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Brooklyn Institute for Social Research Awarded Humanities Council Grant to Launch New Community Initiative

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research Awarded Humanities Council Grant to Launch New Community Initiative

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (BISR) is pleased to announce that it has received a $5,000 Action Grant from the New York Council for the Humanities to support the BISR Community Initiative, a new program that offers educational opportunities to some of New York’s most underserved citizens. BISR will work in conjunction with Breaking Ground, a non-profit organization that provides supportive housing to the formerly homeless and those facing housing insecurity, to offer a series of courses to residents free of charge beginning in the summer of 2016. These courses, beginning with a seminar on James Baldwin, will offer students an opportunity to engage in rigorous discussions about issues ranging from identity to human agency and the nature of artistic production. Each course will also feature a writing workshop component that encourages students to reflect on class themes and connect them to their own life experiences. Interest in and access to a humanistic education are not always aligned. BISR is committed to countering the notion that the humanities do not provide “useful” knowledge or that the deepest forms of intellectual engagement are the sole right of a privileged few. In the words of BISR’s Executive Director, Ajay Chaudhary, “our Community Initiative is a natural extension of our core mission to lower the barriers of access to high quality education, and we are thrilled to be able to partner with Breaking Ground on this project.”

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Call for Institutional Partners

BISR is now accepting applications for new institutional partners. Hosting a BISR course is an excellent way for organizations to offer new points of engagement for their existing communities as well as offering opportunities to reach new audiences. If you work for a cultural, educational, or artistic organization in New York City that is interested in hosting BISR courses on site, please email our Director of Operations at In addition to providing information about your organization, please indicate the types of programming (e.g. history, philosophy, literature) in which you are most interested.

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Eichmann in Jerusalem: Hannah Arendt and the Banality of Evil

When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 she sparked a fierce international debate. Gershom Scholem accused her of having no “Ahabath Israel,” – “Love of the Jewish people.” Robert Lowell praised her coverage of Eichmann as a literary “masterpiece” while others derided her for being a “self-hating Jew.” Irving Howe proclaimed that Arendt had incited a “civil war” among New York intellectuals – a war that he predicted would periodically resurface for years to come. Arendt saw the arrest and trial of Adolf Eichmann as an opportunity to encounter the Nazi criminal “in the flesh” and confront the “realm of human affairs and human deeds…” What she witnessed shocked her; Eichmann wasn’t a cartoonish criminal mastermind or villainous monster, but rather “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

In this immersive Day of Learning, students will read selections from Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, alongside Arendt’s personal correspondence and short critical essays and letters from contemporary scholars. We will study these works in the context of Arendt’s original reporting for The New Yorker, and the reverberations that her work on evil has inspired. Reading and discussing a variety of materials, including video footage from Eichmann’s trial, we will carefully work through Arendt’s arguments and the talk about the implications of her judgments today.

The day of reading and discussion will proceed as follows: over the course of the day Prof. Samantha Hill (Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College), will deliver two lectures on Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the banality of evil, and the lasting influence Arendt’s work has had in the realm of moral philosophy, political justice, and ethics. This will frame the work students do in two break-out sessions where students will be given time to read and engage the course materials, followed by guided discussions. The first section will focus on the first half of the book and Arendt’s question: “Who is Adolf Eichmann?” The second section will examine the banality of evil, radical evil, and the concept of justice. We will conclude the day with a roundtable discussion featuring experts in history, ethics, and moral philosophy. Coffee and lunch will be provided, and light refreshments will be served following the event. No advance preparation is required.

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The Podcast for Social Research, Episode 12: Radicalism

The Podcast for Social Research returns with an episode centered on theories of the radical. Departing from Emily Bazelon’s recent New York Times piece, “Who’s Really ‘Radical’?,” Suzy, Tony, and Ajay discuss the etymological origins, historical weight, and contemporary political force of the category of radicalism, asking, in the course of the conversation, who and what we call radical and what it means when we do. Case studies range from the Red Decade to political Islam.

You can download here by right-clicking and “save as” or look us up on iTunes.



Jalal Al-e AhmadDar Khedmat va Khiyanat-e Roshanfekran

Anthony Alessandrini, “Foucault, Fanon, Intellectuals, Revolutions,” Jadaliyya (April 1, 2014)

Talad Asad, Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular

Emily Bazelon, “Who’s Really ‘Radical’?”  New York Times (December 15, 2015)

—.“Making Bathrooms More ‘Accomodating,’” New York Times Magazine (November 17, 2015)

William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Editors, “Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Nomination.”  New York Times (January 31, 2016)

Faisal Devj,  Landscapes of the Jihad

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population

—.“Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations: An Interview with Michel Foucault” in Essential Works of Foucault, Volume 1: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Ed. Paul Rabinow

—. “Useless to Revolt?” Essential Works of Foucault, Volume 3: Power. Ed. J. D. Faubion

Ghamari-Tabrizi, Behrooz, Foucault in Iran: Islamic Revolution after the Enlightenment. (forthcoming 2016)

—. “When Life Will No Longer Barter Itself: In Defense of Foucault on the Iranian Revolution,” A Foucault for the 21st Century: Governmentality, Biopolitics and Discipline in the New Millennium. Ed. Sam Binkley and Jorge Capetillo

Jack Jenkins, “The Book That Really Explains ISIS.” Think Progress (September 10, 2014)

Danny Katch, “Unelectable and Unafraid.” Jacobin (October 28, 2015)

John Leland, “Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Voters Share Anger, but Direct It Differently.”  New York Times (January 31, 2016)

Brian Massumi, Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus

Aamir Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony 

Rashid Rida, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Ali Shariati, Jalal Al-e Ahmad

Arbeit Ring

Maximilien Robespierre, “On Political Morality”

Corey Robin, “Bile, Bullshit, and Bernie: Sixteen Notes on the Presidential Campaign.” Jacobin (January 23, 2016)

Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam

Suzanne Schneider, “The Reformation Will Be Televised: On ISIS, Religious Authority and the Allure of Textual Simplicity.” The Revealer (January 26, 2015)

Sohaira Siddiqui, “Beyond Authenticity: ISIS and the Islamic Legal Tradition.” Jadaliyya (February 24, 2015)


Eyal Weizman, “The Art of War”

Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society


Technical Details: Recorded on January 31st, 2016 with a Studio Projects B1, a Shure SM-58, a Sennheiser e935on, a SONY-PCM-M10, a Behringer mixer, and a modicum of red wine. This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was edited by Susan Lee

Last Poet of Iran, Parviz Tanavoli, 1964, Grey Art Gallery

Images of Surveillance: three BISR mini-seminars at the Goethe-Institut

In the age of algorithms, surveillance has exceeded the boundaries of centralized government control to permeate every part of our lives and transform our collective sensorium. As vast communication networks spread over the world, intensive data gathering accelerates the abstraction of human life to feed the market’s ever-expanding appetite. Mass surveillance, then, is not simply the mark of a rogue security state but underpins a much larger technological and economic complex set to radically reconfigure human interactions as the separation between organic and inorganic matter becomes ever more blurry.

As part of the Goethe-Institut New York upcoming symposium  Images of Surveillance: The Politics, Economics, and Aesthetics of Surveillance Societies, the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is proud to present a series of mini-seminar sessions which will take place throughout the symposium. These sessions will look at surveillance in theory and practice in a number of sites: the city, the battlefield, the transnational, and even critical theory itself. No preparation is necessary, readings will be provided and done on-site. These sessions are free and open to the public.

Surveillance, Biopolitics, and the City:Health, Foreign Bodies, Visibility, and Discipline

Saturday Dec. 5th, 4-7pm, Goethe-Institut New York, 30 Irving Place (Union Square)
with Jeffrey Escoffier and Bruce King


What are the links between cities, surveillance, and everyday life? Over the course of his later career, Michel Foucault began to identify a new type of political rationality that he called ‘biopower’ – one in which the fostering of the life, growth, and care of populations became a central concern of the state. Biopower, in Foucault’s argument, relies upon the systematic surveillance of demographic and social conditions. In this session, we will look at New York City as a kind of case study for a “Biopolitical City.” Former mayor Michael Bloomberg made health promotion, accounting, and regulation an integral part of his governing process. This approach had multiple effects. One result was an increase in the rate of life expectancy of the city’s population, making it the highest in the United States. In order to achieve this, the City spent millions of dollars targeting the most important and most preventable causes of death and debility from smoking, obesity, and other diseases through hard-hitting, and often fear-based media campaigns in addition to strict new legislation and police surveillance. How can we assess this form of governance? Do the familiar labels of the so-called “nanny state”, “progressive conservatism”, or the “welfare state” apply to this mode of governance? How do citizen, city, and surveillance apparatus function to create forms of ‘biopower’?

Strategic Mapping: Surveillance and the Battlefield from ‘Radical Theory’ to ‘Facts on the Ground’

with Ajay Singh Chaudhary
Sunday Dec. 6th, 11am-2pm, Goethe-Institut New York, 30 Irving Place (Union Square)


Both surveillance and its theories have multiple, sometimes contradictory, valences. In their now seminal works Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateus Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari provide new topographies and new critical apparati to understand the networked and “rhizomatic” forms of capital and state in the contemporary world. Viewing their work as paradigmatically “radical” – overturning repressive and oppressive structures in politics, psychology, and epistemology – Deleuze and Guattari sought to provide a “toolkit” for a new revolutionary philosophy and politics. In this session, we will look at an unanticipated application of their radical theory for military use in remapping battlefields and generating new, interactive, creative thinking about outmaneuvering opponents in asymmetrical warfare. We will read Eyal Weizman’s “Walking Through Walls” in which he discusses the use of Deleuze of Guattari in officer training manuals for the Israeli Defense Forces and corresponding short excerpts from A Thousand Plateaus to explore how surveillance by the state and the counter-hegemonic surveillance proposed in theory are not as diametrical as they may first appear. Finally, we will interrogate the question as to just how and when “radical theory” is “radical politics.”

Media, Society, and Spying for the State: Transatlantic Reflections on Autonomy, Social Expression, and the Antinomies of Surveillance

Sunday Dec. 6th, 3-6pm, Goethe-Institut New York, 30 Irving Place (Union Square)
with Jordan Kraemer, Michael Stevenson, and Ajay Singh Chaudhary


Between 1943 and 1949, Herbert Marcuse, Franz Neumann, and Otto Kirchheimer – three theorists from the “Frankfurt School” – formed a key component of a working group for the “Office of Strategic Services” in the United States – the forerunner of today’s CIA. These theorists saw the necessity of putting the tools and analyses of “critical theory” – without shying away from many of its arguments that would be unpalatable – at the hands of the American state first as part of the struggle against Fascism and then in the goal of the surveillance, domination, and restructuring of the new post-War West Germany. In a kind of paradox, each of these theorists wanted to preserve what little hope remained for autonomous thought and autonomous life in liberal democracies that they saw as always already compromised and on the precipice of crisis and catastrophe. In this session, we will first look at the German philosophical tradition in Kant to begin a conversation about what autonomy meant in the Enlightenment tradition and then in critical theory. We will then look at a few of the papers produced in this working group for the OSS. We will also consider transatlantic approaches to contemporary social media and surveillance structure in the Germany and the United States more broadly to engage session participants in a wide ranging discussion of the value of autonomy, the power and role of theory, and the salutary and corrosive nature of surveillance regimes.

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