News2018-07-25T16:43:04-07:00

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Welcome to the new Co-Directors: Jeanette Kohl and Dylan Rodríguez

The Center for Ideas and Society is pleased to announce that Jeanette Kohl (History of Art) and Dylan Rodríguez (Media & Cultural Studies) have been appointed as co-directors. This innovative and ground-breaking partnership will draw on their combined visions, strengths and experiences to develop new projects and opportunities for the UC Riverside campus. Special thanks to interim Dean Juliet McMullin, Dean Daryle Williams, and all the faculty, students and staff who contributed to the search.

Dylan Rodríguez:

“To embrace the privilege of this co-directorship is to accept the responsibility of sustained, rigorous, active engagement with the conflicts, innovations and massive questions shaping this historical moment. The terms and conditions of academic scholarship are being radically confronted and constructively disrupted by a range of intellectual and scholarly movements as well as emerging creative and artistic insurgencies. Within this tension and irruption, the Center for Ideas and Society is an invitation to a build decolonizing collegiality, feminist fellowship, queer interdisciplinarity, Black study, and many other projects still to be thought, honored and created. My aspiration is to be your co-conspirator, co-planner and creative collaborator rather than a mere co-director. I invite you to inhabit this moment of disruption, transformation, danger and still unknown possibility with the Center at your disposal.”

Jeanette Kohl:

“We stand at a crossroads, and it is with tremendous excitement about the experiment of a co-directorship in CIS that I am looking forward to many inspiring collaborations and celebrations will all of you. I bring to this position a vision that is based on three main pillars: an interest in intellectual history and in innovative projects that integrate deep and critical interdisciplinarity to incubate new research directions and help pave new ways in graduate education; the internationalization of the Center’s projects, fellows, and guests – which means connecting our students and faculty with the world and bringing outside views to the Inland Empire; and an emphasis on human integrity and inclusion, with a particular eye on the Center’s role as a place that fosters diversity and equality on all levels and in a broad array of constellations. The current planetary crises have served as a powerful reminder that we need to rethink our traditional academic and social strategies to find sustainable solutions, work together, and concentrate on our shared humanity in times of increasing rifts in our societies. As co-director, I am here to listen and support while we forge networks, think about novel forms of cross-disciplinary and transnational dialogue, and continue to build an open and respectful discussion culture together. Together, we have the unique chance to collaboratively reinvent the Center as an intellectual and social powerhouse that leads by example and moves the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences right into the heart of the university.”

September 27, 2021|

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2021-22 | Part 2

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2021-22!

Brittany Carlson, English, UC Riverside
(Re)mediating Math Anxieties with The Narrative, the Ephemeral, and the Visual, 1830-1930
✪ Graduate Student Dissertation Support Grant

Jorge Leal, History, UC Riverside
The Discursive Power of Rock en español and the Desire for Democracy
✪ Podcast Support Grants

María del Rosario Acosta López, Hispanic Studies, UC Riverside
On the (In)audible in Art: Tracing the Sound of lo inaudito in Latin American and Latinx Interventions
✪ Podcast Support Grants

Jennifer Syvertsen, Anthropology, UC Riverside
Healthy Disruptions
✪ Podcast Support Grants

View full list

May 27, 2021|

In Focus: Melina Packer

Melina Packer
Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender & Sexuality Studies (2020-2022)
Faculty Mentor: Jade Sasser

Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Mating by Norman Rush
Favorite Activity: Hiking with my dog
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I am deathly afraid of swimming.
A ‘famous’ scholar I would love to meet: Michelle Murphy
Theme song: “I Want to Break Free” – Queen
URL to share: melinapacker.com

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I am interested in how sexual and racial ideologies seep into modern science, and how these embedded biases affect broader applications of scientific knowledge.

Pepper the dog sitting with Melina on the couch, looking superior as always. (Photo credit: B. Nahid.)

Q: Six words that describe your work:

queer feminist science studies, critical race theory, political ecology

Q: How would you characterize the contribution you are making to your field of study?

Like other work in critical feminist science studies, my research emphasizes that science is neither neutral nor objective, and that being more honest about the inextricable politics of science will produce better, more justice-centered scientific research and applications.

Q: What are working on currently?

My current project is a critical feminist analysis of US toxicology. My archival and ethnographic research shows that founding toxicologists were aligned with chemical manufacturer interests (military and industrial). I argue that these early allegiances help explain why toxicants remain so ubiquitous, poorly regulated, and unevenly distributed today.

Q: What led you to this topic in particular?

What started me on this research path/topic was a hunch that the “evil corporations” vs. “pure scientists” explanation (for why harmful toxicants are so pervasive) was not telling the whole story, particularly in terms of the imperial ideologies haunting synthetic chemical production and deployment.

Q: Do you have a favorite book you like to recommend?

Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, by Anne McClintock, because this book so clearly and powerfully demonstrates the physical/material and psychological/spiritual reverberations of “the implacable rage of male paranoia,” as she phrases it.

Q: What do you find rewarding about the process of research?

I am repeatedly blown away by the generosity and thoughtfulness expressed by the people I interview for my research. I learn so much from my interviewees, and love hearing their stories.

***

In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

May 10, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Claudia Holguín Mendoza

Claudia Holguín Mendoza

Department: Hispanic Studies
Rank:
Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR:
2.5 years
Top three texts I would take to a desert island:
“Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs,” The Tao Te Ching,” and “The Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin.
Favorite things to do:
Hiking and gardening.
Something people might be amazed to know about me:
I can cook very tasty food.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic…
Traveling!
Theme songs:
Betty Davis as an inspiration.
Learn more about Claudia’s work at
pedagogiascriticas.ucr.edu

One of the many photos taken during Claudia’s writing retreats/hiking trips to Joshua Tree National Park.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study the intersectional relationship between language, race, class, and gender in the Mexican borderlands and Mexico, as well as Critical Pedagogies in higher education.

Q: What do you hope to learn from studying these relationships?

I want to develop practical and concrete ways to increase our critical awareness about race, class, gender, ability and other social constructs inside and outside the classroom.

Q: What experiences led you to this research focus?

I was a volunteer teacher for adult literacy in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, while I was a college student in the late 90s. Since then, I have personally witnessed how Critical Pedagogies work by empowering students.

Q: What are you working on currently?

I am so excited about my current collaboration with a wonderful group of Mexican women scholars developing Critical Pedagogies for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Mexican university students.

Q: What do you love about your work in higher education ….and what would you change if you could?

I love teaching and collaborating on exciting projects, but I would change assessment. I would like to change how we evaluate our students and how we assess faculty’s work as well.

Q: Any favorite resources to share?

“English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States” by Rosina Lippi-Green.

Q: What advice would you give to new teachers/instructors?

Create an intimate safe space to share personal experiences that can potentially impact student’s learning more than any particular lesson plan.

April 13, 2021|Tags: |

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2021-22

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2021-22!

Melissa Wilcox, Religious Studies, UC Riverside
Queer and Trans Studies in Religion in the 2020s: Defining the State of the Field

✪ Conference Grants

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Dance, UC Riverside
ICR Pachappa: Navigating Place
✪ Conference Grants

María Regina Firmina-Castillo, Dance, UC Riverside
ICR Pachappa: Navigating Place
✪ Conference Grants

Grecia Perez, Anthropology, UC Riverside
California Economies Collective
✪ Multicampus Graduate Student Working Groups

March 31, 2021|

In Focus: David Lo

David Lo
Advisory Committee Member, Center for Ideas and Society

Department: Biomedical Sciences, School of Medicine
Rank: Distinguished Professor, and Senior Associate Dean of Research
# of years at UCR: 14
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson. (it’s a history of modern molecular biology); Joy of Cooking, Rombauer, Becker (enough said); A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell (it’s fun for triggering internal arguments with the book)
Favorite thing(s): Anything SciFi/ComicCon, and a well-stocked and equipped kitchen with lots of different spices and condiments!
Something people might be amazed to know about me…. I had a brief stint as a professional musician. I was a union card carrying violinist in the local symphony orchestra, and even played in the pit orchestra for Tony Orlando and Dawn. In medical school with a group of classmates, we started an orchestra and put on a few Broadway musical shows. But I decided that science held out a better long term career for me.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Having a day out at a museum, including a nice quiet lunch
My theme song: Once in a lifetime (Talking Heads)
URLs to share: (https://mucosalvaccine.ucr.edu) (https://breathe.ucr.edu) (https://healthdisparities.ucr.edu)

Part of David’s SciFi collection.

