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Faculty Fellows Conference

Theme: "Survival"

Each year the Humanities Center sponsors a Faculty Fellowship Competition on a specific theme. This year's theme was "Survival". Fellowships provide Wayne State University faculty with funding to help pay for expenses related to their research projects, including travel, research assistance, summer salary and fringe benefits. Fellowships average $6,000 and recipients are expected to participate in the annual Faculty Fellows' Conference held the following spring. Below is the explication of the theme, followed by brief descriptions of the projects that were selected for funding for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Conference date:Friday, March 27, 2015 in the Alumni House.

Click here for the Conference Schedule


After the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species made the notion of survival widely known, it was extended to the social sphere in ethically and scientifically untenable ways as Social Darwinism, a concept that seems to continue at least latently in contemporary politico-economic thought that advocates minimal government interference with the market. The notion of survival has also been employed by philologists and linguistic anthropologists to discuss endangered languages as well as the development of phonetic and structural patterns in language generally in the context of historical linguistics. As archeologists traditionally explore physical traces of extinct cultures to reconstruct the latter based on their interpretations of the former, they deal in surviving remnants. Even the canon debates of literary scholars could be conceptualized in terms of survival as they concern which texts ought to become part of and remain in an imagined community's collective memory and thus survive not only in their physical form as books in libraries but also and especially that they are being read and discussed. After all, only those books that are read have the potential to impact a society's collective memory. Furthermore, archives and libraries are inherently concerned with the survival of their vast collections, i.e., the preservation of the physical matter from the brittle paper of illuminated manuscripts and folios to the constantly necessary transfer of electronic data to the most current modes of storage. Museums likewise seek to slow down the inevitable process of forgetting and thus to insure the survival of objects deemed valuable in a particular time and place by preserving them. To return again to the field of literature, survival has been a core subject in literary texts ranging from Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe and the many Robinsonades it inspired to autobiographical and fictional accounts of slavery and accounts of Holocaust survival by writers like Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi. Moreover, such core American figures as the frontier hero and the self-made man that have been depicted in countless variations in both canonical and popular literature as well as television and cinema engage in struggles for their physical and economic survival that at times revives the ruthless ethics of Social Darwinism. More recently, the notion of survival and the figure of the survivor and the subject of survival became ubiquitous in American popular culture. The mass media representation of survival includes: TV Reality Shows like Survivor, post-apocalyptic cinema and disaster movies generally, interactive online video games, the populist feminism practiced on daytime TV talk shows like Oprah, and most of all self-help literature which advises anyone from housewives to CEOs how to best survive the slings and arrows of everyday life in late capitalism.

We are looking for proposals that examine "Survival" from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary, humanistic and artistic perspectives. We anticipate that scholar's working in literature, law, political science, history, sociology, anthropology, art, languages, and other disciplines would find this topic appealing.

Keynote Speaker - Paul Jay

The Survival of the Humanities in the Age of the Corporate University

Paul Jay, Professor, English, Loyola University

The humanities have always had a kind of paradoxical position in higher education. Perceived as a central pillar of the liberal arts -- which are unthinkable without them -- they have nevertheless been in a nearly perpetual state of crisis, dogged by questions about both their practical value and their intellectual rigor. Now, at a time when students, their parents, and state legislators increasingly envision higher education as vocational training, a form of credentialing in which the value of courses and programs are defined narrowly in terms of how they will prepare students for jobs, the very survival of the humanities seems to be in question. This dramatic shift in views about the purpose of higher education has developed at a time when both taxpayers and legislators have dramatically cut back their economic support for higher education, and when the corporatization of higher education is accelerating. While these developments threaten the viability of a liberal arts education everywhere, they represent a more dire threat to the humanities, which are particularly vulnerable in an age of shrinking budgets and the expanding dominance of an educational ideal that puts a stress on computational, technological, and mechanical skills at the expense of a broad-based education in history, philosophy, and the arts. If the value of education is increasingly being measured by trustees and legislators too ready to replace a liberal arts model of higher education with a vocational training model of higher education, then it's no wonder the humanities seem to be in crisis.

