Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Political Concepts: This World

March 8 – 9, 2024
Pembroke Hall 305, 172 Meeting Street

This world is on a razor’s edge. Glaciers are melting, seas are warming, and species are disappearing at unprecedented rates. Authoritarianism, racism, book-banning regimes, anti-abortion legislation, and political closures of all kinds are on the rise. Mass violence is taking place in numerous contexts across the globe.

And yet there are new openings, too. This world is also a place where popular movements, novel initiatives, and advances in science make it possible for us to imagine a carbon neutral future. The global uprisings of 2019, the Black Lives Matter movement, and countless demonstrations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia confirm that social change, though its pursuit may be arduous, is possible.

What really is this world “we” are called to heal? Who is the “us” whose futures are radically entangled in it? The 2024 edition of the Political Concepts conference brings together a cohort of scholars to reflect on concepts that may be revised, deconstructed, or invented to face this world’s critical challenges.

Free and open to the public. For questions or to request special services, accommodations, or assistance, please contact or (401) 863-6070.

The event is presented by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities and convened by Timothy Bewes, Ainsley LeSure, Brian Meeks, Adi Ophir, and Vazira Zamindar.


Friday, March 8, 2024

9:00 am – 10:55 am

Greetings and opening remarks

Panel 1

Mohamed Amer Meziane, “Cosmos”
Paula Gaetano-Adi, “Cosmotechnics”

Moderator: Amanda Anderson

10:55 am – 11:10 am Coffee break
11:10 am – 12:55 pm

Panel 2

Gary Wilder, “Internationalism”
Jason Stanley, “History”

Moderator: Brian Meeks

12:55 pm – 1:50 pm Lunch break
1:50 pm – 3:35 pm

Panel 3

Markus Berger, “Cycle”
Rebecca Nedostup, “Care”

Moderator: Ainsley LeSure

3:35 pm – 3:50 pm Coffee break
3:50 pm – 5:35 pm

Panel 4

Christopher Roberts, “Education”
Stathis Gourgouris, “Listening”

Moderator: Adi Ophir

Saturday, March 9, 2024

9:00 am – 10:45 am

Panel 1

Macarena Gómez-Barris, “Tidalectics”
Ada Smailbegović, “Snail Cinema”

Moderator: Yannis Hamilakis

10:45 pm – 11:00 am Coffee break
11:00 am – 12:45 pm

Panel 2

Dilip M. Menon, “Othukkuka/Othukkam”
Thangam Ravindranathan, “Dormancy”

Moderator: Vazira Zamindar

12:45 pm – 1:45 pm Lunch break
1:45 pm – 3:30 pm

Panel 3

Alexander Weheliye, “Schwarz-Sein”
Michael Berman, “Relationlessness”

Moderator: Peter Szendy

3:30 pm – 3:45 pm Coffee break
3:45 pm – 5:30 pm

Panel 4

Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman, “Inhabitation”
Sharon Krause, “Earthly Politics”

Moderator: Timothy Bewes

Speaker Bios

Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman is associate professor of American studies and English at Brown University. Her scholarship has appeared in such venues as African American Review, GLQ, The Black Scholar, ASAP/Journal, Faulkner Journal, American Literary History, and The James Baldwin Review, among other scholarly journals and critical anthologies. She is a two-time winner of the Darwin T. Turner Best Essay Award in African American Review and winner of the 2020 GLQ Caucus’s Crompton-Noll Award for best essay. She has also been awarded fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Mellon Foundation, among others. She is the author of Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (Duke University Press, 2012) and Millennial Style: The Politics of Experiment in Contemporary African Diasporic Culture (Duke University Press, 2024).

Markus Berger is an artist, designer, writer, professor of interior architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), registered architect (SBA) in the Netherlands, and founder and director of the Repair Atelier, an art/design workshop that investigates and activates ideas of reuse. His work, research, writing, and teaching critique the ethics, aesthetics, and values of modern architecture and focus on forms of change and repair in art, architecture, and design. He cofounded Int|AR, the journal of Interventions and Adaptive Reuse (2009–2019), which addresses such issues as preservation, conservation, alteration, and interventions. His latest coedited books are Intervention and Adaptive Reuse: A Decade of Responsible Practice (Birkhäuser, 2021) with Liliane Wong and Repair: Sustainable Design Futures (Routledge, 2023) with Kate Irvin.

​​Michael Berman is currently a postdoctoral research associate in international humanities in the Department of Anthropology and the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown University. He researches the relationship between compassion and alienation as aspects of governance, broadly understood. His research links questions about the nature of form, relations, generality, and history to questions posed at the level of experience and interaction. More specifically, he asks why it is sometimes difficult to sustain meaningful relationships despite the desire to do so; how the processes involved in creating a form of relations, like a religion or humanitarian movement, sometimes lead to its undoing; and why many people come to feel isolated despite being surrounded by other people in their daily lives. His work has appeared in journals in multiple disciplines, and he is currently preparing his book manuscript, “Heart of a Heartless World.”

