Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hybrids and Social Justice

         This week's readings are perhaps the most challenging of the semester because they ask us to consider some larger connections to our relationship with things.

         Brian Latour's "Crisis" certainly gave me a sense of unease just based on the title. In his essay, Latour explains that the way that we create our scholarship and understand ourselves fails to link how they relate to larger chains of networks. He identifies three different categories - nature, politics, and discourse - that we use to distinguish the study of the world around us. Latour critiques this separation and connects it to his conversation about what it really means to be modern. The reason Latour's essay made me feel uncomfortable - and probably rightfully so - was because it made me realize how much the discipline of history, the one I'm most familiar with, fails to engage with so much around it. The irony isn't lost on me that, in theory, history is supposed to be everything, right? And yet, and I include myself in this, we often fail to connect the past to so many different chains of networks that makes me think that historians aren't doing enough when we separate categories that don't really exist. Talk about an existential crisis...

         Shifting gears a bit, Laura Levitt's essay in her upcoming manuscript explores how objects relate to understanding trauma. Levitt uses Edmund de Waal's book The Hare with the Amber Eyes as a lens towards understanding how objects serve as a window looking at the Holocaust. The way that Levitt explores how objects can also serve as a route to justice in situations such as these reminds me of the shifting emotional responses that crop up when we have these conversations about our relationships to objects. It has certainly defined my own project for me. I initially thought that my emotional response to my license plate was unimportant. The most that I felt when I looked at or thought about it was slight nostalgia for a time that I never live through. But as I discovered how an everyday object with such high visibility was manufactured in a prison with such poor conditions - a seemingly invisible place - I was repulsed and intrigued by it. I wondered what my findings meant beyond my project. I'm still trying to figure that out, but Levitt's essay helps me to think about how objects can relate to social justice.

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