Calling all philosophers who do publicly engaged work. The Public Philosophy Network’s second conference on Advancing Public Philosophy is scheduled for March 14-16, 2013, right here at Emory University. Here’s the call for proposals:
The Public Philosophy Network invites proposals for its second conference on Advancing Publicly Philosophy. The conference will include a mix of workshops, panels, papers and informal sessions on various issues in public philosophy, including discussions of larger philosophical questions about how to engage in philosophical activity outside the academy and on concrete projects and political problems as well.
We invite proposals that cover topics related to understanding and advancing public philosophy, including the following:
- philosophical work that engages various publics through research or social action projects;
- philosophical work on substantive policy issues (for example, climate change, gay marriage, housing policy, fiscal policy, welfare, public health, among many others) with attention to public effects of this work;
- skills needed to engage in public work (such as how to do collaborative work or use social media);
- practical matters and best practices in public philosophy (for example, tenure hurdles for publicly engaged work, outreach programs in prisons, sources, methods and strategies for attaining funding, etc.); and / or
- reflections on how the philosophy is transformed by turning outward; how does public engagement inform philosophical concepts and understanding or alter disciplinary boundaries?
Proposals should specify the format: workshop, paper, or organized panel.
Workshops. Proposals should include a workshop title and descriptions of the organizer(s)’ interest and experience with the subject matter and how the topic is of concern to philosophy or public life. Proposals should also include an overview of how the three-hour workshop will proceed, highlighting how it will be participatory and indicating any non-academic participants you might invite. We anticipate that workshops will take different formats, depending on the issues being addressed and the number and type of participants. The goals of these sessions are to foster partnerships and projects, whether new or ongoing, and, where appropriate, to spark substantive dialogue between philosophers and “practitioners” (public policy makers, government officials, grassroots activists, nonprofit leaders, etc.). A second call will be issued later in the year inviting people to apply to participate in the workshop. (Workshop organizers should help publicize this second call.) We will limit each workshop to about 20 participants. Those who are accepted in time will be listed on the program as discussants, though they will not be expected to make any formal presentation.
Papers. We are especially interested in papers that report on public philosophy projects or reflect on the practice of public philosophy. Proposal should include the title and a brief description of the paper. Proposals for individual papers should be prepared for 30 minutes of presentation and discussion time. Accepted proposals will be grouped into sessions. Papers may be presented in any style, from reading whole or sections of papers to more conversation based to powerpoint slides and multimedia.
Organized Panels. We invite proposals for panels on any number of themes: Book sessions, philosophical issues in public philosophy, or policy problems and how philosophers have or may engage them. These sessions could include a traditional set of three papers followed by discussion or more informal brief panelist remarks followed by interactive discussion among panelists and the audience. Proposals should include names and affiliations of proposed panelists, the proposed format, and an abstract of the topic to be addressed.
All meeting space will have Wi-Fi; a screen and projector will be available for those who need it. Please submit proposals on topics like those described above (350-500 words) by August 1, 2012 via
A notification on accepted workshops, papers, and panels will be sent by September 1, 2012.
Please notify us if you require accommodation for disability.
Conference Steering Committee
Noelle McAfee, Emory University (chair)
Adam Briggle, University of North Texas
Robert Kirkman, Georgia Institute of Technology
Andrew Light, George Mason University & Center for American Progress
Sarah Clark Miller, University of Memphis & Pennsylvania State University
Kyle Powys Whyte, Michigan State University
One of my most instructive teachers, one I’ve been quoting for 30 years, one who I met in words but never in person, just left this world. In my 20s Adrienne Rich taught me about how to submerge myself in poetry, to dive into the wreck, to stare in wonder at it, and to think twice or more times about oneself. Her essay on compulsory heterosexuality was one of those illuminating moments. I liked her essays. I loved her poetry, though sometimes I was a bit put off by its polemic. Do art and overt politics mix well? Is Guernica, for example, as political art, something that calls out the horror, not the wonder, of life?
So, yeah, I found myself putting up with her political messaging through poetry, but I was compelled nonetheless. As someone who spends a good deal of my life writing, her words from her poem “North American Time” (in Your Native Land, Your Life) regularly haunt me. Stanza II,
Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love
but also did not want to kill
We move but our words stand
for more than we intended
and this is verbal privilege
Rich is writing about a level of responsibility that is beyond what is usually expected. The usual complaint is “how did I know what someone else would do with my words?” One’s responsibility is to anticipate it. That’s the kind of responsibility that runs through Adrienne Rich’s work and this very poem. Stanza V:
Suppose you want to write
of a woman braiding
another woman’s hair —
straight down, or with beads and shells
in three-strand plaits or corn-rows —
you had better know the thickness
the length the pattern
why she decides to braid her hair
how it is done to her
what country it happens in
what else happens in that country
You have to know these things
All these lines come to me unbidden all the time. Wherever I am inquiring, especially into new areas where I might not know much, I have to learn the context and situation deeply. I can’t just drop in to some scene and start philosophizing without any sincere curiosity and concern about what is going on. I need to know these things.
