EssaysTheory & Practice

Remembering Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod

Twenty-thirteen is a sad year for the social sciences and history. With the death of Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod (b. 1928) last Saturday, the best of academic learning has suffered another blow. Her passing joins the recent loss of her New School colleagues Eric Hobsbawm, Aristide Zolberg and Charles Tilly. Each in his way enriched the historically oriented social study of the modern world. Among them, known for their dedication to intellectual excellence, as well as versatility and originality, Abu-Lughod distinguished herself as a very rare scholar who could range across centuries and continents, from the thirteenth century to the current moment, from the North Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia and North America. She was to the end a Chicago School urbanist whose methodological approach combined a unique ability to expand its scope into comparative studies that brought a needed political dimension.

Upon her arrival to the New School for Social Research in 1987, she had already achieved a phenomenal output of well over a hundred articles and more than thirteen books…

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EssaysSex & GenderTheory & Practice

For Gender and Sexuality Studies: A Manifesto

We write as members of a group of faculty from different parts of the New School who are working to return graduate-level gender and sexuality studies to the university. Our project is an unusually collaborative one, drawing on the work of colleagues from a wide range of programs and disciplines. Our aim in posting this piece is to start a conversation about these matters right away, even while our proposed program is still in the development process. What interests us is discussion about what we see as the powerful case that can be made for the intellectual and political importance of gender and sexuality studies not only in general but at the New School in particular.  We invite responses from anyone in the larger community who is interested in weighing in.

Let us start with some reflections about what is distinctive about the New School.

One of the founding myths of our university is that it places social research in the service of liberating and transformative social action…

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Multi MediaTheory & PracticeVideo

Remembering Eric Hobsbawm on Oct. 25th, 2013

As the current Chair of the Historical Studies Department at the New School, in which Eric Hobsbawm taught for nearly a decade, I approached his memorial with a sense of both excitement and obligation. Institutions define themselves by legacies of excellence, and Hobsbawm embodied, all his own, such a legacy for the New School. His titanic intellect defined a whole era of the New School, and I was eager to hear more about the cause of our collective pride. …

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EssaysTheory & Practice

Hobsbawm’s 20th Century: Closing Comments

Plus remembrances of former New School students of Eric Hobsbawm

I am honored to have been asked to offer closing words for this memorial event celebrating the life and work of Eric Hobsbawm. This is a New School event, and not by coincidence. As Dean of The New School for Social Research, I want first to thank Ira Katznelson, for bringing Eric Hobsbawm to us when Ira was Dean here years ago. Eric’s legacy will always be part of ours. He was our own too.

I want now to speak about the legacy of Eric Hobsbawm at the NSSR, both about how his presence in these halls strengthened us at the time, and how today it challenges us as our unique graduate faculty of social sciences moves ahead in this strange 21st century.

I was lucky to sit on a few dissertation committees with Eric, so I had a chance to watch his great mind at work and to observe up close his supervisory style. Perhaps not surprisingly, he liked supervising students in economics, my own discipline. My recollection is of someone who showed great joy in helping young scholars and mentoring in the best sense of the word — that is, not dictating answers and methods, but by taking the students’ work very seriously, posing detailed questions, and listening carefully to the answers. Students felt respected and challenged at the same time – just the right combination needed to nurture serious and engaged scholarship from an advanced graduate student preparing to enter the world of ideas as a professional…

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EssaysTheory & Practice

From Sartre to the Social Condition

The social dimension of the existential

In “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre concisely attempted to make his existentialism clear. The authentic human condition is a marked by choices, and by the realization that these choices are man’s, his/hers alone. In one of the most memorable parts of the treatise, Sartre tells of a student he had, confronted with a dilemma that had no easy solution:

“He lived alone with his mother, his father having gone off as a collaborator and his brother killed in 1940. He had a choice – to go and fight with the Free French to avenge his brother and protect his nation, or to stay and be his mother’s only consolation. So he was confronted by two modes of action; one concrete and immediate but directed only towards one single individual; the other addressed to an infinitely greater end but very ambiguous. What would help him choose? Christian doctrine? Accepted morals? Kant?”…

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EssaysTheory & Practice

The Social Condition: The Third Intellectual Project

Sociologists face three distinct intellectual projects in their work. They are well aware of two of them, but the third remains in the shadows. The two standard projects are the study of the social construction, and the study of social effects. The third, the study of the predictable existential dilemmas we face, is the one Jeff Goldfarb and I are working to develop in our work, what we call “the social condition.”

As every undergraduate student learns after her first introduction to sociology, our world is socially constructed. People constantly give meaning, together, to a world that may not have an intrinsic meaning to it. In its deepest form, the one that Berger and Luckmann saw so well over 45 years ago, social construction is an existential drama. It is not only that, as undergraduates quickly learn to recite, identities are constructed by a social world (gender and race being the favorite examples). This is, of course, true and important. It is, rather, that our entire existence, as so far as it is meaningful, must be socially constructed and re-constructed. Like a shoddy plane over the void of meaninglessness, we construct a meaningful world—a world in which human existence, institutions and identities make sense…

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EssaysTheory & Practice

The Social Condition

I am embarking upon a new project, the investigation of the social condition, identifying dilemmas that are inevitably built into the social fabric, and exploring the ways people work to address them. Some examples:

It is obviously important for a democratic society to provide equal opportunity for all young people. The less privileged should have the advantages of a good education. This is certainly a most fundamental requirement for equal opportunity. On the other hand, it is just as certain that a good society, democratic and otherwise, should encourage and enable parents to provide the best, to present the world as they know and appreciate it, to their children: to read to them, to introduce them to the fine arts and sciences, and to take them on interesting trips, both near and far. But not all parents can do this as effectively, some have the means, some don’t. Democratic education and caring for one’s children are in tension. The social bonds of citizenship and the social bonds of family are necessarily in tension. This tension, in many variations, defines a significant dimension of the social condition…

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