Universality and Its Limits

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Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, University of Chicago
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Universality and Its Limits

The 2013 Weissbourd Annual Conference
Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts
The University of Chicago
Franke Institute for the Humanities
April 19–20, 2013
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Seyla Benhabib, Yale University

(Proposal Deadline: February 15, 2013)

The Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago invites paper proposals for the annual Weissbourd Memorial Conference, to be held April 19-20, 2013 at the Franke Institute for the Humanities. Its theme is "Universality and Its Limits."
It has become relatively commonplace to think of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences as eschewing an orientation toward universals, and focusing instead on the exploration of differences, situations, and particularities of various kinds. At a time when the politics and aesthetics of difference are suspected to be largely compatible with the universal advent of global capitalism, might the reassessment of universals and their dissemination remain a critical topic for academic scrutiny? Across vast differences of history and geography, disciplinary alignments, and theoretical orientations, we propose a collective reappraisal of how our research topics and our core methods (description, narration, interpretation, analysis, synthesis, explanation, and speculation) continue to negotiate and challenge, both implicitly and explicitly, various forms of universality.
Universal declarations of rights and cosmopolitan political principles have been criticized for their lack of attention to gender, economic inequality, cultural differences and democratic sovereignty. Ideals of universal "goods" have also been challenged in the name of moral pluralism. The idea of a progressive (or regressive) universal course to history and a universalist approach to the divine and the transcendent have been questioned. Does this mean that we should stop articulating issues of politics, aesthetics, ethics, law, history, or religion within the language of universalism? Or should we keep a universalist standpoint and investigate further the processes of negotiation and mediation that allow the incorporation of the particular, the social or the historical into this universalist frame?
Among the various media of aesthetic production—music, literature, theater, dance, film, visual art, interactive games, and so on—scholars frequently place emphasis on the interpretation of works in light of their attendant cultural and historical contexts, emphasizing their particularity and aesthetic singularity. But what kinds of universals, both implicit and explicit, still guide our scholarly treatments of aesthetic production? How are we to assess both poetics and aesthetics after the multi-cultural and vernacular de-centering of the canon? Is their value still based in fundamental questions they raise about human experience? Is it based on the theory we use to interpret and understand them?
We encourage an exceptionally broad range of answers to these questions from scholars in all fields of the humanities and social sciences.
In particular, we hope to foster conversations about the following topics:
– progress, stasis, and regression in history
– the idea of a universal history
– totalities and universals
– human values, human rights, and the humanities
– capitalism and anti-capitalism, and globalization
– humanism, anti-humanism, and post-humanism
– music as a universal language and a cultural particular
– the interpretation of science, medicine, and technology
– immigrants, outcasts, & vagrants
– social media in history and the present
– work, labor, housing, social welfare, insurance, & money as universals
– the commodification of culture & the contested universality of mass culture
– philosophy and truth, universality and relativism
– the aesthetics, ethics, and politics of translation
– democracy, cosmopolitanism and sovereignty
– the meaning(s) of populism
– criticism and critique as universals
– the history of aesthetics, hermeneutics, and/or literary theory
– the universality and particularity of media technologies
– the question of universality in studies of gender and sexuality
– universality and racial difference
– Plato, the Sophists, the Stoics, Aristotle, Aquinas
– Kant, Hegel, Arendt, and Badiou
– Habermas, Rawls, and Pogge

Our keynote lecture will be given by Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Mayer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University, and Director of the Program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.
The title of Professor Benhabib's address is "Legal Universalism and Democratic Sovereignty. The Contentious Debate."

Professor Jennifer Pitts, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, will serve as a respondent.

To propose a paper, please submit an abstract of 250 words or less, along with a brief biography of the presenter. Please email this to conference co-chairs Michael Gallope and Geneviève Rousselière at weissbourd13@gmail.com.
We especially encourage the proposal of entire panels. To propose a panel, provide the above material for all presenters, along with a panel title and an explanation of its ambit, no more than 500 words in length.
The deadline for all proposals is February 15, 2013.