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My main research interest has always been in how the immune system is regulated to produce responses to triggers such as vaccines or allergens, or how it may instead be convinced to produce no response at all.

Q: Broadly speaking, is there a central problem you are trying to solve?

My projects explore how immune regulatory pathways can be misled into developing patterns of responses that lead to chronic inflammatory diseases, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or allergic asthma. For example in some of our work, we are looking at how environmental exposures may increase susceptibility to chronic inflammatory disease even in areas where man-made pollutants or toxins are relatively low. If we can figure out how these systems go awry, we might find more sophisticated or targeted approaches to clinical treatments instead of resorting to nonspecific immunosuppression.

Q: What are you working on currently?

We are working to solve the puzzle that living near the Salton Sea is associated with a high incidence of asthma. The Salton Sea is a drying salt lake, and a stressed ecosystem, so we are asking whether certain aerosol components produced by the sea cause lung responses triggering allergic responses and asthma. Alternatively, do these aerosols induce a different kind of disease that resembles asthma but has a rather different mechanism?

Q: What led you to a focus on health disparities in your research?

I came to this approach by an indirect path, where colleagues got me interested in the questions of health disparities and how air quality and health effects could be a particularly interesting health disparity research topic in smoggy Southern California. But I learned about the health disparities in Eastern Coachella Valley, that childhood asthma was unusually high among Latino families living near Salton Sea. Asthma is already an interesting but difficult immunology problem, but this also brought in the additional aspect of disparate impact on a specific community.

Q: What do you love about your work?

I enjoy solving difficult puzzles and discovering new biological mechanisms. I particularly enjoy finding problems that require an interdisciplinary approach that requires a diverse team of researchers. Our asthma project has been a great example of an interdisciplinary team, because we’ve engaged in a partnership with affected families to learn from them about the illness, collaborated with climate scientists to understand how seasonal winds affect the residents’ exposures to dusts from different origins, worked with environmental microbiologists to study the aerosols in the region, and worked with engineers to build a novel experimental system to test the biological effects of aerosols.

Q; What would you change about the academy, if you could?

It would be to change the perverse incentives in the power structure that incentivizes selfish behavior and penalizes cooperation; it reinforces an environment where there is little interest in learning about other academic disciplines and cultures across campus. Yet we still call it a university!

Q: Is there a key resource you often encourage students to access?

Their professors. Students are not encouraged enough to engage with the faculty and simply sit down and have them tell stories about how they got to the university. Hearing all those stories from both sides can be just as valuable as formally organized career development and mentoring; my own career was shaped by a lot of these early conversations.

Q: What have you learned from the experience teaching?

That each individual has their own path to knowledge and understanding, and being trapped by teaching evaluations, or trying to bribe the students will only block you from finding that new unique path for the next student. It seems that those unique students are the most rewarding as a teacher.

Q: How are you maintaining a connection with students during the pandemic?

I set aside plenty of time for one-on-one discussions with those students who are committed to understanding; this can also help lead to customizing their path.

Q: What service do you wish UCR provided more of in the future?

Providing diverse and quality food options, especially permanent spots for food trucks! So much productivity, conversation and teaching happens when people eat enjoyable meals together!

February 22, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Worku Nida

Worku Nida
Developing African Studies Initiative Participant

Department: Anthropology
Rank: Assistant Teaching Professor of Anthropology
# of years at UCR: This is my 5th year.
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: 1) Mediocre, by Ijeoma Oluo, which I am reading now; 2) A Promised Land, by Barack Obama, 3) WE WANT TO DO MORE THAN SURVIVE, by Bettina Love.
Favorite activities: Tennis in sport, music (Ethio-jazz, various ethnic music), love museums and open-markets, walking, kitfo (Ethiopian dish)
Something people might be amazed to know about me: That I have a multiracial and multicultural family.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: My wife and I have a plan to have a large out-door post-pandemic party.

Seals greet Worku on his morning walk near the marina.

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My research examines how people craft their identities through migration, entrepreneurship, and diasporic processes.

Q: Is there a main focus or issue your work is trying to explore?

The central question my research addresses is how identities are formed and shaping people’s life chances.

Q: What can you tell us about your current project?

My current project is investigating the so-called “random” police searches in high schools and students resistance against such policy in LA.

Q: What led you to this topic?

This project evolved from my voluntary teaching cultural anthropology to disadvantaged minority students at an alternative high school in LA.

Q: What do you love about your work?

Teaching, and helping my students develop critical thinking skills.

Q: Is there a tool or resource that helps teach this important skill in a “virtual” classroom?

Critical Thinking Writing assignments where students engage course materials in juxtaposition with their own lived experiences.

Q: What would you change about the academy, if you could?

I would allocate a lot resources to make it more meaningful and accessible to all types of students, especially, those who are disadvantaged and marginalized.

Q: What is the most important thing that professors learn in the classroom?

One of the most valuable lessons I gained from teaching is that I can learn a great deal from my students.

February 17, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Bella Merlin

Bella Merlin
Advisory Committee Member, Center for Ideas and Society

Department: Theatre Film and Digital Production
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 7
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Complete Works of Shakespeare (because I haven’t read them all yet); The Toe-Rags by Daphne Anderson (a poignant memoir of growing up in Southern Rhodesia by my husband Miles’s mother); The God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupat by the fifteenth-century saint Annamayya (these poems wring my heart every time).
Favorite things with favorite beings: Walking with my husband, Miles, and our rescue dog, Dempsey, whom we adopted the day before lockdown in March 2020. She has not only saved our emotional sanity, but she also makes us laugh from the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: It never occurred to me I’d be a university professor: I always thought I’d be a “movie star” or a singer-songwriter.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic… A road trip with Miles and Dempsey to New Mexico. And then go see my family in the UK. I miss them.
My theme song: “All you need is love” by The Beatles
Personal website:
www.bellamerlin.com

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My “research agenda” is pretty much my “life agenda”: to investigate and incarnate the invaluable role that actors play in how human beings collectively make meaning out of this extraordinary experience called Life.

Q: Is there a theme or central question that organizes your work?

I have always been passionate about acting as a serious human activity and stories as vital collective experiences. So, in both my creative activities as an actor and my practice-based research as a scholar, I’m probing how we can use fundamental actor-training tools to expand our capacity for empathy, insight and compassion. This central question has taken various avenues (and a few ‘dead ends’) over the years, but ultimately it all boils down to celebrating and elevating the mysterious activity of embodying other people and sharing that embodiment with audiences.

Bella’s husband Miles and Dempsey on one of their walks, Jan. 2021.

Q: What are you working on now, given that most performance venues have shuttered during the pandemic?

My current projects are taking me in a somewhat new direction: dramatic writing. At this very moment (January 2021), I’m composing five songs for a new Zoom-play to be created with UCR students in Spring 2021 entitled 20:20 Vision. I’m also in the research phase of a television drama called The 3AM Club, exploring what happens when our bodies are doing things (like getting older…), but we don’t necessarily feel we’re ready for them to do those things yet.

