Get to know our fellows

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Ruth Glasser

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I have a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale.  I probably gravitate towards interdisciplinary programs because I’ve never been sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Still don’t.

In non-Humanities Institute civilian life I am an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Urban and Community Studies Program and am based at UConn’s Waterbury campus, where I’ve been since 2002.  Between Yale and UConn I worked as a freelance public historian on a variety of books, curriculum projects, exhibits, documentaries, and other more community-based history projects mostly focusing on Puerto Rican and Latino history.   At UConn, the community engagement has continued with service learning projects for students in the history and urban studies courses I teach.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The working title for my book project is “Brass City/Grass Roots: The Persistence of Agriculture in Industrial Waterbury, 1870-1980.”  I’ve been working in a variety of archives around the state and conducting oral history interviews as well as reading massive piles of secondary literature on topics ranging from gardening to garbage, thanks to the Humanities Institute.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

It’s an odd story since it has nothing to do with my usual Puerto Rican/Latino research.  Really the project emerged organically [pardon the pun] from my students’ and my involvement with a Waterbury organization called Brass City Harvest, that has been working since 2007 to create new sources of fresh food and jobs for the city through community gardens, greenhouses, a mobile produce van and more recently, a soon-to-be-completed food hub where area farmers can process their produce for sale.  I was teaching an intro course in which we considered food deserts and food justice as contemporary urban issues.  My students began to do service learning projects with Brass City Harvest and I joined the board for a while.  The executive director asked me to do some research for a little exhibit on farming in Waterbury’s relatively recent past.  I had had no idea about the local farming sector, and when I started talking to people and uncovering sources the project seemed worthy of something more lasting than the original exhibit, so that’s how the book came about.

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

As Sue Pronovost, the executive director of Brass City Harvest said when she asked me to do the exhibit, it’s hard to convince people that it’s possible to grow things in a city like Waterbury when they don’t realize that it’s happened before.  This project will hopefully reknit together past and present and future by showing that people did raise, process, and market food in Waterbury not too long ago so it is entirely possible for it to happen again.  The food sector could be an important part of Waterbury’s revitalization as well as a way to improve its public health and sense of community,

In a more general way, I hope to historicize the topic of urban agriculture, which is mostly talked about in academic and popular literature as an entirely contemporary phenomenon.  But the story of Waterbury’s agricultural past is not unique, and there are many more such stories to be told about cities and towns which supposedly were 100 percent industrial until industry left.  I hope to be part of an ongoing academic and popular conversation about how and why cities used to support their food sector, when, how and why they withdrew that support, and how they can support it again.  In our era of deindustrialization, we need to look at ways to economically and socially revitalize our cities and there are many lessons to be learned from the past.


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Eleni Coundouriotis

coundouriotis

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Professor of English with an appointment also in our Program in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, housed in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. I have also been involved for many years with the Human Rights Institute and much of my teaching and research is around human rights. My education was in Comparative Literature and I specialize in the novel, in particular on how novelists engage problems of historical narration. Most of the primary texts I engage with are from postcolonial literatures, especially Anglophone and Francophone African literatures.

 

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

My current project has a tentative title of “The Hospital and the State.” It brings together a number of interpretative essays on contemporary works that focus on the hospital as a setting and use this setting as way to explore state failure. The project asks questions about the nature of political action and responsibility and where these rest in countries that have suffered significant brain drain, including the departure of many writers and intellectuals. The topic of the hospital seems to engage expatriate writers and this is intriguing to me. In this project, I also return to questions that have engaged me in earlier work concerning the writing of history. How do diasporic writers engage political and historical questions about their countries of origin? What does this distance mean to them and why do they repeatedly create characters who take on leadership roles in those countries?

 

-How did you arrive at this topic?

This is a hard question to answer because I feel that I am still arriving at my topic… Book projects take some time to become fully coherent. Indeed, by the time that happens, the book is finished! However, the easy answer to this question is in part through teaching courses in contemporary Anglophone fiction where this convergence of texts that focused on hospitals became apparent to me. I was also invited to participate on a panel on “Literature and the State in Africa” and first developed my ideas around this convergence for that occasion. However, the project now includes works by writers outside Africa, most notably Amitav Ghosh and Michael Ondaatje. My interests in human rights, and humanitarianism more particularly, have kept me engaged with scholarship on global health and the history of hospitals in Africa. The project is also an extension of my thinking on the narration of war, which was the topic of my previous book. Many of these novels take place during or after war.

