This is a special event with faculty and students at a General Seminar. The General Seminar was created as part of the University in Exile in the 1930s. Today we are trying to expand it globally with the introduction of a “Public Seminar” online. I also want to welcome Paul Vidich, who is an active member of the NSSR Board of Governors.
We have a lot to celebrate. The 80th Anniversary of the U. in E. of course. But before we get to that:
We celebrate the appointment of Robin Wagner-Pacifici as the University-in-Exile Professor. Professor Wagner-Pacifici has published numerous books in sociological theory and the role of language and temporality in defining the social. Her next book project is particularly exciting, tentatively titled “What is an Event?” aimed at using “political semiosis” as the basis for a new theory of events through an analysis of the ways in which the form and mechanisms by which events create and move populations, policies and entire political entities. Please give a round of applause for Robin, who has so quickly become such an integral part of our community.
Now let’s turn to the University in Exile. We have a big interesting panel so I want to be very brief.
Today we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Alvin Johnson’s grand idea: to save German academics from the immediate danger of Nazism, and, in the longer run, to establish an entire faculty of European intellectuals who had lost their jobs and were at risk of far worse. Johnson’s goal was twofold: to avoid the destruction of an intellectual culture and to build a home in NYC for exiled scholars.
In his book recounting the history of the University in Exile, Claus-Dieter Krohn writes that:
Alvin Johnson, more than any other American, quickly realized the need for action to prevent Hitler’s destruction of the German intellectual tradition…In the midst of the American depression and deep economic problems, very few, other than Johnson, thought in terms of the consequences for civilization that would ensue should Europe’s most educated and creative thinkers be eliminated.
The scholars that Johnson brought to New York continued to build their on their traditional scholarly roots and they dedicated themselves to addressing the major problems of their times.
This is our legacy and we have built on it in a variety of ways that I won’t review here. Just to say that: No other school of this caliber was founded so firmly on the principles of academic freedom, safety, and the circulation of ideas beyond borders. None has understood so profoundly that freedom and democracy are not just abstract ideas but are urgent requirements to be continuously reaffirmed.
The question for today is what is the meaning of this legacy for the future of the NSSR? I would argue that the legacy is still vibrant. But is it a realistic and useful organizing principle as we move forward.
This is the topic of today’s session. We have six speakers and I hope to have plenty of time for discussion from the audience. Let me introduce them quickly.
Beside Robin Wagner-Pacifici, we have Jim Miller, Professor of Politics and Liberal Studies, who has written on everything from Rock and Roll to Foucault and everything in between. Janet Roitman, Associate Professor of Anthropology and author of the recently published “Anti-Crisis,” which is already a small hit and which I hope we will hear more about today. The student discussants are doctoral students in their respective departments: Anthony Bonen in Economics, Marianne in Philosophy and William Somerville in Psychology. I have asked presenters to speak for about 10 minutes and the discussants for 5-6 minutes. I will be somewhat strict with the time so that we have time for audience participation. We will start with the three faculty presentations and then have the discussants.
Let’s begin with Robin.