Global activism continues to focus on old but pressing problems: the environment, food, land use, and human use of animals. Activists face moving targets, however. Technological changes have increased crop yields. It is possible to manipulate the genetic material of both plants and animals. Global climate change alters the stakes for our choices about land use, and we have discovered new ways to pollute the environment. In the context of rapid technological change, determining the proper balance and distribution of costs and benefits -- relearning how to work toward global justice -- is an ongoing challenge.
At the same time, activists have new tools at their disposal. The World Wide Web is only 20 years old. Social networking, crowdsourcing, and hacktivism are even younger. Some groups, like Wikileaks and Anonymous, see the new tools as forces to be harnessed in the service of global justice -- and especially in the service of exposing the misdeeds of the powerful.
The new tools of the internet age are themselves both sources of hope and objects of concern. The One Laptop Per Child project uses computers raise the standard of living outside the industrialized world. The Free Software movement insists that choices about what software we use have dramatic implications for our most basic freedoms. Wikileaks and Anonymous of course have their critics, and some worry that Google and Facebook will put an end to privacy.
In this seminar we will discuss some of the fundamental problems tackled by activists, from what is on your plate and what is in your Diet Coke to what is on your computer's hard drive. We will consider justifications for, and criticisms of, the power structures that determine how we live. We will explore the tactics that some activists use to subvert these power structures.
Faculty Members teaching this year's Humanities Super Seminar:
Professor of English, Hugh Jenkins specializes in seventeenth-century literature, especially Shakespeare, Jonson, and Milton; political radicalism, then and now; eighteenth-century novel; early American literature; rhetoric; mandolins; "The Simpsons"; and the Arsenal Football Club.
Anastasia Pease teaches Russian and American literature. Her teaching and research interests include Literature and Science, Ethics and Bioethics, Poetry, 19th- and 20th-Century Russian Literature, Science Fiction, second language pedagogy, cognitive science.
Mark Wunderlich joins us from the Department of Philosophy. He works mostly in epistemology and connections between epistemology and ethics. He was once a competitive debater, and he coaches the Ethics Bowl team. He takes guilty pleasure in tinkering with computers; he also enjoys exercise, Gilbert and Sullivan, and movies (from the Marx Brothers to Sergio Leone).
Humanities Super Seminar Speakers
(all events are open and free to the public)
HOWARD JAMES KUNSTLER AND DUNCAN CRARY
~ A Live Recorded Podcast Conversation
April 17th, 2012, 1:55-3:40PM Beuth House
For the live podcast, go to Duncan Crary's Webpage: http://kunstlercast.com/shows/kunstlercast-202-live-audience.html
You can download the first part of the podcast using this link:
You can play it in your browser window using the player below.
Former Director of Greek Affairs at Union College
Tuesday, April 24th, from 1:55pm - 3:40pm, in the Humanities Building 115
Title of Talk: Hell no! We won't go! - Patriots, Punks, and Philosophers.
Body Hacker and Anonymous Activist
Tuesday, May15th, from 5:00pm-6:00pm in WOLD 010 (Kelly Computing Lab)
Title of Talk: Hacking Dissent: Digital Disobedience from Etoy to Anonymous
Student Reactions to the Humanities Super Seminar:
“I believe humanities as a whole thrives off of speculation and critical analyses that obtain qualitative information, as opposed to empirical studies that present data in clean-cut, scientific form. What is gained from these qualitative approaches is a feeling of connection and trust between individuals. Numbers are telling, but stories are meaningful. I feel as though global activism makes its largest strides through qualitative methods. The most persuasive messages come from the heart and move people. When numbers are used there is a loss of human touch, as opposed to passion, which lies within people’s stories and struggles along their journey. This class touched on different areas of humanities, but strongly honed in on the importance of language and culture to facilitate activism. As activists, we are the people who will make change. We have the ability to join together and make a difference. From ancient methods of Plato and Aristotle, to grass-root campaigns, and all the way to cyber activism we have the power to influence others for a better life. Not to just raise awareness, but to end a status quo. As college students, we are the future, and we have the ability to make a change wherever it may be needed. This class has focused in on the advantages of these different global activist techniques, and their connection to the human condition makes for an extremely interesting perspective.”
