(Ir)rationality and Public Discourse

ISHA 2010-2011

We appear to be in an era when rationality and irrationality are at war with one another. Consider the manifestations, from ‘tea party’ rage, to the persistence—if not renaissance—of creationism; from suicide bombing as a form of political language to an insistence that government should keep its hands off the government program of Medicare. There are ‘birthers’ and conspiracy theorists of all descriptions, controversies around the science of global warming, indeed controversies about the nature of science altogether. Bloggers feel entitled to say anything about anything, and what is true may no longer be of interest or value. The US, having bailed out Wall Street, is accused of drifting towards socialism. Certainly there are examples of reasoned argument, in settings ranging from the political to the juridical and beyond. And yet, rationality has its own complicated history: a European enlightenment which tolerated and even propagated slavery; the sciences of past and present regarding race, sexuality and gender, or normal and abnormal behavior. And to take it further: what of the arts, whose deepest inspirations may come when going beyond the ‘rational’? Certain trends in psychology suggest that our ‘reasons’ are prompted in preconscious ways that have very little to do with rationality. Given these challenges, is anything left that one could call ‘rational’? When we seem to need rationality more than ever, are there clear rules for what counts as rational discourse? How is reason constructed? What are its limits? Can reason prevail?


Lee Badgett
Center for Public Policy & Administration; Department of Economics
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Jacqueline Castledine
University Without Walls
"Gender, Jazz, and Justice: The Discourse of Black Liberation"

Sally Galman
Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies
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Janice Irvine
Department of Sociology
"Moral Panics and the Politics of Emotion"

Barbara Krauthame
Department of History
"Runaway Slave Women as Rational, Political Actors in the Antebellum United States"

Kathryn Lachman
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
“Literary Jihad: Islamic Fundamentalism in Contemporary Francophone Writing"

Donna LeCourt
Department of English
"Cyberpublics: Teaching for the Public Sphere" 

Sabina Murray
MFA Program, Department of English
"Researching the Life of Roger Casement"

Asha Nadkarni
Department of English
"Eugenic Feminism: Reproductive Citizenship and National Development in the United States and India"

Daphne Patai
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
"Intellectual Opportunism and the Decline of Reason"