Public Seminar ReviewVolume 1, Issue 2
Second Semester/Summer 2014

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Public Seminar Review: Second Semester and Summer Issue

The second semester of the Public Seminar is over, and the papers are now in, presented in this our second issue. Here you find short and long essays, supplemented by visual presentations around five major themes: Capitalism and its Alternatives, Democracy and its Enemies, Identities, the Arts and Literature, and Media, Memory and Miscellaneous. Note, though, that the pieces in fact address each other between and among these categories, as they consider “fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research,” staying true to the mission statement of Public Seminar, and to the scholarly and public project of our academic home, The New School for Social Research. -Jeffrey Goldfarb

Capitalism and its Alternatives

Top 10 List of Best American Historical Writing

Recently the net has seen various ten best lists of works in American history. I’d like to propose one of my own, but first I want to explain my rationale. American historical writing was transformed in the 1960s by two things: the realization that slavery ...

Autonomous Politics and Liberal Thought-Magic

Anarchism is often dismissed as incoherent, naïve, and ineffective. This is Nancy Fraser’s position in a recent article called "Against Anarchism." Fraser’s criticisms are worth engaging not because they’re particularly perceptive or unique, but because they’re exceedingly common: these are some of the reasons that ...

The Politics of Public Debt

This is the text of the Heuss Lecture (with audio of the Q & A below), delivered as part of the General Seminar series in the Wolff Conference Room of The New School for Social Research at 6 E. 16th. St. in New York on ...

Critical Theory After the Anthropocene

1. One does not have to look far to find intellectuals trained in the humanities, even the social sciences, who feel the need to ‘critique’ the concept of the Anthropocene. Clearly, since we did not invent this concept, it must somehow be lacking! And yet ...

The Women Did It?

We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both ...

Further Reflections on Feminists and the Left

“The Women Did It?” by Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam correctly argues that we need to understand the conflicts and splits of the late nineteen sixties if we are to build a New Left today. Today’s Left is rooted in the decisions and turning points ...

Look Out Kids: On the New and Next Left

Bundled into Eli Zaretsky’s unmistakable claim that second wave feminism was substantially to blame for the undoing of the 60s-era Left is another curious charge: that no American Left exists today, or has for a long time [“Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left”]. ...

John Dewey’s Encounter with Leon Trotsky

This lecture was the keynote address at a conference dedicated to Dewey in Mexico held in Mexico City in 2012. The 1930s was one of the one eventful and productive decades in Dewey’s life. He published more than a half dozen books including Logic: The Theory ...

The Creative Class Rises Again

When first published in 2002, The Rise of the Creative Class quickly established its author Richard Florida as an urban policy and business management guru. The Rise of the Creative Class heralded the emergence of a new class of worker who promised to lead the economy, and along with it the ...

Birth of Thanaticism

I don’t know why we still call it capitalism. It seems to be some sort of failure or blockage of the poetic function of critical thought. Even its adherents have no problem calling it capitalism any more. Its critics seem to be reduced to adding modifiers ...

Shifting Geographies Rather Than Defections

We share Eli Zaretsky’s desire to understand the trajectory of the Left past, present, and future. We disagree with him over the nature of the Left itself and with his account of the dynamics of political change. Where Zaretsky looks to the long duree and ...

What's Left?

Jeremy Varon’s interesting and important response raises three questions: 1) What do we mean by a “Left”? 2) How are we to understand the New Left’s break-up and, specifically the relation of the women’s movement to that break-up and 3) How are we to evaluate ...

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the ...

Capitalism Studies: A Manifesto

It seems odd now to recall that up until a few years ago, the concept of capitalism largely had fallen out of favor as a subject of academic inquiry and critique. Most scholars in the humanities and social sciences regarded the term as too broad, ...

On the Heilbroner Center's Manifesto

In our opinion, the document drafted by Julia Ott and Will Milberg for the new Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies should be the beginning of a debate among NSSR faculty about the Center’s mission rather than a final manifesto. There are many claims ...

