April 28, the selection committee for the four new NICA PhD fellows — facilitated by a NWO Graduate Grant granted in 2014 — finalised its proceedings. The committee consisted of Pepita Hesselberth (Leiden), Javier Gimeno (Free University Amsterdam), Stephan Besser (University of Amsterdam) and Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht), and was chaired by Murat Aydemir (NICA programme director). From the 211 applications received, the committee interviewed 15 candidates and selected the four projects below for the fellowships. The NICA fellows will be appointed starting September 1.
‘Errors’: Exposing the Endless Construction and Deconstruction of Digital Media
Current discourses on digital media display a fascination with the linguistic, numeric, algorithmic, social, and material aspects of technology, from which several new domains of study have emerged in the past several years, including Digital Methods, Software Studies, Digital Humanities, and Media Archeology, to name a few. My project argues these programmatic ventures are symptomatic of a more profound transformation taking place within the core theoretical apparatus of the humanities and the sciences. Building on the contemporary philosophical works of Jean-Luc Nancy and Erich Hörl, alongside the work of Félix Guattari, I argue that technology, rather than being a mere surrogate of the body or the mind, displaces and neutralises the sensible and the thinkable as it confronts our age-old ways of meaning making. In looking at the object of technological “errors,” my project uncovers the core cycles of construction and deconstruction of digital media, which, I argue, speaks to the endlessness of technological mediation, its necessary perpetual and repetitive actualisation. This endlessness, in turn, renders a perspective of technology which is open ended, never fully completed, or in other words, in-finite. It is this endlessness that disorients our notion of meaning as it breaks the linear causal relationship between means and ends, aims and fulfilment. Rather, as my project argues, technology exposes a meaningless assembling of things and beings that circumvent formal categories of representation and signification.
Post-rationalisation: Openness in Contemporary Social Organisation
The question of modernity is as old as modernity itself. Philosophically, Kant studied modern thought in a critique of reason; sociologically, Weber used the parallel tactic of examining modern society in a critique of rationalisation. The wave of postmodernism in the 1970s and ‘80s has attempted to decenter reason through a radicalisation of modernism. In philosophy, this resulted in the hugely successful anti-metaphysics of Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, who built on Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Nietzsche. On a sociological register, however, the thesis of ratio-nalisation stands as firm as ever, even among anti-metaphysical thinkers themselves. Admittedly, postmodernism has led to an expansion of aspects under which the humanities study modernity as a cultural phenomenon, but regarding questions of social organisation, humanities scholars automatically resort to the sociology of reason. So I ask, in a polemical paraphrase on Habermas: Has the postmodern project been completed? Should it be?
The dissertation proposed here will serve the dual aim of i) loosening the grip of rationalisation on our politico-philosophical imagination and ii) developing an account of modernisation as socio- cultural closure that is inspired by postmodernism, but tailored to our world and times. This project will be primarily philosophical in nature, but is at the same time located at several disciplinary intersections. Firstly, the dissertation connects Critical Theory with Science and Technology Studies in order to produce a philosophical framework for social organisation that is embedded within the wider humanities. Secondly, it cuts across the analytic/Continental divide in philosophy.
The Performative Force of Accented Speech: Language, Body, and Violence
In the contemporary globalized world, the accent marks a distinction between insiders and outsiders, and can sometimes lead to hostility and bodily attack. Such violence typically performs a gesture of othering based on the conflation of ethnicity and language, and further raises the question of how to undo the violence with a speech that remains accented and is therefore, always already in the locus of that violence. Through an analysis of theoretical, philosophical, and literary texts that dramatize or reflect on the implications of speaking with an accent, this project aims to 1) investigate the socio-political and cultural dynamics that take place when accented speech resounds publicly and 2) map the different modes of speaking that are available to accented speakers. By highlighting the bodily dimension of accented speech, this project intervenes in debates on language and racialization in postcolonial studies, and seeks to contribute to a critique of the ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism that naturalizes reified conceptions of ‘native speakers’ and ‘mother tongue.’
The accent, often considered as a problematic utterance of an alien body, is situated at the intersection of the cultural and the physical: it is where languages and the speaking body meet, where various cultures leave imprints on the body. This project contends that social and cultural ‘scenes’ of accented speech dramatize the ‘imposed’ monolingual status of the postcolonial subject, who often experiences language as “the prosthesis of the origin” (Derrida 1998), and as a double disfigurement of his/her racialized body. By adopting this perspective, this project hopes to shift the discussion of monolingualism and ethnolinguistic discrimination from a model that emphasizes hegemony and discourse to one is attentive to the constitutive force of language itself. In the very performativity of language, I contend, resides the possibility of linguistic survival of accented speakers.
Globalization, Charity Fundraising and Mediated Suffering
Contemporary images used in charity fundraising aimed at the abolition of poverty are ingrained with a notion of a ‘common, global humanity’ (Boltanski 1999). This assumed shared base can be thought of in terms of shared values (Njoh 2006), universal human rights (Sliwinski 2009), basic human emotions or collective responsibilities (Illouz 2003). Fundraising, in short, visualizes globalization by targeting the idea of a shared human experience. This project revolves around the question how such a specific notion of a globalized world is imagined in fundraising. For this, long-term promotional activities, broadcasting events and social media campaigns will be addressed – media texts that present us with the visual culture of suffering and relief, and with narratives on grief and optimism. The project thereby aims to address imagined global unity in the face of structural inequality, in order to trace how charity fundraising proposes the idea of a common humanity.
Although supposed global commonalities lie at the heart of charity fundraising, the production and reception of these campaigns is tied to local contexts. As a result of this, the alleged human experience is imagined from the perspective of those holding economic advantage and the ability to behold; bringing with it a distinction between a fortunate spectator and an unfortunate ‘other’ (Boltanski 1999). Interestingly, this seems at odds with the idea of a global human experience. The questions whether universalism is an ethnocentric phenomenon (Benhabib 2002; Rorty 1985) is therefore as important as the question how universalism is defined in mediated encounters between different places.