Social and Political Thought Workshop Series
Explore this Program
In addition to what's offered within our department, there is an active theory community across campus that brings together scholars from a range of disciplines.
The Social and Political Thought Workshop is a series of bi-weekly lunchtime workshops that are held over the entire academic year. Each workshop centers around a work in progress by an invited guest. The paper or chapter is circulated 2 weeks prior to the session. Attendees have read the paper and a guest commentator opens the discussion.
Guest speakers have come from such fields as philosophy, political science, law, economics, sociology, and divinity studies. Past topics have included global justice, human rights, responsibility, identity politics, religion and public reason, democratic theory, privacy, due process, domestic violence, legal positivism, and genetic engineering. All members and friends of the Vanderbilt community are invited to attend. To be added to the distribution list contact Brooke Ackerly. For schedule information see the 2016-2017 SPT schedule below.
The Social and Political Workshop Series has been directed and funded since 2009 by W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy Marilyn Friedman and W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law Larry May. They generously continue to fund the Workshop. In 2015 Brooke Ackerly was asked to take on the role of SPT Workshop Director. SPT has an interdisciplinary Faculty Steering Committee which co-directs the workshop. For 2015-2016 the Steering Committee is Vanessa Beasley (Communication Studies and Dean of the Commons), Gary Jaeger (Philosophy and Director of the Writing Studio), Emily Nacol (Political Science), Chris Slobogin (Law), and Karen Ng (Philosophy). Please contact any of us to recommend guests.
Most talks will be held at the Commons Center conference room 363 (except where noted), on Fridays, 12-1:30 p.m. (except where noted.) More talks may be added throughout the semester.
Friday, September 9, 11:30 am-12:45 pm, Lisa Guenther, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University
“We Charge Genocide”: Anti-Black Racism in the United States as Genocidal Structural Violence
Discussant: Lou Outlaw, Philosophy
In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress [CRC] presented a petition to the United Nations entitled “We Charge Genocide.” While the petition was never formally considered by the UN, the project of naming, analyzing, and contesting systematic anti-black violence in the United States has inspired activist groups such as We Charge Genocide [WCG], a grassroots organization challenging police violence against youth of color in Chicago. Both organizations engage strategically with formal institutions such as the UN in a way that exceeds the restricted agenda of those institutions and struggles for revolutionary social change. But the UN’s narrow definition of genocide, and the analogy with homicide upon which it relies, pose challenges for this project. I propose a concept of structural genocide, based on a model of social justice rather than criminal justice, as a tool for articulating the harm of policies and practices that undermine a group’s life chances, whether or not they directly kill people.
Wednesday, October 12, 12-1 pm, at Seton Hall at Vanderbilt Law School; Alice Ristroph, Law, Vanderbilt University
The Constitution of Police Violence
Police force is again under scrutiny in the United States. Several recent killings of black men by police officers have prompted an array of reform proposals, most of which seem to assume that these recent killings were not (or should not be) authorized and legal. Our constitutional doctrine suggests otherwise. From the 1960s to the present, federal courts have persistently endorsed a very expansive police authority to make seizures – to stop persons, to arrest them, and to use force if the arrestee resists. This Article reveals the full scope of this seizure authority. Of particular importance are the concepts of resistance and compliance. Demands for compliance with officers, and a condemnation of resistance that authorizes police to meet resistance with violence, run throughout constitutional doctrine. Ostensibly race-neutral, the duty of compliance has in fact been applied in race-specific ways, and may be contrasted with a privilege of resistance (also race-specific) elsewhere protected in American law. Tracing resistance and compliance helps reveal the ways in which the law distributes risks of violence, and it may help inspire proposals to reduce and redistribute those risks.
