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Confronting Fundamental Problems of the Human Condition and Pressing Problems of the Day… by any means necessary

Four years of Public Seminar

Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that four years ago I posted this:

“Aron Hsiao and Naomi Goldfarb have been working intensively to develop and design a new blog for The New School for Social Research, while I have been working with my colleagues to create a place where the New School’s distinctive intellectual culture can be pushed forward. We went live yesterday. Still have much to do. We are reaching out to our friends, colleagues, alumni and students to create a new sort of seminar, of the 21st century. Looking for ideas, contributors, comments, suggestions, this is PS 1.0.”

Aron has since finished his brilliant dissertation on “the social interface,” in which he explores the contribution of the interactionist sociology of Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman to the development of artificial intelligence. And the design and development of Public Seminar are no longer a family affair. There was a time that PS was produced in our house; all posts were edited in my study, and designed, prepared and posted in Naomi’s studio, with editorial meetings around our kitchen table.

Now many fine colleagues have joined the project, as we had hoped would happen. Their creative imagination, experience, scholarship and commitment have made it what it is today and what it promises to be tomorrow. Claire Potter and I oversee the operations in adjoining offices, across from The New School Publishing Initiative hub, where our editors work and meet making Public Seminar everyday. Here we also are planning its future.

A key to the future is the curated verticals, platforms within the overall platform: “Fascism: Old and New,” edited by Chiara Bottici along with Federico Finchelstein, Judith Butler and Lucas Ballestin, is fully functioning, as are “Power and Crisis” edited by Isaac Ariail Reed and Michael Weinman, along with Colin Laidley, and “The Radical Imagination” edited by Bottici and Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou, working with Ballestin. “Liberal Democracy in Question,” developing out of our special features on the election and its aftermath in which Jeffrey C. Isaac played a leading role, is well on its way.  Isaac along with Deva Woodly and Rafael Khachaturian will be curating a series of new posts building upon the forum he initiated on illiberal democracy. Woodly and Chris Harris are beginning our new vertical “Race/isms.”  They are identifying a group of colleagues to join them as editors and contributors. And we are forming as well verticals on sex and gender, media, capitalism, and art and design, building upon the dozens of contributions we have had in each of these areas. The verticals will provide the backbone of Public Seminar, as we continue to mature and improvise.

We have plans to start publishing books. We will collaborate with other sites and publishing venues. Our review section will be re-launched by long time contributor Vince Carducci, along with others. We will both continue to publish book reviews regularly and to publish excerpts of books we identify as important; often it will be excerpts from books we review. We would like to do this as well with works of music and art. Our collaboration with the podcast Past Present will be be more fully realized, and we are planning our own podcasting series. We are now working on re-designing the site so that all of this is visible, accessible and easily navigated.

It’s a long way from my kitchen table.

But as I look forward, I also look back. I published my own first piece and the work of close colleagues and former students four years ago. In the years since many others have joined the circle and the circles of other contributors have also taken part. I note the consistency of the project as it was defined by its very first posts: Carducci on The Aesthetics of Civil Society, Siobhan Kattago on European Memory versus European History, Robin Wagner Pacifici on innovation overload, Andrew Arato on constitutional change in Turkey, and Richard Bernstein on thought defying evil.

My Public Seminar debut was on what I called “the Bauman affair,” warning of a clear and present danger to Polish democracy and academic freedom, which sadly has been confirmed with a vengeance in recent months.

The pieces we published the first weeks defined the mission of Public Seminar, and we have worked to continue the project each week since. This week with a series of illuminating pieces, by Vladimir Pinheiro Safatle, Jamieson Webster, and Jay M. Bernstein, accounting for the new authoritarianism of Donald Trump drawn from the classic work of Sigmund Freud and Theodor Adorno; a moving photo essay of marches in Washington, powerfully asserting that black women lives matter, by the activist icon Jo FreemanClaire Potter’s intriguing account of her development of her course on incarceration; Carol Wilder’s poignant critical reflections on the killing at Kent State on May 4, 1970, and their personal and political implications; and an elegant Gidest video, a portrait of Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha and their critical understanding of wetness.

Next year, we will have our fifth anniversary celebration. As we have expanded the circle of contributors much more widely, only a small fraction of the visitors to PS is now from New York, and half is from outside the United States. Yet, I tend to think that the contributors and visitors together make up a kind of virtual New School for Social Research empowered by the central PS mission: “Confronting fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary.”

Jeffrey Goldfarb

  • Ali Shames-Dawson

    Definitely makes me proud to reflect, through your eyes, on the growth of this project. I am very grateful for my own involvement with PS, and it feels pretty awesome indeed to have witnessed a major leap forward from germ to a flourishing project.

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