FHI's Graduate Working Groups are intended to create more avenues of support for doctoral students in addition to FHI's thematically defined Humanities Labs. All groups are expected to be self-organized; the FHI provides funding for books, meetings, and public events that advance group members’ intellectual agendas.

Learn more about the 2023-24 working groups and browse those of previous years below.

African Thought and Media: Coloniality, Ecologies, Forms

This group engages the materiality of media as existing at the intersection of thought and thing. We use different media (social/popular, digital, print, music, film, etc.) to explore how aesthetics, epistemologies, and politics capture asymmetrical experiences of racial and extractive capitalism, provoke questions of ethics, and remind us of the enduring geopolitics of knowledge production. Our interests in discussing lived experiences through the inseparability of African thought and media blur gaps between theory and praxis. The group approaches African theory and praxis of media as complementary forms of knowledge that provide us with crucial perspectives on not just blackness and global entanglement as set in motion by coloniality but also Africa’s place within, and in relation to, both.

Conveners: Damilare Bello and Kasyoka Mwanzia

Contemporary Poetics Working Group

The Contemporary Poetics Working Group is comprised of graduate students from across the humanities interested in developing an interdisciplinary conversation centered on contemporary poetry and poetics. The working group seeks to emphasize experimental literary writing as a unique mode of thought that engages and expands scholarly fields of inquiry.

Working group sessions are organized in tandem with Solarities, a public poetry reading series bringing established and emerging visiting writers to Duke.

Solarities 1: Roberto Tejada and Asiya Wadud — March 30, 2023

Solarities 2: Kimberly Alidio and Stacy Szymaszek — November 16, 2023

Solarities 3: Alice Notley, Hoa Nguyen, and Dale Martin Smith — April 4, 2024

Conveners: Michael Cavuto and Tessa Bolsover

Remembering COVID from Below in China and the Diaspora

As the Chinese government continues to portray its COVID response as a victorious “People’s War” that bolsters the superiority of China’s one-party state system, individual narratives one encounters on social media and private exchanges detail the countless atrocities caused by authoritarian excess throughout the pandemic. Despite the state’s swift efforts of curating “the correct collective memory,” Chinese people have found ways to preserve their own stories in the face of censorship and propaganda. In this working group, we will work towards a public-facing, interactive digital archive to highlight some of these stories. We will use this space to explore digital tools and comb through the oral history, grassroot media art, and digital ephemera we gathered in the past three years. We hope to showcase the multitemporal and all-encompassing impact that Covid and its subsequent “zero-Covid” movement have had on individuals, and their creative and resourceful ways of responding.

Conveners: Faye Ma, Yidi Zheng, Lingyu Wang (UNC), Huiyin Zhou, and Miranda Zhong

Psychoanalysis Now!

Psychoanalytic discourses have come a long way since Freud. Through confrontations with “other” discourses — of race, gender, biology, technology, and ecology, and beyond — the discipline has expanded past its original purview of sex(uality). These encounters have exposed how these “other” discourses were already present and internal to psychoanalysis: extimate, to use Lacan’s term. The Psychoanalysis Now! Working Group will explore these entanglements as central to contemporary psychoanalytic thought. 

Through our readings, we will examine how recent developments in gender and sexuality studies, postcolonial studies, Black studies, and environmental studies present problems to and of psychoanalysis, as well as how psychoanalysis, in the clinic and university, changes in response. To do so, we will turn to recent psychoanalytic theoretical works that stage internal interventions by focusing on questions concerning the environment, race, biology, technology, and gender. Students of all levels of familiarity (or unfamiliarity) are welcome to attend.

Conveners: Britt Edelen and Katherine Carithers

East Asia/Asian Diaspora Studies Working Group

This working group is a student-led space for humanities and social sciences graduate students working on topics related to East Asia and/or East Asian diaspora at Duke University. PhD and MA students at any stage are invited to share resources, workshop projects, network, and engage in conversations. Launched in Spring 2022, this working group is committed to an interdisciplinary, transnational, and translingual approach; we seek to rethink the relations between ethnic studies and area studies, challenging the US-centrism in knowledge production and scholarly political engagement. You can subscribe to the EADS Working Group listserv through https://lists.duke.edu/sympa/info/eads for more information and updates.