 

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

In so far as the topic will focus on ideas around leadership and political agency, I hope that it can help spur a conversation about how we conceive these. My work always seeks to complicate our understanding of how historical narratives come to gain currency and takes up the challenge of decentering our perspective. Disseminating the work of writers from the Global South is additionally part of my effort to change a larger public understanding.

 


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jeffrey Ogbar

OGBAR

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Professor of History, with concentration in the 20th century U.S., African American. My research spans radical social movements, popular music and urban history. I am a UCHI resident fellow.

 

What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am writing a book on the rise and expansion of black municipal participation and control in Atlanta, beginning from the late 1960s.

 

How did you arrive at this topic?

My undergraduate experience at Morehouse College in Atlanta sparked my initial interest in the city. Since my graduation in the early 1990s, the city has attracted more black migrants than any city in the country– by far. Widely perceived as the “Black Mecca,” only the metropolitan area of New York City has more black people than Atlanta metro. In most years, it is the first or second most visited destination for African American tourists It has the highest concentration of black millionaires, black-owned businesses and an over-representation of blacks in municipal and Fulton County government. I’ve been long fascinated how Atlanta, once the headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan, and deeply-entrenched white supremacist control, emerged as this model of black success.

 

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

This book will be a useful source for scholars of urban history, African American history, and urban studies. It will make important interventions in both urban history and some facets of political science. There is a subfield of Africana studies, “Black Power Studies,” that will likely find this study an important addition. I hope (as perhaps many of us) that this will also serve as a possible general interest for people interest in the Capital of the South.

 


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Harry van der Hulst

Harry van der Hulst

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I was born and educated in The Netherlands, where I taught at Leiden University after finishing my PhD in 1984. In 1999, I moved to the US, starting my work at UConn in 2000, after having been a visiting fellow for one year at Skidmore College on a project about ‘Creativity in Art and Science. I’m a professor of linguistics who is specialized in the study of the sound structure of languages (‘phonology’). I have worked on different phenomena such as ‘syllable structure’ , ‘word stress’ and ‘vowel harmony’. When I discovered that there are languages that have no sound structure (sign languages), I included those in my research. These languages use visual display instead of sound to express meaning, but other than that they are just like spoken languages in grammatical structure and functionality.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The project that earned me a fellowship at the Humanities Institute this year focuses on the relation between the  perceptible form of languages and meaning, specifically looking (!) at visual languages. The question of how words get to have their perceptible form (whether audible or visible) is very old (e.g. discussed in Plato’s dialogue Cratylus). Forms relate to meaning on a continuum from the form being totally arbitrary (as most words in spoken language; why do we refer to a cat with the word ‘cat’?) to being in some sense motivated by the meaning (as in the Chinese word for cat which is ‘mao’). We call this iconicity. Iconicity plays a much larger role in sign languages and I want to investigate the factors that play a role in allowing this to happen and suppressing it in the case of spoken languages (where it actually happens more than most linguists want to admit). In my project, I also include another visual ‘language’, namely the language of drawing, especially in the context of  ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

My project combines a number of research lines that have developed gradually over many years. My route from spoken languages to sign languages occurred because realizing that not all languages have sound structure (which was the focus of my attention for many years) came as a shock. Had I spent many years of my life on a side of language that is non-essential? But then I realized that sign languages have a counterpart to phonology because indeed all languages (in fact, all communication systems) need a perceptible side to convey meaning. So this relationship (form/meaning) crystallized as a central issue. From a young age, I’ve liked drawing and graphic novels. I then discovered that there is a blooming academic field that studies this art form. Extending my work into this domain was a natural step (and a perfect excuse to integrate a childhood interest within my academic endeavors).

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

Language is something that everyone finds interesting. Yet, many misunderstandings exist among both lay people and academics. This is especially so with respect to sign languages. My work will contribute to erasing ‘language myths’ and allow insights that have been gained in linguistics to be shared with a larger community. By broadening the perspective and including both spoken and signed languages, as well as other, specifically visual, communication systems, my project will highlight the fact that human culture is essentially a web of communication systems and that the relationship between their forms and meanings is a perfect theme to unite the study of these systems.