~ Dylan Katz-Wicks
“The Global Activism course truly encompassed the liberal arts education experience. In one course, we were able to explore various areas within the humanities umbrella. Each section provided a unique perspective and learning experience. From exploring literature, philosophy, and current history my knowledge greatly expanded in multiple areas of study. In regards to global activism, it is important to understand how to develop an argument and present it effectively to an audience of future supporters. Occupy Wold successfully showcased how we were able to utilize our knowledge from the course to be activists.
However, this knowledge was the result of a gradual learning process. Discussions from the first day compared to the last day of class showcased two very different groups of students. Professor Jenkins immediately pushed our comfort zone and encouraged feverish debate. Originally the class rhetoric was defensive and close-minded. Nonetheless, it eventually evolved into intelligent, thoughtful criticism. Professor Wunderlich’s section tested the class again when we each researched cases of civil disobedience. Our philosophical perspectives were constantly tested, which forced us to become more self-critical, aware, and articulate. Lastly, Professor Pease’s segment allowed us to explore current examples of protest worldwide. By examining activist movements, we learned techniques for how to showcase our own activism.
Each section pushed us to think critically, analytically and creatively. Learning from professors with different backgrounds allowed for a variety of class discussion and personal exploration. This was a truly enlightening experience. I feel that my understanding of global activism is much stronger because I can identify my learning with literature, philosophy and history, a true humanities experience.”
~ Olivia O’Malley
I truly believe that incorporating the humanities into our learning of global activism has encouraged us to uncover the many aspects of our culture that activism actually affects. Rather than just understanding the basic knowledge of activism, we were able to deeper analyze it through philosophy, the study of literature, modern-day issues, and becoming activists ourselves. The way in which we have explored global activism in our class has given us a new understanding as to how global activism has affected our generations and many generations before us. In addition, our exploration of the effects of social media has made us realize just how much power we can have at the tip of our fingers. Our class has proven that this power and determination can be the catalysts to help us create change in the world.”
~ Deborah Kim Grinhaus
“Global Activism: Hacking, Leaking, and Whistleblowing” was an excellent introduction to, and exploration of, the world of activism. The fact that the course was humanities-based was integral to this excellence. Before this class, activism never really interested me. I understood that activism was important and could be influential in important political and administrative venues. However, the masses of poster wielding, mask wearing activists appeared to me as nothing more than a large, human blow horn. They wanted something, and they were going to make sure that everyone knew what they wanted.
The humanities oriented approach of this class revealed to me the complexity associated with any form of activism. One of our first lessons concerned the importance of defining terms, and how these definitions can often carry the weight of a particular cause. This discussion was followed by an emphasis on the importance of rhetoric and the power of words. We then went on to discuss ethics, morality, and the role that new media plays when combined with certain activist efforts. All of these concepts are rooted in the humanities, and the discussion of these concepts gave me a deeper and more intuitive understanding of activism in general. I no longer see a human blow horn. Instead, I see a gathering of like-minded individuals using their intellectual prowess and efforts to make something (they believe) fundamentally better. Activists seek to change reality, and activism is the application of skills and abilities to manifest that change.”
~ Samuel Williams
“The humanities based perspective of this class helped my understanding of Global Activism by allowing me to think critically about how people go about being activists. Activists’ methods are critical to their cause and different methods will incite different reactions. The humanities perspective has allowed me to analyze reactions such as collective punishment and individual punishment and their social and political ramifications. Furthermore, the humanities perspective provided an opportunity for me to learn about the ethics of the different methods of activism as well as their reactions. I was also challenged to think about why one might become an activist for a certain cause and why they believe they can make a difference when most simply view them as crazy. The class also allowed me to discover the different mediums, such as books, podcasts and the Internet, that activists use and more importantly how they network and utilize those mediums.”
~ Evan Leibowitz