I’m gearing up to teach a graduate seminar on Hannah Arendt next fall, which involves the lovely task of collecting, re-reading, and sometimes reading for the first time a wonderful assortment of books, all arrayed on my desk, including, by Arendt: The Origins of Totalitarianism, Between Past and Future, On Revolution, On Violence, Eichman in Jerusalem, Men in Dark Times, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Crises of the Republic, The Life of the Mind, The Human Condition, and the newly published, The Promise of Politics. Books about Arendt are many. I reviewed a few of them for Hypatia (vol. 19, Fall 2004) several years ago. (As an aside, it’s fascinating how people from radically different points of view — agonistic, civic republican, discourse theoretic — appropriate her work and consider it an ally.) And then there are collections of essays devoted to her work: Hannah Arendt: the recovery of the public world, The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, Politics in Dark Times. Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions!
Reading Ian McEwan’s piece in the New York Times on the passing of his friend Christopher Hitchens, I am transported to a night many years ago when my friend Jonathan Tasini invited me to join him for dinner with Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham and friends one evening in New York. And so we gathered at the famous restaurant, Elaine’s, at a nice round table in the middle of the room: Lewis Lapham, his good friend Christopher Hitchens, “Hitch’s” girlfriend (and subsequent wife) Carol Blue, someone rather pompous from the New York Observer, Jonathan, and me, with Elaine hovering around to check on “Louie.” Clearly she was as delighted to have him and his friends there as we were all delighted to be there. There was much drink, great food, and amazing and rowdy and boisterous conversation. I didn’t know how they could all drink so much and still be so brilliant. The night ended hazily, gray, with us all reluctantly leaving the warm restaurant for cold streets and taxis home. But the warmth of that night will never leave me.
The restaurant Elaine’s closed its doors last May, and now Hitch has taken leave of us too. If there’s a heaven and he finds himself in it, I’m sure he’ll be really pissed. Brilliant man, Mr. Hitchens, I miss you already.
I am coming to see that Marshall McLuhan’s mantra, “the medium is the message,” is true today in a whole new way. In his day, the mass medium showed the world as a global village that one could only watch. Big broadcasting nailed home the message that people are passive bystanders and that the only action that could change that was mass action that might or not be picked up by mass media.
The first generation of the Internet did little to change that. There was more opportunity and ways for individual one-to-one communication (email) or one-to-many communication (corporate web sites) but only e-mail listserves allowed for many-to-many communication, but only for the group subscribed.
Beginning in about 2005, Web 2.0 — with social media software as well as software for blogging and creative production (music, art, magazines) — exponentially increased space for many-to-many communication. It also brought new conceptions of production and action. Anyone could be a producer; no intermediary stood in the way (unless your web site gets hacked or blocked). The new norm is that anyone can initiate action.
That translates into a different conception of citizenship, civic agency that doesn’t have to wait on authority, whether the authority of a group’s elected officials or the authority of a vetter. This morning’s NYT’s piece on the new “literary cubs” perfectly illustrates this phenomenon. Rebuffed or turned off by the literary establishment, they started their own venue, offline and online, creating a space for their own work and a new audience for it. The Occupy Movement has worked along the same lines with activists acting on their own authority to take over a park or block a government building.
The key thing here is they act on their own authority, much as the real meaning of citizenship conveys: a citizen is someone who can call a meeting. If you have to ask for permission, you’re not a citizen.
Many in my generation just don’t get this. They still have libidinal relationships with their leaders (see Vamik Volkan’s Bloodlines), whether love or hate, and seem to think that any independent action is a political rebuke. In a way, it is. But it’s not a rebuke of the legitimacy of leaders; it’s a rebuke of the idea that members, citizens, people should wait for permission to act.
Many in my generation criticized the Occupy Movement for not having a plan, a list of demands, more central lines of authority, as if the power of the movement is the power to push back. They miss the power of collective action to create a space of appearance, a “who” that is we imbued with the message that we can act.
You’d think that by now philosophy conference organizers would stop and think — if all my keynoters are white men, might there be a wee bit of a problem?
I have to think about this all the time as associate editor of the Kettering Review. We put together issues by topic and include pieces ancient and contemporary, some reprinted, others published first by us. Often the first pieces that come to our attention are written by those who have had easier access to the world of letters, generally men of European ancestry. But any one of our issues is always much stronger for seeking out the pieces written by people from the rest of the planet.
So, kudos to the Feminist Philosophers’ Gendered Conference Campaign for keeping us appraised of all those oblivious ones who keep churning out conferences featuring men only.
Begining this summer, I am on this committee, the APA Commitee on the status and future of the proffssion, effective July 2012. I am now trying to discern what this commitee has done over the years and what good it needs to do in the immediate future. Please le me me know your ideas and concerns.
I see that Brian Leiter has posted a preview of the five 20th century continental programs that his reviewers like best, certainly all fine programs: Columbia University; Georgetown University; University of California, Riverside; University of Chicago; and University of Notre Dame. I wasn’t surprised by the absence of “spep-ish” departments, as the bleiterites are wont to put it, for it is rare that a “spep-ish” continental philosopher serves as an evaluator. (Never mind that the big tent called the Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy is the second largest philosophical society in North America, next to the American Philosophical Association, and, I would hazard, the largest continental philosophy society in the world. So to call a program with strengths in continental philosophy “spep-ish” is like calling any program in philosophy “apa-ish” – it’s practically trivial.)
