Working Groups 2010-2011


Incompatible notions of identity permeate the modern political arena, the world of commerce and information exchange, social organizations of all shapes and sizes, and the private sphere. Debates over identity flow between the singular and plural — me and we. They also impact our discussion of they — the Other. Perceptions of identity impact our notions of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious identification and sexual orientation. This working group will explore these issues and concerns from a host of disciplinary and methodological perspectives.

Spring 2011: Meets at the Center the last Tuesday of every month, 5-7PM: January 25, February 22 and March 29.

Fall 2010: Meets at the Center on the following Wednesdays, 5-7PM: September 29, October 27, and December 1.

Faculty convener: Professor Amílcar Barreto:


Narration of the Body and Embodied Narratives

This working group will operate within the Humanities Center as a collaboration between the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University and the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University in Sweden. The group’s focus includes, but is not limited to: 1) our bodies as central to our subjective lives and to a sense of place in relation to others, 2) our bodies as the site of external markers of identity, ascribed by ourselves as well as by others, 3) our bodies as cultural artifacts shaping and reshaping while continually exhibited and exposed in old and new ways, and 4) the ways our bodies are marked, visibly or invisibly, as well as how they constitute the basis for group formation and for drawing lines of demarcation. Given the diverse set of theoretical perspectives and disciplines represented in the working group (on issues as wide ranging as the law, motherhood, sexuality, sexual identity, abortion, cinema, disability, queer theory, eating disorders, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery), our goal is to focus on the ways in which the topic of body/embodiment demands our ethical and political attention.

Spring 2011: Meets at the Center on the following Wednesdays, 9-10:30AM : January 26, February 16, March 10, April 6, and May 11.

Fall 2010: Meets at the Center on the following Wednesdays, 9-10:30AM: September 29, October 20*, November 17, and December 22.

*Meeting time will be 8:30-10AM on October 20.

Faculty convener: Professor Debra Kaufman:


Cosmic Evolution Theory and the Integration of Knowledge

Over the course of the last two decades, scholars from a variety of fields have begun discussing, doing research in, and teaching courses in a new “synthesis” that points toward a holistic integration of knowledge. This constitutes an attempt to undo the disciplinary categories developed during the nineteenth century both by rethinking the methodological definition of “Science” and by beginning with the principle that “…all known objects – from atoms to galaxies, from cells to brains, from people to society [and culture] – are interrelated.” [1] This emerging synthesis is based on principles derived from energistics (specifically thermodynamics), neo-Darwinian evolution (including both genetics and what is sometimes called “memetics”), and “complexity” theory. This working group will explore the validity of this idea, its possibilities for redefining science and creating a holistic understanding of everything, and the ramifications of this proposed ‘pansophistic’ synthesis on the organization and pursuit of knowledge of all kinds. Meets at the Center on the following Thursdays, 2:50-4:30PM: October 21, November 18, and December 16.

Spring 2011: Meets at the Center on Thursday February 24, 3PM.

[1]Steven J. Dick and Mark L. Lupisella, Cosmos & Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context (Washington D.C.: NASA, 2010), p.8.

Faculty convener: Professor Gerald Herman:


Biography and Life Story

From “This American Life” to the “Diagnosis” column in The New York Times to the Biography Channel, to the myriad uses of “case studies” in advertising and politics, to the sales figures for print biography (now accounting for as much as ¾ of all nonfiction book sales by some accounts), it is clear that all forms of “life story” are experiencing an unprecedented cultural interest. At the same time, the standard human biography or life story keeps expanding: group biographies, graphic life stories, and the wildly popular recent biographies of racehorses, of salt, of cod fish, of oysters, for examples. What do we make of all this? What can we — as a group of writers and scholars who (variously) use life story — learn from one another’s methods, goals, disciplinary backgrounds, audiences, medias, and different ways of asking questions about the shapes and meanings of human lives? “Biography” is meant here in the widest possible sense and we hope to include a range of people who use “life stories” – case studies, interviews, ethnographic work, and so on. Open to non-Northeastern members of the community: biographers, filmmakers, journalists, etc. Meets at the Center on the following Wednesdays, 5-7PM: October 6, November 3, and December 8.

Faculty conveners: Professor Kimberly Brown and Professor Hilary Poriss: and


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