Paula Gaetano-Adi is professor of experimental and foundation studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She is an artist and scholar working in robotics and performance. Her practice calls for a new technical imagination that radically attends to the world-making capacity of both technology and the arts. She has exhibited her works extensively in both solo and group shows throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. She was awarded the first prize in the international competition VIDA Art & Artificial Life and the LIMBØ prize by the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires, and her Mestizo Robotics long-term project has been distinguished by the Fundación Telefónica’s award for Ibero-American artists. She is a former fellow at Argentina’s National Endowment for the Arts; the Center for Research in Engineering, Media, and Performance at UCLA; and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s EMPAC. She was recently honored with the 2023 Creative Capital Award.

Macarena Gómez-Barris is an interdisciplinary scholar, speaker, and author of four books and dozens of essays and interviews on environmental media, decolonial theory and praxis, queer femme and creative and embodied research methods, and what she deems “antidotes to the colonial Anthropocene.” Her work addresses artful living and survivance in spaces of social and ecological suffering and include her book The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017). In it, she theorizes decolonization in relation to five extractive scenes of ruinous capitalism upon Indigenous territories. She is also author of Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Political Undercurrents in the Américas (University of California Press, 2018) that thinks from submerged perspectives and art-making, social movements, and creative intellectual labor to imagine worlds anew. Her first book, Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (University of California Press, 2008), traces fascism, the rise of neoliberalism, and memory’s obliteration as central to the nation-state. She shows how memorials, painting, and documentary film production are central to enlivening potential in the ruins of necro-capital. Her coedited volume with Herman Gray, Toward a Sociology of the Trace (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), addresses global sites of deep cultural imprint, and the invisible work of tethering lives of sustenance after catastrophe. She is working on a new book, “At the Sea’s Edge” (Duke University Press, forthcoming) that considers the fluidity of colonial transits and the generative space between land and sea.

Stathis Gourgouris is professor of classics and of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He writes and teaches on a variety of subjects that address the convergence of the poetics and politics of modernity and democracy. He is the author of Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization, and the Institution of Modern Greece (Stanford University Press, 1996), Does Literature Think? Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era (Stanford University Press, 2003), Lessons in Secular Criticism (Fordham University Press, 2013), and The Perils of the One (Columbia University Press, 2019), and he is the editor of Freud and Fundamentalism (Fordham University Press, 2010), Thinking with Balibar (Fordham University Press, 2020), and “The Cavafy Dossier” (2021), a special edition of the journal boundary 2. He is also an internationally awarded poet, with four volumes of poetry in Greek, the most recent being Introduction to Physics (Melani Publications, 2005). His sound and poetry collages have been performed or presented at installations on various occasions internationally, including at documenta 14 (2017).

Sharon Krause is the William R. Kenan, Jr. University Professor of Political Science at Brown University. She is the author of Freedom Beyond Sovereignty (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Civil Passions: Moral Sentiment and Democratic Deliberation (Princeton University Press, 2008), and Liberalism with Honor (Harvard University Press, 2002). Her latest book, Eco-Emancipation: An Earthly Politics of Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2023), explores the relationship between the human domination of nature and the political, economic, and social domination of human beings in various forms, and it identifies resources for more emancipatory types of human and more-than-human political community. She has also published numerous articles on topics in classical and contemporary liberalism and democratic theory drawing on figures ranging from Hume and Montesquieu to Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Frederick Douglass, among others, with emphasis on the politics of justice, freedom, and social inequality.

Dilip M. Menon is a professor of history and international relations at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He was educated at the Universities of Delhi, Oxford and Cambridge and received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Before moving to South Africa in 2009, he taught at Cambridge, Yale, Hyderabad, and Delhi. His work deals with the social and intellectual history of South Asia and, for the past decade, has expanded to include oceanic histories and knowledge from the global south. His recent works include the edited volumes Capitalisms: Towards a Global History (Oxford University Press, 2020), Ocean as Method (Routledge, 2022), and Cosmopolitan Cultures and Oceanic Thought (Routledge, 2023). He was awarded a Falling Walls Foundation prize for the social sciences and humanities in 2021.

Mohamed Amer Meziane holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and intellectual history from the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and was a postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer for several years at Columbia University before joining Brown University. His first book, The States of the Earth: An Ecological and Racial History of Secularization (La Découverte, 2021/Verso Books, 2024), won the Albertine Prize for nonfiction in 2023. It examines how disenchantment engenders climate change through the colonization of subterranean worlds since the 19th century. His current work explores the relations between the turn to the nonhumans in both art and theory and the question of the invisible. In his second book (under translation), he argues that there can be no decolonization of knowledge without a new kind of metaphysical perspective delving into the invisible. He is also the author of numerous articles in international peer-reviewed journals as well as art reviews. He writes and teaches about both continental and non-Western philosophers such as Fanon, Marx, and Hegel as well as Abdelkebir Khatibi and Amir ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi. He is currently working on a manuscript that connects these philosophies by questioning the hegemony of the Western canon.

