to develop conversation among the panelists and seminar attendees.

Students are welcome to attend and participate. The seminars are intended to maximize conversation and interaction among the faculty and any participating students.