ISI Value 2014 - 2015

“Value” is one of our keywords, in one light so simple and clear, yet almost impossible to pin down in its complexity. Its meanings run the gamut from the most measurable and material to the most abstract and ethereal. Yet, has there ever been a society in the world where questions of value, both material and abstract, have not been front and center, both foundation and purpose, assumption and teleology, a matter for dispute, conviction and doubt? Objects have value, human beings have value, numbers have value, colors have value, and so do musical notes. Value denotes deeply considered esteem, or the lightning- fast exchanges of stock prices determined by algorithms. Values are the ultimate principles we will defend, yet because of them we may also go to war—both the most prized and the most destructive. Value easily becomes “family values” or “national values,” or it is where the personal meets the marketplace. “Because I’m worth it,” ran the sentiment of a noted 1980s advertising campaign. Yet after the September 11th attacks, the lives of those who died were set at different rates in the compensation their families were paid. Can “value” mean anything we want it to mean?

For our 2014-15 ISI seminar, we invite participants to explore this theme from the vantage point of different disciplinary and/or creative perspectives. How has value been construed at different points in history, or by different cultures? How has it been construed in philosophy, literature, economics, psychology, journalism, education or science? What assumptions around human subjectivity and collectivity do our notions of value depend on—and vice versa? Why and how do we value the arts, social sciences, or sciences? Are these values undergoing change, and if so why? Where has “value” been a clarion call, where has its history been shadowed by enforcement or disprivilege? Why are we so slack around definitions of something so important to us? How do we balance our various values? How do we estimate the value of the academic environment itself in a setting driven increasingly by the bottom line—yet another definition of value? The concept of value evokes broad theoretical issues as well as specific historical, political, intellectual and creative concerns, and lends itself to fruitful interdisciplinary examination in a variety of settings. Overall, we seek a set of searching and stimulating perspectives that shed light on what value has meant and can come to mean.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute invites you to participate in a year-long contemplation of issues such as these. No matter your field, period, cultural focus, discipline or perspective, we call on colleagues from the humanities and arts to the social sciences and sciences to bring your own inspiration to our theme and tell us how you would like to approach it. We invite you to submit a proposal setting out your particular interests. All fellows will receive a $1500 research allowance.

The proposal should describe in 1-2 pages the nature of your project and how you would present it to the seminar. The proposal should be accompanied by a copy of your c.v. The 8-10 fellows who are selected will meet at regular intervals during the academic year to discuss presentations from each seminar member in turn (each fellow presents only once). Among the obligations of the group will be a capstone event at the end of the year. Meetings are on Fridays at lunch, so you must be free at that time. Proposals should be sent by email to by Friday, March 7th, 2014.

For more information on the seminar or ISI, please contact the Director, Stephen Clingman, at or see our website at Major funding for ISI comes from the Provost, and the Deans of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Interdisciplinary Studies Institute: Director and Board Members

Stephen Clingman, Director, Department of English

Lee Badgett, Center for Public Policy and Administration

Janice Irvine, Department of Sociology

John Kingston, Department of Linguistics

Randall Knoper, Department of English

Kathleen Lugosch, Department of Art, Architecture and Art History (Architecture) Eileen O’Neill, Department of Philosophy

Robert Paynter, Department of Anthropology

Manisha Sinha, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

Banu Subramaniam, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies