Current Initiatives

Scholarly groups organized by faculty around contemporary topics of research

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PIs: Joe Masco & Lisa Wedeen

Conspiracy theorists typically view what might be regarded as disparate happenings as connected, products of an intentional force whose interests are ultimately served by and organized through another's victimization, exploitation, or ruin. Our project, Conspiracy/Theory considers the intersection of conspiracy and theory, focusing on the imbrication of complex systems across politics, economics, militarism, and technology in the present. Exploring the conditions for knowing in a world where there is often too much information but not of the right kind to judge evidence, ascertain the nature of truth claims, or resolve issues of agency and intent, one goal is to examine how and when intuition, experience, and judgement become marked as either conspiratorial or theoretical. Understanding the elective affinities between conspiracy and theory while appreciating the seductions of each, this project engages the theoretical in conspiracy and the conspiratorial in critical theory, grappling as well with the ways in which suspicion, opacity, networks, uncertainty, and mass mediation function today. 


Global Crowds

PI: William Mazzarella

The Global Crowds Project explores the resurgence of crowds across the world today. We start by rejecting both the uncritical celebration of the multitude as a direct index of democracy and the pejorative denigration of the mob as a symptom of authoritarian populism. Instead we ask: what can a close and comparative exploration of crowds around the world today tell us about the very substance of contemporary politics? How can it help us to reconsider what we think we know about terms like ‘democracy,’ ‘charisma,’ ‘authority,’ ‘the people,’ and so on?


Materializing the Future
Object Cultures Initiative

PIs: Bill Brown & Shannon Lee Dawdy

How is the future being shaped by designers in the present? Modernism in architecture and urban design often took its boldest steps by attempting to shape society's future. Having passed through a period of postmodern disenchantment, designers now seem ready again to take on the challenge of the future. In the face of climate change, a global crisis in democratic governance, and a chaotic acceleration of neoliberal capitalism, what sort of futures are visionary architects and designers trying to bring into being? What sort of utopian visions do they have? What informs their social imaginaries? What projects are being realized? What is on the horizon? How can we understand urban and landscape design as a social movement in this contemporary moment?

This three-year project will facilitate conversations about and with architects, designers, geographers, and those who interact with them. Year 1 will initiate the project with three visiting lectures and a related reading group. Year 2 will expand this initiative with more experimental events inviting collaborations between scholars and practitioners. Year 3 will culminate in a conference and creative events organized in conjunction with the Chicago Architectural Biennial.

This series will enhance and benefit from several related initiative on campus begun in the 2017-2018 year, such as the Urban Art / Urban Form Sawyer Mellon seminar, the Designing Urbanism workshop and several events involving the Decolonizing Architecture group.

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New Book Salon

PI: Shannon Lee Dawdy

3CT recently launched a New Book Salon aimed at fostering intellectual community by engaging authors whose recent work theorizes contemporary social processes and political practices. The Salon introduces new books from a range of disciplines and divisions here at the University and will feature an author presentation and commentary, followed by general discussion.

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New Global Authoritarianisms

PI: Andreas Glaeser & Lisa Wedeen

New Global Authoritarianisms has begun to facilitate ongoing conversations on the fate of liberal democracy, attending to the role that new authoritarianisms are playing in reversing the global trend towards inclusive and democratic forms of government. For the upcoming year, we are planning a series of similar panels, workshops, and lectures that will culminate in a capstone conference in Fall 2020. These events will delve deeper into processes of “authoritarianization,” exploring ways in which these movements against social and political liberalism are comparable.


Worlding, Writing

PI: Lauren Berlant

This module explores new modes of writing and reading—not in an effort to affirm expertise but to imagine productive idioms for critical engagement and assemble novel ways of attending to socio-political phenomena. Through the pursuit of what Bruno Latour calls “interobjectivity” and by encouraging promiscuous disciplinary entanglements, the fundamental purpose here is to generate fresh genres of writing and ways of reading that transgress discipline-bound conventions and induce frame-shifting environments. We ask: What are the new media conjunctures (such as blogging, tweeting, 24-hour news, and e-movements) for communicating thought, and how and when do these operate to cultivate political action (if they do)? How should we imagine the relations between reading rigorously and reading openly? What does it take to construct a knowledge environment in which it matters how people know about their worlds because these worlds demand curiosity and generate new questions?

It is also worth asking what these clustered questions might have to do with the many public, economic, and institutional crises concerning the university’s function that are emerging locally and globally right now. These pose questions as to which kinds of experimental knowledge are supported and which seen as trivial, immaterial, or destructive; how vocational versus intellectual training is valued and for whom; whether and when arguments about education as a public good will include anti-normative knowledge; how research as a vocation should be supported in relation to teaching; who ought to be "served" by education—a consuming public, a general public, other researchers, etc. Each of these quandaries transforms what kinds of register and medium academic work would employ: all of them assume that knowledge production maintains, sustains, and engenders worlds. A project of writing differently inevitably raises the question of reconceiving the historical present. World-making happens amidst the urgencies that mark the present as a space in transition. Producing knowledge amidst transition requires a vigorous experimentality that attends to what is unfolding, what seems discontinuous, and what remains suspended in the poetics of mediation itself.