Organized by Christopher Florio (SOF 2016-19), this symposium on the history of public work in modern America gathered established and early-career scholars working to recover the history of public work, a crucial sector that has indelibly shaped both American labor and the American state. The symposium was the first of its kind -- the first time historians studying public workers exclusively gathered together to collaborate, share findings, and demarcate the state of the field. It is an opportune moment. The history of public workers sheds light on some of today’s most relevant social and political issues: the renewed prominence of teachers’ unions, stagnant American wages and the disappearance of the vaunted middle class, the stubborn persistence of racial and gender discrimination, and the destructive results of the ongoing disinvestment in government and social infrastructure. Public workers are among the most organized and yet, most threatened of workers in the contemporary United States. The goal of this symposium was to provide the groundwork for a subsequent edited volume that will shape how both historians and the public at large understand, recognize, and engage public work in the United States. >>
Thursday Lecture Series are open to Columbia faculty, students, and guests. Special Events are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
Spring 2020 Thursday Lecture Series "Ambivalence:"
This lecture series will offer a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives on the question of ambivalence as it relates to affects and operations of the aesthetic, modes of political action, forms of belonging, regimes of governance.
Ambivalence is often conceived in terms of absence or aporia. But at a time of polarization in contemporary thought, conventional perspectives on political action as grounded solely in either true belief or cynical rationalism fail to explain the many contradictions found within social organization and orders. Likewise, the sovereign “decisiveness” often attributed to political and economic configurations of power has long relied on shifting, swaying, often internally incoherent strategies of domination and dispossession. Rather than approach ambivalence as an absence, we propose to think of it as a form of agency that accounts for the varying, conflicting desires and demands that position subjects. Do ambivalence, contradiction, and alternation entail resources or risks for states, markets, or revolutionary movements? What changes if we think of ambivalence not solely as an affective experience on the level of the individual, but as a structure of feeling which is central to (post-)modernity? How might ambivalence characterize attitudes towards cultural objects and performances, as well as to aesthetic operations themselves? How could adopting ambivalence as an analytical position lead to new insights into processes of dispossession, reclamation or structural change?