Is This Still Capitalism?

Is ‘capitalism’ an adequate term to describe the currently dominant mode of production? I think there would be wide consensus, at least at the New School for Social Research, that it is. But is ‘capitalism’ an adequate description for the leading edge of production? I ...

Ernesto Laclau, 1936-2014

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Ernesto Laclau, the outstanding Argentinean political philosopher, at the age of 78. Ernesto had a heart attack in Seville where he was giving a lecture. He was the author of landmark studies of ...

Has Capitalism Seen Its Day?

There is a widespread sense today that capitalism is in critical condition, and more so than ever since the end of the Second World War. Looking back, the crash of 2008 was only the latest in a long sequence of political and economic disorders that ...

Consumption and the Social Condition

"In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I [Iddo Tavory] have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition — the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account ...

Starbucks Goes to College

I wrote a book about Starbucks a few years ago, so my email started to buzz with Google alerts when the company announced that it would help to provide free education for its employees. The New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Business Week, among ...

The Politics of the Sharing Economy

“As best we can tell, the politics of the venture capital elite boils down to fending off higher taxes, keeping labor costs low and reducing the 'burden' of government regulation. … Silicon Valley could start by putting a stop to pretending that the sharing economy ...

Anarchism and Feminism: Toward a Happy Marriage?

Some have argued that the marriage between Marxism and feminism ended up in an unhappy marriage: by reducing the problem of women’s oppression to the single factor of economic exploitation, Marxism risks dominating feminism precisely in the same way in which men in a patriarchal ...

The Capitalism of Affects

In her groundbreaking book about emotional labor, The Managed Heart, Arlie Russell Hochshild suggests that emotions are not simply stored in us waiting to be expressed: they are also produced and managed. The notion and practice of affects management, both privately and socially, are not ...

Democracy and its Enemies

Hannah Arendt, Constitutionalism and the Problem of Israel/Palestine

The following was the keynote lecture at the XXVII Encuentro Internacional de Ciencias Sociales in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 5, 2013. On October 3, 2013 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that there is no Israeli identity, since there is “objectively” no Israeli ethnicity. The 21 ...

Sweeping the Sand Out of the Desert: From Verwoerd to Prawer

The Prawer-Begin Plan was shelved. But the idea that you can forcefully transfer an indigenous population and determine where it can legally reside -- looks and smells like a plan pulled from the dusty drawer of Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of Apartheid South Africa. And that ...

Ariel Sharon (1928 - 2014)

Ariel Sharon was perhaps the last Israeli soldier-statesman whose life was framed with the Zionist myth of martyrology. Although there surely is no shortage of commanders who are mythical figures and became politicians in contemporary Israel, Sharon joins an exclusive club of those mythic figures ...

EuroMaidan Politics

“The following video contains graphic content, which may be disturbing for some viewers,” says NYTimes.com about a video of the protests in Ukraine. Yes, politics — if by “politics” we do not mean debates of “experts” and TV celebrities who represent political parties — is ...

The Social Condition: Religion and Politics in Israel

Once I commit myself to a new theoretical project, I start realizing how my reading can illuminate it. Sometimes this involves a concerted effort. Thus these days I am re-reading Georg Simmel with an intuition that he can be a key theoretical guide in understanding ...

A Response to Goldfarb’s Review Article on "Theocratic Democracy" by Nachman Ben Yehuda

We all know the problem of the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. I have a similar worry about books like Theocratic Democracy as case studies of Israel. I haven't read the book, to be sure; and I have ...

Brazil, June 2013, Act II

Now that 2013 is over, it seems safe to say that the major event last year in Brazil was the series of demonstrations that took place all over the country in June. What triggered the protests was a small rise in the cost of public ...