Monday, October 24, 12-1:30 pm,
Rachael Wahl and Stephen White, Political Science, University of Virginia
Deliberation, Accountability and Trust: Consensuality and Agonism in Police-Community Forums
Discussant: Lisa Guenther, Philosophy
Can public deliberation improve the relationship between police and communities of color? The imbalance of power between state officials and historically oppressed communities makes many theorists skeptical of deliberative approaches. Our case study of police-community forums in a mid-sized southern city suggests that efforts to generate increased trust in settings of inequality may be enhanced by intertwining, and even blurring, understanding-oriented dialogue and more agonistic interventions. Any trust generated in such settings is likely to be what one might call “tentative trust,” because the full force of mutual confidence arising from that dialogue will come into being only if talking is followed by clear accountability in the form of concrete reforms taken by the police. Although tentative, such initial trust can nevertheless have real significance, because it may be crucial in opening up the constitution of those reforms in ways that are advantageous to the community.Friday, November 4, 12-1:30 pm, Patrick Grzanka, Social Action Research Team, University of Tennessee
Gender & Sexualities Seminar featuring a workshop on social justice and education
Coordinated by Women’s and Gender Studies and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
Monday, November 7, 4-5:30 pm, at Alumni Hall 202, Robert Dreesen, Senior Editor, Politics and Sociology, Cambridge University Press
Writing a book and getting it published
Co-sponsored with the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities and the College of A&S Program in Career Development
Friday, November 11, 12-1:30 pm, Jen Rubenstein, Political Science, University of Virginia
The Power of Specialized Search Engines in Global Poverty Alleviation
Discussant: Brooke Ackerly, Political Science
This paper will examine the political and ethical dimensions of specialized search engines that enable donors to sort through large numbers of projects or initiatives and decide which ones to support, such as Kiva and Global Giving. These search engines are often lauded for “cutting out the middle man,” empowering both donors and recipients, and creating connections among far-flung individuals and groups. I argue that the situation is far more complicated. Specialized search engines are themselves complex sites of power that “educate” and incentivize both those who solicit funds and those who donate in various ways. We need to critically examine both the lessons they teach and the forms of organizing and action that they do—and don’t—support. Doing so requires drawing on but also going beyond recent theoretical accounts of power, such as Sharon Krause’s concept of “non-sovereign agency.”
Friday, November 18, 12-1:30 pm, Elizabeth Lanphier, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University
A House Is Not a Home: The Domestic Analogy in Just War Theory
Discussant: Shannon Fyfe, Philosophy
Is defense of home or homeland a just cause to use lethal force? In the just war tradition, a domestic analogy that links defense of individual property to defense of the homeland suggests that it is. According to a cosmopolitan account of just war, although state borders are irrelevant defense of an individual or jointly held interest in a house, and by extension a territory, is a just cause for the use of lethal force or war. Through an analysis of a cosmopolitan version of the domestic analogy, this paper makes two key claims: the argument by analogy fails by equivocating house and a home; the cosmopolitan critique equally applies to the traditional just war domestic analogy, which is concerned not with a home, but a house. While there may be a human need for – and even right to – a home, the basis of this right is distinct from property and institutional rights to a house. Furthermore, right to a home does not entail the right to and defense of a particular homeland, nor even, perhaps, defense of a particular home. However, this rejection of a certain institutional property-based account of defense does not reject, and in certain ways may entail, other pre-institutional claims to self and collective defense.
Friday, December 2, 12-1:30 pm, Karen Ng, Philosophy, Vanderbilt,
Social Freedom as Ideology
Discussant: Eric A. MacPhail, Philosophy
This paper explores objections made against ideal theorizing in political philosophy by two prominent contemporary critical theorists: Axel Honneth and Charles Mills. In his recent Freedom’s Right, Honneth situates his neo-Hegelian analysis of social freedom as justice in stark opposition to contemporary political philosophy that has become “decoupled from an analysis of society” and “fixated on purely normative principles.” Across many works, Mills has argued that ideal theorizing in political theory is not only ineffectual, but more problematically, that it is ideological in nature and serves the interests of privileged groups. I suggest that whereas Honneth’s objection to ideal theorizing hearkens back to Hegel’s critique of Kant, Mills’ objection that ideal theory is ideology hearkens back to Marx’s critique of bourgeois political philosophy in general, and Hegel’s political philosophy in particular. Against the background of these long-standing debates, we can raise the following question: is Honneth’s neo-Hegelian theory of social freedom a plausible alternative paradigm for political philosophy and is it subject to Mills’ Marxian inspired ideology critique? I argue that while in some respects, Honneth’s theory of social freedom is a laudable and defensible project, in other respects, Mills’ critique remains instructive and allows us to see the ways in which aspects of Honneth’s theory could serve ideological functions, and thus, is not entirely successful as an alternative to ideal theory.
