Speakers, Events, Announcements
The Cultural Studies Ph.D program sponsors an annual speakers' series providing an opportunity for our students to hear and meet some of the most exciting and innovative scholars in the humanities and social sciences. There are opportunities to socialize with our visitors afterwards. As always, these presentations are open to all members of the university community.
The annual John Fekete Distinguished Lecture series was established in November 2011 and inaugurated in November 2013, by the Cultural Studies PhD Program to honour John Fekete on his retirement from Trent in 2012. The idea of the lectureship is to invite distinguished visitors to the university to share their most recent or forthcoming publications that are influential and important in the field of cultural inquiry.
2021 - 2022 Academic Year
March 11, 2022
Window of the World: Transparency, Digital Placemaking, and Shenzhen Urbanism
Shenzhen, the first Special Economic Zone established in 1979 in southern China, has transformed from a global electronics manufacturing hub and counterfeiting capital into a UNESCO City of Design within the span of four decades. This article examines three digital-imaging practices that emanate from the city to explore the city’s multiple connections to globalization from above and globalization from below. The first is the 2004 narrative film The World, directed by Jia Zhang-ke (often known as a Sixth-Generation Chinese auteur) and based in part on lead actress Zhao Tao’s experience working in Shenzhen’s Window of the World theme park. The second is Shenzhen-based company Transsion’s design of smart phones for the African market, which have roots in the city’s Shanzhai (i.e. “knockoff”) mobile phone sector. The third is large-scale light shows around the city in 2018-2019 that turn the facades of high-rises into electronic screens, featuring LED-light imageries generated by algorithms. Utilizing digital media to illuminate Shenzhen as a networked place in the world, these relational place-making practices simultaneously engage with and reveal the contradictions of transparency as a normative ideal upheld by global tech giants and Euro-American governments. Together, they provide a distinctive window to discern China’s cultural and political dilemmas in the 21st century.
Fan Yang (杨帆) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). An interdisciplinary scholar, Yang works at the intersection of cultural studies, transnational media studies, globalization, postcolonialism/postsocialism, and contemporary China. She is a faculty affiliate in the Asian Studies program, and serves on the Global Studies Coordinating Committee. Yang is the author of Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization (Indiana University Press, 2016. Complicating the prevalent story of China’s economic rise from the perspective of cultural change, the book argues that WTO-era China’s contested encounter with the globalizing intellectual property regime illuminates the nation’s cultural dilemma in the twenty-first century. Yang is currently at work on two new projects. The first, tentatively titled Disorienting Politics: Rising China and Chimerican Media, explores the economic, political, and cultural implications of China’s “rise” from the critical perspectives of transnational media and cultural studies. The second project, Shenzhen: A Media City of the Global South, examines the first Special Economic Zone located in southern China as a media-architectural nexus that straddles globalizations from “above” and “below.” Yang’s scholarship on such topics as branding, internet censorship, food and media, “fiscal orientalism,” and Shenzhen urbanism has appeared in Theory, Culture & Society, New Media & Society, positions: asia critique, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, Journal of Asian American Studies, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, antiTHESIS, among others. Yang obtained her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from George Mason University, where she was the recipient of a High Potential Fellowship. She also holds an MA from the Ohio State University and a BA from Fudan University, Shanghai.
If you missed this event, a recording is posted
January 14, 2022
Biological Citizenship: The Case of the Chernobyl Zone
Living in a “risk society” (Beck 1992) means witnessing a global increase in the number of man-made disastrous accidents, including technogenic catastrophes, that leave an irreversible imprint on the large areas turning them into ghostly exclusion zones or accidental territories, in the Virilian sense of the word. Drawing on the work of American anthropologist Adriana Petryna, this talk reads the material trace of radiation on the body as a marker of citizenship, or rather, “biological citizenship,” as a form of belonging to the accidental territory, produced by the state’s techno- and bio-politics.