Preaching to the Choir: The Crimea and Putin’s Domestic Audience

On February 28th, the Federal Council, Russia’s upper house, granted Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force in Ukraine. By that time, Russian troops stationed at the Black Sea Naval Base in Crimea had already left their garrisons and secured the area. Russian forces now ...

Solidarity with Ukraine against Putin’s Reality

We should not be surprised by differences about how to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Understanding reasons for those differences is one critical step toward formulating an effective response. Recognizing both real policy options and the equal importance of political signals is the ...

Egypt’s Constitutional Mess and Solutions from South Africa

Of the many important lessons the Egyptian people might take away from their 2014 constitutional referendum, three certainly stand out in stark relief: first, that the military owns the product of the plebiscite and must also own the political consequences; second, that no constitution or ...

The Terrorism that Netanyahu Supports

Benjamin Netanyahu often speaks of terrorism. He built his career on the unfounded claim that he’s a terrorism expert (his book Terrorism: How the West Can Win is, in fact, composed of articles by other experts), and he makes sure to speak of terrorism ...

Heidegger's Black Notebooks: Extreme Silencing

The Black Notebooks (Die Schwarzen Hefte), containing Martin Heidegger’s assorted thoughts from the 1930s and 40s, throw new light on the self-aggrandizement into totalitarianism of the most German of all philosophers. The Freiburg professor of philosophy was not yet 50 years old when, in 1937 and 1938, he ...

The War on Fascism

By my title, “The War on Fascism,” I do not mean the war between the US, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, on the one hand, and Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and imperial Japan on the other, the war that took place between 1939 and ...

Conceptions of Corruption, Its Causes, and Its Cure

This is a very brisk walk through a topic that should be taken slowly and treated in depth, but inevitably therefore at much greater length. Not the least of the reasons for engaging with it so briefly is that the institutions, if not always the ...

Israel's Right-Wingers Have Problems with Facts

Israel’s right-wingers never stop providing spectacular examples of the all-too-human tendency to avoid facts that contradict their worldview. Two weeks ago I showed how the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-Semitism survey demonstrates the falsity of Netanyahu & Co.’s favorite theory that anti-Semitism is the source of Israeli ...

The Brazilian Discontents behind the World Cup Stage

In a few days, the eyes of millions of people around the world will be fixed on their TV screens, following a ball rolling in some shining green field in Brazil. They will be expecting to witness one of the most exciting World Cups in ...

In Support of PODEMOS

One of the most appalling and discouraging outcomes of the recent European elections has been the rise and affirmation of a number of far-right, xenophobic, and populist electoral parties in East and Northern Europe and in France. This has been largely the outcome of years ...

Adding Injustice to Injury

Our colleague, Zeyno Ustun, is back in Istanbul this month. We corresponded about the situation there on the occasion of the anniversary of the Gezi protests. She reports political paralysis with maximum police presence and sent a report from Amnesty International that she judges to ...

When Neo-Fascism Was Power in Argentina

After forty years, though more historical research is needed on the presidency of Isabel Perón (1974-1976), what we know today leads us to consider that her Peronist government was one of the most violent in the violent history of Argentina. To be sure, political violence ...

Terrorist Rule of Law in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem -- apparently, in retaliation for the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank -- was a public call to Israelis to “refrain from ...

The Strongest Terrorist Organization in the Middle East

The IDF deliberately chooses to attack the families of Hamas activists. This is a war crime. Shall every Hebrew mother know, that her son serves in a terrorist organization.[1] “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, this is the news broadcast. Az Adin Al-Kassam fighters took responsibility ...

The Other Victim under the Rubble of Gaza

For more than ten days, the Gaza strip has again been under attack by Israel, and although missiles are fired everyday by Palestinian factions into Israel, the causalities are massively (if not uniquely) on the Palestinian side. Twenty-four hours after the beginning of a sustained ...

Gaza: How Will It End?

As I am working on my dissertation, I try to isolate myself from the present and dig into the past, in the hope that something will be revealed. However, I can’t help but to be dragged back to the reality on the ground, because the ...

