Spring 2006 Events

Re-thinking the State (Spring 2006)

All Monday sessions will take place on Mondays, 8-10 pm at the IPRH (805 W. Pennsylvania).  Preliminary schedule of dates and topics is below.  All the readings for the seminar will be posted on Library Electronic Reserves.  Please stay tuned for more information and detailed description.

In spring 2006, the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory will sponsor a seminar on the topic “Rethinking the State.” This non-credit faculty/graduate student reading group will meet on five Monday nights during the semester.

In the aftermath of the Soviet bloc’s collapse, globalization emerged as one of the dominant paradigms in critical theory. At the time, the triumph of capitalism on a world scale seemed to portend the terminal crisis of the nation-state; a neoliberal model swept the globe and led to the significant dismantling of the various guises of the welfare state. Attempting to keep up with the rapid pace of social, economic, and political change, influential theorists such as Hardt and Negri posited the emergence of a deterritorialized “Empire” that took the place of the capitalist state. Attention shifted from analyses based on the “container” of the nation-state to the tracking of various transnational “flows” that cut across borders and rendered political sovereignty ever more tenuous.

In recent years, however, the critical balance has begun to shift back in the other direction. Although empire, globalization, and neoliberalism remain urgent areas of inquiry, there is also a newfound interest in what Carl Schmitt called “the concept of the political” and in the state and its institutions. The shock of the September 11 attacks and the various assertions of state power that they unleashed have played a significant role in changing the agenda of critical theory. Even more recently, catastrophic events such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in South Asia have underscored the extent to which the neoliberal deployment of the state as an instrument for economic, military, and geopolitical objectives—as against the 20 th century’s professed investments in “welfare” and “development”—has exacerbated vulnerabilities of many kinds. The time has come for a rethinking of the roles that state and non-state actors can and should play in the ongoing aftermath of post-1989 triumphalism.

In this spring’s Unit criticism seminar we continue the work of last spring’s seminar and conference on “The Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism.” We will read classic and recent work on the state, with particular attention to concepts such as “welfare,” “security,” and “sovereignty.” We will explore the tensions between some of the different methodological approaches that characterize recent theoretical projects, such as Marxist State Theory, Foucauldian explorations of governmentality, and Schmittian reflections on sovereignty. Theoretical texts will be complemented by empirical studies emerging from different periods, a range of disciplines (sociology, anthropology, political science, history, and literature), and diverse geographical areas (including Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas).

The seminar will be organized in tandem with the Mellon Foundation-sponsored visit of literary and cultural critic Bruce Robbins of Columbia University. Robbins will be on campus from March 3-17, 2006. During that time, he will join the March 6 seminar discussion, will take part in a March 13 panel on “Literature and the State” with Robert Caserio (English, Penn State) and Harriet Murav (Slavic/Comp Lit, UIUC), and will give a keynote address at the March 10-11 Mellon conference “States of Welfare,” which will also include eight visiting speakers and several local participants. During the Unit’s “Rethinking the State” seminar we will read essays by all of the off-campus conference speakers.


All meetings from 8:00-10:00 pm at the IPRH, 805 W. Pennsylvania, Urbana

January 23: Debating the State

  • Giorgio Agamben, “What is a Camp?”
  • Michel Foucault, “Politics and Reason”
  • Nancy Fraser, “From Discipline to Flexibilization? Rereading Foucault in the Shadow of Globalization”
  • Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital (chap. 1 & 7)

Secondary (on e-reserves only):

  • Stuart Hall, “The State in Question”

February 6: States of Welfare I

  • James Ferguson (and Akhil Gupta), "Spatializing States" American Ethnologist 29(4):981-1002.  2002
  • David Lloyd, "Nationalisms Against the State"
  • Anna Marie Smith, "Missing Post-structuralism, Missing Foucault: Butler and Fraser on Capitalism and the Regulation of Sexuality," Social Text 67 (summer 2001) 103-25.

February 27: States of Welfare II

  • Amanda Claybaugh, Cross Purposes: Literary Ambition and Social Reform in the Anglo-American Novels (Chapter 1: “Anglo-American Social Reform and a New Trans-Atlanticism”)
  • Frances Ferguson , Pornography, The Theory: What Utilitarianism Did To Action (introduction).
  • James Vernon, "The Ethics of Hunger and the Assembly of Society: The Techno-Politics of the School Meal in Modern Britain," The American Historical Review 110, 3 (June 2005), 693-725.

March 6: States of Welfare III (with Bruce Robbins)

  • Esra Özyürek, "Miniaturizing Ataturk: Privatization of state imagery and ideology in Turkey" American Ethnologist 31(3): 374-391.
  • Bruce Robbins, "Cosmopolitanism, America, and the Welfare State," "Theories of American Culture/ Theories of American Studies" ed Winfried Fluck and Thomas Claviez, REAL - Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature, 19:5 (2003), 201-224; Genre (Fall 2005), forthcoming.
  • France Winddance Twine, “Racial Literacy in Britain: Antiracist Projects, Black Children and White Parents,” Contours: a journal of the African Diaspora 1.2 (Fall 2003).

April 10: The Colonial State, the Socialist State, and the National Security State

  • Verdery, Katherine. What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • Comaroff, John. "Reflections on the Colonial State." in Social Identities in the New South Africa. ed. Abele Zegege. 2001.
  • Feher, Ferenc. "The Dictatorship Over Needs." Telos No 35 (Spring 1978).
  • Hay, James and Mark Andrejevic. "Introduction." Homeland Insecurities. forthcoming.