Monday, January 30, 2017, 4:10-6:00 pm, 206 Alumni Hall,
Coordinated by Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
Scholarship in the Public Square: A Conversation with The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum
Yoni Appelbaum earned his Ph.D. in U.S. history and taught at Harvard before becoming Senior Editor at The Atlantic , where he oversees the politics section. In this conversation with fellow historian Heath W. Carter he will discuss his journey to The Atlantic and the role of the public intellectual in today’s America. Q & A with the audience to follow.
Friday, February 3, 12-1:30 pm, Wout Cornelissen, Department of German, Russian & East European Studies, Vanderbilt University
Hannah Arendt’s Recovery of Political Freedom
Discussant: Eric Ritter, Philosophy
Arendt famously criticized the greater part of political philosophy since Plato for its attempt to escape from politics by substituting it by rule. Usually, she is understood to defend the bios politikos as exemplified in the Greek polis over and against the bios theoretikos and its depreciation of politics. Yet it can be shown that her alleged defense of the Greek polis remains tied to the traditional philosophical framework insofar as both the citizens’ individualist ‘agonal spirit’ and the philosophers’ care for the individual soul presuppose a depreciation of the common world. Rather than taking this finding as a sign of the failure of Arendt’s recovery of politics, I will argue that we should read her work in a different way, viz. as not merely providing a propositional description of politics (true or not), but as offering a performative account of politics (to be 'made' true or not). I will support this reading by offering an analysis of Arendt’s treatment of the founding of a political order, with a specific focus on her interpretation of Pericles’ Funeral Oration in The Human Condition and of the American Declaration of Independence in On Revolution.
Friday, February 10, 12-1:30 pm, Commons 349** note not the usual room,
Edward Rubin, University Professor of Law and Political Science, Vanderbilt University
The Virtues and Limits of Democracy
Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions
Deliberative democracy has replaced social contract theory as the prevailing account of democratic legitimacy. Habermas has left the Frankfort School and signed on with a particularly elaborate version. I will argue that the whole idea is deeply flawed on both the empirical and theoretical level. In contrast, I think the justification for democracy is different not in kind (as the deliberative democracy school and its social contract predecessor both argue) but only in degree from other forms of government. It rests on a designation of authority, but uses a more diffuse and procedural model for that designation, thereby solving a number of problems from which other modes of governance suffers. On the basis of this more sober, less congratulatory account of democratic legitimacy, I then suggest that democratic government is limited in its ability to achieve desirable goals, and that it must be supplemented with other mechanisms, based on other norms, to perform the functions that most observers claim for it.
Friday, February 17, 12-1:30 pm
Cricket Keating, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Washington
Educating for Coalition: Popular Education and Political Praxis
Reading Between the Sheets Graduate-Led Seminar at the Robert Penn Warren Center
In contemporary politics, the question of how to build political solidarity across difference is very central. How do we build coalitions that take up the complexity of the interactions between race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, nationality and other relations of power? How do we build movements that don’t leave people out? In my talk, I will distinguish between two approaches to coalition. The first is an approach to coalition-building in which groups identify common ground and then work together towards the achievement of mutual goals or interests. The second is grounded in a process of what María Lugones calls becoming “interdependently resistant” in which people recognize and back up each other’s resistances to multiple relations of power in their everyday lives (Lugones, 2003). In my talk, I will unpack the nuts and bolts of this second approach and explore the role of popular education in building such “everyday coalitions” in our lives.
