In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, David Cole explores the tensions between secrecy and democracy. Current practices of secrecy, he argues, have been promoted by both the rise of terrorism and previously unimaginable technological advances, but their implications for democracy may be drastic as we surrender or are forced to give up various freedoms. At the same time, the revelations of Edward Snowden indicate the strange choreography between secrecy and publicity in our contemporary world. Never in the history of human kind has more information—much of it trivial, some of it lethal—flowed in so many instantaneous circuits around the planet. Events which are by definition obscene, involving extraordinary depravity, are instantly uploaded for publicity to YouTube. What, at this point, is secret, what is private, what is public, what is secure? Just how much is open to scrutiny, either by the powers that be, or of the powers that be? How is publicity used and abused by organizations which, by definition, are also secret? Security, whether public or private, is at stake in so many forms, and from so many different directions. It may be for the sake of public security that private security has become completely vulnerable. Indeed, it may no longer be clear exactly what privacy is.
Secrecy, publicity, privacy, security: in taking on these terms for its 2015-16 Faculty Seminar, ISI is drawn to a quadrant of concerns that may be read in various combinations and various ways. In this, we are of course engaged with the present, from issues of surveillance and the dark rooms of power, to practices of unmasking its operations. But we are also interested in these questions across various times, places, disciplines, creative practices, and approaches. How do secrecy, publicity, privacy and security work today, whether in China, Russia, North Korea, the USA? How have they been constructed in the past? Are there anthropologies of secrecy and publicity, of privacy and the inviolable? How do religions work in domains of secret knowledge? The so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the market place, allegedly both private and public at once, may deal in ‘securities’, yet with insecurity as its prevailing currency. Are there ‘secret histories’ (as Procopius’s termed his alternative history of Byzantium) as counterpart to the public versions? If so, how do we find and tell them? Science emerged from the arcane, and is always concerned to reveal the secret laws of nature, but are there still struggles in translating its private languages into public terms? Fiction, art, accounts and narratives of the psyche: how do they deal with epistemologies of the hidden and the ethics of uncovering and revelation? What are the overlaps between science and technology when it comes to security, either public or private?
It may in the end be that our key terms do not involve easy distinctions, but instead are always linked in a strange and inevitable nexus. How do we go about decoding a world which, in some sense, bears its codes on its sleeve? Whatever your approach, whatever your field, we invite you to join a gathering of colleagues who will explore these and many other issues in the setting of the ISI Faculty Seminar of 2015-16.
The Interdisciplinary Studies Institute is a faculty forum for discussion and engagement across the disciplines. Each year the focal point of our activity is a seminar organized around a specific topic. 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, March 2, 2015.
For more information on the seminar or ISI, please contact the Director, Stephen Clingman, at email@example.com. 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, with additional funding from the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
Interdisciplinary Studies Institute: Director and Board Members
- Stephen Clingman, ISI Director, Department of English
- Lee Badgett, Center for Public Policy and Administration
- Janice Irvine, Department of Sociology
- Lisa Henderson, Department of Communication
- John Kingston, Department of Linguistics
- Randall Knoper, Department of English
- Kathleen Lugosch, Department of Architecture
- Robert Paynter, Department of Anthropology
- Banu Subramaniam, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies