Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Graduate Student Workshop Series 2022-23

EACH YEAR, THE GRADUATE FELLOWS OF THE ANDREA MITCHELL CENTER invite graduate students from universities throughout the region to present their work-in-progress to a critical but supportive audience. The topics are not linked to an annual theme, but each session includes two papers that are thematically linked.  Sessions in the past have been devoted to issues of democracy, constitutionalism, and citizenship, including surveillance, technocracy, migration, race, social rights, empire building, party politics, education, the carceral state, and many more. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and members of the public are encouraged to read the papers and attend the workshops to participate in lively academic discussions.


Wed. September 21, 12:00-1:00 pm
Online only. Please register here.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

The Ocean Swimmers: Experimental Documentary and the Humanitarian Logic

Anat Dan (Comparative Literature, Penn)

FROM STREAMING PLATFORMS TO ART GALLERIES, “The European Refugee Crisis” has become a prominent on-screen theme over the past decade. As several film scholars have noticed, the documentary mode has a central role in this phenomenon with high-profile films such as Ai Weiwei’s "Human Flow" (2017) and Jonas Rasmussen’s "Flee" (2021). Concurrently, there is a growing trend of migration documentaries that decenter the human. By eliminating the individual, these experimental documentaries demonstrate a post-humanist aesthetics and ethics, and yet, they do not shy away from the modern project of emancipation. ANAT DAN offers a close-reading of Philip Scheffner’s "Havarie" (2016) and Amel Alzakout’s "Purple Sea" (2020), two films that were made against the backdrop of the Mediterranean crossing in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and civil war in Syria. Focusing on the films’ abstraction techniques, Dan asks: How should we to understand the films’ post-human aesthetics considering both films examining the unfolding events of migrants awaiting rescue at sea? How do the films work through politics of suffering? Do they suggest alternative forms of sociability? And if so, what do they look like?

Democracy Without Borders

Joseph Warren and Kristin Zuhone (Political Science, Berkeley)

BORDERS PROVIDE A SIMPLE ANSWER TO A DIFFICULT QUESTION: If democracy empowers the demos, how are we to define the demos? But by remaining fixed across issues such as economic globalization, environmental pollution, and migration control, borders compromise self-determination by the relevant communities in two respects: They are over-inclusive for some and under-inclusive for others. Is it possible, then, to have democracy without borders? While many political theorists would answer “no,” JOSEPH WARREN AND KRISTIN ZUHONE instead answer “yes.” As a solution to the boundary problem, they propose an institutional design that constitutes the demos via a standard that is both non-arbitrary and procedurally democratic. The institutional design contains a procedure that determines the boundaries of collective decision-making, and the institutional design determines the boundaries of collective decision-making internally to, rather than externally of, the procedure that it contains. Thus, they argue, it is indeed possible to have democracy without borders.


Wed. October 19, 12:00-1:00 pm
Online only.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Does Public Reason Permit the Administrative State to Use Science to Justify Policies?

Vanessa Schipani (Philosophy, Penn)

FROM COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE TO CURBING THE PANDEMIC, we undeniably need science-based policies to overcome today’s challenges. However, recently scholars have questioned whether science squares with a major tenant of liberal democracy: public reason. Public reason stipulates that the reasons justifying coercive policies are shared by all citizens. The problem is many scientific reasons aren’t shared. This has led some to argue that public reason and the administrative state, insofar it is guided by expert scientific knowledge, fundamentally conflict. VANESSA SCHIPANI seeks instead to reconcile public reason and the administrative state by bringing to the fore the importance of science communication in a liberal democracy. She highlights in particular the need to increase the communication of scientific process. That is, science communicators of all stripes – journalists, press officers, K-12 teachers and scientists themselves – must center more on explaining how scientific methods, norms and standards produce the scientific conclusions that are used to justify policies. To support my claims, I’ll use social scientific research on science communication, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as case studies as well as my own experience working as a science journalist.

Condoms, Clean Needles, and Crisis: Social and Political Conflict over HIV/AIDS Prevention in New York City, 1988-1994

Jeffery Berryhill (History, Rutgers)

JEFFERY BERRYHILL ARGUES THAT SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ANTAGONISM around HIV prevention strategies in New York profoundly shaped municipal politics at the close of the century. For many New Yorkers, worry abounded about the specter of permanent crisis born of poverty, drugs, crime, racial strife, sexuality, and disease. These fears were intimately bound with how people understood HIV prevention efforts. Moreover, racial and sexual anxieties structured these sentiments, particularly under the Dinkins Administration. However, opposition cohered across racial and ethnic boundaries, particularly in the case of needle exchange. For skeptics of harm mitigation, providing school children with condoms or distributing sterile needles to injection drug users contributed to the further deterioration of the urban environment. Drawing from an array of sources, Berryhill merges the literatures on late twentieth century urban politics, social mobilizations, and public health. He traces how these conflicts hastened electoral realignment in New York by accelerating the fracturing of Democratic coalitions that culminated in the GOP’s domination of the mayoralty for the next twenty years. In addition, Berryhill illuminates how the contentious politics of HIV/AIDS prevention fused on-going “culture wars” over education, sex, and drugs.


Wed. November 16, 12:00-1:00 pm
Hybrid: In-person and online.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Ontology, Pragmatism and Politics

Yosef Washington (Philosophy, Penn)

RECENT POLITICAL DISCOURSE HAS YET AGAIN BROUGHT FORTH DEBATES over the utility and legitimacy of “identity politics.” Often missing from these debates is a robust analysis of the social metaphysics that underpin identity categories. Rather than view this kind of analysis as “irrelevant” or “orthogonal” to pragmatic political aims, YOSEF WASHINGTON argues that a deeper understanding of the social metaphysics of identity categories has important implications for both policy application and analysis as well as your political theorizing. Washington puts forward the social metaphysics of “racial” and “ethnic” categories as paradigmatic cases of social metaphysics making a substantive material difference in how we examine the utility of “identity "political projects. More specifically, he looks at the asymmetries between personal/self identification and group-identification qua racial/ethnic categories to better inform our understanding of racial politics and policy interventions/analysis relevant to its political aims.

Targeting the Monumental: Race and the Democratic Aesthetics of Memory Activism

Matt Frierdich (Politics, UVA)

THE RECENT WAVE OF DECOMMEMORATIONS OF PUBLIC FIGURES connected with slavery, colonialism, and otherwise “difficult pasts,” such as Richmond’s Monument Avenue or New York’s American Museum of Natural History, raises questions about how contemporary challenges to “forgotten pasts” might dislodge long-standing impediments to democratic inclusion. But this does not give an adequate account of an essential set of illustrations used by those demanding removal: the portrayal of institutions – like racialized violence enforced through policing, housing policy, or education – as monumental. To emphasize the significance of establishing larger struggles against racial hierarchy and dispossession as monumental, MATT FRIERDICH centers the voices, protests, and materials produced by activists in two interrelated movements, Take ‘Em Down New Orleans and #RhodesMustFall in South Africa. Rather than treating these as “originary” movements for a decommemorative turn in memory activism, the paper explores how these particular Black-led movements deployed monument removal as a visual language for centering their recollections of Black resistance to hegemonic violence.


Wed. December 14, 12:00-1:00 pm
Online only.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Freedom of the Hand: Citizenship, Technology, and the Patent Literature in the Antebellum Era

Ethan Plaue (English, Penn)

ETHAN PLAUE UNCOVERS THE NINETEENTH CENTURY LAWS AND PRACTICES that prevented free and enslaved African American inventors from filing patents for their inventions. Patent law in the nineteenth-century required inventors in the United States to declare their citizenship in order to receive a patent. After the landmark 1857 Dred Scott decision that denied citizenship to African Americans, African Americans were unable to receive patents for their inventions because they were now considered citizens of no country. Though the patent system in the United States is generally considered more democratic than its European counterparts, Plaue examines the variety of ways that patent law was applied in a discriminatory fashion. By way of a conclusion, he explores how African American writers articulated new models of invention and technology beyond the legalistic notions of private property and the state. Ultimately, Plaue reveals the ongoing importance of entrepreneurship and inventiveness to an American conception of citizenship.

One Hundred Percent Americans: The American Protective League, Citizenship, and Social Policing during the First World War

Erica Lally (History, Georgetown)

HOW DO WE DECIDE WHO “BELONGS” AND WHO IS AN “IDEAL” CITIZEN? During the First World War, the American Protective League (APL or the League), a private group of 250,000 volunteers, had an outsized influence on this question. The U.S. Department of Justice authorized the organization of this private group of “100 per cent American volunteers” to help monitor their communities for potential German spies. However, the organization’s efforts quickly expanded beyond this initial counterintelligence work. At the government’s behest, the American Protective League rounded up draft dodgers, conducted loyalty investigations, vetted applications for citizenship, and policed community morality. Over time, the League’s efforts increasingly focused on social control: monitoring food consumption and hoarding, enforcing dry laws, and shutting down Red Light districts near military bases. In these activities, APL members – mostly wealthy, white men – frequently targeted those on society’s margins: workers, immigrants, and people of color. Using archival documents from APL members and government officials, ERICA LALLY examines the League’s role in policing public morality. Lally argues that League members, though private citizens, not only policed their communities on behalf of the state, but also – in turn – subtly shaped the state’s own understanding of who was an ideal citizen.