Tuesday, February 28, 12:30-2 pm,
Claire Katz, Professor of Philosophy, Texas A&M
“#Sorry,NotSorry”: Uppity Women, American Values, and the Dixie Chicks
Co-sponsored with Jewish Studies; Women’s and Gender Studies; the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality
Friday, March 3, 12-1:30, David Lay Williams, Professor of Political Science, DePaul University
Co-sponsored with Political Theory of the Department of Political Science
Friday, March 31, 12-1:30, Kevin Duong, Assistant Professor, Bard College
Tocqueville and Terror in Algeria
Co-sponsored with Political Theory of the Department of Political Science and the Dean of the Commons
It is now commonplace to acknowledge Tocqueville’s support for the colonization of Algeria. Older claims that Tocqueville opposed colonialism have yielded to a new consensus that the French liberal embraced colonialism because it provided national glory and prestige. Given the recent attention to Tocqueville's passion for glory, however, it is surprising that scholars have yet to connect that passion to the peculiar shape violence took in Algeria: total war. By situating Tocqueville's Algerian writings in the intellectual culture of the 1830s, I argue that the path connecting Tocqueville's love of glory to total war in Algeria was paved by the specific way glory was conceptualized in post-revolutionary France: it was a quality of defensive public action. In this context, war was glorious when it was an act of national defense on behalf of persecuted republican universalism. To remake colonial aggression into a source of national glory on these terms, Tocqueville blurred the lines between aggression and defensive action in the African war theater. He placed culpability for the war on Algerian "culture" and exaggerated the agency of dispossessed indigenous Muslims. As a consequence, Tocqueville redescribed colonialism as a glorious defensive maneuver. He also ascribed culpability for the war, not to a foreign army, but to Algerian civilization itself. His case invites us to reconsider the entangled histories of French liberalism and revolutionary republicanism.
Monday, April 10, 12-1:30 pm, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vaughn Home** note not usual location, Luis Cabrera, Griffith Asia Institute and School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University
The Arrogance of Sovereignty
Charges of arrogance have been central to some recent critiques of moral cosmopolitanism, understood as an approach which posits firm duties across national boundaries and grants no fundamental moral significance to the state. In these core tenets, it is held, cosmopolitanism shows arrogant disdain for particular attachments and local moral understandings. This presentation works to show that it is actually the sovereign state which essentially embodies and expresses arrogance as a political disposition. It draws on Mark Button’s instructive recent analysis of ways in which some claims for sovereignty can spin into hubris and the ‘irresponsible’ use of sovereign power by dominant states. It argues that such tendencies, expressed as a more general arrogance, are in fact dyed in the wool of sovereignty, or claims for the independence and ultimate moral authority of the state. To invoke sovereignty is in part to claim the right to reject outsiders’ input, and to reject their standing to offer challenges about decisions or claims made. Further, the standard prerogatives of sovereignty are closely connected to an epistemic immodesty regarding challenges from domestic groups. The state is seen as the final judge, and outside oversight is typically rejected or vigorously contested. A full appreciation of sovereign arrogance gives reason to problematize rather than valorize the prerogatives of state sovereignty, and to adopt an attitude of openness towards more cosmopolitan institutional development beyond the state.
Friday, April 28, 12-1:30 pm, Wendy G. Smooth, Associate Professor, Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies, The Ohio State University
Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions
Most talks will be held at the Commons Center conference room 363 (except where noted), on Fridays, 12-1:30 p.m. (except where noted.) More talks will be added throughout the semester.