Q: What inspired this change of mode/direction?

I’d just finished co-authoring a book (Shakespeare & Company: When Action is Eloquence, my seventh academic tome), when I had a heart-felt drive to stop writing non-fiction books and, instead, explore the manifestation of stories through dramatic means. An inner rebel was rousing up inside. This inner rebel-rousing came (perhaps not by accident) just as COVID-19 was changing our lives. Since acting in both stage and screen ‘holds a mirror up to nature,’ it seemed imperative to provide my students with a means of recounting their own COVID experiences through the dramatic medium (which is what 20:20 Vision entails). Meanwhile, the place where I live – the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains in Sunland-Tujunga, near Los Angeles – has been a daily companion in my COVID-lockdown experience: there seemed to be a story striving to be born (The 3AM Club) about connecting a particular human body (i.e., mine) to the permanence, enormity and Native American ancestry of the surrounding land. It’s also about the body in transition: for women into menopause, the transition between genders, and the male body into older age. I’d written two one-woman theatre pieces before, but I’ve never been brave enough to try screenwriting. Yet I’m surrounded by terrific film and television professors (actors, directors, writers, dramaturgs) in my own department: so why not learn from their insights and experience? And I’m hoping at least two of them will be involved in the eventual manifestation of the project.

Q: Many people profess terror at the thought of “getting up in front” of an audience. What do you say when folks ask you why you love to do it?

How can one not love acting? It’s the ultimate transformative, transcendent experience. To put one’s own body, imagination, intellect, emotional landscape, spirit, heart at the service of another (the written character) is an artistic adventure of the most holistic kind. To take an audience on a journey that they might never have thought to go on before can enable us (actors and audience alike) to see other perspectives, other world views, other experiences. It is a collective act that can be healing, thought-provoking, empathic, and galvanizing in unexpected ways. Yes, it can feel terrifying – because it’s vulnerable and important. But ultimately, it’s fun!

Q: Turning to the academy, what is one thing you would change, if you could?

…it would be to change, once and for all, the ways in which the arts, humanities and social sciences are viewed. Qualitative, experiential research is all too often undervalued, under-resourced, under-funded, and undermined. In the arts, we are training something invaluable to all human beings: imagination. Elon Musk wouldn’t have reached space without imagination. Pfizer wouldn’t have come up with a vaccine without imagination. There would certainly be no artificial intelligence without human imagination. And in the performing arts, we’re training the embodiment of imagination: an electromagnetic communication between living, breathing human beings, which is manifested when we truly listen and connect. If I could change STEM to ASTEM, I’d be happy.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource that you find yourself often recommending?

That’s tough, there are many great resources, and even more being created during this lockdown time. Also, I find myself constantly shifting my ‘favorite’ resources, as acting constantly shifts according to what’s happening socially and globally. That said I love listening to Tami Simon’s ‘Sounds True: Insights at the Edge’ podcasts and Bryce Michael Wood’s ‘For Your DisComfort’. Both of these podcasts certainly inform my teaching. For my students, I’ve found Intimacy Directors International’s ‘5 Pillars of Intimacy’ very useful when working in the classroom, rehearsal room or on set.

Q: What have you learned from teaching students?

I have learned that I am always learning. My students teach me all the time. In an acting class, the students are the curriculum. So, I never really know what’s going to happen during the term until I meet the group and understand what their desires and ambitions for themselves and the course may be. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my mentor and actor trainer Vladimir Ananyev is ‘Catch people doing things rights.’ Because acting is so vulnerable, I strive to nurture each student’s confidence and playfulness, before we start fine-tuning and correcting.

Q: How has Zoom impacted this kind of classroom connection?

I’ve found that Zoom actually brings a new kind of intimacy. It has surprised me how quickly we can create a classroom community, despite not being in the same room together. And using the Chat for the students to give each other feedback on their performance work means that everyone has a chance to share their responses and therefore everyone’s perspective is granted equal valence – not just the two or three who put up their hands or from whom we have time to hear.

Q: What university service opportunity have you found to be rewarding?

I have served on the Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Programs Committee since I arrived at UCR in 2014: I love this committee. I appreciate the deepened understanding of challenges students may be facing that might cause them to ‘err’ in judgement. I appreciate the student committee members’ sense of fairness and their deep valuing of UCR’s academic integrity. I enjoy striving to find ways of guiding individuals towards better choices in the future.

***

In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

February 1, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Thomas Cogswell

Thomas Cogswell

Department: History
Rank: Distinguished Professor
# of years at UCR: 21
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Robert Caro’s volumes on Lyndon Johnson, Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, and Melvin Bragg’s podcast In Our Time.
Favorite foods: A toss up. A nice Mysore Masala Dosa or Korean Tofu Hotpot.
Something people might be amazed to know about me …. I love exploring cities, one neighborhood at a time.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to: Returning to the Hoover Wilderness in the Sierras and the archives. Not simultaneously, of course.  But what if they moved the British Library and the Kew Archives to Yosemite?  I know. A harmless drone.
Little known – but fun!- resource: earlystuartlibels.net/htdocs/index.html

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

How vicious rumors, scurrilous outbursts and rude libels helped Britain descend into revolution in the mid-seventeenth century.

Q: What is your current topic of research?

Figuring out why Lt. John Felton stabbed the Duke of Buckingham in 1628.

The Île de Ré is now a posh French resort. But in late 1627, it witnessed the slaughter of several thousand of British troops. Among the few survivors were Buckingham and Felton. Here I am visiting the French fortress on the island. Ah, the things I do for scholarship!

Q: Your research and writing goals have shifted in the past few years. Why?

Having produced a small mountain of proper [i.e. boring] scholarship [yawn], I now want to write things people might want to read.

Q: What is your favorite part of research?

Reading other people’s mail … that is four centuries old.

Q: If you could make one change to “the academy,” what would it be?

More tolerance and charity, less pomposity and pettiness.

Q: What books or resources do you often recommend to students?

G.E. Cokayne’sComplete Peerage, the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldonand short clips from Monty Python and Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories.

Q: Any advice on how to capture students’ attention in lecture?

Abandon the podium and roam around the classroom, and use LOTS of visual images and music.

***

In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 26, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Sherryl Vint

Sherryl Vint

Department: English/Media and Cultural Studies
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 8
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: There is no way I could pick just three. It would depend on the day and the project and so would always change.
Favorite entertainment: I love films, not just sf films, but films of many genres, periods, and countries.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic…I’d like to say travel, and certainly I love to visit ruins and galleries and I have been a frequent traveler in the past. But I’ve also learned during the pandemic that I can also enjoy not having to deal with airport screening. And so we shall see.
Learn more about my work @ https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/science-fiction-2

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I examine how popular culture responds to the ways that developments in science and technology have an impact on social and political life.

Q: Would you say that there is a central theme or aim in your various projects?

The central problem my research explores has to do with the relationships among popular culture, public imaginaries, and social change, focusing on speculative fiction. I’m interested in understanding how fictional texts reflect popular beliefs and preoccupations, sometimes serving to pave the way for certain sociotechnical changes to be accepted and at other times drawing attention to potential long-term consequences that might not be anticipated in the spaces of scientific research and technological design. Speculative fiction extrapolates both sociotechnical change and daily life, foregrounding questions of cultural values, social justice, family and gendered relations, and the like as it thinks about the possibilities and risks associated with scientifically driven change. It is also a genre deeply concerned with futurity and difference, with imagining life into the future, but also with challenging the status quo and thus imagining new social and material lives. This connection to utopian discourse is what motivated my initial decision to focus on speculative fiction.

Bell Lightbox Theater, the central venue of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Q: How is your current project developing these questions?