Conveners: Mariko Azuma, Faye Ma, and Jaeyeon Yoo

Digital Culture and Literature Working Group

Our working group will be thinking through and reflecting on digital ecologies, broadly conceived, and their interaction with contemporary literature and culture. We are also interested in digital humanities and computational methodologies as a way of understanding the influence of the digital.

Convener: Hannah Jorgensen

Black Feminist Theory Working Group 

The BFT Working Group seeks to collectively engage in a deeper understanding of Black feminist theory and practice. We seek to think critically across borders, with a focus that includes but goes beyond the United States with an emphasis on Global South geographies in Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Africa. In doing so, this working group seeks to expand theoretical conceptualizations of blackness by situating black struggles, resistance, and history within a transnational framework.

Conveners: Barbara Ofosu-Somuah and Rukimani PV 

Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology began in Latin America and the United States during the 1960s. Latin American liberation theology aimed to free the poor from economic oppression and Black liberation theology, from racial oppression. Since then, liberation theology has flourished. The field has adopted more perspectives, leading to more inclusive and insightful visions of liberation. The reading group will explore works from around the world encompassing a range of theologies that fall within the liberation framework: queer theology, postcolonial theology, feminist/womanist/mujerista theology, Black theology, and Asian theology.

Our goal is to make these theologies of liberation intelligible within a secular humanist framework. As David Harvey notes at the end of his book Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, the hope for an anti-capitalist future lies in an alliance between secular humanisms and religious liberation theologies. Theologies of liberation can enhance the struggles against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and other oppressive regimes. 

Conveners: Natalie Gasparowicz, Devin Creed

Duke South Asia Working Group

The Duke South Asia Working Group is a network for early career researchers of South Asia which organizes a monthly reading group. This platform will offer an intellectual space to an increasing number of scholars working on South Asia in the Humanities and Social Sciences departments at Duke and beyond with an aim to encourage an interdisciplinary conversation. The current centers and departments at Duke do not have any such space to offer–especially one that cuts across disciplines. In doing so, this working group addresses the long felt need for a formalized and dedicated community to study the region of South Asia and promote scholarly work in this field led by graduate students. The working group will convene around a broad theme each semester, which will provide a framework for readings and discussions.

Conveners: Avrati Bhatnagar and Archit Guha

Critical Machine Learning Studies

The Critical Machine Learning Studies Working Group at Duke University addresses the wide-reaching influence of machine learning (ML) on society. ML's pervasive role in data collection and analysis has prompted concerns and innovative interdisciplinary approaches to these issues. Despite Duke's interest in learning algorithms, there is a lack of comprehensive courses and events focusing on ML's societal impact. This project aims to consolidate existing academic discussions, ongoing research, and Duke's interest in ML's political and aesthetic analysis from arts and humanities. It fosters networking, bringing together faculty and students, and seeks to establish a stable academic group for ML studies within Duke. The workinggroup distinguishes itself with a critical approach, exploring ML beyond its technical aspects and linking its emergence to broader historical, theoretical, and political contexts. It aims to promote ethical technological progress, addressing power structures influencing ML development and fostering dialogue between technical and critical perspectives.

Conveners: Sang Chi Liu, Kelsey Brod, Kate Alexandrite, and Hugo Idarraga

Platonic Questions, Contemporary Problems

How do we think about the injustices we see around us? How do we conceive of climate change, racial injustice, and sexism as part of a larger structure? If we seek a just system in spite of these problems, what do we mean by justice? We investigate these questions in "Platonic Questions, Contemporary Problems"! Together we read and discuss Plato’s Republic, and tackle its related questions of justice and injustice, good and evil. Our interdisciplinary working group excavates the rich connections between the Republic and contemporary problems of local and global (in)justices. Our working group will culminate with a keynote address from professor Melissa Lane (Princeton) and the chance for participants to workshop new ideas that emerge from encounters with the Republic.

Conveners: Ivy Flessen, Daniel Orr, and Ben Moon-Black

Food Studies Working Group

Bringing together works of literature, ethnography, music, and theory, this interdisciplinary working group explores the consumption and production of food as a practice of community-building, memory, and cultural production. Attending to Sylvia Wynter’s articulation of a new science of the word that incorporates narrative storytelling with the study of nature through scientific knowledge, we are interested in the capacity of foodways to provide biological and emotional nourishment. Therefore, our meetings will include space for discussion, conversation, cooking, and eating together. Our meetings will be guided by group interest and are open to all.

