Click here to see the Spring 2017 Radical ColLabs.

The Global Terrain of Free Speech Conflicts

Thursday, May 4 - Friday May 5
9:00am - 5:00pm, Alma Mater Room, iHotel

A year after the un-hiring of Palestinian American scholar, Steven Salaita, turned our campus into a flashpoint of struggles over free speech and academic freedom in the United States, this conference reflects more expansively on these struggles in a global context. In the two years since the silencing of Steven Salaita, we have witnessed authoritarian administrations and governments censor speech on university campuses in India and Turkey in addition to on-going efforts in western academia to silence pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS views. Across the world, authoritarian states have intensified their surveillance and censorship of the press, the blogosphere, and social media. Governments frequently appear more intent on censorship than on protecting the free speech of their citizens: the Bangladeshi government, for instance, has been unwilling to condemn the assassination of bloggers, editors, publishers, and academics for their secular views. Too often, however, discussions of conflicts over free speech, whether in the United States, Bangladesh, Russia, India, or China remain bound to local contexts. Consequently, the regional and international determinants and implications of struggles over free speech are underexplored. But the recurrence and growing salience of such conflicts worldwide point to conditions of our present that deserve sustained attention and comparative analysis. The upsurge of conflicts between free speech and censorship, authoritarianism and dissent, secularism and right-wing religious nationalism, across a range of national contexts offer fertile grounds for exploration, dialogue, and intervention. The international coalitions formed in response to these crises; the use of political instruments of redress such as boycotts, sanctions, and petitions; the centrality of new media in shaping the stakes and constituencies involved; the crucial role of artists, scholars, philosophers, activists, lawyers, journalists, and scientists; and the central role of the university in these battles invites fuller reflection and analysis. This conference draws on the vital resources of critical and creative thinking that are part of the tradition of the public university to build on the lessons of our immediate past by furthering engagement with of one of the pressing issues of our time.



Thursday, May 4 | Friday May 5

Thursday, May 4

8:30-8:45 am: Coffee reception

8:45 am: Opening remarks, Susan Koshy (Director, Unit for Criticism)


9:00—10:00 am: Keynote Address

Lawrence Liang (Law, Ambedkar University, Delhi), “Viral Populism: The Dilemmas of Free Speech in a Post-Truth Environment”

10:00-10:15 am: Coffee Break


10:15—11:45 am: Panel 1

Elaine Yuan (Communication, U of Illinois, Chicago), "Free Speech in the Discursive Field Mediated by the Internet in China"

Nishant Shah (Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana U/ Co-Founder, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore), "The Unbearable Lightness of Leaking: Forced into Speech in the Time of Big Data"

Chair: Anita Say Chan (MACS/ICR)

11:45 am - 1:00 pm: LUNCH


1:00—3:00pm: Panel 2

Volodymyr Dubovyk (International Relations and Director, Center for International Studies, I. Mechnikov National University in Odessa), "The Crisis over Ukraine: Implications for the Free Speech"

Teng Biao (Visiting Fellow, US-Asia Law Institute, New York U), "Self-censorship In and Out of China"

Prabhat Patnaik (Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi), “Hindutva, Nationalism and Free Speech”

Chair: Jeffrey T. Martin (Anthropology/East Asian Languages and Cultures)

3:00-3:30 pm: Coffee Break


3:30—5:00 pm: Panel 3

Nusrat Chowdhury (Anthropology, Amherst College), “Body (Im)Politic: Death and Democracy in Bangladesh”

Rohit De (History and Law, Yale U), "“The Republic of Hurt Sentiments”

Chair: Anustup Basu (English/Cinema and Media Studies)


Friday May 5

9:00-9:15 am: Coffee reception


9:15—10:45 am: Panel 4

Todd Presner (Germanic Languages, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies, UCLA), “Jewish Studies and Watchdog Culture: Policing Speech in the Age of Social Media”

Saadia Toor (Sociology & Anthropology, College of Staten Island, CUNY), "Free Speech Politics and the Question of Palestine in Campus Organizing in the US - the Case of the City University of New York"

Chair: Brett Kaplan (Comparative & World Literature)

10:45 - 11:00 am: Coffee Break


11:00—12:30 pm: Panel 5

Umayyah Cable (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Asian American Studies/Middle East and North African Studies, Northwestern University), "From Filmstrips to Film Festivals: A Brief History of Film Usage in Palestine Activism in the United States"

Jason Stanley (Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy, Yale U), "Free Speech Hypocrisy"

Chair: Ghassan Moussawi (Sociology)

12:30 - 2:00 pm: LUNCH


2:00—3:00pm: Keynote Address

Akeel Bilgrami (Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy, Professor, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University), “Freedom vs Accountability in the Academy”

3:00-3:15 pm: Coffee Break


3:15—4:30 pm: Closing Roundtable with U of Illinois Faculty

Junaid Rana (Anthropology and Asian American Studies)

Bruce Rosenstock (Religion)

Eman Ghanayem (English)

Chair: Tariq Ali (History)