EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Letter from Ukraine: The Maidan Experience

Kyiv’s Maidan has really proved to be a lasting affair, strong enough to manifest the will of the majority of Ukraine’s population. Everyone could see the evidence of its ability to stand against police forces. Even during calm periods Maidan is still an impressive sight.

For those of us who are used to spending most of our time on the Internet, getting to Kyiv’s Maidan feels like diving. Emerging from the subway in the city center actually turns into a deep submersion. The sense of clarity and understanding, seemingly provided by “navigation devices” – social networks and information web-portals, instantly disappears when one is on the streets. You are there and you have to reconstruct on the spot a whole new and different picture of the Maidan’s world and of what really happens there. You begin to understand that the indicators generated by the devices we are so used to are nothing more than indicators…

Arts & DesignEssays

Tiny Instruments Hit a Profound Chord

Multicultual creativity in the city of Wrocław

Last summer I was fortunate to be among the faculty of the Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wrocław, Poland, organized by Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS). Friendships were forged, ideas were tested, and disciplinary lines constructively crossed, all of which I’d been prepared for and had been looking forward to experiencing as the sole faculty member from Parsons among colleagues from the New School for Social Research.

What I hadn’t expected was that I’d develop a deep affection for the music of toy pianos. Specifically the toy pianos played by Małe Instrumenty (Small Instruments), a band started in 2006 by Paweł Romańczuk with Marcin Ożóg, Tomasz Orszulak, Jędrzej Kuziela and Maciej Bączyk.

Yes, toy pianos. Including a plastic Barbie piano, which, Paweł explained, has a very good sound, in contrast to their sole Communist-era piano called Precision whose keys emitted static…

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

A Post on Laughter and Remembering in Berlin

Diversity, tension, relief, and the Stolpersteine

“…and this woman in the chic coat: is she going to clean also?”

Responding to advertisements calling for people to “actively remember,” on November 9 and 10, 2013, in Berlin and other German cities, the commemorative Stolpersteine (or “the stumbling blocks”) were physically cleaned. The Stolpersteine are little brass plaques placed at the entrances of houses whose inhabitants, most often Jews, were deported and murdered in the Nazi period. This form of commemoration was initiated in 1993.

The cleaning of the plaques was itself commemorative, marking the events of the once-named “Reichskristallnacht” of 1938. Though taking place on November 10 and 11, and often in broad daylight, the infamous attacks on Jews in Germany and Austria are officially remembered in Germany on November 9 and commonly thought to have been only nocturnal. The attacks have since been renamed, in both state and popular language, as the “Reichspogromnacht,” or the November Pogrom, foregrounding the anti-Semitism at their core…

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…

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…

Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Snyder and Orr Suckerpunch the Arts in Michigan

In a nifty move right out of the Reagan Revolution playbook, the governor of Michigan and his hand picked bankruptcy fixer finally revealed their plan for monetizing the art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The plan is brilliant in its simplicity and in its political nuance.

After months of hinting that the art in the museum was “on the table” for a liquidation that would generate cash to offset Detroit’s many debt obligations, the lords of the bankruptcy relented and “saved” the museum. Their idea basically runs like this: Art is worth money (they got an appraisal to prove it). People who like art have money. Thus, why not present the museum with a bill that would equate to the appraised value of its precious art and let the museum tap its rich friends across America for contributions that would pay the tab and keep the paintings on the Institute’s walls.

How perfect! How painless! How noble! This is the ideal “public/private partnership” we are always hearing about! …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

The Booing of Zuma

The booing of South African President Jacob Zuma at the Mandela memorial gathering – this before a resplendent cast of visiting global dignitaries, around 60,000 audience members and millions of international television viewers – resonated through first the stadium that hosted the 2010 soccer world cup and then the country beyond. The resonance consists in another bout of national self-interrogation (what does this say about us?) and political punditry (what does this say about the ANC’s prospects in next year’s general elections?). So what can be sensibly said at this point?

First, South Africans showed that they have enough democracy to get away with humiliating their President in front of the world. Zuma, who has built himself an entire village at state expense in his native Nkandla, does not take his status lightly. It is not impossible that ruling circles will buzz again with talk of the need for an insult law to protect the President. But what the crowd did broke no laws and is quite typical of the style in which ANC factional battles have been waged since 2005…

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Lenin’s Lost his Head: What’s Going On in Kyiv?

On Sunday, for the second time in two weeks, a half-million people gathered to protest against the government in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in an action dubbed on Twitter #ЕвроМайдан (EuroMaidan). Meanwhile, a short distance away, a smaller group of people toppled an eleven-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin, quickly removing its head and breaking the body up with a sledgehammer. The images of the latest Ukrainian protests are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution. The Maidan is again the site of a makeshift opposition camp complete with field-kitchen, portable toilets, hundreds of tents, a stage, and barricades all decorated with Ukrainian flags. Viktor Yanukovich and Russia have also reprised their roles as the main villains and targets of popular protest. While there is value in comparing the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan, there are also important differences that make the solution to the present situation much more complicated and uncertain.

One common thread between the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan is the contestation of Ukrainian identity…


The Case for Thoughtful Educational Assessment

A long-ago mathematics colleague at another university told a story about his first semester in the classroom. He threw a bunch of proofs on the blackboard and then, in the last five minutes, asked if there were any questions. There were no questions. He was unnerved. These students were good. The second class, he did more problems, more proofs, faster. Any questions? No questions. These students were geniuses. He had to ratchet up his game. He prepared mightily for the third class. When he showed up for the third class, there were no students. They’d all dropped.

There are a lot of reasons to love this story, and one of them is the assumption that teaching and learning are the same thing.  Yet as Kathleen Blake Yancey has written, there are three curricula in every classroom: the one students bring with them, the one we teach, and the one they learn. Students always learn. They just don’t always learn what we want. Thoughtful assessment aims to close the gap between teaching and learning. …