*Note: held in Commons 349 as part of “Day of Democracy” co-sponsored with Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions:
12:00 - 1:30 pm lunch talk with Melinda Ritchie (CSDI)
Title: “Having it Both Ways: Cross-Pressured Senators and the Bureaucracy”
1:30 - 3:00 pm Chad Flanders, St. Louis University, Law School
Title: Voter Ignorance and Deliberative Democracy
Host: Gary Jaeger (Philosophy and Writing Studio)
Discussant: Amy McKiernan (Philosophy)
3:15 - 4:00 pm Philosophy Colloquium, Robert Talisse, (Philosophy)
Title: “A Pragmatist Defense of Ideal Theory”
Jenell Johnson, University of Wisconsin
Title: 'A Man’s Mouth Is His Castle': The Midcentury Fluoridation Controversy and the Visceral Public
Host: Vanessa Beasley
Discussant: Isaac West (Communication Studies)
Organizational meeting for SPT-Writing Studio co-sponsored Graduate Student Writing Group
Ellen Armor (Divinity)
Title: Signs and Wonders: The Sequel
Host: Brooke Ackerly
Discussant: Proposed Claire King (Communications)
Jack “Chip” Turner, University of Washington, Department of Political Science
Title: Audre Lorde: The Politics of Self-Actualization
Host: Emily Nacol
Discussant: Sandy Skene (Philosophy)
Title: The Wisdom of Hindsight and the Limits of Noncognitivism
Host: Vanessa Beasley
Discussant: Thomas Dabay (Philosophy)
Terence Cuneo, University of Vermont, Philosophy Department
Title: On the Trustworthiness of the Moral Practice: Some Reidian Reflections
Host: Gary Jaeger
Discussant: Glenn "Boomer" Trujillo (Philosophy)
January 29, Isaac West, Vanderbilt University
*Note: held in Buttrick 123 (inside WGS), co-sponsored with Warren Center reading group on WGS.
Title: Bakers, Florists, and Religious Freedom
Host: Brooke Ackerly
Discussant: Stacy Clifford
February 5, Shatema Threadcraft, Rutgers University
Note: co-sponsored with WGS
Title: Not Swimming Like a Black Girl: On Kinky Hair, Phenomenology and the Necropolitics of Black Female Body Experience
Host: Brooke Ackerly
Discussant: Tiffany Patterson
February 17, David Gray, University of Maryland Law School,
*Note: held 12:00 - 1:00 pm in the Alexander Room, first floor of the law school
Title: You Know You’ve Gotta Help Me Out (a paper on omissions)
Host: Chris Slobogin
February 26, Ayten Gundogdu, Barnard College
Title: Masking the Human: Toward a Political Understanding of Personhood
Host: Emily Nacol
Discussant: Alex Dubilet
April 1, Sungmoon Kim, City University of Hong Kong
Title: Confucianism, Perfectionism, and Political Participation
Host/Discussant: Brooke Ackerly
April 8, Susan Brison
Title: Gender-Based Violence and Epistemic Injustice
Host: Marilyn Friedman
Discussant: Vanessa Beasley
April 15, Tom Christiano, University of Arizona, Philosophy
Title: Some Basic Puzzles about Voluntary Exchange
Host: John Weymark
Discussant: Robert Talisse
- January 16 Roxanne Euben (Political Science, Wellesley College) “Islamism, Humiliation, and the Mobilization of Masculinity”; Commentator: James Booth (Political Science & Phil., Vanderbilt).
- February 6 Christopher Kutz (Law and Philosophy, UC Berkeley) “Surveillance and the Right to Crime”
- February 13 Elizabeth Edenberg (Philosophy, Vanderbilt) “Political Liberalism and its Feminist Potential”
- March 27 Adam Burgos (Philosophy, Vanderbilt) Topic: Ideal Theory and Political Realism”
- April 10 Susan Brison (Philosophy, Dartmouth College)
- January 17 Brooke Ackerly (Political Sci. & Philosophy, Vanderbilt) “Getting Global Responsibility on the “Rights” Track”; Commentator – Andrea Pitts (Philosophy, Vanderbilt).
- January 31 Chris Slobogin (Law, Vanderbilt) “Panvasive Surveillance, Political Process Theory, and the Nondelegation Doctrine”; Commentator – Eric Ritter (Philosophy, Vanderbilt).