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Rebecca Gould

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I have a BA from the University of California Berkeley in Comparative and Slavic Literatures (double major). After I received my degree, I spent two years living in Tbilisi, Georgia, during when I embarked on the research that went into my first book Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, 2016), which examines anticolonial poetry and prose during the tsarist and Soviet periods. My PhD dissertation (Columbia University, 2013) deals a literary genre from a much earlier period: the medieval Persian prison poem. I am very lucky to have recently joined the University of Birmingham, where, as a Professor of Islamic World and Comparative Literature, I am able to bring together my wide-ranging interests in the Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature, from the medieval period to the postcolonial present.

 

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

My current book project is tentatively entitled Narrating Catastrophe: Forced Migration from Colonialism to Postcoloniality. This work tells of an aspect of the colonial encounter in the Caucasus that Writers and Rebels ignores. Both this and my first book were inspired by the experience of living in Tbilisi, Georgia, from 2004-6, among Georgian intellectuals and Chechen refugees. When I engaged with the history of the peoples I was living with and learning from, I began to notice two ways in which the past was remembered. The first way, of glorifying and sanctifying anticolonial violence, became the focus of Writers and Rebels. The second approach to the past that I noticed involved memorializing narratives of forced migration from the Caucasus to Ottoman lands (during the tsarist period) and Central Asia (during the Soviet period), such that forced migration became a recurring trope within popular culture. This repeated story of forced migration that dominates the literatures of the Caucasus is the subject of Narrating Catastrophe.  The term for this story, hijra, refers to the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina as well as to subsequent migrations, both forced and voluntary, within Islamic history.

 

 

-How did you arrive at this topic?

In Narrating Catastrophe, I explore the many meanings of forced migrations across the Islamic world, with a particular focus on the Caucasus. The more immersed I became in Caucasus narratives of displacement, the more clearly I saw that these narratives intersect with other narratives from elsewhere in the Islamic world, including the nakba (catastrophe) among Palestinians and the expulsion of Spanish Muslims during the Reconquista, which is also referred to as hijra. Although these events are obviously distinct, they are united by their narrative connection to early Islam. Needless to say, the connection I refer to is more narratival than historical, but as a scholar of Comparative Literature, it is precisely the imaginative links that extend across continents and which have persisted across centuries that I find fascinating.

 

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

To start with the most obvious: as a scholar of the Islamic world, I believe that the world I work on has a special contribution to make to policy debates. By viewing Islamic history through the prism of hijra—rather than through more violent idioms, such as that of jihad—I offer readers a means to engage with core Islamic narratives outside the polarizations that circulate in the media accounts that are the primary source for popular understanding of Islam. Another area in which this project stands to make an impact is on how we understand migration. Generally, migration is viewed from the perspective of the interests and norms of the host country. What would migration looked like if viewed from the perspective of the migrant? Narrating Catastrophe offers one answer to this question. Like Thomas Nail, whose recent book The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford, 2015), reveals how the migrant condition applies to all of us, my use of the hijra narrative showcases the general relevance of this concept and its attendant histories across the Islamic world. Rather than offer an historical account, I am developing a political theory around Islamic migration, based primarily on literary narratives from the Caucasus. The final area of impact is to do with the Caucasus itself. To my mind, the Caucasus is one of the most understudied, yet most fascinating regions of the world. It combines Muslim, Christian, and other religions traditions in close proximity to each other and is unsurpassed in terms of its linguistic and cultural diversity. Throughout my work, I have developed the idea of the Caucasus as a marginalised crossroads, meaning a geography that nearly always finds itself on edges of power and yet which maintains a kind of centrality to European and Islamic culture. By immersing my readers in an intertextual tradition that they surely will not have encountered before, I hope to enable them to think differently about migration and mobility, and from perspectives they have not contemplated before.


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions With Laura Wright

wrights

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I earned a BA in theatre and a BA in English at the University of Montana and completed my MA at UConn.  I am currently a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Connecticut and a Draper Dissertation fellow at UCHI.

 

What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am completing my dissertation, “Prizing Difference: PEN Awards and Multiculturalist Politics in American Fiction.” In this project, I examine the Poets, Essayists, Novelists (PEN) organization and map the contested national and international politics of book prizes. In particular, awards such as the PEN/Faulkner have determined the scope of what has become an identifiable twentieth- and twenty-first century American literary canon. Focused on Latinx, African American, Asian American, and Jewish American writers “Prizing Difference” considers multiple hierarchies of power, the material factors of publishing, and the evolving politics of “multiculturalism” in the US academy.

