At our current moment, democracy itself seems to be in crisis, as a practice, a set of institutions, and an ideal. The rhythm of everyday life does not help, in tune with the tempo of news cycles, deflection, and legalized zones of lawlessness. Scholarship has however long provided for an alternative pace, and a distinct space for the analysis of and speculations about democracy, its crises and absences, its various histories, social dynamics, and cultural manifestations. Drawing from the academic community built by the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University over its forty year existence, and as its inaugural Alumni Conference, this conference aims to map the relationship between democracy and crisis. Former fellows from across fields are invited to present their work on the ways in which ideals and practices of democracy have been debated in theory, probed historically, and produced culturally: Is the contemporary moment exceptional, in its double sense that democracy has been thrown into crisis and that crises have upended democratic life, or has this become the new normal? Was it previously or ever a norm? Is it possible—or right—to conceptualize democracy without reference to crisis? Where is democracy put into crises, and what does it look like? Is democracy’s crisis a problem with the demos, with the enemies of democracy, or with the operations of democracy itself? If democratic states have also tended to be aggressive and expansionist, is democracy another name for empire? Is crisis peculiar to democracy, and are democracy’s crises distinctive? The panels of this conference will seek to use the ideas of crisis and democracy as windows into each other, focusing on “crisis” and on “democracy,” and then, taken together, as a canvas onto which the contemporaneity of historical crises and the historicity of contemporary anxieties have been inscribed.
Participants: Ilana Feldman, Will Slauter, Andrew Zimmerman, Maria Gonzalez Pendas, Murad Idris, Hagar Kotef, Whitney Laemmli, Tina Campt, Josef Sorett, Mickalene Thomas, Emeka Ogboh, and others.
Sponsors: The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities; Institute for Ideas and Imagination; Columbia Global Centers Paris