My current research looks at the intersections between economics and speculative fiction (“sf”), looking especially at the way that technology has become more central to financial practices, such as high-frequency trading via algorithms. I’m interested in the various utopian promises that are attached to innovations such as blockchain, including and beyond its role in cryptocurrencies, and in analyzing how sf writers take-up these promises to imagine concrete futures of social change (in both utopian and dystopian modes). I’m also interested in theorizing how sf and financialization share a future-oriented temporality, especially in the centrality of trading financial instruments based in debt (such as the CDOs that initiated the 2008 crash). Finally, this project will take up texts that imagine economic systems and a world beyond and after capital, looking at how they anticipate the achievement of social, racial and environmental justice.

Q: What inspired this area of inquiry?

My interest in economics emerged from my previous work on biopolitics and sf, which mainly explored the commodification of biology and its ethical and political implications. While conducting that research, I became aware of the importance of speculative narrative techniques in the documents written to secure venture capital funding in biotech, documents that I understand as a kind of speculative fiction. Another factor was that I was invited to write a chapter about the future of money for a book about the sociology of money, and the more I learned about money as a social technology, the more I began to see connections between financial innovations, especially blockchain, and speculative extrapolation.

Q: What do you tell friends and family when they ask you what you love about your work?

What I love most about my work is that I am always able to learn new fields and new frameworks of knowledge as I seek to understand how they have been taken up by popular culture. Each of my books explores how sf responds to research developments in a particular field, and much of my own process is learning about these fields as I theorize the sf response to them. In many ways I’d prefer to be the student, as I enjoy learning new things, and my mode of research allows me to take on something novel for each new project.

Q: What would you change about higher education, if you could?

If I could change one thing about the academy, it would be the centrality that grades to the classroom. I understand that students need feedback and that this includes some way of signaling if they understand the material well or need to improve. Nonetheless, I feel that anxiety about grades is detrimental to the learning experience, repressing curiosity and the sheer pleasure of learning in favor of a narrower focus on maximizing one’s grade.

Q: Do you have a favorite or “go-to” resource you recommend?

I often use the FutureStates short film series, available for free on YouTube, in my teaching. It offers a wide range of short films that illustrate the ways that sf responds to many problems facing the world today, from climate change, to surveillance by social media, to genetic engineering, to loss of jobs due to automation—and more. The films offer diverse perspectives on these issues and often highlight issues of inequality in how technology is distributed.

Q: Any tips for managing the online learning environment?

A tried-and-true teaching practice that also works well online is the small-group discussion. I think zoom would be a disaster without the break-out rooms feature, but this tool to enable smaller group discussion means that class can remain interactive and social, at least to a degree.

***

In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 20, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Eric Schwitzgebel

Eric Schwitzgebel

Department: Philosophy
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 23 (~44% of my life)
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The collected Borges, Montaigne, and Zhuangzi. See my Five Books interview on the philosophers of wonder!
Favorite activity: Long walks in beautiful places. Or maybe, during a lecture, the well-crafted pause — that silent moment when the attention of the audience slowly gathers.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I doubt that anything about me would be amazing to most people. So instead, I will share a picture of my new pet garden snail named Mermaid (image below).
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Visiting England and Scotland with my family.
My blog: The Splintered Mind

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

Something very weird must be true about how human consciousness is related to the rest of the universe, but we’re not in a good position to know where exactly the truth lies among the various weird possibilities.

Q: A good portion of your recent work links philosophy and science fiction. Do your various projects have a similar or common aim?

Broadly speaking, my projects aim to lay out the various possible theories of the mind’s place in the cosmos. I aim to show that every viable theory of mind and cosmos is both bizarre and dubious. Sometimes these bizarre and dubious possibilities are best understood by way of philosophical argument. At other times, they are best understood by means of speculative empirical science or thoughtful science fiction.

Q: My current project…

…will hopefully convince you that the world is even weirder than you thought.

Q: What started you on this research path?

(1.) thinking about how scientific and philosophical theories of consciousness would or wouldn’t apply to hypothetical aliens, artificial intelligence systems, and group minds and (2.) thinking about puzzles in cosmology concerning multiverse theory, the consequences of infinitude, and simulation theory.

Eric’s pet garden snail, Mermaid, exploring his most recent book.

Q: When folks ask you what you love about your work, what do you say?

I tell them… about garden snail sex. Garden snails are some weird alien creatures right here in our gardens, and scientific and philosophical theories of the mind struggle to make sense of them.

Q: If you could change something about the structure of the university, what would it be?

I’d reduce the bureaucratic burdens on faculty and staff, especially concerning grant applications and grant expenditures. We should spend our time on the core missions of researching and teaching, rather than spending so much time requesting money.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource you like to recommend?

The TV series Black Mirror is doing some of the best thinking right now on the ethics of technology.

Q: What have you learned from teaching and mentoring students over the years?

I have learned to meet people where they are and show how what you want to teach them connects through to what they were already interested in.

Q: What tried and true teaching practice have you found also works well online?

Regular check-ins with your advisees. These are easy to do online and more important in this time when some students are feeling out of touch with campus life.

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In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 11, 2021|Tags: |

2020 Emory Elliott Award Winner

Victoria Reyes’ book Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines is the winner of the 2020 Emory Elliott Award. For more information about her work, we are sharing an updated version of her 2019 interview in our In Focus series. A big congratulations to Victoria!

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In Focus

Victoria Reyes
Participant, Mellon Advancing Intercultural Studies, Contested Histories Seminar

Department: Sociology
Rank: Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR: Entering 4th year at UCR but 3rd year on campus because during my first year I was on leave for a Postdoc at University of Michigan
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: This is a difficult one…I’d say I would take my phone and internet connection
Favorite thing: Philippine brand dried mangoes
Website: www.victoriadreyes.com

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study culture, borders, and empires.

Q. Is there a specific question that arises in the intersection of these topics?

The question of territoriality – what is it? What does it look like in practice and on-the-ground? How has it changed over time?

Q. You have a new book out- congratulations!

Yes, thanks! I recently published my first book, Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines (Stanford University Press), and received an AAUW Postdoctoral American Fellowship to work on my second project during 2019-2020. Read UCR News article about Reyes’ book >>

Q. Why ‘borders’ in particular? What sparked your interest?

My initial interest was sparked by my grandmother’s migration story through marriage to a US serviceman. Her nostalgia of the former base in the Philippines clashed with my undergrad classes on empire. I was also fascinated by what sociologists call the socio-cultural boundary-making within the Filipino American community as my grandmother was ostracized, in part because marriage migration can have a stigma of sex work attached to it.

When I went to Subic Bay, Philippines, home to a former US naval base, the differences between inside what was now a special economic zone and outside further intrigued me and the first time I saw a military ship docked, I remembered my grandmother’s awe.

So the borderlands I’m interested in are what I call global borderlands – legally ambiguous places (like overseas military bases, special economic zones, embassies, cruise ships and the like) where rules of life differ within their walls and which are symbolically seen as either arms of empire or as ways to be a part of a modern, cosmopolitan community. It’s this tension that I’m fascinated by.

Q. What are you working on now?

My kids have been at home since March, so it’s been extremely difficult to work on my second empirical project, which is on how reputations (that are racialized, gendered and colonial) shape markets. What I’ve been working on instead is a book of essays that blend critique and the personal on what it’s like to be an outsider in academia. The title, Academic Outsider, draws on, and is a homage to, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. I was also inspired by recent books like THICK by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I’m thankful to have received funding from CIS for a book workshop and receive helpful feedback on the draft by scholars committed to public writing.

Q. What do you love about your work?

Everything! I love being able to research what I want, teach interesting subjects to bright students and engage in service work I find fulfilling.