 

How did you arrive at this topic?

There were two moments that really launched my thinking on this topic. I have had a long-standing interest in canon formation (adjudicating what “counts” and what doesn’t in American Literature) and my committee asked me a question specifically on this topic in my PhD exams.  In attempting to answer the question, I struggled to define “canon.”  There were too many variables in play to settle on a stable definition that scholars, teachers, students, and readers could agree upon.  Is Toni Morrison a great African American novelist or a great American novelist?  What are the political and cultural consequences of these different designations?  Book prizes helped me negotiate this difficulty by offering a fixed list of winners that constitute a particular idea of the American novel as determined by the prize committee.

 

The idea that book prizes can form canons was reinforced the next time I took a trip to my public library.  In browsing the shelves, I noticed that the library has stickers that help identify the genre of a novel.  For instance, a space ship sticker helps readers readily locate science fiction while a sticker of a magnifying glass indicates detective fiction.  One of these stickers, to my surprise, used a blue ribbon to categorize books as “Prize Winners.”  This suggested that prize-winning novels might have significant commonalities between texts, forming a new genre of their own.

 

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

Book prizes offer a way of discerning “what counts” as American Literature historically, but also as recently as this year.  Without the vantage of a lengthy publication history or repeated encounters with a particular work in a classroom setting, book prizes help us identify significant cultural texts.  Additionally, these prizes form a critical link between the public and the university.  People (myself included) often select reading material based on the endorsements of a particular prize.  I argue that by thinking through the engagement between prizes and politics, we can gain a better understanding of our cultural values, particularly around racial identity.


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jorell Melendez Badillo

melendez-badillos

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I possess a BA in History and a MA in History of the Americas from the Inter American University in Puerto Rico. I was also a recipient of the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2016-2017), which allowed me to make substantial progress in my project. At UCHI, I will finish writing my dissertation, currently titled Our Turn to Speak: The Creation of Puerto Rican Workers’ Intellectual Communities, 1897-1952.

 

What is the project you’re currently working on?

My dissertation tells the story of how a cluster of self-educated workers burst into Puerto Rico’s world of letters at the turn of the twentieth century. These workers navigated the polity that emerged from the 1898 U.S. occupation by asserting themselves as citizens, as producers of their own historical narratives, and ultimately, as learned minds. My project shifts the historiographical focus from class-based analyses towards the study of workers’ intellectual yearnings, aesthetic sensibilities, and radical desires.

 

By following leads, often as small as a stamp on a letter, I have traced the trajectory of workers that went from being ignored by the cultural elite to eventually become part of the national mythology. Following these traces have taken me to archives in Puerto Rico, Europe, and the United States, and allowed me to document how workers participated in the international circulation of print media, imagining themselves as part of the global labor community. However, while these workers took part in these transnational networks, labor leaders enacted exclusions locally by pushing black people, women, and non-skilled workers to the margins of the labor movement they founded and the historical archive they produced.

 

How did you arrive at this topic?

My dissertation grew out of the research for my first book, Voces libertarias: Orígenes del anarquismo en Puerto Rico, currently in its third edition. Tracing the circulation of anarchist ideas developed my broader interest in global subaltern circuits of knowledge. While I had initially located Puerto Rico in a global context, it became increasingly important to situate my work within a Latin American framework to fully grasp the events covered in my dissertation. This led me to explore the connections of seemingly local incidents with wider regional developments, such as nation-building processes, populist politics, and the relation of marginal intellectuals with the state.

Beyond academic influences, my interest for the topics I study comes from lived experiences. Listening to family stories can have a profound impact on one’s career choices and passions. It certainly did for me. Raised by my grandparents in a rural barriada, or working-class neighborhood, in Puerto Rico, I came of age listening to fifteen great aunts and uncles recount long shifts in tobacco factories and train rides across the island in search of work cutting sugar cane under the blistering sun. What I learned from their memories about labor struggles, exclusions, and migration shapes my worldview and provides me with a compass for the questions I ask in my own scholarly research and in my teaching.

