Commons: 2020–2021 Lunchtime Talk Series

What are the possibilities for the university as a commons? Is such an aim even desirable? As public health proscribes coming together in person and old dangers impinge on communities in new forms, we invite you to think together with us on an old question. “Is not the purpose of the university as Universitas, as liberal arts,” ask Stefano Harney and Fred Moten in a 2004 essay, “to make the commons, make the public, make the nation of democratic citizenry?” Theirs was an apologia for “fugitive” sociability in the face of the institution’s violent (pre)conditions. Decades earlier, C. L. R. James—whose legacy Harney and Moten epigraphically claim—had posed the question inside-out: “What is a university? Where is the self-activity of the masses?" Engaging Harney and Moten, Bonnie Honig has recently criticized a pervasive “opt-out” culture linked to disinvestment in and privatization of essential “public things.” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, on the other hand, instruct readers of their 2004 book Commonwealth to “begin to retrain their vision, recognizing the common that exists and what it can do.” They, like Gramsci and others before them, remind us of the power of things irrevocably held in common, most notably language. At bottom lies what Kant called the sensus communis, the common intellect. From these disparate figures we might gain some coordinates of commons. But what about the materials of intellectual labor itself? Social or intellectual, the commons is a matter for struggle within the university and without it, a common task and, as it were, an “academic” one.

Fall 2020

October 6

Workshop
Bonnie Honig, Brown University

November 10

Workshop
Carissa Rodriquez, Artist


Spring 2021

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