Q. What is your top ‘take away’ from teaching?

The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is that the classroom is a partnership between myself, the TAs, and each student. We all learn from one another. Each and every student has something to contribute and I find UCR students to be inspiring.

Q: Given that you love your work, if you could change one thing about the academy….

It would be for the academy to be more inclusive. I dedicate my service time to DEI issues (whether on the UCR Senate’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, writing advice columns, or establishing new awards for grad students, publicly engaged work and teaching).

Q. Do you have a favorite podcast to recommend?

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet” which is hosted by Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s an informative take on contemporary U.S. politics under the Trump administration and he and his guests break down what various indictments, reports, and other legal matters mean in lay terms (e.g., like the Mueller Report).

Q. Any interesting facts about you that might surprise people?

I have aphantasia, which means I have zero visual processing and don’t have a “mind’s eye.” I always thought comments like “day dreaming” or how characters looked different on screen than how they imagined when reading books were metaphors! It amazes me that other people can visualize things. I’m also a true crime buff and spend whatever free time I have (which isn’t a lot with a 5 year old and a 1 year old!) reading about unsolved mysteries.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 11, 2021|

In Focus: Crystal Baik

Crystal Baik
Mellon Second Project Fellow

Department: Gender and Sexuality Studies
Rank: Associate Professor (first year as a tenured professor)
# of years at UCR: this is my 7th year at UCR
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider; Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart; Lisa Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces.
Favorite activity: Since the pandemic, I’ve taken up birding and 풍물 (poongmul/Korean drumming).
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I’m an identical twin and my partner is also an identical twin.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Hiking in the Inyo National Forest and birding around Mono Lake.
Website: Here is a link to an important collaborative space, GYOPO, I’ve been a part of that has compelled me to think more expansively when it comes to experimental research and experiential teaching.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My interdisciplinary research engages memory work that centers critical feminist orientations and racial justice, especially in relation to ongoing war, militarized migrations, displacement, and dispossession.

Q: Is there a theme or central question that organizes your work?

In my current research, I build on existing interdisciplinary scholarship to consider the creation of open-ended memory archives through methodological approaches that work against accumulation, possession, and extraction. In the broadest sense, I inquire into a myriad of consequences associated with institutional archives of memory when they are influenced by settler notions of property, whiteness, and ownership (for instance, solely defining oral histories as copyrighted products owned by institutions and organizations). Relatedly, I explore the possibility of creating memory archives that divest from a professionalized impulse to collect and accrue—especially during times of prolonged war, separation, and crisis. As a feminist memory worker, I prioritize radical care as an organizing principle by exploring what it means to approach relationship-building as an embodied form of memory archiving.

Headphones, 풍물 (poongmul) music sheet, and two books for research (E. Patrick Johnson’s Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women and Dylan Robinson’s Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies).

Q: How are you exploring these questions in your current project?

My current project is a creative non-fiction multimedia work that begins with 25 oral histories I’ve conducted these past two years with Korean/American feminist, femme-identified, transgender, queer, and non-binary activists, healers, and rebel rousers across social movements (and whose ages range from 21 to 80!). One of the goals of the project is to conceptualize listening, not only as a method, but as a mode of writing that attunes to “minor” moments of becoming rarely captured within traditional activist histories. I am slowly beginning to piece these narratives together and the creative writing process feels very differently from my first book project. I’m also creating an accompanying listening-archive-space for these interviews—one that is created, first and foremost, for narrators as the primary audience— alongside the book.

Q: What led you to this topic?

Before I entered graduate school in New York City and Los Angeles, I was a part of shifting networks of Korean/American feminist grassroots organizers, creative writers, cultural workers, farmers, healers, and troublemakers who, at that time, primarily worked outside of or at the very edge of formal institutions. While I moved away from these networks and spaces during graduate school for various reasons, I am circling back and returning to these people and conversations because they land for me as home in intellectual and affective ways.

Q: What do you say when people ask you what you like about your work?

For now, I’ll say that I am appreciative that my work gifts me with the space and time, as well as trusted allies, to messily struggle through and practice relational principles and ethics that are pivotal to who I am, who I am becoming, and how I want to live my life more broadly.

Q: How should – or could – the academy change for the better?

I wish the academy would prioritize critical, creative, and capacious collaborations among academics, artists, activists, and cultural workers in sustained ways that challenge how and what we define as “cutting-edge” or “rigorous” scholarship. More often than not, I feel like the academy as a whole privileges the individually-authored monograph (or article) or individual contributions to a field as the most significant criteria in determining intellectual heft, productivity, and of course, promotion. At times, I imagine what it would be like if we were actually provided with time, resources, and support to collaboratively create in ways that move away from (or at least, expand beyond) this individuation– for instance, podcasts, collaborative improvised writing, cultural work, and emergent syllabi (the latter also acknowledges how much intellectual labor, careful thought, energy, and time it takes to teach and conceptualize radical curricula).

Q: Have you gained any wisdom about teaching from your time in the classroom?

I don’t know if these are words of wisdom as much as they are part of an ongoing reflection, but I engage teaching as a mutual experience where educators and students are constantly learning from each other. Just as much as students enter the classroom to engage, learn, and/or be challenged, I also enter the classroom cognizant that my own perceptions will likely be challenged if not destabilized. This has made me incredibly humble as an educator because I have to be open to un/learning, improvisation, and changing directions depending on who is in the room and what emerges within “live” time (for instance: COVID-19!).

Q: How have you adapted your teaching “style” for the online environment?

For me, it is important that each student has the opportunity to listen to, share, and/or be heard in ways that resonate for each of them. Pedagogically, I’ve tried to scaffold different approaches that attune to the plurality of students in the space— for instance, through reserved time for journaling and/or flash drawing in class; virtual jam and collage boards; live reading and annotation; collaborative writing through shared Google documents; larger discussions and smaller group work; and tailored exercises with a peer. On Zoom, this has translated into mobilizing the small breakout room function, scheduling one-to-one meetings with students, creating structured time for students to journal and/or draw via critical prompts, using accessible platforms like Padlet to create virtual exhibits, and creating pockets of time for students to discuss questions on their own (I temporarily “leave” the Zoom space).

Q: Do you have any favorite resources that you recommend?

There are so many great resources, podcasts, and films that I incorporate into my teaching—so I’ll list two resources here! In courses like feminist oral history, I draw on Sin Invalid’s “10 Principles of Disability Justice” to provide an entry-point for students to engage disability justice (if they are unfamiliar with this concept and social movement). We then transition into discussing what it means to actually practice DJ in our oral history work (which is often anchored in audism, assumptions about what a “good voice” sounds like, the fetishization of the sonic record, etc.). Relatedly, I’ve very much appreciated Alice Wong’s brilliant work, which focuses on disability justice, race, feminism, and listening. I often assign episodes + transcripts from her podcast, Disability Visibility, in my courses.

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In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 5, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Padma Rangarajan

Padma Rangarajan
Mellon Humanities Fellow

Department: English
Rank: Associate Professor
# of years at UCR: 3
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Mahabaratha, A Time of Gifts, David Copperfield.
Favorite shows to stream: Sci-fi shows from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, all that stuff.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: My father pierced my nose. It took him three tries.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Hugs. All the hugs.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:  

I study the literature and history of the British Empire.

Q: Any specific time period within the history of the empire?

My work focuses on complicating easy assumptions about Empire in the 19th century specifically, and the nineteenth century in general. It is such a pivotal period for understanding our present conceptions of culture, race, culture, and the globe.

Q: What can you tell us about your current project?

My book in progress, Thug Life: The British Empire and the Birth of Terrorism, locates the origins of modern terrorism in nineteenth century imperial literature and history.