 

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

“In the institutional knowledge of universities in the United States, the place of Puerto Rico is very uncertain,” wrote literary scholar Arcadio Díaz Quiõnez more than two decades ago. He continued, “Since it’s neither ‘Latin American,’ nor ‘North American,’ it ends up being erased.” Thus, my work’s major intervention is to locate Puerto Rico in the broader cartography of knowledges within US academia. More broadly, my dissertation seeks to yield light on the production of ideas of those that were not considered legitimate producers of knowledge because they lacked academic degrees or access to cultural capital. In sum, it demonstrates how those in the margins, those that were deemed culturally unfit, and those that were silenced because of their race or their gender have been crucial in shaping the ever-incomplete process of imagining the Puerto Rican nation.


Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Tracy Llanera

 

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

After completing my BA and MA in the Philippines, I moved to Sydney, Australia to do a Ph.D. in philosophy at Macquarie University in 2012. I wrote a thesis on the American pragmatist Richard Rorty and the idea of redemption in modernity. My degree was awarded in Apr 2016. At present, I am affiliated with Macquarie University and teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the Department of Philosophy and Department of Anthropology.

This Fall, I’ll be a residential fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute for the project Humility & Conviction in Public Life. After my fellowship at UCHI, I’ll be a visiting research fellow in philosophy at Keele University, United Kingdom in Winter 2018.

 

What is the project you’re currently working on?

I’ll be working on a project entitled “Combating Egotism: Intellectual Humility as Self-Enlargement” at UCONN. I aim to develop the concepts of egotism and self-enlargement as ways of understanding what the virtue of intellectual humility might mean in the healthy functioning of a modern liberal democracy. In particular, I’d like to fashion the idea of self-enlargement in a manner that is indebted to the pluralist conception of intellectual humility. This is an exciting turn for me since it serves as my first attempt to take my research toward the direction of virtue theory. If successful, I’d like to next work on exploring the relationship between the concept of irony and the virtue of intellectual humility.

 

As a separate project, I’m also working on a book entitled Outgrowing Modern Nihilism. In this work, I challenge the orthodox view that human culture should overcome the malaise of nihilism. In contrast, I argue that it should instead outgrow the problem. It’s going to be tough to defend this argument — good thing I don’t have a deadline!

 

How did you arrive at this topic?

Egotism and self-enlargement are important concepts in my Ph.D. thesis, a thesis that generally belongs in the area of philosophy of religion and the philosophical problems of modernity. Applying for the fellowship made me realize that these concepts could be potentially useful in social and political philosophy as well, especially if read through the lens of intellectual humility. I’m really glad that I could explore this new phase of my research at UCONN, where there are so many philosophical experts on virtue theory.

 

In terms of nihilism, well, I like the irony behind the fact that there is so much to talk about nothing!

 

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

I’ve set three practical goals for the fellowship project. First, I hope to articulate a philosophically workable concept of egotism. While egotism is Richard Rorty’s trope, the concept has room for stronger analysis from a conceptual and historical perspective. Egotism is already familiar and adaptable to different disciplines (philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis). It has family resemblances to socially recognizable traits and conditions (e.g., narcissism, egocentrism, megalomania) which interest audiences both in the academia and the general public. The conceptualization of egotism I offer retains its fundamental link to the metaphysical frameworks of religion and science, which the language of philosophy (especially Rorty’s) can effectively articulate. Second, I try to explore how egotism could be overcome. My project recommends cultivating a deep commitment to self-enlargement in a liberal democracy, which in my view challenges deep-seated and implicit biases about what it means to pursue projects of self-authenticity and good citizenship in a liberal democracy. Third, this fellowship project develops some of my work for public engagement on egotism. In terms of engaging a broader audience, my essay “Seeking Shelter in a Terrifying Father Figure” published in The Indypendent profiles two political egotists: United States President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In the future, I hope to write more incisive pieces for better public understanding of egotism as a result of my research at UCHI.

 


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Alycia LaGuardia-LoBianco

LaGuardia-LoBianco

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Philosophy Department here at UConn, where I have studied for five years. I received my B.A. in Philosophy from Stony Brook University. 