In the face of these changes, we need to develop a strategy that insures the humanities not only survive, but continue to play a central role in higher education. However, we can't do that without developing a coherent and contemporary explanation of what the humanities are now, and what value their study has for 21st century students. I believe the survival of the humanities depends upon our ability to describe what they're about in a way that balances tradition with innovation and knowledge with skills. That survival cannot depend solely on the curation of a static or ossified version of the humanities based on preservation alone, a narrow insistence on the importance of historical, philosophical, and cultural knowledge for its own sake. It will depend as well on our stressing innovation, on our ability to develop a clear explanation of the positive, constructive role new subject areas, theories, and methodologies have played in diversifying, broadening, and updating our understanding of what it means to be human. We need to stress not just the historical and cultural knowledge humanities students gain – as valuable as that is – but also how, in learning to deal with the aesthetic, abstract, historical, and affective aspects of human experience they develop a set of skills, competencies, and dispositions that are broadly transferable no matter what they choose to do when they graduate. We also need to find ways to make the nature and value of our research and scholarship clear to people outside of the academy. While those who argue the humanities are thriving in the public sphere may be correct, that won't continue unless they continue to be nurtured by new and innovative research and scholarship in the academic sphere as well. An engaged, public humanities depends upon a vital and well-funded academic humanities to sustain it.

Video: (Part 1)(Part 2)

Speakers Abstracts/Excerpts

"From Survival to Sustainability: Community-Based Pathways for Urban Arts Institutions"

Alisa Moldavanova - Assistant Professor, Political Science

“This paper approaches organizational sustainability as a two-level concept that includes both institutional survival, as a baseline for sustainability, and longer-term sustainability, understood as the ability of institutions to persist and fulfill their public purpose in the long run. The paper argues that the sustainability of public and nonprofit arts organizations depends on the ability of these organizations to effectively connect with their communities, as well as on their ability to engage in collaborative governance with other actors. The paper presents preliminary observations regarding the role of organizational relationships for institutional sustainability, based on pilot interviews conducted with several cultural organizations located in the Detroit Metropolitan Area."


"Just Food and Survival: The Moral Economy of Detroit's Gardens and Grocery Stores"

Andrew Newman - Assistant Professor, Anthropology

In recent years popular and scholarly narratives about Detroit have become suffused with the language and imagery of mortality and organicism. Life, death, and rebirth have now emerged as well-worn master tropes, framing a veritable Detroit-genre of documentary films, media coverage, and research. It is therefore fitting that in this particular moment, food--the most basic element of human sustenance and survival--has emerged as an important object of contestation, at a tangible and symbolic level, for a variety of actors including politicians, business leaders, activists, as well as everyday Detroiters. This presentation aims to rethink contemporary Detroit through the lens of E.P. Thompson’s “moral economy” concept, a construct that is more often associated with scholarship on peasant revolts in agrarian societies than urban politics in the contemporary U.S. It argues that unearthing the moral economy of Detroit’s gardens and grocery stores provides a new lens on contestation over Detroit’s future by linking the spheres of food, survival, and the re-imagining of right and wrong in the Motor City.

"Born in Haiti! No Grave Can Hold Him!" Voodoo's Survival in Marvel's Zombie Comics of the 1970s"

Chera Kee - Assistant Professor, English

In a 1973 issue of the comic Tales of the Zombie, a short article tells readers that Marvel is well aware of the newest craze sweeping the nation—voodoo—and the company has responded not only with Tales of the Zombie, and its troubled anti-hero Simon Garth, but also a brand-new hero by the name of Jericho Drumm. Unlike the contemporary crop of black heroes populating Marvel comics in the early 1970s, Drumm is different. He is a college-educated hero from Haiti. Having left his family and home culture to practice psychology in the U.S., Drumm must reconnect with his voodoo beliefs to avenge his brother's death as he becomes Brother Voodoo. In many ways taking advantage of the same blaxploitation strategies as filmmakers of the time, Marvel wedded a growing interest in voodoo with the need for a strong black hero to entice African-American readership.