Conveners: Dray Denson and Elly Veloria 

Challenging Borders: Representations of the Global South Working Group

The interest in Global South as a critical concept has risen steadily in the last decade in the United States, as more and more universities have dedicated courses, centers, and whole departments to its research. However, centuries before, writers, artists, poets, and activists already conceptualized this epistemological shift from their geopolitical positions without using this term. This working group examines the emergence of the South's concept from its representation in literary and visual works produced on and from the Global South. To this end, we would like to open up an interdisciplinary discussion across languages and philosophical/methodological traditions on topics like diaspora and migrations to explore its origins and development as a field of study.

We will study how a concept such as the Global South allows us to understand the ongoing debate about colonial histories and globalization. Global South studies allow us to go beyond national borders and disciplinary boundaries to build new geographies and connect previously separated areas such as the Mediterranean, Latin American, and Transpacific studies. Only in this way we can learn to look beyond conventional patterns of migration and create significant connections between geopolitical sites that have not been explored before. We believe that paying attention to these spaces and communities through an innovative way of connecting them can help envision a new form of global connectivity. We see the erasure of geohistorical relations, populations, and origins as a form of latent violence, perpetrated through a rigid division between fields of study that prevents a holistic account of Southern dynamics and debates. Accordingly, this working group's final objective is to acknowledge that the South is not a mere object of study, but a subject producing knowledge about itself.

Conveners: Cristina Carnemolla and Ninel Valderrama Negron

Latin America: Theory and Narrative in Present Tense

The emergence of cultural studies in the Latin American field, particularly its subalternist iteration beginning in the 1990s, opened new horizons for the study of mass or popular cultures and the corresponding effort to forge emancipatory politics. The trenchant debates that followed the emergence of the field, while in many instances productive, have arguably sedimented perceived divisions between “theory,” “literature,” and “[popular] culture” as modes of scholarly and political engagement.

This working group proposes debate on the field’s present and future, with an aim at overcoming the limitations imposed by enshrined disciplinary and methodological boundaries. To these ends, we will discuss both recent scholarly texts and the literary and cultural objects they foreground, with the aim of revisiting and revising established frameworks as well as hypothesizing and experimenting with new ones.

Central to these discussions will be the relationship between scholarship, aesthetics, and politics today, particularly in light of the intensification of concerns such as migration, environmental deterioration, narcotrafficking, financialization, militarization, and the withering of the traditional nation-state under neoliberalism. Latin America, no doubt, assumes a central position in the context of these global processes. We look to debate the scholarly, cultural, and theoretical tools necessary for apprehending them.

As part of the working group’s activities, we will invite scholars to present and discuss recent work, in collaboration with both the Franklin Humanities Institute as well as related academic departments and centers.

Conveners: Ian Erickson-Kery and Lucas Lopes

Unearthing Duke Forest

The ecological history of Duke Forest is embedded within the human history of plantation agriculture, fueled by violent chattel slavery. Hallmark insights about river ecology, biodiversity, community succession, and climate change have come from research in Duke Forest, but what are the conditions that have allowed such research to take place? How does the historical context of the land and people on it affect knowledge production? What stake do researchers have in that history? Through the creation of a public outdoors exhibit at the Robeson Mill site at Duke Forest, Unearthing Duke Forest hopes to highlight those peoples that have been displaced, removed, or expunged from the Forest’s archive.

Convened by doctoral students Kathleen Burns (English), Renata Poulton Kamakura (Nicholas School of the Environment), and Anita Simha (Biology), Unearthing Duke Forest began in Fall 2020 as an FHI Graduate Working Group. UDF is an interdisciplinary endeavor to investigate the broader historical conditions through which research in Duke Forest has been rendered possible. In Spring 2021, the project was awarded a Duke Endowment Reckoning with Race, Racism, and the History of the American South grant by the Office of the Provost, with Prof. Kathleen Donohue (Biology) serving as lead faculty PI. In Summer 2022, UDF will sponsor a Story+ project with the goal of creating a digital companion to the outdoors exhibit at Robeson Mill.