Svitlana Matviyenko is an Assistant Professor of Critical Media Analysis in the School of Communication. Her research and teaching are focused on information and cyberwar; political economy of information; media and environment; infrastructure studies; STS. She writes about practices of resistance and mobilization; digital militarism, dis- and misinformation; Internet history; cybernetics; psychoanalysis; posthumanism; the Soviet and the post-Soviet techno-politics; nuclear cultures, including the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion. She is a co-editor of two collections, The Imaginary App (MIT Press, 2014) and Lacan and the Posthuman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). She is a co-author of Cyberwar and Revolution: Digital Subterfuge in Global Capitalism (Minnesota UP, 2019), a winner of the 2019 book award of the Science Technology and Art in International Relations (STAIR) section of the International Studies Association and of the Canadian Communication Association 2020 Gertrude J. Robinson book prize.
If you missed this event, a recording is posted
November 18, 2021
A Cultural Studies Approach to the Communicative Praxis of Talking to Covidiots
The Covidiot (a portmanteau of Covid and idiot) is clearly a figure of our contemporary moment. But does this figure have its genesis solely in the COVID-19 pandemic, or does it emerge from other moments, or from pre-existing social and cultural conditions? In this talk I will ask who (are Covidiots), where (are they found), when (do they emerge), and finally why (talk to them) in order to explore what the Covidiot might tell us about how we apprehend concepts like health and illness; individuality and collectivity; freedom and restriction; safety and risk; and public and private. The figure of the Covidiot is embodied in bodies that are raced, classed, gendered, and positioned in relation to a host of subject positions including religion, settler-colonialism, and education. The Covidiot, I argue, emerges as a symptom of a dis-ease with subjectivity in a time of extruded civic responsibilities. Tracing the circulation of the Covidiot tells us about the cultural work it performs in a contemporary moment structured by a history of tension between dispersed civic-mindedness and pop culture individuality.
Alexandra Boutros is an associate professor in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a graduate of McGill University’s Communication Studies and Art History department. Her research generally explores the intersection of identity, media, and technology in the context of religious, cultural and social movements. Recently publications fall in the fields of religion and media, critical race theory. She served as chair of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies, and sits on the editorial board of Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies.
If you missed this event, a recording is posted
October 21, 2021
The Medium is the Message, Revisited: Media and Black Epistemologies
Who is the human in media philosophy? Although media philosophers have argued since the twentieth century that media are fundamental to being human, this question has not been explicitly asked and answered in the field. Armond R. Towns demonstrates that humanity in media philosophy has implicitly referred to a social Darwinian understanding of the human as a Western, white, male, capitalist figure. Building on concepts from Black studies and cultural studies, Towns develops an insightful critique of this dominant conception of the human in media philosophy and introduces a foundation for Black media philosophy. Delving into the narratives of the Underground Railroad, the politics of the Black Panther Party, and the digitization of Michael Brown’s killing, On Black Media Philosophy deftly illustrates that media are not only important for Western Humanity but central to alternative Black epistemologies and other ways of being human.
Armond R. Towns is an associate professor in Communication and Media Studies. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Communication. Dr. Towns’s work brings together Black studies, cultural studies, and media philosophy. His current book, On Black Media Philosophy, is scheduled for publication in early 2022 from the University of California Press. In it, he examines a variety of topics, from the work of Charles Darwin to the narratives of enslaved people on the Underground Railroad to the speeches and writings of the Black Panther Party to the digital animations of police violence
If you missed this event, a recording is posted
September 23, 2021
Interstices: towards a decolonial trans poetics of the past and the future
Since graduating from the Theory, Culture and Politics MA program at Trent University in 2011, Kama La Mackerel has gone on to establish themselves as a leading multidisciplinary artist and writer in Canada. In this talk, they look over their body of artistic work of the past decade, which spans from performance, poetry, photography, the moving image to digital art and literary translation, to offer a theoretical framework in which they ground their aesthetics and politics. At once a performance lecture and a studio visit, this talk will delve into the following questions: Is a decolonial enunciation possible at all in a racialized body that bears the weight of colonial history? What are the strategies of selfhood that a trans artist can deploy to catalyze new signs of identity and innovative sites of collaboration and contestation? How can hybrid spaces and interstices provide an anticolonial framework to disrupt fixed identifications as they relate to space, time, history, language, kinship and the body?
Kama La Mackerel is an award-winning Mauritian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist, educator, writer, curator and literary translator who has exhibited, performed and lectured internationally. Their body of work includes photography, video, installation, performance, textile and literature. They are the author ZOM-FAM which was named a CBC Best Poetry Book, a Globe and Mail Best Debut, and was a finalist for the QWF Concordia University First Book Award and the Writers' Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize. World Literature Today called ZOM-FAM “a milestone in Mauritian literature." Kama is presenting their new multimedia installation and performance QUEERING THE IS/LAND BODY at the 17th edition of MOMENTA, Biennale de l’image in Fall 2021.
If you missed this event, a recording is posted
2020 - 2021 Academic Year
April 8, 2021
Masks and Masculinity
Ricky Varghese received his Ph.D. in Sociology of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He is presently the Tanis Doe Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender, Disability, and Social Justice at the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, where he is completing a book on the relationship between masculinity and the death instinct. He is also heading a SSHRC-funded speakers' series titled "Sex and the Pandemic: Convergences and Divergences in Queer Men's Sexual Health in the Midst of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19" which will run from May through to October of this year. Aside from his scholarly activities, he is also a psychotherapist in private practice and a candidate in the final stages of his training to become a psychoanalyst at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis.
This presentation forms part of a larger book-length study on the relationship between masculinity, suicidality, and the death drive. This work is very much in its early stages and builds on earlier work that I have done with respect to HIV/AIDS, the practice of barebacking, and the question of risk. For this purpose, I will be returning to queer theory (by way of the work of Leo Bersani and Tim Dean) and psychoanalysis (by way of the work of Anne Dufourmantelle and Serge Leclaire) to develop a theory of death and dying as it makes sense to do so in the present socio-politcal and historical conjuncture.
February 25, 2021
The Cultural Life of Drones
Sara Matthews is Associate Professor in the Department of Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research and teaching are interdisciplinary and consider the dynamics of conflict and social change. Working primarily in the field of research-creation, her projects explore the relations between visual culture and martial politics as well as how communities craft creative modes of relationality and survival in response to practices of state securitization.
What does it mean to think of drones as culture? The term drone refers to a diverse range of systems--from palm-sized quadrotors to solar-powered aircraft that fly at 70,000 ft. for weeks at a time. But drone systems are not just technologies. They also animate particular ways of knowing and being known. These orientations are evident in everything from the practiced gestures of the workers who produce them to the algorithmic applications that interpret the patterns by which drones see and apprehend. By exploring the vocabularies and social practices associated with drone systems in the Kitchener-Waterloo region of southern Ontario, I trace how drone cultures express the intimate ties between everyday life and the military-industrial complex. To do this I discuss a recent exhibition that employs social documentary practice as a way of making evident the perceptual regimes that underlie drone vision, itself a form of ethnographic looking
January 28, 2021
The Operative Moment of a Facial Recognition Technology: Data, Portrait, Moving Image
Aaron Tucker is currently a PhD candidate in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at York University where he is an Elia Scholar, a VISTA doctoral Scholar and a 2020 Joseph-Armand Bombardier doctoral fellow. He is currently studying the cinema of facial recognition software and its impacts on citizenship, mobility and crisis.