At the same time Brother Voodoo was leaping off the pages, Simon Garth, The Zombie, was making a comeback. His first appearance was in a stand-alone horror story in 1953's Menace, but The Zombie's 1973 make-over didn't radically change the character. Rather, The Zombie remained a man killed and zombified by a former employee who spends his time trying to fight his masters and protect his living daughter. Yet, like Brother Voodoo, Tales of the Zombie also capitalized on the "voodoo craze" sweeping the nation, and as such, both titles were part of an attempt to recast voodoo as an empowering force for marginalized groups battling systemic racism, economic inequality, and cultural prejudices in their quests for survival.

It should be no surprise, then, that Marvel's take on voodoo in these titles—while still capitalizing on ideas of it as exotic, foreign, and mysterious—was far more respectful than earlier manifestations of voodoo in U.S. media, even more so than what Marvel itself had previously penned. These comics revolve around the survival of family and culture, and this is played out in spaces where syncretic borrowing is a necessity. Both heroes must make a pilgrimage to Haiti, and both must also align with Voodooists who are using the powerful religion for good. Both Garth and Drumm must expand their world views and accept the power of voodoo if they are to survive. Thus, in opening up Haiti as a space for heroes and voodoo as a force for good, Marvel was not so much reimagining the superheroes themselves but restructuring the cultures in which these heroes are expected to operate.

"Mobile Homestead: Cycles of Representation and Disruption in the Work of Mike Kelley"

Mary Anderson - Associate Professor, Theatre & Dance
Richard Haley- Lecturer, Department of Art & Art History

Analysis of the artist Mike Kelley's work reveals a career-long investigation of the performative relationship between artist and audience. Characterized as "antagonistic" (Diederichsen in Miller 2015, 110 n.12) towards his audience, critics have described Kelley as a "master provocateur" (Roussel 2012) who "abused his audience on account of ideas it had not yet voiced and perhaps not even considered" (Miller 2015, 17). These characterizations are based on the presuppositions that Kelley harbored a fundamental mistrust of the viewer and held a concomitant fear that his work would be misinterpreted and devalued because of arbitrary biases. Our research identifies the limits of these presuppositions about Kelley, which are informed by art criticism's focus on the antimony and "oppositional fixation" (Jackson 2011, 56) of the avant-garde. Departing from the dominant narratives on Kelley-as-antagonist, we suggest that a more robust interpretation of the artist's work comes from the premise that his entire oeuvre is organized around a dynamic pedagogical game that invites the viewer to co-produce a conflicting set of meanings that change over time. Framing the totality of Kelley's production as a series of interrelated performances – including his actual performances, his sculptures and installations, his films, essays, and even the speech acts contained in interviews about his practice – amends the dominant narratives about Kelley. Instead of the "clever master" revealing didactic truths to an ignorant audience, Kelley is, in fact, fascinated with the multiplicity of interpretations that his works elicit and is ultimately dependent on these modes of exchange to produce his works. This becomes clear when his final work, Mobile Homestead, is analyzed in relation to Kelley's essays and interviews about several prior works, particularly Framed and Frame (1999), More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid (1987), Educational Complex (1995), and Day is Done (2005).

(Photos) (Video)

"The Graphic Legacy of Fredy Perlman and the Detroit Printing Co-op"

Danielle Aubert - Assistant Professor, Art & Art History

This project will be an exhibition reflecting on the graphic legacy of radical publishers in Detroit from 1960 to the 1980s. Among the figures studied will be Fredy Perlman, an influential author, political activist and publisher who worked in Detroit from 1969 to 1985 and whose ideas still resonate today. Perlman was co-founder of Black & Red Press and The Detroit Printing Co-op, where equipment was considered "social property" for anyone to use. An important book printed at the Co-op was the first English translation of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. This exhibition will situate Perlman's inventive approach to printing within the context of both graphic design and radical politics. The exhibition will take place at 9338 Campau, an independent art gallery in Hamtramck, and will coincide with the annual Detroit Art Book Fair.

