Sunday, March 27th, 2011
But what to say? I don't want to jump into the perennial feminist conflict about sex work—i.e. whether it's a choice or not. ("It's not a choice; it's evidence of women's oppression." "Well, it was a choice for me." "Well, it isn't for most people. They are sold into sexual slavery and have prior histories of abuse. Do you support human trafficking?" "Of course not!) That debate is like pro-choice vs. pro-life—one deeply felt and with little room for mutual understanding.
I'd like to stay away from having a feminist position on sex work (although my knee jerks in a certain direction, sure), and instead use feminism's philosophy like a pair of contact lenses, to help me see things better. Feminism, the philosophy, suggests that the real experts on any issue are the people whom it affects. For the issue of sex work, the experts are sex workers and, in a way, clients.
Feminism also (bless her heart) invites people to bring all parts of themselves into any room that calls itself feminist. There is no secret shame in a feminist room, no conversation that isn't allowed, no past experience that must be kept locked up tight. You had an abortion? Meet 40 million others who share that experience! Raped? I’m sorry and you are not alone, not one bit.
You worked as an escort to pay for graduate school and then went on to be a popular public school art and writing teacher? You were a domme in college and wrote a super-literary book about the experience? You did massage for money in graduate school so that you’d have time for your art and activism, which has flourished into a book, an award-winning blog, and several organizations? You have had to take care of yourself since you were a child and sex work enabled you to live while you go to college? Good for all of you.
Those last are the stories of the women—feminists all—on our panel. Each has risked being reduced to one element of her experience by being honest about it. But because each is brave and willing to be honest, she opens up the possibility of others doing the same. And these conversations can be seeds of change. The New School supports radical, challenging, and messy change because it supports—and attracts—the kinds of students who search for art and revolution both.
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
The CPS seeks to promote academic freedom and public discussion around urgent political and social issues in all of its programs and initiatives. It is intended to serve a catalyst for new kinds of programs, drawing on the humanities, the social sciences, design, and public policy as sources for ideas and collaborative projects. The Center also includes three existing programs that address our mission in distinctly different and complimentary ways. I will describe one of them here, and in future posts will introduce the others.
Since 1934, the New School for Social Research has published Social Research: An International Quarterly, which addresses a wide range of social and political issues from a variety of perspectives. The Social Research conference series aims to enhance public understanding and influence ongoing debates about issues central to contemporary political and cultural discourse. Speakers at these conferences, including historians, social scientists, natural scientists, and art historians, participate alongside legal theorists, policy makers, and journalists, and every session includes vibrant Q&A with the audience. Recent conference speakers have included Daniel Ellsberg, Jameel Jaffer, Samantha Power, Cass Sunstein, Marion Nestle, and Joan Scott. Our keynote speakers have included Al Gore, Charles Taylor, and Jonathan Miller. All of our conferences are subsequently published as special issues of Social Research.
The first of our Spring 2011 conferences, “The Body and the State: How the State Controls and Protects the Body”, will take place February 10, 11, and 12, in Tishman Auditorium. This conference takes the body as a human rights policy arena, where such forces as religion, science, media, and the market struggle for control. We hope to illuminate how the often tacit assumptions about the "normal," "healthy," and "acceptable" body lead to policies that are unjust. I thought it important to host several critical conversations about how different countries and cultures handle issues around reproductive rights, public health, gender, sexuality, pharmaceuticals, and even death. If you are interested in art, you might want to attend
The second conference, “India's World”, will take place May 10-11 in Tishman Auditorium. Our decision to devote a conference to India seemed long overdue, given that India is home to more than 20 percent of the world's population, is a functioning multicultural democracy, an assertive global player in economics and politics, a nuclear power, and link between Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and Sri Lanka. We also certainly thought it time to have a conference that would address issues more deeply than the popular cliches of Flat, Hot, and Crowded. The conference will begin on Tuesday with a keynote lecture by the well known writer Ghosh Amitav. Wednesday’s sessions bring together expert speakers, many coming from India, who will connect the dots between government, economy, policy, and culture in contemporary India. In creating this conference, we are working together with our former Provost, Arjun Appadurai, a world-renowned Indian anthropologist.
[Bio of author]
Arien Mack is Alfred and Monette Marrow Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research. She is the editor of Social Research: An International Quarterly, the flagship journal of the NSSR and the founding director of the Center for Public Scholarship and its Journal Donation Project, Endangered Scholars Worldwide initiative, and Social Research conference series.