Society

Center for the Humanities Explores “Mobilities” in Fall Lecture Series

Meritocracy and Mobility, Intertwined Histories of the South Indian Dance Revival, and What Do Mobile Phones Mobilize are just three of the topics to be discussed during the Center for the Humanities' fall lecture series.

Meritocracy and Mobility, Intertwined Histories of the South Indian Dance Revival, and What Do Mobile Phones Mobilize? are three of the topics to be discussed during the Center for the Humanities’ fall lecture series.

Over the past decade, a new approach to the study of mobilities has emerged involving research on the combined movement of peoples, animals, objects, ideas and information. This can be viewed through the lens of complex networks, relational dynamics, and the redistribution or reification of power generated by movement.

This fall, Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities will offer 10 lectures on the theme of “Mobilities” as part of its lecture series. Five of the speakers are from Wesleyan.

All talks begin at 6 p.m., are open to the public, and are held at Daniel Family Commons. The dates, topics and speakers are:

Sept. 8
Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’ Birds
Cary Wolfe, professor of English, Rice University

Sept. 15
Beyond Synthesis: The Return of Micro History in Global Contexts and the “Relationing” of History
Angelika Eppel, professor of history, Bielefeld University, Germany

Sept. 22
The Roma Question in France and the Return of Race
Éric Fassin, professor of sociology, École Normale Supérieure, Paris

Fowler, Baum, Students Present Paper at Political Science Association Meeting

Leonid Liu '14, Laura Baum, P. Marshal Lawler '16, Michael Linden '15, Eliza Loomis '15, Zachary Wulderk '15, Erika Franklin Fowler at the American Political Science Association meeting.

Leonid Liu ’14, Project Manager Laura Baum, P. Marshal Lawler ’16, Michael Linden ’15, Eliza Loomis ’15, Zachary Wulderk ’15 and Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler attended the American Political Science Association meeting.

Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Project Manager in the Government Department Laura Baum, and four students presented a paper titled, “A Messenger Like Me: The Effect of Ordinary Spokespeople in Campaign Advertising” at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Conference, Aug. 30 in Washington, D.C.

The student authors are P. Marshal Lawler ’16, Michael Linden ’15, Eliza Loomis ’15 and Zachary Wulderk ’15.

The paper considers the effects of using non-elite spokespeople (ie. “the everyman”) in political advertising. The authors draw upon the Wesleyan Media Project’s vast database of political advertising, as well as original coding on almost 300 ads, and a new large-scale survey data set assessing the effectiveness and credibility of 2012 campaign ads. They found that using ordinary spokespeople is a common tactic, particularly in negative campaign advertising, and that their use is associated with higher credibility scores than ads without them, even after controlling for partisanship and political sophistication.

The paper grew out of a fall 2013 pilot course at Wesleyan, GOVT 378 Advanced Topics in Media Analysis. Read the full paper online here.

Plous on Social Psych and the Michael Brown Shooting

Scott Plous, professor of psychology.

Scott Plous, professor of psychology

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous spoke to the Associated Press about the tendency of observers to see the Michael Brown shooting as black and white. Those who support Officer Darren Wilson, and those who are convinced he unjustifiably shot and killed an unarmed man, look at the same facts and see no gray area largely due to “confirmation bias,” said Plous.

“It’s the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts it,” he explained.

In this particular case, with little unambiguous evidence, “people are actually acting very reasonably,” said Plous.

“There is a void, and into that void, people will bring whatever they regard as the most reasonable evidence,” he said. “People are trying to make sense of this tragedy using the most compelling evidence they have available.”

This includes their own perspectives and experiences.

“We’re forced to reconstruct, to remember, to imagine what could have taken place,” Plous said, “and those are precisely the conditions when we’re likely to see bias.”

Rosenthal, Brown on Student Activism

On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Rob Rosenthal, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, and Lois Brown, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor, write in The Huffington Post about student activism today compared to the 1960s.

