Home » Teaching

Teaching

At the University of Chicago I teach a variety of classes that emphasize new synergies between political theory, social history, and continental philosophy by bringing together a diverse collection of theoretical texts, historical materials, and works of art. My undergraduate seminars in the University of Chicago’s core curriculum, “Power, Identity, Resistance,” cover the canon of modern political and social thought from Thomas Hobbes to Michel Foucault. With faculty in English and Anthropology, I have co-taught interdisciplinary seminars that reconsider modern experiences of urbanization through political theory, literature, and film. My efforts to make complex ideas accessible and useful to my students have been realized in and strengthened by giving guest lectures for academic and general audiences at New York University, the New Museum for Contemporary Art, and the New School for Social Research. I have also taught a graduate seminar that connected critical theories of capitalist society to the history of new media art. Through these experiences I have designed an approach to teaching that facilitates learning in a diverse student body.

 

Titles and descriptions of classes I have taught and co-taught are listed below.

 

Undergraduate Seminars

Imagining the Modern City (Summer 2018)
Co-taught with Larry Rothfield, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature
Arts and Sciences Summer Program, University of Chicago

Increased urbanization has been a source of momentous change in the history of the modern world. During the industrial revolution in Europe, thousands of people were forced to leave rural areas for urban spaces. In the last hundred years, urbanization has continued apace: the world’s urban population was 746 million in 1950, and is now 3.9 billion, with much of that growth taking place in Africa and Asia. The rise of the modern city has made possible new political, social, cultural, and economic experiences of life presented in texts, films, music, and art. To better understand what forms of life the modern city makes both imaginable and unimaginable, we will read literary works, view films, and experience artworks alongside, and through the lenses of, political theorists, historians, sociologists, and urban theorists from the nineteenth century to the present—from Karl Marx and Max Weber to Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin, from Georges Seurat and Archibald Motley Jr. to Wong Kar Wai and Spike Lee. Additionally, we will take several field trips to locales and neighborhoods in Chicago that connect to the themes and settings we will study.

 

Power, Identity, Resistance III: Currents of Critical Thought (Spring 2018)
Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago

This seminar is the third part of a three-quarter sequence in the Social Sciences Core titled “Power, Identity, Resistance.” In this class we will study classic texts in the modern tradition of “critical theory,” from Immanuel Kant to Michel Foucault. We will examine the ways in which critical thinkers have interpreted power, as being both constitutive of and constituted by economics, politics, and culture in the modern era, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. We will study different modalities, techniques, and mechanisms through which power is exercised as well as various means of resisting its structures of domination. By looking into the intricate, subtle, pervasive, and violent workings of power, we will investigate how economic, social, and cultural forces interact to shape and, as such, politicize our identities. Through a close engagement with canonical texts, films, and other materials, this seminar will enhance students’ argumentative and interpretive skills by helping them to think critically through complex social problems. The class will push students to develop their capacity for critical reasoning, close reading, and analytic writing. This spring, we will examine forms of social domination—such as racism, imperialism, and sexism—that interact with yet cannot be reduced to the political and economic categories we explored last quarter through Smith and Marx. What cultural forces motivate and maintain these relations of power? How do they shape, or undermine, efforts to create a more just world? These are some of the questions we will explore in this class.

 

From the Country to the City: The Experience of Urbanization in the Modern World (Summer 2017)
Co-taught with Joshua Craze, Collegiate Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Anthropology
Arts and Sciences Summer Program, University of Chicago

This course will examine what happens when the world becomes increasingly urban, and how people understand the changes in their lives when they move from rural areas to cities. In particular, we will study the ways in which new waves of urbanization transform our senses of belonging and pose problems, both architectural and political, from dealing with over-burdened city institutions to the demand for political representation made by people arriving in the city. This course will explore urbanization through a wide variety of disciplinary approaches. We will read classic texts in political economy, geography, and philosophy, such as Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life” and excerpts from Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume One. We will also delve into the histories of architecture and art, literature and film, from Europe, Asia, and Africa, in order to investigate the stakes of contemporary urbanization. Our materials include the short stories of the Nigerian writer Ben Okri, the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Wong Kar Wai, and photography from Lagos, Paris, and Juba, South Sudan. Students will also have a chance to think about urbanization outside the classroom, through field trips around Chicago, a visit to the Art Institute, and through student-led collaborative research projects on issues related to the historical development of cities.

 

Power, Identity, Resistance I: The Social Contract and Its Critics (Fall 2016)
Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago

What is the state and how is it formed? Who are its citizens, what are their rights and duties? When can they legitimately rebel against and overthrow their ruler? What are the limits of sovereign power? What is political authority? And, most importantly, how do all of these questions relate to justice? In this class we will probe these questions not to find definitive answers, but to learn how to ask and think about them. We will begin by looking at theories of the state through what has become commonly known as “the social contract.” Thinkers in this tradition will ask one of the more pressing questions about modern politics: how do we make an agreement with others such that a political body, known as the state, is created? In the first half of the course we will read three influential thinkers associated with this tradition: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Known for their theories of how, why, and to what ends human beings leave the state of nature to live together in civil society, each one of these authors puts forth a particular variation of the social contract. In the second half of the class we will look at key critics of the social contract, from Edmund Burke’s conservatism to Mary Wollstonecraft’s republicanism and John Stuart Mill’s liberalism. With an eye to the continuities and ruptures between these thinkers, we will examine their views on human nature and civil society by paying particular attention to how each theory relates to questions of justice, equality, and freedom.

 

Graduate Seminar

New Media Art History and Theory (Spring 2016)
Parsons School of Design and School of Media Studies, New School for Social Research

Contemporary theorists and historians tend to identify the novelty of image production as the distinct and constitutive characteristic of new media art. This class explores a radically different proposition for new media art practice, history, and theory. By transgressing the conventions of visual language, we will come to appreciate what is disruptive and transformative about new media art forms, both technically and aesthetically. While acknowledging new media art’s genealogical roots in the historical avant-garde, as well as its intertwining co-evolution with visual art’s numerous bifurcations and (re)incarnations, the central aim of this course is to uncover the formal, aesthetic, and political elements that set new media art apart from the ocularcentrist imperative of postwar critical theory and art history. By synthesizing some of the most provocative philosophical positions on the current economic, technological, and political fabric of liberal Western societies, this course elucidates a theory of presence, sensation, embodiment, resistance, and action as transformative conceptual possibilities for art—be it in concrete practices or theoretical gestures. Through readings, analyses of seminal artworks, writing assignments, discussions, presentations, and topical lectures, we will work together towards a critical and rigorous understanding of the distinct positions that (old and new) media occupy in contemporary artistic production. Above all, this course will offer students a perspective on new media art’s historical and present-day relevance, as well as its critical potential to articulate political and social modes of inquiry and resistance in the context of an art world profoundly organized by the imperatives of postindustrial capitalism.