Image text reads “Thugs about to strangle a traveler! These infamous Assassins in order that the neck of their unsuspecting victim may be the more exposed for their Satanic purpose, pretending to see something extraordinary, direct his attention to the stars or skies! and when he lifts up his head strangle him!” Source: Dialogues with Thugs and Narratives of Murders (1825-40).

Q: How did you get interested in the literary origins of terrorism?

Several years ago I came across a presentation on cybersecurity by someone working in the Department of Defense. It argued for the legitimacy of the Guantanamo Bay detention center by linking it to policing in British India (and Indiana Jones!). It was such a striking connection that I had to pursue it further.

Q: What do you say when people ask you why you love your work?

I get to spend so much of my time learning about fascinating things, and I never know exactly where my research will take me. I just spent half a day recently reading Victorian tiger-hunting narratives, which are disturbing and interesting at the same time.

Q: If you could make one change to the structure of higher education today, what would it be?

I would greatly reduce adjunct teaching and greatly expand the ranks of tenured professors. The precariousness and uncertainty of adjuncting, and the second-class status afforded to adjuncts at most universities hurts teachers and students.

Q: What have you learned about teaching from your time in the classroom?

Although it’s very tempting to simply repeat a course over and over, it’s far more valuable to experiment with different techniques for teaching a text, for teaching writing, and for getting students to connect to a text.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource that you encourage students to use?

The Oxford English Dictionary, which I tout over all others because it tracks the changing history of words over time and provides citations! For historical research it’s invaluable to know exactly when and where a word was first used. For my own project, for example, it’s so important to know that the word “terrorism” didn’t exist until the 1790’s.

Q: Have you discovered any tools or tips that enhance remote learning and/or online teaching?

I’m a low-tech instructor by choice, but tools like COVE (Central Online Victorian Educator) that allow students to virtually collaborate on editing and annotating texts are tremendously helpful for giving students dynamic access to rare/expensive texts and editions.

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In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

December 16, 2020|Tags: |

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2020-21

A banner year for UCR in awards from the UC Humanities Research Institute! UCR students and faculty won 10 awards including two of the most competitive awards in the system: the President’s Faculty Research Fellowship, won by Gloria Kim (Media and Cultural Studies), and the White Graduate Student Scholarship in Medicine & Humanities won by Jared Smith (Philosophy). Kudos to all applicants and this year’s awardees!

✪ Multicampus Graduate Student Working Group

XIX to XXI: Bringing Spanish language in California to the forefront

Álvaro Gonzelz Alba, Hispanic Studies, UC Riverside
Evelyn Gamez, Spanish and Portuguese, UC Davis

✪ Short-Term Collaborative Research Residency

Reading for Infrastructure, Infrastructure for Reading

Susan Zeiger, English, and Kameron Sanzo, English, UC Riverside
With Adriana Johnson, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine

✪ Editors’ Residency

Moving in the Midst: Critical Indigenous Dance Studies

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Dance, UC Riverside
Maria Regina Firmino-Castillo, Dance, UC Riverside

✪ The Andrew Vincent White and Florence Wales White Graduate Student Scholarship (Medicine & Humanities)

The Moral Psychology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Jared Smith, Philosophy, UC Riverside

✪ University of California President’s Faculty Research Fellowship

The Microbial Resolve: Visualization, Speculation, and Security

Gloria Kim, Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside

✪ Graduate Student Dissertation Support

Exposed Flesh: A Literary History of Black Being

Sarah Buckner, English, UC Riverside

✪ Conference Grant

Co-Productions: Literature, Media, and Diaspora in the Japanese Transpacific

John Kim, Comparative Languages and Literatures, UC Riverside

✪ Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop

Indigenous Inhumanities: California Indian Revitalizations and Postapocalyptic Research

Mark Minch-de Leon, English, UC Riverside

✪ Engaging Humanities Grant

Re-Visioning Abolitionist Futures: Beyond the Walls

Setsu Shigematsu, Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside

✪ Fall 2020 Residential Research Group

Disciplining Diversity

Mariam Lam, Comparative and Ethnic Studies, UC Riverside (Convener)

June 17, 2020|

Congratulations to the following Center for Ideas & Society award winners!

Conference Awards

¡Que Viva Mexico! – Transnational Film and Audiovisual Art
Paulo Chagas (Music)
Nikolay Maslov (Culver Center of the Arts)

Co-Productions: Literature, Media and Diaspora in the Japanese Transpacific
Anne McKnight (Comparative Literature)
John Kim (Comparative Literature)
Setsu Shigematsu (Media & Cultural Studies)
Traise Yamamoto (English)
Catherine Gudis (History)

(Re)Draft Manuscript Revision Workshops

Undocumented Desires: Fantasies of Latino Male Sexuality
Richard Rodriguez (Media & Cultural Studies)

The ‘Falls’ of Rome: Transformations of the City in Late Antiquity (270-603 CE)
Michele Salzman (History)

Interdisciplinary Working Group Awards

Global 19th Century
Susan Zieger (English)
Jonathan Eacott (History)
Heidi Brevik-Zender (Comparative Literature/French)
Fatima Quaraishi (History of Art)

Making Space: Emerging Theories and Interventions in Critical Anti-Violence Research
Alisa Bierria  (Ethnic Studies)
Andrea Smith (Ethnic Studies)

Retaining and Promoting Diverse Faculty: Intellectual Engagement and the Second Book Project
Victoria Reyes (Sociology)
Jade Sasser (Gender & Sexuality Studies)

Political Economy Seminar
Jana Grittersova (Political Science)
Matthew Mahutga (Sociology)

April 21, 2020|

Success! Book manuscript workshop hosted online

The Faculty Commons Latinx & Latin American Studies Workgroup recently hosted an online book manuscript workshop for Xóchitl Chavez (Music), who found the virtual workshop to be very helpful. “I’m sure it would have been nice to share a meal to build further collegial ties,” she said, “but otherwise what is essential at this point is the content from the workshop.” All the participants in the two-hour Zoom session agreed, calling the workshop a “success” and a “great template” for future virtual meetings.

For tips on virtual manuscript workshops, contact us at CISevents@ucr.edu.

March 26, 2020|

Intellectual community just got an upgrade

Dear colleagues,

In these stressful times, the work of building community is more important than ever. We’re re-designing our book talks, panel discussions, and reading groups so that you can join in online – where ever you are. As we develop our plans, we would love to hear your ideas for meetings, events or programs that help keep us all in engaged and moving forward. Email us at CISevents@ucr.edu.

Check back soon for more details!

March 18, 2020|

In Focus: Matthew King

Matthew King
Mellon Humanities Fellow

Department: Religious Studies
Rank: Associate Professor
# of years at UCR: 5 years
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Sakya Paṇḍita Sakya Lekshé, Annie Dillard Teaching a Stone to Talk, Michel de Certeau Heterologies.
Favorite thing: a guitar and Anstruther Lake in my Canadian homeland of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.
Favorite films: Three documentaries that I have seen in recent years that I regularly bring to my students—all imperfect portraits but which tend to leave viewers aching to think, act, and imagine better—are Happiness: TV Reaches Bhutan,Unmistaken Child, and Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change.
Website: ucriverside.academia.edu/MatthewKing

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

The social history of knowledge in late-and post-imperial Inner Asia, often paired with a history of the eastward circuit of humanist knowledge from Europe.

Q. Does your work explore a central question or theme?

Broadly speaking, the central problem I am trying to solve: How do communities come to know their past authoritatively in relation to global circuits of discourses and knowledge practices developed elsewhere.