Though Millennials have gotten a reputation as being disengaged with the world, Rosenthal and Brown write, “Numerous events suggest that students today are not abandoning activism but using new forms of activism: replacing confrontation with dialogue, lobbying, and direct service provision and ‘organizing’ locally and globally without ever joining hands. This virtual quality of modern activism may require less commitment and seem less real, less immediate, and more situational. Some even suggest that this contemporary activism diminishes significant personal risk and thus becomes less heroic. One does not have to leave ‘home’ and put it all on the line like the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer activists did in volatile and unpredictable places.”

In September, Wesleyan will mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with a series of programs.

Rosenthal is also director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Brown is also professor and chair of African American Studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Leads Germany to Order Base Re-Named

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In response to research by Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem, the German air forces have decided to rename a base currently named after a celebrated general known as an “anti-Nazi” in the years following World War II. The base is currently called after Gen. Hans von Sponeck, who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941.

Recently, the German government announced in the Bundestag that the air forces had formally approved the name change in June, based in part on Grimmer-Solem’s work, published early this year in the journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, and national media reports about that work. A final agreement on renaming the base is pending between the Luftwaffe and the nearby city of Germersheim, and local citizens have protested the name change.

“I knew that my research had the potential to stir up some controversy, but the speed with which a national debate and parliamentary discussion formed around the issue really caught me by surprise,” said Grimmer-Solem. “My findings hit a nerve. An official effort is now underway to assure that other military installations don’t mistakenly honor compromised officers. Still, the fact that there’s a sizable citizen initiative underway to keep the old name of the military base reveals just how divisive this topic still is in Germany.”

Two Whistler Drawings from DAC to Be Featured in PBS Documentary

Open Access Image from the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

Whistler’s sketch showing how his Venice works should be exhibited in 1880

Two drawings by James McNeill Whistler, part of the Davison Art Center’s collection of more than 100 Whistler works, will be shown in a new documentary on the life of the painter.

The sketches, one in pencil and one in pen and ink, will be seen in “James McNeill Whistler & The Case for Beauty,” premiering September 12 on PBS.

They represent just a small part of Wesleyan’s extensive holdings of works on paper by Whistler, one of the most important American artists of the 19th century.

“Whistler was crucial in making the connection between the Impressionists and British art, and … American art,” said Clare Rogan, curator of the Davison Art Center and adjunct assistant professor of art history. “While he worked mostly in Europe, he was incredibly important in creating that link.”

Neither sketch is large – unlike finished prints or paintings, both were for Whistler’s personal use and not intended to be seen by a larger audience. They are, however, interesting glimpses of an artist at work. The pencil sketch, measuring at just 4.4 by 6.9 inches, represents his ideas about displaying his famous landscape prints of Venice at an 1880 exhibit by the Fine Arts Society in London.

Gruen on the Rights of Non-human Animals

A selfie taken by an endangered crested black macaque.

A selfie taken by an endangered crested black macaque.

“If monkeys can own selfies, what other rights should they have?” asks Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, writing in Wired. 

Gruen is referring to arresting self-portrait photographs taken by an endangered crested black macaque, which are now at the center of a copyright dispute. As Gruen explains: “At issue is whether the human primate, David Slater, who owned the camera the monkey used, has a legal claim on the image. He wants Wikimedia to take the photograph down on the grounds that it is ‘his,’ but Wikimedia has countered that because the non-human primate took the photo and not Slater, it is in the public domain.”

For Gruen, this matter raises serious questions about the rights of non-human animals. Read the full article here.

Wesleyan Hosts Macroeconomics Research Workshop

Wesleyan’s Economics Department hosted the 2014 Workshop in Macroeconomics Research in Liberal Arts Colleges on August 5-6.

The conference brought together about 40 macroeconomists from liberal arts colleges around the country to present and discuss research, and exchange ideas about research and teaching. It aimed to increase productivity of macroeconomists at liberal arts colleges. It was organized by Wesleyan’s Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics; Pao-Lin Tien, assistant professor of economics; Masami Imai, professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies; and Richard Grossman, professor of economics. The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life also provided support.

Past years’ conferences have been held at colleges including Claremont McKenna, Lafayette, Vassar, Colgate and Hamilton.