Facial recognition technologies' (FRTs) specific forms of biopolitical vision are dangerous due to the mechanisms of observation that lie at the centre of its operative moment. These multi-temporal combinations of storage, data transfer, and computation are present within other contemporary digital biometrics. But looking closer at FRTs in particular shows how the initial vision accomplished by the camera is complicated by, first, software aimed at face detection, then, second, the identification mechanisms that are augmented by AI and robust data practices. This layering of observation mediates the technology so that it can be operationalized as an effective tactic of governmentality and biopolitical management. Its deployment of biopolitical vision reduces those under its gaze to numerical and calculable materials which are more easily bureaucratically managed under the service of governmentality. Its alarming effectiveness is secured by its cooperation with other biopolitical visualities and the modes through which biopolitical reason is inscribed into the technology
Assistant Professor, Trent University
November 19, 2020
Climate Denial: A Cultural Studies Approach
Climate denialism is a difficult phenomenon to explain. Most studies of the topic emphasize the structural weight of funding from fossil capital, presuming in turn that skeptics and denialists have either been duped by bad ideology or otherwise lack the rational faculties to properly interpret environmental science. Cultural studies, by contrast, offers an opposite set of methods and politics for the study of interpretive communities, positioning audiences as active, evolving, and deeply social in their negotiations with discourses of both the powerful and the weak. This sensibility, however, is rarely extended to reactionary political subjects working to uphold existing social relations. This talk asks what gains might be made in such an attempt, focusing on how and why a particular section of the climate denialist community engages with the science and poetics of the carbon cycle to their own ends. Extending curiosity to the cultural worlds of our political opponents, it argues, helps suggest different modes of building more capacious political coalitions, while further underscoring the salience of feminist, queer, and critical race studies in the work of climate politics.
Associate Professor of Humanities at York University
October 15, 2020
Semio-Fantasy and Semio-Phobia: Placing Interpretation in Cultural Studies
Semio-Fantasy and Semio-Phobia: Placing Interpretation in Cultural Studies, Steve Bailey, York University In this highly speculative presentation, I examine the current state of interpretive practices, broadly construed, within cultural studies, and particularly contemporary media studies. In particular, I look at the twin poles of “semio-phobia” (a fear of meaning in favour of materialist, behaviourist, or holist tendencies) and “semio-fantasy” (a fantasy of transparent meaning) and the ways that they have come to dominate many discussions of the method within and beyond contemporary cultural studies. More provocatively, I will reflect on the intermingling of phobia and fantasy in a quest to find a place for interpretation that resists both poles and does so with a bit of “analytic nerve.”
Assistant Professor of Theory and Rhetoric, Brock University
October 8, 2020
Andrew Pendakis is an Assistant Professor of English at Brock University. His research takes as its focus the stories told by contemporary societies about their own political pasts and possibilities. Though his research is situated at the intersection of philosophy, critical theory, and discourse analysis, his origins methodologically lie in Hegel and in the line of thinking that passes through the proper names of Marx, Adorno, and Jameson. His salon seminar is drawn from a current writing project entitled "Living a Marxist Life." It is aimed at a wide audience extending beyond the academy.
2019 - 2020 Academic Year
PhD candidate with the Cultural Studies
March 5, 2019
I have curated these words, further these concepts and references to form this salon seminar
To curate—verb—is most notably used in the Art History, Visual Studies, and Curatorial Studies disciplines, referring to acts of selection, organization, and maintenance of art objects by a curator—noun—of a collection. Curation (curators curating), or what David Balzer calls curationism, occurs in and through all aspects of daily life, meaning it has transcended the Art History, Visual Studies, and Curatorial Studies disciplines.
Given the transdisciplinary acts of curation that Balzer’s curationism suggests, what does it mean if anyone can call themselves a curator? What does it mean for objects (art or otherwise) if they are curated as opposed to say, assembled?
Presenting the following utterance as the focal point of this salon seminar, I have curated these words, further these concepts and references to form this salon seminar, I aim to trace the transdisciplinary connotations of curation through a deconstructionist frame. With particular attention to Jacques Derrida’s work on citation and iteration, I argue that the transdisciplinary use of curation carries significant implications, that is, the ability to create and enforce cultural values and authorities.