(Also, I am not at all surprised by the omission of the Emory University program for we simply do not participate in the rankings.)
I have long argued that the fatal flaw of these reports is that the evaluators do not represent a cross-section of the field. So, to try to make this point a bit more pointedly, take a look at the names of the 24 evaluators for 20th Century Continental Philosophy programs:
James Bohman, Steven Crowell, Maudemarie Clark, David Dudrick, Gordon Finlayson, Max de Gaynesford, Charles Guignon, Gary Gutting, Beatrice Han-Pile, Scott Jenkins, Pierre Keller, Michelle Kosch, Brian Leiter, Dean Moyar, Stephen Mulhall, Brian O’Connor, Peter Poellner, Bernard Reginster, Michael Rosen, Joseph Schear, Iain Thomson, Georgia Warnke, Mark Wrathall, Julian Young.
This is a great group, including many I personally know and admire. But let me explain how it does not at all represent a cross-section of philosophers doing work in 20th Century Continental Philosophy. I took a couple hours this evening to consult the websites and phil papers sites, etc. of members of this group, and made notes of what areas they worked in — in their own words.
Only three-quarters specialize in any area of 20th Century Continental Philosophy. (Unless I am mistaken, Maudemarie Clark, Max de Gaynesford, Scott Jenkins, Michelle Kosch, Brian Leiter, and Dean Moyar have specialties elsewhere, but not here.)
There is a solid group doing work in existentialism, phenomenology, and critical theory, but only four of the 24 specialize in post-1968 French philosophy. Of those four, only two of the 24 evaluators (Stephen Crowell and Charles Guignon) profess to have any expertise on any of the major thinkers of French poststructuralism after Foucault.
Nietzsche scholars were very well represented (nine of 24), including many who have been published by or with the author of the reports.
So for students interested in the full range of important work in 20th Century Continental Philosophy, especially work post-1968, I encourage a trip to the library, not to the PGR.
As i’ve posted before, the website inviting people to report what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy is a huge gift. In many places, apparently, it sucks. I gather especially in those “Leiterrific” departments that see themselves as doing hard core philosophy. Hmmmm.
I know it can be awful, intimidating, and all that. But I dare say than anyone complaining on the “what it’s like” blog also needs to be complaining to your university ombudsman and the local police. If you are too afraid to rock the boat for your own career, then you are, I fear, part of the problem.
[This post has been slightly edited in light of anon grad student's comment below.]
I am only now catching my breath — in between teaching and before I head off to my next conference — to stop and reflect on the Public Philosophy Network’s first conference. Never mind the bias that I was a co-chair. I just helped throw the party. But the party glittered because of everyone who really helped create it. It was fabulous, with participants ranging from graduate students doing amazing public philosophy work via youtube (e.g Cori Wong) and in poetry slams in NYC (Travis Holloway) to renowned philosophers working on climate change and poverty (Thomas Pogge and Henry Shue) as well as journalists E.J. Dionne and Hannah Rosen, political theorists Bill Galston and Mark Sagoff, Penn State’s Anita Allen, and more than a hundred other amazing people.
Here are some of my notes, which I also posted here.
We had roughly 150 people registered and, in the midst of the conference, reached a milestone of having 500 members in the network.
The most exciting thing about the conference was its participatory nature, with one full day of collaborative workshops followed by another day of interactive panel sessions. On the workshop day, I attended Vance Rick’s and Mark Fisher’s workshop on social media and ethics. It was lively, especially with lots of great provocations from participants about the need for both walls and bridges in cyberspace and how to maintain both at the same time. In the afternoon I attended Chris Long and Cori Wong’s session on philosophy and the digital public. This session was a little more formal, with both organizers giving short presentations. Both were followed with great conversation. And in the end we tried to create a social media product and learned a lot about the fruits of collaboration.
Altogether there were 15 workshops the first day, and I heard great reports all over. The next morning I facilitated a plenary on the outcomes of that workshop and pushed my own pet concern to interrogate the meaning of “public philosophy.” We heard from people who took part in lots of workshops, including philosophy in the city; collaborative research; academics stand against poverty; and feminist bioethics.
The rest of that second full day was taken up with panels, which, at their best were highly participatory. I really enjoyed the session on “eating in public” put on by an interdisciplinary team at Michigan State University. Actually, this was a presentation of a paper written by four authors. Each took five minutes to explain his or her own aspect, then for the Q&A they turned the table and asked the audience questions. At the end of the day I attended a session organized by Elizabeth Minnich that asked wonderful big questions about what we have all learned from doing this kind of work. The panelists started but then the question went all the way around the room.
In short, this conference modeled a new way of thinking about philosophy. It was not at all an exercise in “applied philosophy.” It was an exploration of engaged philosophy where we could all think about what is public in our work and what being public means for doing philosophy.