Q. What can you tell us about your current project?

My current project: Examines a circuit of translations of a famous Chinese travel narrative entitled Record of Buddhist Kingdoms (Ch. 佛國記,Foguoji) by the Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian (法顯, 337-422 CE), one of pre-modern Asia’s most ambitious wanderers. I am exploring an Eurasianist circle of translation from the 19th century that brought Faxian’s text to European, Siberian, Tibetan, and Mongolian readers for the first time. In addition to providing an annotated translation of the Tibetan and Mongolian versions of this text, my book will explore the ways that these translations (and their hundreds of footnotes) helped invent “Asia,” “Buddhism,” and the “Silk Road” as contested objects of knowledge between the academy and the monastery and across the frontiers of the West/nonWest.

Q. What else have you been up to, in addition to your current project?

Recently, I have returned from a research fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Leipzig, where I developed new work as part of a wonderful working group focusing on “secularisms in pre-modern Asia.” I am spending this academic year (very gratefully) as a Mellon Foundation second project fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society on the book described above. At the moment I am also spending quite a bit of time giving talks about my recently published first book, Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire(Columbia University Press, 2019).

Q. What do you love about the work you do? 

No other career pushes you to the very edge of what you are capable of conceiving and undertaking technically (ie. dealing with other languages, other modes of representing and inscribing the human imagination, other traces of tying human life to place and time, etc.).

Q. What has the experience of teaching taught you?

[T]hat the only authority I have as a teacher is when I am genuinely inhabiting the space of an inspired learner.

Photo taken by Venerable Bilguun in South Gobi Province, circa 2006.

Q. What would you change about the academy, if you could?

That we could acknowledge: 1) our very troubling role in deepening forms of social inequality (through, for example, the mass burden of student debt our institutions inflict and that pay our salaries); and 2) our professional implication in creating a massive and I would say mostly indefensible carbon emissions imprint through our rituals of plane travel and professional meetings.

Q. One amazing fact about you…..

I once found a dinosaur bone in the South Gobi Desert in the company of an incarnate Buddhist lama leading a small shih-tzu on a bedazzled leash. (We buried it after taking some pictures and you’ll never find it!)

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

December 2, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Marissa Brookes

Marissa Brookes
Mellon Humanities Fellow

Department: Political Science
Rank: Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR: I am in my 7th year now.
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation; Theda Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions;
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
Currently listening to: Dillinger Four, Naked Raygun, Danny Brown, Malibu Ken
A favorite record I encourage students to listen to is: Propagandhi’s 1993 How to Clean Everything. It’s a political punk classic.
Website: researchgate.net/profile/Marissa_Brookes

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study the politics of labor in the global economy, including how workers’ transnational activism influences employers to create and maintain “good jobs” (secure, stable, and gainful employment) in both advanced and developing countries.

Q: What contribution do you see your work making to research in this area?

Broadly speaking, the essential contribution of my research is in showing how globalization creates unique forms of power for workers, which they exercise in attempt to compel corporations to improve working conditions and protect labor rights.

Q: What questions are you currently exploring?

My current project, “Bringing Labor Back In: How Histories of Conflict Tame Corporate Power Over Time,” investigates labor transnationalism’s long-term impact on employment relations through a comparative historical analysis of global unions’ evolving relationships with transnational corporations over three decades.

Cover of Marissa’s book: “The New Politics of Transnational Labor.”

Q. You have had a busy year! What have you been up to?

Recently, I published my first book (The New Politics of Transnational Labor, 2019, Cornell University Press), presented a new paper on labor in China at UC San Diego as part of a multi-campus project on Great Power Competition in the 21st Century, and traveled to Mexico City for the Southwest Workshop on Mixed-Methods Research, an annual conference I co-founded and co-organize.

Q. When friends and family ask you what you love about your work….

… I tell them I care most about the practical implications of my research for reducing economic inequality, creating good jobs, and securing labor rights around the world.

Q. What have you learned from teaching students at UCR?

The most valuable lesson teaching has taught me is that students excel when they feel genuinely connected to their course material, their classmates, and their professors. They have to feel connected. They have to care. And they have to know that I care too. Only then do students develop the level of deep interest and active engagement necessary for systematic analysis and the development of critical thinking skills.

Q. If you had the power to change the academy in some way, what would you do?

If I could change one thing about the academy, it would be to eliminate the economic barriers that prevent bright, hardworking individuals from reaching their full potentials.

Q. What might people be surprised to know about the inspiration for your research?

My work is inspired by the difficult, exhausting jobs my family members have had to work over the years and the opportunities I have had for socioeconomic mobility. My mother immigrated to the US from the Philippines during the Marcos regime and never got to finish her degree. My father is a Vietnam veteran who was not encouraged to pursue a college education by his factory-worker father and extended family of coal miners. I feel fortunate and enormously privileged to be able to study the politics of work and employment as a professor at UCR.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

November 18, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Jody Benjamin

Jody Benjamin
Participant, Committee on African Studies

Department: History
Rank: Assistant Professor
Educational background: Ph.D. in African and African American Studies with a concentration in African History, Harvard University, 2016
# of years at UCR: Four
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The best collection of photographs I could find; The Fortunes of Wangrin by Ahmadou Hampate Ba. The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison.
Favorite things: music: afrobeat, hip hop, bebop, jazz, reggae; places: libraries, museums, big cities (Dakar, Lagos, New York City), the woods, farmer’s markets, street festivals/parades, California beaches;  food: Jamaican Brown Stew chicken with rice, peas and plantain, Thiebou Djen (Senegalese fish and rice), Nigerian Egusi stew with pounded yam; crispy fried foods, collard greens, ice cream, cookies and hot dogs with relish and spicy mustard; activity: hanging with good friends and family.

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My research focuses on western African history (Senegal, Mali, Guinea) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and includes questions of African Diaspora and transnational history.

Q. Broadly speaking, what is the key aim of your research?

To center the significant contributions of continental African history both to the “early modern” period and to contemporary realities; and to push the conversation beyond standard approaches to the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism in Africa.

Q. What is your current project?

“The Texture of Change: Cloth, Commerce and History in Western Africa, 1700-1850.” In it, I explore how people across space and time deployed textiles and dress to claim individual or group status. I argue that choices made within a set of ecological, political and economic constraints structured networks connecting the Atlantic and Indian Ocean perimeters in the pre-modern era.

Q: Why study textiles, in particular?

Textiles were a major industry within the entire West African region going back centuries. They also were the biggest “global” industry of the period I study. At the heart of what became the Industrial Revolution.

Q. Any new developments in your work?

Recently, I received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete my first book. I have been invited to give a talk about my research this fall as part of the Distinguished Africanist Lecture series at the University of Chicago this fall.

Q. When friends and family ask what you love about your work, how do you answer?

I tell them that I get to spend time learning deeply about people, places and processes that have shaped our contemporary lives in ways large and small. Then I get to share what I’ve learned with other scholars, students and different audiences all over the world. How awesome! (Don’t mention all the long hours, though!)

Q. A favorite podcast:

Africa Past and Present: the podcast about African history, culture and politics (afripod.aodl.org); Afropop Worldwide with Georges Collinet (afropop.org).

Q.What have you learned from teaching?

That less can be more. Capturing a student’s genuine interest and giving them tools to take ownership of a particular topic or set of questions makes for much better learning than lots of lecture slides and tons of reading. Mix it up. Try new things. Once you earn their buy-in, amazing things are possible.

Q: If you could change one thing about the academy:

I would like to see an academy where scholars were generally more reflective about their enormous privileges (yes, you’ve earned them, but then what?), more conscious about the (non-verbal) messages they send to students and society, more generous toward their colleagues, and more deliberate about paying it all forward.