Rebecca Nedostup is a historian of 20th-century China and Taiwan at Brown University. She works on displacement and emplacement, the social and political roles of the living and the dead in times of disruption, and the relationship of transitional justice and historical consciousness. Her book Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese Modernity (Harvard University Press, 2010) looks at the modern categorization of religious practice and its social and political ramifications. She is writing “Living and Dying in the Long War,” on the making and unmaking of community among people displaced by conflict across China and Taiwan from the 1930s through the 1950s. More broadly, she is interested in ritual studies, historic preservation, critical archive studies, and digital ontologies. She is faculty director of the Choices Program and in spring 2023 was visiting chair of Taiwan studies at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).

Thangam Ravindranathan is professor of French and Francophone Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Behold an Animal: Four Exorbitant Readings (Northwestern Uuniversity Press, 2020); Donner le change: L'impensé animal (Éditions Hermann, 2016) with Antoine Traisnel, and Là où je ne suis pas: récits de dévoyage (Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 2012). Her current book project, titled “Unearthly Literature,” inquires into literature’s ways of registering environmental degradation, with a particular focus on novels and critical thought from the post-war decades.

Christopher Roberts teaches in the Department of Theory and History of Art and Design as well as the Experimental and Foundation Studies program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He earned his Ph.D. in Africology/African American studies from Temple University and an MA in ethnic studies from San Francisco State University. As a Black studies scholar, he is concerned with Black geographies of memory and forgetting, with an emphasis on port cities in the United States that anchored the transatlantic and domestic slave trades. His research traipses the contours of architecture, photography, creative writing, literary criticism, art criticism, museum studies, and art history. By way of historical analysis framed through a Black Studies lens, he is striving to unravel the entanglements of race and coloniality that suture our conceptions of monuments, maps, archives, and museums as concrete representations of the past in order to break the hold they have on our public and private spatial imaginations.

Ada Smailbegović is a theorist, poet, and associate professor in the Department of English at Brown University. Her research explores the intersections between poetry and the history of science, feminist and queer theories of materiality, and the environmental humanities. She is the author of Poetics of Liveliness: Molecules, Fibers, Tissues, Clouds (Columbia University Press, 2021), which received an honorable mention for the Matei Calinescu Prize from the Modern Language Association. Her book of poetry, The Cloud Notebook, was published by Litmus Press in March 2023. She is currently at work on a new book, titled “Waves and Edges: Ecologies of Displacement,” which takes up the question of displacement at the intersection of critical refugee studies and the environmental humanities. She is also developing a series of critical and poetic interventions and performances around the concept of “snail cinema,” which explores the temporal edges between human and nonhuman forms of attention in the face of climate change.

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and a permanent visiting professor at the Kyiv School of Economics. His most recent book is The Politics of Language (Princeton University Press, 2023), co-authored with David Beaver. He is also the author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Penguin Random House, 2018); How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 PROSE award in philosophy; Know How (Oxford University Press, 2011); Language in Context (Oxford University Press, 2007); and Knowledge and Practical Interests (Oxford University Press, 2005), winner of the 2007 American Philosophical Association book prize. His next book project, “Erasing History: How Fascists Rewrite the Past to Control the Future,” is forthcoming with One Signal Publishers in 2024. He earned his Ph.D. in linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

Alexander Ghedi Weheliye is Malcolm S. Forbes Professor Professor in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, where he teaches critical theory, Black literature and culture, gender and sexuality studies, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke University Press, 2005), Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke University Press, 2014), and Feenin: R&B Music and the Materiality of BlackFem Voices and Technology (Duke University Press, 2023). Currently, he is working on “SchwarzSein: Black Life Beyond the Human,” which situates Blackness as an ungendered ontology of unbelonging.

Gary Wilder is a professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where he is also director of the Committee on Globalization and Social Change. His work on the French empire, Francophone West Africa and the Caribbean, and Black Atlantic social thought is located at the intersection of historical anthropology, intellectual history, and critical theory (with special emphasis on Marxism, postcolonialism, and poststructuralism). He is the author of Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Duke University Press, 2015), The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism Between the World Wars (University of Chicago Press, 2005), and Concrete Utopianism: The Politics of Temporality and Solidarity (Fordham University Press, 2022). Other publications include Theses on Theory and History, an open-source digital publication, co-authored with Ethan Kleinberg and Joan Wallach Scott, and two edited volumes: The Fernando Coronil Reader: The Struggle for the Life is the Matter (Duke University Press, 2019) with Mariana Coronil, Laurent Dubois, Paul Eiss, Edward Murphy, David Pedersen, and Julie Skurski; and The Postcolonial Contemporary: Political Imaginaries for the Global Present (Fordham University Press, 2018) with Jini Kim Watson.