Reflections on Critical Responses to the Tragedy of Gaza

As the years progress, I am becoming convinced that most people can’t walk, chew gum, and think at the same time.* Why did people who were highly critical of American capitalism feel compelled to overlook the atrocities associated with Stalinism? Why did other people critical ...

Operation Protective Edge and Just War Theory

I teach Just War Theory (JWT). I defend it strongly as a necessary moral guideline for world politics in classes full of cynical students, Israeli-raised students, many of whom went through the grinding machine of the occupation (themselves grinding Palestinians in check points, night arrests, ...

On Bitter Satisfaction

The verdict was more forceful than expected. On July 24, 2014 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg handed down two unanimous rulings in the cases of Al Nashiri v. Poland and Husayn (Abu Zubydah) v. Poland. The cases concerned the extraordinary rendition by the CIA of two terrorism ...

Death, Destruction, and the Israeli Turn to the Right

One of the most depressing aspects of the current war in Gaza is the repetition of images in discourse about the conflict. “Defensive Edge,” “Pillar of Defense,” and “Cast Lead” all bleed into each other. Images of death and destruction recur across patriotic monikers that ...

Hamas and the Israeli Ruling Coalition Are Not Collaborators

Jeffrey Goldfarb argues that if we criticize the behavior of one group, we should not turn a blind eye to the behavior of another. He complains that the contributions of Yossi Gurvitz, Omri Boehm, and Nahed Habiballah to this seminar, while effective in their criticisms of the ...

Proportionality and the Diaspora in Operation Protective Edge

As far as military euphemisms go, Operation Protective Edge is not the worst offender. As any reliable voice will point out, Israel faces significant danger from Hamas and its various factions. The threat posed by missile attacks or deadly incursions courtesy of a significant tunneling ...

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

This is the prepared text answering the question "What do we really know about transitions to democracy?" for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014. It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of ...

Identities

How My Social Justice Failed My Family

I’ve never felt more helpless than when I heard my dad tell me that he was selling the house where I was raised. After using my student loans to help cover the overdue mortgage payments, we were still unable to stave off the inevitable. Facing ...

Ferguson and Fatherhood: My Turn to Give The Talk

Recently, I took my son to the doctor for his 13-year old checkup. “He’s 5’8”, she told me, “and he hasn’t even begun his growth spurt yet.” I was also a late bloomer. 6’1” now, at his age, I was 5’2”. Looking at the chart, ...

Rolezinho: Politics in Brazil's Shopping Malls?

Since last December, Brazilian shopping malls have become the stage for a new style of youth gathering: the rolezinho. Roughly translated as “little excursions” or outings, the rolezinhos can be characterized as planned meetings (via social network) of a large group of youth from poor neighborhoods, ...

Hard Lessons on Rape Culture: Dispatch from Brazil

“I don't deserve to be raped! No one deserves to be.” These were the words printed on the signs made by thousands of Brazilian women who decided to join a massive online campaign launched through Facebook some weeks ago. The campaign aimed to protest against ...

Sex and the Super Bowl

Every year the issue of gender and sexual stereotyping is highlighted at the Super Bowl and in the minutes of well-famed commercials surrounding the game. Be it macho-football players, sexy cheerleaders, slick, yet still, macho-men in fancy cars, sexy Danica Patrick, macho-beer drinkers, sexy female ...

Chelsea Manning Performing Gender

San Francisco’s Pride Parade will take place on 29 June and will bring together activists for LGBT rights under the rallying cry of "Color our world with pride." As usual, various officially recognized groups will take part in the march. But this year, among the ...

Immigrant Mothers as Agents of Change

In a recent interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung, Elisabeth Badinter bemoans new trends in motherhood emerging in France. The French feminist observes that growing numbers of French mothers -- though they are still a minority, she is quick to add -- are ...

Don't Worry... Be Happy!