- February 7 Susan Brison (Philosophy, Dartmouth); Commentator – Vanessa Beasley (Communications, Vanderbilt)
- February 21 Andrew Forcehimes (Philosophy, Vanderbilt) “Reasons Fundamentalism and the Appropriation Problem”; Commentator – Luke Semrau (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- March 14 Tommie Shelby (African/African Amer. Stud. & Philosophy, Harvard) “Punishment, Condemnation, and Social Injustice”; Commentator - Geoffrey Adelsberg (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- April 4 Claire Finkelstein (Law and Philosophy, U. of Pennsylvania) Topic: National Security; Commentator – Shannon Fyfe (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- April 11 David Dyzenhaus (Law and Philosophy, U. of Toronto) “Wicked Law in Legal Theory [iniusta lex non est lex]”; Commentator – Paul Morrow (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- April 25 Howard McGary (Philosophy, Rutgers) Topic: Public Education and Equality of Opportunity; Commentator – Gary Jaeger (Writer’s Studio & Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- August 23 Japa Pallikkathayil (Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh) "Exploitation"; Commentator – Paul Morrow (Philosophy, Vanderbilt University)
- September 6 Charles Mills (Philosophy, Northwestern University) "Rawls and Race"; Commentator – Brooke Ackerly (Political Science & Philosophy, Vanderbilt University)
- September 13 Larry May (Philosophy/Law/Political Science, Vanderbilt University) "Innocence and Complicity"; Commentator – James Booth (Political Science & Philosophy, Vanderbilt University)
- September 20John Weymark (Economics, Vanderbilt University) "Must One be an Ogre to Rationally Prefer Aiding the Nearby to the Distant Needy?"; Commentator – Robert Talisse (Philosophy & Political Science, Vanderbilt University)
- October 4 Ken Binmore (Economics, University College, London) "An Economic Defense of Epicurus on Life and Death"; Commentator – John Lachs (Philosophy, Vanderbilt University)
- October 18 Sarah Song (Law and Political Science, University of California Berkeley) "Why Does the State have the Right to Control Immigration?"; Commentator – Emily McGill (Philosophy, Vanderbilt University)
- December 6 Helene Landemore (Political Science, Yale University) "Proudhon and Economic Democracy"; Commentator – Emily Nacol (Political Science, Vanderbilt University)
- August 27 Roger Conner (Law, Vanderbilt) ''Attitudes, Advocacy and Polarization: The New Iron Triangle of Amer. Politics''; Commentator: Martin Rapisarda (Associate Dean A&S/Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- September 10 Kyla Ebels Duggan (Philosophy, Northwestern); Commentator: Stacy Clifford (Political Science, Vanderbilt)
- September 24 Brooke Ackerly (Political Science, Vanderbilt) ''Patterns of Injustice''; Commentator: Gary Jaeger (Writing Studio/Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- October 8 'Steve Ross (Philosophy, CUNY) ''Criticizing Cohen's Criticisms of Rawls''; Commentator: Elizabeth Edenberg (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- October 15 James Booth (Political Science, Vanderbilt) "From This Far Place: On Historic Injustice"; Commentator: Larry May (Philosophy/Law, Vanderbilt)
- November 12 L. Wayne Sumner (Philosophy, Toronto) "Death by Request"; Commentator: Ellen Clayton (Pediatrics/Law, Vanderbilt)
- December 3 Melissa Yates (Philosophy, St. John's, NY); Commentator: Steve Hetcher (Law, Vanderbilt)
- January 14 Scott Aikin (Philosophy, Vanderbilt) "Poe's Law in Religious and Political Discourse"; Commentator: Vanessa Beasley (Communication Studies, Vanderbilt)
- January 28 Melissa Snarr (Divinity, Vanderbilt); Commentator: Marilyn Friedman (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- February 11 Emily Nacol (Political Science, Vanderbilt) "David Hume's Epistemology in his Politics and Economics"; Commentator: Jeffrey Tlumak (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- February 25 John Maynor (Philosophy, Middle Tennessee State) "Republicanism and Globalization: Fighting Back Against Domination"; Commentator: Robert Talisse (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- March 18 Anna Stilz (Politics, Princeton) "Why Do States Claim Rights to Particular Territories?"; Commentator: Matt Witt (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- April 1 Sharon Street (Philosophy, NYU) "The Nature of Constructivism in Ethics"; Commentator: John Weymark (Economics, Vanderbilt)
- April 15 Sally Haslanger (Philosophy, MIT); Commentator: Lisa Guenther (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)
- April 22 James Sterba (Philosophy, Notre Dame) "From Rationality to Equality: A Developing Argument"; Commentator: Paul Morrow (Philosophy, Vanderbilt)