Faculty Working Groups

Reckoning and Justice: Historical Memory, the Arts, and Commemoration

The things we debate and create to remember and contest histories of systemic violence and terror spill out into classrooms, city centers, and out-of-the-way riverbanks. They also inform how we choose to re-present and memorialize military conflicts, atrocities, and freedom struggles at concentration and slave-labor camps, on marked or unmarked battlegrounds, at sites of conscience, in museums, and on walking tours. What language/s do we speak to commemorate, as well as what word-choices within these languages do we select?

Taking the struggles against white supremacy in the U.S. South and anti-Semitism in Germany as points of departure, this working group will explore how and why artists, writers, filmmakers, curators, and public historians commemorate or decide to keep silent about aspects of our collective past. In our meetings, we will examine the impact of commemoration on present-day policies and cultural debates in the United States and Germany over the last two decades.

Some of the priorities of our working group will include:

  • Sensory histories of commemorative culture and practice;
  • Public art, debates on place names, commemorative cultures, including architecture, public lectures, radio recordings, television broadcasts, dance, painting, photography, documentary art forms, and tourism;
  • Race, gender, and sexuality; disability; postcolonial and decolonial discourses; environmental justice movements;
  • Storytelling across media and approaches to teaching commemorative culture;
  • Participatory critical social practice that includes visual artists, business owners, musicians, poets, politicians, religious leaders, urban planners, community historians and memory keepers, and other community leaders.

Conveners: Wesley Hogan and Vance Byrd

Minor Aesthetics

The Minor Aesthetics Working Group creates a space of provocation. We begin with the premise that artistic interventions via the sonic, visual, and tactile hold potential for deeper attention to the unseen, inaudible, disavowed registers of racialized queer life.

Throughout 2022, we seek to forge an intellectual hub for invited artists and scholars from the humanities and interpretive social sciences working at the nexus between aesthetic inquiry, queer studies, and the Asian diaspora. We gather in multiple venues— seminars, performances, a roundtable, an online exhibition—to experiment with how the aesthetic helps us to sense and reconfigure the dialectical tensions joining minoritarian life to historical and ontological violence.

Thinking with the affordances of different methodologies, the conveners call forth an aesthetics-as-ethics, a praxis of liberation from the vantage point of art. Insofar as Minor Aesthetics highlights innovations in style and poetics, we are ultimately invested in, on the one hand, sketching the corporeal ways of registering empire’s circumscription of minoritarian life, and on the other, illuminating performance’s potential to bust open precisely that imperial dislocation while heralding in More Life.

Conveners: Anna Storti and Yun Emily Wang

Carceral Imaginary

The Carceral Imaginary Working Group at FHI is centered around the co-directors’ prison-based fieldwork projects, our teaching in university and in prison settings, and public programming which challenges academic and public audiences to grapple with issues related to incarceration – globally, nationally, and locally. Together we are thinking through the meaning of “incarceration,” “freedom,” and “hope” in a carceral context, and bringing artists, writers, NGO actors, state officials, and ethicists into those conversations to offer additional insights into prison and post-prison experiences.

To productively question the meaning of incarceration, the metaphoric location of the working group will be in the in-between spaces of “free” society and an “incarcerated” one. The working group investigates the spatial, geographical, experiential, and temporal boundaries of incarceration, prison-specific and beyond. It also explores how carceral sites produce semblances of the everyday, the natural and the homeland, how they evoke the surreal and extraordinary, and envision the future. As such, the Lab creates forums for conversation, for curating photography and other-media exhibits, and for hosting public performances.

Research sites include Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; Manus Island, Papua New Guinea; the state of Maharashtra in India; and Butner, North Carolina in the United States.

Conveners: Negar Mottahedeh, Leela Prasad, and Christopher Sims

Postdoc Working Groups

Art and the (De)Colonial Garden

This working group explores art preoccupied with soil and botanical life. Through interdisciplinary collaborations, it locates and theorizes representational strategies for cultivating new modalities of connection and belonging within established discourses of place, nation, homeland, and identity. The group seeks to unearth colonial histories of concepts that mediate human relationships to landscapes, from aesthetic modes (like pastoral and georgic) to the categories of settler agriculture (such as garden, farm, and wilderness). It considers the entanglement of state violence and global capitalism’s war against the earth, and it seeks out voices that articulate the animacy and sacredness of the earth in the face of extractive violence. Intersecting literary studies, soil science, area studies, and cultural anthropology, the group gleans, disseminates, and holds space for expressive modalities through which an anti-colonial university might emerge.

Convener: Sharon Kunde

Embodied Pedagogies

The working group will ask how diverse fields such as the performing arts, memory studies, disability studies, space studies, ethnic studies, and STEM etc. and issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, can inform our pedagogical practices on and offline? The main goal of the working group is to advocate for kinesthetic knowledge in physical and virtual classes at Duke and beyond, and for educators from diverse disciplines to learn and practice different embodied teaching tools.

For the first phase of this project, we will learn from six invited speakers from diverse backgrounds and different scholarships during our workshop series which will run from March to May. Scholars and educators will discuss their experience implementing embodied pedagogies on and offline and share tools and resources for our group to build on. The future phases of this group will consist of surveying the state of embodied pedagogies at Duke and creating and lobbying for embodied pedagogies curricula and trainings.

Convener: Maïko Le Lay

Emotion and Affect in the Digital Space

How might an ethnography of the digital, as an external space of embodiment, complicate our understandings of how people come to interact with various nexuses of spaces? How is embodiment within an analog setting different from that of a digital one? How does COVID-19 energize digital spaces and the digital humanities as a whole?

This working group takes up the above questions of embodiment and virtual intimacies while also contending with existing tensions in affect and emotion studies. Scholars invested in affect/emotion, the body, sound, ethnography, and digital connectivity would contribute and benefit from the discussions that will take place, as well as thinkers grappling with abstracted field sites and the challenge of paying attention to the senses and interaction during this age of social distancing. Ultimately, this working group is a place where discourse takes place but could also be where new scholarship is produced or curated. The texts we will be considering and analyzing will go beyond the written word. The body of work we will be discussing will draw on studies of emotion and affect, Black digital humanistic discourse, as well as information technology studies.

Readings may include:

  • Virtual Intimacies by Shaka McGlotten (2013)
  • The Cultural Politics of Emotion by Sarah Ahmed (2004)
  • “Digital Epidermalization: Race, Identity, and Biometrics” by Simone Browne (2010)
  • Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin (2019)
  • “Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” by Jessica Johnson
  • Distributed Blackness by Andre Brock Jr. 

This working group will serve as a collaborative space amongst graduate students, junior faculty, and senior faculty, and is open to curious scholars at neighboring universities. We will meet monthly (virtually) for two hours on the second Wednesday of each month.

Convener: Sarah Bruno