Theory

New “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” syllabus.

Last summer I posted a syllabus for a new course that I was teaching in fall 2012, “Foundations of Global Studies Theory.” I really enjoyed the class overall, but having taught it once I’ve made some revisions. Here are some of the main changes that I’ve made, with the reasons why, and the syllabus for the new quarter: …

The Strange Life and Death of Walter Benjamin

“Books” by Healing Dream at freedigitalphotos.net

Last week in my “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” class I discussed Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School. Of course, this meant discussing Walter Benjamin, an eclectic yet influential theorist. Benjamin was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany in 1882. He was horrified by World War One, and left the country to study in Switzerland, where he received his doctorate from the University of Bern in 1919. He had difficulty finding an academic job after he returned to Germany, but he continued to write in a wide range of fields, including art, translation, poetry, history and literature.  He also considered himself to be a psychonaut, and carried out extensive experimentation with hashish and morphine. Given his background as a failed academic, he might have appeared unlikely to become an influential figure, but his critical ideals in the humanities, and skeptical vision of modernity, led him to become important not only in literary criticism but also Critical Theory. …

Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies: Exam Questions

I am teaching a class “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” this quarter. It’s a challenging course for the students, and my class is currently wrestling with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s book, Provincializing Europe. I’ve chosen the book so that students think about such questions as: How do we understand modernity in a non-Western context? How applicable are social science theories developed in Europe or North America to other world regions? To what extent do Western social sciences implicitly accept models based on historicism, in which other cultures and societies are expected to pass through the same stages as Europe? What is the meaning of modernity? How do the social sciences approach the study of religion? Next quarter I am teaching the same class, but plan to use Edward Said’s Orientalism, which I think most students will find to be a more accessible text. Still, I think that Chakrabarty is a key text to any conversation about the meaning of modernity. …

Syllabus for “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies”

I am writing this from Oaxaca, Mexico, a beautiful colonial center in southern Mexico. Because of Oaxaca’s altitude, it’s never too hot here, it’s far from the drug violence in the north, and it’s known for outstanding archeological sites (including Monte Alban, Mitla and the lesser-known Yagul). While my wife does fieldwork on Pentecostal healing, with endless church services and interviews, I am sampling the cuisine, bookstores, and pool. I’m also planning for my fall quarter, when I will be teaching a course, “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies,” for the first time. …

Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa

I am teaching a new course “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” so I am reading broadly right now, particularly in the area of postcolonialism and critical theory. One of the best books that I have read has been Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa, which argues that the roots of French postcolonialism lie in that nation’s long and tortured history in Algeria. He makes the argument by tracing the lives of key thinkers -Camus, Sartre, Cixous, Lyotard, Fanon, Derrida and Bourdieau- to show how their Algerian experience shaped their writings. In Algeria, the key question that people faced was “What is my identity?” Europeans from many nations adopted a persona of being more French than the French, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arab population. But this identity was contingent. For example, Algeria’s Jews first received citizenship, then lost it under Vichy France, and did not have it reinstated until six months after the war. This context shaped, for example, the experience of Helene Cixous, the famous feminist scholar. As the war forced people to take sides and decide on their identity -did they really belong in their homeland?- multiple academics experienced exile. …

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