Q. Something people might be amazed to know about you:

I got my love of reading from generations in my family. I inherited a large library of books and music from my grandfather who was an autodidact because he had to be. I am the first in our family to (have the opportunity) to earn a doctorate and work as a scholar.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

October 10, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Victoria Reyes

Victoria Reyes
Participant, Mellon Advancing Intercultural Studies, Contested Histories Seminar

Department: Sociology
Rank: Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR: Entering 4th year at UCR but 3rd year on campus because during my first year I was on leave for a Postdoc at University of Michigan
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: This is a difficult one…I’d say I would take my phone and internet connection
Favorite thing: Philippine brand dried mangoes
Website: www.victoriadreyes.com

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study culture, borders, and empires.

Q. Is there a specific question that arises in the intersection of these topics?

The question of territoriality – what is it? What does it look like in practice and on-the-ground? How has it changed over time?

Q. You have a new book out- congratulations!

Yes, thanks! I recently published my first book, Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines (Stanford University Press), and received an AAUW Postdoctoral American Fellowship to work on my second project during 2019-2020. Read UCR News article about Reyes’ book >>

Q. Why ‘borders’ in particular? What sparked your interest?

My initial interest was sparked by my grandmother’s migration story through marriage to a US serviceman. Her nostalgia of the former base in the Philippines clashed with my undergrad classes on empire. I was also fascinated by what sociologists call the socio-cultural boundary-making within the Filipino American community as my grandmother was ostracized, in part because marriage migration can have a stigma of sex work attached to it.

When I went to Subic Bay, Philippines, home to a former US naval base, the differences between inside what was now a special economic zone and outside further intrigued me and the first time I saw a military ship docked, I remembered my grandmother’s awe.

So the borderlands I’m interested in are what I call global borderlands – legally ambiguous places (like overseas military bases, special economic zones, embassies, cruise ships and the like) where rules of life differ within their walls and which are symbolically seen as either arms of empire or as ways to be a part of a modern, cosmopolitan community. It’s this tension that I’m fascinated by.

Q. What are you working on now?

My current project is on reputation of places, how it is differently racialized and gendered by authors and audiences. I’m particularly interested in state attempts to shape place reputation and how that compares to narratives of places on-the-ground.

Q. What do you love about your work?

Everything! I love being able to research what I want, teach interesting subjects to bright students and engage in service work I find fulfilling.

Q. What is your top ‘take away’ from teaching?

The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is that the classroom is a partnership between myself, the TAs, and each student. We all learn from one another. Each and every student has something to contribute and I find UCR students to be inspiring.

Q: Given that you love your work, if you could change one thing about the academy….

It would be for the academy to be more inclusive. I dedicate my service time to DEI issues (whether on the UCR Senate’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, writing advice columns, or establishing new awards for grad students, publicly engaged work and teaching).

Q. Do you have a favorite podcast to recommend?

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet” which is hosted by Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s an informative take on contemporary U.S. politics under the Trump administration and he and his guests break down what various indictments, reports, and other legal matters mean in lay terms (e.g., like the Mueller Report).

Q. Any interesting facts about you that might surprise people?

I have aphantasia, which means I have zero visual processing and don’t have a “mind’s eye.” I always thought comments like “day dreaming” or how characters looked different on screen than how they imagined when reading books were metaphors! It amazes me that other people can visualize things. I’m also a true crime buff and spend whatever free time I have (which isn’t a lot with a 5 year old and a 1 year old!) reading about unsolved mysteries.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

September 4, 2019|Tags: |

In Focus: Juliet McMullin

Juliet McMullin
Convener, Inequities in Health, Faculty Commons Project

Juliet’s Stats:

Department: Anthropology
Rank: Professor
Years at UCR: 14
Favorite Thing: Chocolate. It is such a favorite thing that I host bi-annual chocolate parties.
Book I’m reading right now: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.
Personal Website: www.julietmcmullin.com

Comic of Juliet’s visit to the 2018 Asian American History graduate seminar at UCLA by Angel’s Talitha Trazo.

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My research agenda is designed to examine the production of inequality and its manifestations in health and wellness.

Q. Are there particular questions that stand-out for you within this framework?

While the topic of my research is health inequalities, I really see the problem that my research engages as inclusion and community building. I am curious about how we include different perspectives while building a common project. What do we do with voices/bodies that don’t conform? What is the role of storytelling in community building? Do we make spaces that respect difference, respect different experiences and stories? Or do we silence and segregate? How we define, experience, and organize ourselves produces specific forms of inequity that allow some to thrive and exacerbate suffering for many.

Q. What project are you working on now?

That’s a funny question because I typically have at least three ongoing projects that delve into different facets of the questions that interest me. I’ll just mention two projects now. One project is a community engagement effort with Riverside/San Bernardino Indian Health and tribal community members. We are collaboratively developing a historical trauma curriculum for health care providers who serve Native people. Too often, when physicians come to work for Indian Health Services they have no knowledge about the history of Native people and how that history affects their health. Indeed, many in this area don’t know that these are the current and ancestral lands of the Cahuilla, Tongva, Serrano, Luiseño, Cupeño and Kumeyaay Peoples. The content of our curriculum will honor the individual, historical and political experiences of these tribes that physicians need to know in order to provide better care. The second project that gives me a lot of joy builds on my long term work in the relations of cancer. For this project I am working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer to create comics about their medical and personal experiences. This is both a narrative/life history project and a project that explores how storytelling in the form of comics enhances personal and interpersonal understandings that might improve health and wellbeing. Finally, in my spare time, I am working on an ethnography of the graphic medicine community. Thinking around how this diverse group of artists and scholars come together around the comics medium, and how they engage the inherent inequities in our medical systems.

Q. Any recent developments on these projects, or other ideas that you’ve been working on?

The historical trauma project is supported by a community engagement award from Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Our research group, faculty and community members, are planning our trip to Aotearoa to present our work at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Conference. My colleague Kristyn Pellecchia and I recently received funding from the CSU Palliative Care Institute for a project to build a Humanities based curriculum for medical students on Death and Dying. I have a few papers from each of these projects, that have been developed and written in collaboration with graduate students, colleagues, and community partners. And in my other pocket of spare time, I’ve spent the past couple of years collaborating and developing a Minor in Medical and Health Humanities. We are awaiting final approval.

Q. What is the most valuable thing that you have learned from teaching?

Be curious. We rarely truly know what is going on in our students lives. Many students are struggling with food insecurity, housing, family and personal relationships. When they show up to class, they are bringing their best with them. What ever their best is, it is our job to use their best and to deliver on the opportunities for critical thinking and innovation that an education in a top public research university is supposed to provide.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

July 8, 2019|Tags: |

UCHRI Award Winners

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2019-20!

Alisa Bierria, Ethnic Studies
Feminist Anti-Carceral Research Initiative
✪ Engaging Humanities Grant

Michelle Dizon, Media and Cultural Studies
Fugitive Archives
✪ Engaging Humanities Grant

Dana Simmons, History
Humanities Careers in Science History, Policy, and Communication (H-SCHIP)
✪ Grad Professionalization Workshop Grant

Samuel Fullerton, History
Sex and the English Revolution
✪ Dissertation Award

Chelsea Silva, English
Bedwritten: Middle English Medicine and the Ailing Author
✪ Dissertation Award

June 25, 2019|

Thank you for another great year!

On behalf of everyone at the Center, we want to thank you for your continued participation and support!

In addition to celebrating the Center’s 30th Anniversary, we’re celebrating another successful year of humanities-oriented programs at UCR. Over the last academic year, Center-sponsored events reached over 800 people through…

  • More than 15 conferences & workshops
  • Over 20 community events
  • 12 faculty-led projects hosting over 50 guest speakers
  • 11 faculty book talks including Emory Elliott Award winner: Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee
  • 27 graduate dissertation research grants
  • PLUS co-sponsorship of events across campus!

What was the most memorable part of the year for you? We would love to hear your feedback!

Share Feedback

Stay tuned for Film for Thought, a free summer documentary series!

June 19, 2019|
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