PhD candidate with the Cultural Studies
January 16, 2019
Her Place: Behind the Camera and Steering Wheel
Meanings are formed by film, they do not simply reflect the ideas of society. Pre-World War I films such as An Auto Heroine (1908) often depicted female drivers as heroines and protagonist. While actresses on the silver screen were struggling to prove their abilities behind the wheel, female spectators at the cinema were fighting to prove they were capable of mastering the technicalities of voting. “The representation of gender by powerful social technologies such as cinema undoubtedly affects the way in which gender is internalized and constructed by individuals – but our individual self-representations of gender impact on the broader social construction of gender too (de Lauretis 1987: 9). Female capabilities with automobile technology was represented in film as an initial struggle followed by a mastering of skills equal or surpassing that of men. Not only were women in front of the camera, they were behind it as well, helping to shape the ideas a film would convey. However, after World War I, the role of women behind the camera and steering wheel changed and women found themselves being deterred from driving and making films by the pressures of a new patriarchal society. Representation of female drivers changed drastically in 1930s pre-code film and well into the mid-1960s. The woman driver of the silver screen was often depicted as someone who needed to pull over and let a man take over as seen in The Great Race (1965). This underlined the message that if women took a different route in life – one that did not center on marriage and motherhood, they were on the road to ruin. What occurred during World War I to bring about this shift? Was it the fear of death brought to a larger society by a protracted war; a change to technology by way of armouring the car and turning it into a weapon, thus changing ideas of whether women should operate motor vehicles? Or is the change to power relations that occurred as men returned from war to find women functioning in their jobs to blame? In the post-war films such as Female (1933) depicting a female automobile CEO “the movie heals the trauma by reassuring the average male subject that he is indispensable – no redundant, as feared – and adequate as paternal head of the family and leader of the community” (Silverman 2006: 113).
Assistant Professor of Composition, Michigan State University
November 28, 2019
Unseen and Otherworldly: Sounding out the Hidden World(s)
Lyn Goeringer’s research focuses on video/visual media and sound based interactive approaches to public space and site-specific art practices with a particular focus on the experience of the body in space. At the center of this research are questions about how we as individuals create and navigate space and the ways in which larger government infrastructures influence how we navigate public and private spheres. These questions drive her artistic practice and have led her to work within a variety of media, including video, body-centered cybernetic performance art that explores notions of privacy, wearable controllers, audio walks and public sound art. Her current body of work explores the mytho-poetic unseen, using histories of rebellion and magic to inform her practice. In addition to creative projects and video production, Goeringer’s writings focus primarily on the relationship of bodies under power and how bodies of power influence our daily lives. Currently, she is an assistant professor of composition at Michigan State University, where she teaches courses in electronic music, digitally mediated performance, improvisation and experimental film. She received her doctorate from Brown University in 2011, and a Master in Fine Arts from Bard College in 2005.
Associate Professor, University of Bergen
November 14, 2019
The term and concept “posthumanism,” emerging as it did in the late twentieth century, differs from earlier literary and historical periodizations. In part, that’s because our media of communication, which expanded exponentially around this time are themselves operating at scales that exceed human understanding. Like photography, film, and video before them, but at a different scale, digital media situate what we think and say within communicative networks that are larger than consciousness. And for this reason, arguably, scholars are no longer restricted to documenting our own eras of human inventiveness. Rather, as humanism itself becomes recognizable as a bounded and largely completed project, scholars are now more often resituating ourselves, and imagining again what it means to be human within networks and ecological environments that we might influence but cannot dominate and control. That these realities have been so well hidden for so long by economic expansion, rationalist explanations and cultural knowingness, gives us some reason to hope for more flexible and less restrictive cognitive frameworks in current literary practice. We might observe, in Neil Badmington’s account of the posthumanist turn, “a long-overdue rethinking of the dominant humanist (or anthropocentric) accounts of who ‘we’ are as human beings. In the light of posthumanist theory and culture, ‘we’ are not who ‘we’ once believed ourselves to be. And neither are ‘our’ others.” (Neil Badmington, “Posthumanism.” In Bruce Clarke and Manuela Rossini. The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science. 2011). From this posthumanist perspective, I will argue that we can begin to observe a revitalizing of contemporary literature and the arts. While at once limiting our expectations about human agency and design, a literary posthumanism offers opportunities to think differently, and to embrace alternative cultural and aesthetic imaginaries.
Professor Joseph Tabbi is an American literary theorist and critic who has recently moved to the University of Bergen in Norway, where he continues to work on experimental American fiction, electronic literature, and, more generally, the intersections of technology and the arts. In 1995, he co-founded, and is still Editor-in-Chief of the reputable scholarly journal Electronic Book Review.