Over the last decade the field of positive psychology has become a burgeoning area of research within academic psychology. Well known figures in positive psychology include Martin Seligman (developer of the well known learned helplessness model of depression and past president of the American Psychological ...

It’s All in the Mind – Or is It?

A recent New York Times article reports that a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients receiving one of the most commonly performed forms of knee surgery (arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus) did no better than those ...

Physics Envy

These are troubling times for the mental health field in the United States. A variety of historical developments have paved the road to the current predicament. Following World War II, the federal government and growing mental health lobby began an unprecedented expansion of mental heath ...

McMindfulness

“McMindfulness.” I came across this term for the first time today. I wish I had coined it. It would be nice to be able to make a claim to originality. But coming across the term is almost good enough. It provides a name for a ...

Talking about Gaza in Psychoanalysis

Politics is usually absent from explicit discourse in psychoanalysis. I say explicit, because obviously we all live in socio-political contexts that signify and structure our roles in any setting. There is a long history to the retreat of politics and political thought from the psychoanalytic ...

Are We Really Such Beasts?

There is a relentless barrage of narratives about our supposed beastly nature and conduct. Since childhood, we have all watched animals routinely tear off each others' limbs in countless nature documentaries meant to show us that survival at any cost is the natural order of ...

Making Sense of Place

When I was in primary school, there were two street names in my hometown that I always got wrong. My teacher looked at me with disbelief and worry when I called the street next to the school Wolgaster Straße. My geography skills improved dramatically after 1989, ...

The Arts and Literature

Film and Myth

Two films frequently cited together on the best films lists for 2013 were Gravity and All is Lost. As many reviewers noted, the films featured isolated individuals up against the cold, impersonal forces of the universe -- the dark void of outer space for Sandra ...

Edge of Tomorrow: Cinema of the Anthropocene

This post has now been included in a broader piece on Anthrocene cinema, which is here. Watching the previews for the summer movies, they all seem to me to belong to the genre of the Anthropocene. They all seem to be narratives about a civilization confronting ...

Rebooting RoboCop

As someone who grew up with Paul Verhoeven's original 1987 RoboCop, I can't help but feel the dystopic and critical social commentary of the movie was lost in its reboot. What was once a critical and distopic film exploring the dangers of unchecked corporate power ...

The Book of Job as Community Theater

The only American member of the original General Seminar after which this website is named was the philosopher Horace Kallen. Kallen is mainly remembered now for his theory of “cultural pluralism,” but among scholars of the Book of Job he is known for the quixotic ...

English Psycho

Men who write novels mostly responded to feminism in one of four ways. The first was to ignore it. The second was to attempt to write women characters even better than women write them (cf what Rebecca Solnit calls ‘Men Explain Things to Me’). The third, ...

Big Data, Little Music

Established musicians are speaking up about the state of the music world, and they are not happy. They report that there’s no money available to make music, and no money to be made from it. Some have blamed fans for killing the business, by insisting ...

A Conversation with Krzysztof Czyzewski

On the evening of April 9th, the Polish theater director, actor, and "practitioner of ideas," Krzysztof Czyzewski, had a public conversation with Elzbieta Matynia and Jeffrey Goldfarb at the New School for Social Research. Czyzewski discussed his life course from actor in the avant-garde theater ...

Media, Memory, and Miscellaneous

The Once and Future Pope

Tears were welling up in my eyes as I finished reading the story. One of my old friends said he almost fell out of his breakfast nook from shock. Posts about the story have 10k+ shares on Facebook. People everywhere are either "liking" it or ...

The Interruptive Society

A seismic shift in social behavior has occurred over the last decade that to the best of my knowledge was not forecasted by futurists. While in the early 80s we wrote and read about telecommuting, the evolution of Arpanet, the workings and impact of smaller, less ...