More information and the conference schedule is available on this website.

See pictures from the conference below:

Joyce Jacobsen, dean of the social sciences and director of global initiatives, Andrews Professor of Economics, delivered welcoming remarks at the conference.

Joyce Jacobsen, dean of the social sciences and director of global initiatives, Andrews Professor of Economics, delivered welcoming remarks at the conference.

New faculty member Karl Boulware, assistant professor of economics, spoke.

New faculty member Karl Boulware, assistant professor of economics, spoke.

New faculty member David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, spoke.

New faculty member David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, spoke.

Gruen Elected Fellow of Hastings Center

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, has been elected a fellow of the prestigious Hastings Center.

The 45-year-old center, an independent bioethics research institute, addresses ethics in the areas of health, medicine and the environment.

“I’m delighted to be elected a fellow of the Hastings Center,” Gruen said. “The research publications (from Hastings) are cutting edge, and have been an integral part of my teaching.”

Gruen is coordinator of Wesleyan Animal Studies and director of the university’s Ethics in Society project, which aims to develop and foster teaching, scholarship, and institutional reflection on the ethical challenges facing individuals and society. Her work lies at the intersection of ethical theory and ethical practice, with a particular focus on ethical issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical investigations, including women, people of color, and non-human animals.

Wesleyan Media Project Expands Into Health Policy Analysis

WMP logoThe Wesleyan Media Project, which for the past two federal election cycles has tracked and analyzed campaign television ad spending, is expanding into the realm of health policy analysis with a new study examining media coverage accompanying the Fall 2013 rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.

The question of inquiry: How did media coverage of the ACA (commonly called “Obamacare”) differ state to state—or even within states—and what impact might this have on new health insurance enrollments? Findings were published July 18 in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law from Duke University Press.

Praying for the Worst

“Isn’t it against the rules of religion to pray against another person?” Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, asks in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The answer: “Hardly.”

Imprecatory prayer–or praying for harm to befall another–is more common than many know, McAlister writes. She points to a Ghanaian traditional priest who is claiming credit for causing an injury to Portugal’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, whose absence, the priest hopes, may improve Ghana’s chances against Portugal in the World Cup this week. Closer to home, the American evangelical community for the last five years has led a chilling campaign praying for President Barack Obama’s death.

McAlister writes:

The Secret Service has taken note of the threat inherent in the prayer campaign. But without direct evidence that people were actually advocating acts of violence, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League have concluded that the campaign to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” is a legal form of political speech.

In a way, though, that conclusion relies on secular logic. The ACLU and the ADL assume prayer to be ineffectual in causing harm. But many evangelicals believe negative forms of prayer can actually be efficacious weapons. This is why they use the term “spiritual warfare,” and why they think it is best left to the experienced “prayer warrior.”

Bears, Donkeys ‘n’ Elephants

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, was interviewed on Russia Today television. The discussion ranged from the recent deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations under President Obama to possible U.S.-Russian cooperation in fighting terrorism to the implications of the crisis on Ukraine, and other foreign policy issues, for American politics.

“For all of the ups and downs in the 1990s and 2000s, there was a kind of continuity in the parameters of the [U.S.-Russian] relationship,” said Rutland, who is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies. “That really has fallen apart since 2008. Yes, there were some changes in Putin’s policy, but Putin had been around since 2000, so the main responsibility for the collapse in the relationship must like on the American side, unfortunately. There was a mindset of the Obama Administration coming in that thought that Putin was a man of the past…They put all their chips on the idea that Russia would return to democratization under President Medvedev, and that proved unfortunately to be a losing bet.”

In response to the interviewer’s assertion that Russia has continued down a road of democratization, Rutland said, “There are different types of democracy. Putin is certainly a popular leader and he’s certainly stayed within the loose parameters of democratic politics understood in the Russian context, but what the Obama administration had in mind was real, competitive Western-style democracy with parties competing for the presidency, competing for seats in the parliament, and also much more interaction of civil society organizations in Russia with Western organizations.”

Watch the entire interview here.