Presented by the John Fekete Distinguished Lecture series
Dr. Lisa Guenther
Queen's University's National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies
November 7, 2019
On Dwelling in Fraught Places: Towards a Decolonial Abolitionist Ethics
All of Turtle Island is fraught terrain. The places where we live, work, study, and play are marked by settler colonialism, genocidal logics, and carceral structures designed to lock some people up and lock others into zones of privileged security. What would it mean to dwell ethically in such fraught places? And how might this ethics of dwelling support political movements for decolonization and prison abolition? This lecture reflects on the conditions for ethical dwelling in Kingston/Katarokwi: the site of Canada’s first penitentiary, prison farm, and federal prison for women—all constructed on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. The work of Leanne Simpson, Glen Coulthard, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs offers insight for creating, reclaiming, and amplifying ethical alternatives to carceral-colonial power.
Dr. Lisa Guenther, Queen's University's National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies will deliver the annual Elaine Stavro Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Theory, Politics & Gender Studies. She is the author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives (2013) and The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction (2007), and co-editor of Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration (2015) with Geoffrey Adelsberg and Scott Zeman. Her interests include Political Philosophy, Critical Prison Studies, Continental Philosophy, Feminism, Philosophy of Race
Presented by The Annual Elaine Stavro Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Theory, Politics & Gender
Dr. Sylvie Bérard
Associate Professor, Trent University
October 17, 2019
The Fourth Dimension of Literary Fields, Or Why Writers Live in Parallel Worlds
Literary research tends to remain insular: scholars often adopt a writer, a national literature, a genre, a form, and they tend to remain within the generally prescribed limits of their object. This is true especially when it comes to the study of genre vs. mainstream literature, except that, in highbrow culture, they are called specialists when, in lowbrow culture, they are sometimes dismissively called fans. Science-fiction writers and “mainstream” Québécois writers, for instance, are usually not studied in the same essays, even when their authors’ works intersect in a number of ways. The literary universe is a hypercube where parallel fields (to use Bourdieu’s concept), well, remain parallel worlds (to use a science fiction trope) that seldom meet. For example, Québec writers Élisabeth Vonarburg and Michel Tremblay may share an analogous approach to literary world building, and a similar way of drawing from historical and autobiographical sources, but because Vonarburg is known for her science fiction and fantasy while Tremblay is famous for his social plays and novels, they don’t usually find their works analyzed in the same books, courses, conferences. First, this talk will uncover some of the unexpected similarities between the two authors and focuses on Vonarburg’s works that clearly reference Québec and Tremblay’s texts with fantastic content. Second, it will offer a reflection on the effect of insularity of literary research and on the advantages of creating a dialogue between fields.
Born in Montreal in 1965, Sylvie Bérard has lived in Ontario for over two decades. She is an associate professor and chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at Trent University, where she teaches Quebec, Franco-Ontarian, and French-language Indigenous literatures, and is affiliated with the Cultural Studies Ph.D. Program. Her scholarly research, from a semiotical and queer perspective, focuses on Québec science fiction and Franco-Canadian literatures including Indigenous literatures. Her latest papers are “Holes Within and Bridges Beyond: The Transfictions of Élisabeth Vonarburg and Michel Tremblay” published in Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Bridging the Solitudes, edited by Amy J. Ransom and Dominick Grace and from which today’s talk draws, and “L’école des enseignantes dans Ces enfants de ma vie de Gabrielle Roy and Manikanetish de Naomi Fontaine”, published in October in Voix et images. She writes the monthly column “La page décentrée,” for the newsletter of CCWWP (Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs). Her published creative works include many short stories and two science fiction novels, both published by Alire (Terre des Autres was also published in English by Edge under the title Of Wind and Sand). She is also the author of a poetry book, Oubliez (Prise de parole, 2017) that received the Trillium Award 2018 for best French-language poetry, and a novel-essay, Une sorte de nitescence langoureuse (Alire, 2017).