Presentation - Photos- Video

"Privilege of Border Blindness: Transnational (1m)Mobility in Alea Torik's Noise of becoming and Abbas Khider.'s Village Indian"

Nicole Coleman - Assistant Professor, CMLLC

At a time when European countries are reinstating border controls within the Schengen zone and reinforcing the confines of the European Union, mobility across borders has come to a halt. My article engages with this very current political context through an examination of two novels that address the urgent questions of borders and migration from different perspectives: The Village Indian (Der falsche Inder 2008) by contemporary Iraqi-German writer Abbas Khider and The Noise of Becoming (Das Geräusch des Werdens 2012) by Romanian-German author Aléa Torik. I develop a concept of "border blindness" that shines a light on the differentiation between realist and idealist transnational literature, positing that this difference lies precisely in the ways the two literary tendencies represented by Khider and Torik differentiate movement across political boundaries. Idealist transnational literature, as I define it in relation to Torik's work, does not thematize borders and assumes free movement across national boundaries whereas realist transnational literature in the vein of Khider's novel focuses on precisely the difficulty of surmounting such borders and the potential stasis that results. With her physically blind protagonist, Torik creates a literary space for border blindness where visual markers of boundaries and exclusion cease to exist. Khider on the other hand presents the precarious mobility of refugees. He explicitly criticizes the existence of borders that keep those in need out (of Europe). Within the tension between these two approaches, border blindness emerges as a privilege that only literature can achieve, while the realities of migration and exile, particularly in today's charged political situation, expose visible borders that cannot be crossed. With this, I illustrate in what ways literature can critique today's border policies but also create empathy for the humans who are not permitted to enter a realm of safety.

(Photos) - (Video) - (Slides)

"Performing the Low-Tech Cyborg: The Poetics of Peripheral Technology in Alex Rivera's Film 'Sleep Dealer'"

Hernán M. García - Assistant Professor, CMLLC

The journal Science Fiction Studies –following Suma Gupta's concept of "imaginative representations of globalization"- dedicated a special issue (November 2012) to explore how contemporary science fiction offers innovative approaches to study globalization. Although, the study of globalization may seem to be over explored, the special issue of Science Fiction Studies is relevant and important because it postulates new possibilities to theorize globalization from an imaginative and speculative perspective. With this in mind, Alex Rivera's film Sleep Dealer (2009) will allow me to offer a look into global networks, cyberspace and digital technologies from the peripheral gaze of a Mexican peasant in the verge of becoming a cyborg and novice hacker. In other words, to conceptualize the idea of how imaginative and speculative representations of globalization can contribute to theorize our contemporary world, I will argue that the low-tech cyborg-hacker character is an information age pícaro (rogue) that offers a 2.0 testimonio (testimony) version to open an alternate reality of information and communication technologies from the liminal time and space of indigenous communities as they start to experience the velocity, the rhythms, and the flows of the information highway.

Photos - Video

"Racial Differences in Social Mobility across Three Generations"

David Merolla - Assistant Professor, Sociology

Upward social mobility, or the attainment of a higher social status than one's parents, is the quintessence of the American achievement ideology. Moreover, Americans believe that educational attainment is the engine of social mobility for disadvantaged racial groups that have historically been excluded from full participation in the American economy. However, for black and Hispanic Americans the recipe for upward social mobility may not be so straightforward. Despite a substantial increase in educational attainment for black and Hispanic Americans in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement, economic social mobility for black and Hispanic Americans remains elusive. The proposed research asks, why has the social mobility of black and Hispanic Americans stagnated despite increasing educational attainment over the past three generations? I argue that one important reason why increased participation in education has not led to an increase in social mobility for black and Hispanic Americans is that although Americans of color complete more years of education in each successive generation, they do not obtain the most important educational credential at the conclusion of their education. That is, while the absolute educational attainment of all groups increases synchronously, the relative position of black, Hispanic and white Americans remains stable and Americans of color continue to lag behind in the economic and social benefits putatively related to educational attainment.

(Photos) (Video)