Wed. January 18, 12:00-1:00 pm
Hybrid: In-person and online.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Communal Liberals and Religious Fascists: Coptic Christians Confront Illiberal Politics in 1940s Egypt

Weston Bland (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Penn)

THE INFLUENCE OF FASCISM ON EGYPTIAN POLITICS IN THE 1930S AND 1940S has been the subject of a long and controversial debate. WESTON BLAND moves beyond the scholarly fixation on influence by asking what it meant to use “fascist” as an invective in the context of World War II Egypt, considering in particular the deployment of “fascist” as a label to criticize Islamists by journalists in Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority community in the 1940s. He focuses on articles written by the Coptic journalist Salama Musa (1887-1958). Once an ardent secularist and even an admirer of Nazism, in the 1940s Musa advocated for the strengthening of Coptic communal institutions, both lay and religious, to counter the growing threat of illiberalism he identified in political Islam. Musa fostered a discourse that branded political Islam as “religious fascism,” offering an understanding of fascism as violent authoritarianism rooted in majoritarian dominance. Bland situates the writings of Salama Musa and other Copts on “religious fascism” as part of a broader Coptic reaction to the limitations and contradictions of Egypt’s “liberal era” (1923-1952). By investigating the intertwined Coptic discourses that promoted communal liberalism and warned of religious fascism, he highlights a minority approach to navigating the limitations of inclusion in a liberal system.


Wed. February 15, 12:00-1:00 pm
Hybrid: In-person and online.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Plutocratic Actors in Education: Philanthropists and Corporations in Liberal Democracy

Nora Reikosky (GSE and Political Science, Penn)

THE PHILANTHROPIC CONTRIBUTIONS AND POLITICAL INFLUENCE OF WEALTHY, private individuals in the provisioning of public goods has a long and complex history in the United States, one that is both celebrated and contested. NORA REIKOSKY asks what tensions are produced by the discursive and material involvement of plutocratic actors in public education when such actors are not subject to democratic accountability. This is due in part to how inconsistently they are recognized as plutocrats in the first place, thanks to the recurrent framing of their acts in terms of generosity, noblesse oblige, or managerial efficiency. She assesses specific efforts to privatize the state, and especially the institution of public education through public-private partnerships and other jurisdictional challenges, addressing how such activities that disperse political power into private hands raise issues of political legitimacy. Reikosky also evaluates efforts to reform philanthropy, including those that suggest a more limited or specific role for philanthropic actors, prohibiting them from certain issue areas like education, or narrowing their involvement to only that which spurs “innovation.” Likewise, she interrogates interventions to better advance egalitarian democratic ideals, including regulatory changes to tax policy or a redistribution of control over philanthropic funds away from donors.

Bureaucracy, Democracy, and the Realignment of American Politics: 1945-1968

Casey Eilbert (History, Princeton)

AS WORLD WAR II CONCLUDED, AMERICANS LOOKED TO BUREAUCRACY with new alarm, identifying it as the major feature of Soviet totalitarianism, a subject of academic study, and a threat to American life. Drawing on the work of Max Weber, a generation of American scholars held that bureaucracies had an undemocratic tendency to prioritize means over ends, to elevate rationalized, bureaucratic thinking over human values, and to insulate a undemocratic leadership class. Their ideas about bureaucracy were disseminated widely through bestsellers in the postwar period condemning “the organization man” and “the lonely crowd.” CASEY EILBERT argues that the popularization of anti-bureaucracy ideas had lasting effects for American politics. Whether Americans understood bureaucracy as promising or perilous was determinative of their faith in what organizations, including government, could and should do. For most of the century, American liberalism had been based in bureaucratic institutions such as unions and government agencies. As the ideas of postwar social scientists became widespread, bureaucratic political forms were deemed an anathema by political leaders and the American public alike. The New Left embraced anti-bureaucratic critiques, taking aim at labor unions and government bureaucracies as perpetuators of a variety of undemocratic injustices: namely authoritarianism, deindividualization, and racial discrimination. As bureaucratic institutions came under fire, the American political landscape was realigned, with liberals and conservatives joined in a disdain for bureaucratic governance that would give rise to an era of neoliberal governance. 