When the Pope "Drops the F-Bomb"

On March 3, 2014, a stream of troubling, breaking news about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was interrupted by another event, this time originating in the Vatican, which similarly reached prominence in journalistic organs. This event, however, was not a child abuse scandal, papal resignation, ...

On Media Monstration and the Politics of Small Things

This post is the first of two making a series of points: Here I answer Jeff Goldfarb’s points in the post he devoted to our common classes. In the second, I will stress a couple of issues that have to do with my central concern: ...

Three Reflections on Media Responsibility: Discussing Issues of Monstration

One of the most interesting problems posed by centralized media and journalism is the problem of authorship. Any news item bears traces of the organizational processes it went through. These processes involve various interventions, by different actors. In a sense they are no less collective ...

Amusing Ourselves to Death? Still?

Media monstration, the politics of small things, and The Daily Show -- Daniel Dayan and I are teaching two courses at The New School this semester, Media and Micro-politics and Theories of Publics. Both courses combine his media theory of “monstration” with my work on “the ...

Banning the Minarets in Switzerland

There is no problem with Islam in Switzerland. At least, there was none until 2009. But then, confounding poll predictions, and stupefying the Swiss political institutions, religious organizations, as well as mainstream media, 57.5% of the citizen voted a constitutional ban on the construction of ...

Israeli Hasbara, the Breakdown in Negotiations, and the Consequences

At this point, we can say that things are more or less over: President Obama announced on Friday that the American government is abandoning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as neither side has been ready to make “tough decisions.” Basically, Obama was repeating what Secretary of State ...

Where Next for Media Theory?

Where next for media theory? I’m thankful to Geert Lovink for his recent provocation on this question. Lovink thinks we have entered a post-Snowden era of media. So called ‘new’ media is dead, just as God is dead. Or, to vary the frame of reference, ...

Jonathan Schell Remembered

Here are two remembrances of a distinguished colleague, Jonathan Schell, who died last Tuesday. Miller wrote his as a letter to the members of the Committee on Liberal Studies, where Schell once taught. Matynia’s is a remembrance of Schell’s public engagements as a writer ...

Technology R' Us

“Where are the sensitive machines …?” So goes part of a tweet reproduced on the flyleaf to Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. The lament is not new. Over 30 years ago the designer and design theorist John Chris Jones pointed to the low sensitivity of technical ...

Have Europeans Learned from the 20th Century for the 21st?

This is a lightly abridged version of the keynote address to the conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Goldfarb was asked to address the question of the title. Siobhan Kattago, Irit Dekel, and Anna Lisa Tota also contributed ...

Sleepwalking into the Future?

This is the prepared text of a contribution to a conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Irit Dekel, Anna Lisa Tota and Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, also contributed to the Forum. Their texts are forthcoming. It is an honour to ...

Sleepwalking into the Future? II

This is the prepared text of a contribution to a conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Siobhan Kattago and Jeffrey C. Goldfarb's contributions to the forum have previously been published on Public Seminar. The title of this discussion employs ...

Simmel and the Social Condition

Georg Simmel (1858 – 1918) had a very precise and original conception of the subject matter of sociology: the forms, but not the contents, of human interaction. Sociology as a distinct discipline of human inquiry, he maintained, is directly comparable to geometry. As geometry, by ...

Humor and the Social Condition

In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition -- the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account for the ...

Between Ideals and Realities

Last Wednesday, on February 26th, there was a special meeting of The New School for Social Research’s General Seminar, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the University in Exile. Three faculty members and three graduate students were asked to address a foundational question: “What is the ...

Austerity and Higher Education

University reform in the UK can be understood in light of the following dilemma: the system must expand if it is to meet the demand for skill in the labour market, but the more it expands the less it fulfills its other major function of ...

The Plight of Greek Higher Education

Greek higher education has been, for the past four years, under a double attack, both by crippling austerity-induced budget cuts and by an attempt to accelerate the imposition of aggressively neoliberal reforms towards an entrepreneurial model of higher education. To understand the importance of these processes, ...