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

 During my fellowship year, I will be finishing my dissertation, “Action Guidance in Complicated Cases of Suffering,” in which I assess ethical responses to suffering given the nuanced ways in which someone may suffer. Ethicists hold that suffering is ethically relevant: another’s suffering calls for some ethical response, often relief of that suffering. However, this general formula hides some problematic assumptions. It takes the suffering agent as an unwitting victim who ought to be helped but does not necessarily owe anything to herself. It also assumes that, barring extreme circumstances, suffering ought to be relieved. My dissertation challenges these assumptions, arguing that the suffering agent is a moral agent, not just a victim dependent on others, and who therefore has obligations to herself. Additionally, I argue that relief of suffering is not always ethically appropriate. Rather, ethical responses to suffering are not unidimensional, but are as complex as suffering itself.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

I was lucky to take a philosophy course with Joel Kupperman here at UConn. During our discussion of Buddhism, which takes as its starting point the elimination of suffering, I was stuck on the question, why should we want to eliminate suffering? From there, I started thinking about the potential value of suffering, arguing that there are virtues that come from suffering that make it worthwhile. I then pivoted and became interested in internalized trauma and self-caused suffering. I turned to oppression literature for a framework to discuss cases in which someone unwittingly contributes to their own suffering because of oppressive or abusive forces. I realized that much ethical literature treats suffering as a blanket emotional or physical pain, and in so doing, oversimplifies widely varying experiences. These nuances matter: we should expect that the right ethical response to suffering depends on variables like the appropriateness of that suffering, whether suffering is caused by internalized behaviors, or whether an individual wants to suffer. This led me to take the suffering agent, rather than the phenomenon of suffering, as the focus of study, in an effort to recast her as a moral agent rather than a mere victim. Now, my dissertation is driven by analyzing difficult cases of suffering (such as self-injury or self-defeating behavior) with the suffering agent at the focus of analysis. 

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

I’m interested in messy, real-life problems that have been overlooked by philosophical analysis yet which can benefit from it. I think philosophy is meant to deal with just these sorts of difficulties, rolling up its sleeves and trying to untangle a problem knowing that the solution won’t be neat and pretty but trying to find an answer anyway. Real suffering is complicated. It can change someone from the outside in, it can test and destroy close relationships, and it can become something an individual depends on to feel like herself. It matters to our lives, to who we are and who we care about. So, suffering and suffering agents deserve the careful attention that philosophy provides to make some headway in understanding and addressing this painful reality. My hope is that this work will give others (philosophers or not) a new avenue to reckon with their own experiences of suffering. 


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Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Sarah Berry

 

-What is your academic background and what is your current position at UConn?

I am a PhD candidate in the English department at UConn. I began the program in 2012. Before that, I earned a bachelor’s degree in an interdisciplinary Great Texts program from Baylor University and a master’s degree in English literature from Boston College.

 

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The title of my dissertation is “The Politics of Voice in Twentieth-Century Verse Drama.” It is a transatlantic study of plays that are written in verse (instead of prose) during the last hundred years. I argue that verse drama gets revived in the twentieth century not as a genre in its own right but as a hybrid of poetry and drama, which makes it a venue for experimentation with different literary and dramatic forms as well as literary and dramatic voices. All this experimentation with voice has political implications as well, since voice is as much a political concept as a literary one. Twentieth-century playwrights use the different vocal possibilities of verse drama to respond creatively to a variety of contemporary political crises, including fascism, colonialism, the struggle for civil rights, class conflict, and sectarian violence.

 

-How did you arrive at this topic?

I came to this topic from an interest in weird plays: radio plays, plays with stage directions written in verse, plays in which characters blur together or become someone else. I realized that what makes these plays so weird is that they are half drama, half poetry. They combine the rules and conventions of lyric poetry with those of modern drama, but sometimes these rules and conventions contradict one another. So I set out to investigate the tension between the dramatic elements and lyric elements of these plays.

 

 

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

My hope for this study is that it will make people rethink the relationship between poetry and drama. We often think of poetry, especially lyric poetry, as the opposite of drama, but there is a long history, right up to the present day, of the interaction between these two genres. In fact, I think our conceptions of these genres are interdependent—that is, our understanding of lyric poetry is based on shifting notions of what drama is, and our understanding of what drama is has been informed by the emergence of lyric poetry as its own genre during the nineteenth century. This study is timely in genre studies, where scholars are contesting the value of categories like the lyric. But verse drama also provides us with an opportunity to think more broadly about the way that genres are created and reinforced.

I also hope that my study will demonstrate the inextricable relationship between form and genre on the one hand and politics on the other. Genre theory can sometimes seem abstract—or only of interest to literature scholars—but I think these plays show that questions of genre are necessarily intertwined with questions of politics, specifically through voice, which is always both literary and political.