Wed. March 15, 12:00-1:00 pm
Hybrid: In-person and online.
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

An Anarchist Horizon

Rosie DuBrin (Political Science, Penn)

 “ANARCHISM” IS COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH CHAOS, REJECTION OF ALL GOVERNMENT, and amoralism or even immoralism. Over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a form of direct action committed by self-proclaimed anarchists, known as “propaganda by the deed,” surely helped cement these pejorative associations in the collective memory, as well as in states’ private and public records. Still, such connotations largely misrepresent the commitments of prominent anarchist theorists and practitioners. The anarchist tradition is a variegated one, having been (self-) ascribed to those with rather divergent political agendas. Today, for example, we hear of “anarchists” in antifa and “anarchists” accumulating bitcoin. ROSIE DUBRIN enumerates organizing principles of anarchist theory to identify a “family resemblance” among the main currents of the tradition, as well as to help make sense of these currents’ divergences. From this constellation, DuBrin argues for a particular version of anarchism that might have greater political purchase for leftist efforts against neoliberalism than other anarchisms. Contrary to most understandings of anarchism, this anarchism has much in common with democratic socialism. However, it also serves as a horizon to orient and propel democratic socialist movements, urging both sustained popular activity against structures of domination and the reconstitution of these structures from below. DuBrin conclude by identifying some analytical, normative, and political pitfalls of the anarchist version she puts forward. 

Association and the Ethical Foundations of Policing

Kierstan Kaushal-Carter (African and African American Studies, Harvard)

DESPITE WIDESPREAD, VOCAL DISSATISFACTION WITH POLICE IN THE US, no consensus has emerged to answer the question “what ought to be done about them?” Instead, the interdisciplinary debate produced at least four policy pathways ranging from budgetary infusions to legal reform to “unbundling” police services to full abolition. KIERSTAN KAUSHAL-CARTER argues that this policy confusion stems from a submerged debate about what the police should do and why. In a political environment full of commentary about the police, no explicitly normative account of what function police ought to perform exists. Kaushal-Carter offers such an account. By first describing the imperative to live together and the mechanism for nurturing peoples’ collective life, she tethers policing to the fundamental goals of just democratic orders. She then defines the police and policing in a way that (1) acknowledges the distinctiveness of the police authority to use violence without mistaking that authority as an end and (2) connects police conduct to broader goals of well-being and mutual flourishing without confusing those ends for a description of the means. Finally, she argues the police should be internal members of a political community afforded a limited right to collect information and use physical coercion against others to restore or promote conditions for mutual flourishing when an interpersonal violation of public concerns occur.


Wed. April 12, 12:00-1:00 pm
Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

(Embodied) Performance of Resistance on Social Media Platforms

Rabani Garg (GSE, Penn)

SINCE 2008 THERE HAS BEEN AN INCREASE IN THE VISIBILITY OF RESISTANCE against the Indian state from a wider cross section of people in Kashmir and on digital platforms, even as digital sites itself are under heavy control and surveillance by the government. In 2019, two hashtags started trending on social media: #DrawForKashmir and #ArtAsResistance. Kashmiri artists and digital media creators on social media have been using their art to not only voice dissent, resist, build solidarity and mobilize support, but also as a way to reimagine Kashmir (and the Kashmiri subject). RABANI GARG looks at posts and stories shared on a public Instagram account by a politically active youth from Kashmir, whose real identity is hidden from us, to explore how she curates multiple identities by often sharing multimodal content created by others (for e.g., TikTok videos, memes).The social media network allows for this youth to connect with other advocates / digital media creators who are similarly invested in the cause– amplifying each other’s work and collaborating. While most of these public accounts don’t have large number of followers, Garg seeks to understand how these multiple handles come together as a counter public. As these public accounts are at the same time private identities, how do these public and private spheres inform each other? Narratives on social media are complex, as multiple audiences can be a part of a single context and the audience can be across time and space, demanding special methodologies to study these interactions.

Digital Technology and Democracy: Open Government and State-Citizen Relationship in Taiwan

Terrence Chen (Sociology, NYU)

TERRENCE CHEN INVESTIGATES THE IMPACT ON DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE by digital technology-driven initiatives that seek to facilitate citizen participation. He uses “open government” initiatives such as online petition platforms in Taiwan as the empirical case, exploring when, under what circumstances, citizens can influence the government’s policymaking process through these newly created channels. Chen draws on several data sources: interviews with government officials and civil society actors who are engaged in open government initiatives, participant observation of open government events and meetings, and statistical analysis. His research contributes to the literature around digital technology and state governance, as well as the discussions about “deepening democracy.”