Critical Humanities: Thinking together at the edge of time
This research group was born in 2020 at the start of corona lockdown in the Netherlands. The following mission statement articulates the group's inspirations and ambitions.
What causes change, and how to think change? In his chapter on the panopticon, Michel Foucault theorizes the transition from classical to modern society in terms of “conjuncture,” a joining of processes, not in harmony but in incongruity, boiling into a societal shift. The idea for this research group was born before the covid pandemic. But the group’s inspiration by Foucault’s conjunctural analysis is all the more coincidental, given that Foucault finds the blueprint for modern society in late-17th-century Europe’s reaction to the Plague. While steering free of overhasty parallels between disciplinary measures then and corona-apps now, this group asks: how can we engage the conjuncture of our conflicted present from angles at once acute and long-historical, theoretical and experimental?
The group brings together people — scholars but also interested students — from across the humanities around the urgent issues of our historical moment: from the climate catastrophe and the destruction of natural and social ecosystems to the colonization of human experience under platform capitalism; from the pressure on public spaces and communal values to the humanitarian disasters at the borders of and within Europe; from the rise of populism across the globe to ongoing struggles around sexuality, gender, and race; and from fake news to the precarization of labor in the “sharing” economy and certainly also in academia. How to think these developments together and diagnose the future(s) immanent to their urgency? Thinking together as in forming a picture, however scattered, of strands of reality that one way or another are related. And thinking together as in an ongoing conversation between people who expand their minds on more regenerative naturecultures in a present that feels often bleak.
While these topics are vast, this group is also an invitation to think small and keep thought grounded. It’s an invitation to start from the analysis of cultural objects that at once express (as texts) and emerge (in their materiality) from crisis, and that thus are truly critical, or cutting edge (the word crisis deriving from kritein, which means to divide). The group is a proposal to attend to everyday life, including one’s own everyday, again in its materiality and discursivity. How has wifi changed our household habits? How do we perceive our own consumption in the face of climate emergency? How do we relate to migrant misery in Greece and elsewhere? And how in these increasingly digital times do we keep materializing our sense of belonging? Has the “intelligent” lockdown gone accompanied by an emotional openness? This invitation to keep thought grounded is not because the spirit is in the bone. The group’s premise is that there is no spirit, but that thought starts with the realization, if only in flashes, that thoughts and feelings aren’t always one’s own, but are shaped by the material and discursive processes that work through what also in “our” increasingly posthuman times we keep holding on to as “self.” This group, in sum, is an invitation to theorize the present and speculate the future, while integrating a stance at once critical and creative towards our own affective relations with those temporalities.