Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

The Project

Since 1993, the University of Michigan has been engaged in a new international project: harnessing the quite remarkable international resources of the university to an institution-wide "internationalization" mandate defined by the university's leadership. They, in turn, delegated the execution of this mandate to the International Institute, one of the first of a number of such renovative and aggregative institutions to emerge within North American higher education following the end of the Cold War. Constituted in the shadows of emergent globalization, such entities as the International Institute also appeared to make obsolete certain knowledge boundaries associated with area studies, most notably those which distinguished institutions of expertise located in "the West" from the societies, economies, and cultures that were located elsewhere in the world and were subject to Western expert analysis. With the emphasis on global flows analyzed in English language collaborations through the Internet, cross-regional comparisons and virtual connectivity seemed to define the new global mission. Nevertheless, area studies was one of Michigan's strongest concentrations in international studies, and the International Institute was invited to negotiate, at its founding, the coordination of that concentration of regional competencies with the university-wide explosion of awareness about globalization's potentials.

Within that context, the Ford Foundation played its typically important role in shaping university concentrations, this time with a program to revitalize area studies, but not to support more of the same. It sought something new and different. The International Institute was one of those funded in that program, and developed a wide array of initiatives that explored privacies and power, citizenship and empire, and violence across global contexts in the grant's first phase, and in the second, a critical approach to the epistemological claims of grounding, translation, and expertise in area and international studies. This volume is the last project in this seven-year collaborative enterprise. But the volume, and the seminar which preceded it, were far different from what any of us had imagined when we started.

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We initially imagined that our final project would bring together all the different project authors as well as distinguished scholars from beyond Michigan to consider how well, and in what ways, we "revitalized area studies." As the date approached for such a traditional finale, the Institute's first director, David William Cohen, suggested that we should look much more toward the future than toward the present, with a focus much more on what needs to be done rather than to reproduce an unfortunate, and anachronistic, defense of area studies vs. international or global studies. We envisioned, then, a small seminar, with distinguished intellectuals from across the world, to anticipate just such a future. In order to provide focus, David William Cohen, Michael Kennedy, and Kathleen Canning, with the exceptional assistance of Monica Patterson and Donna Parmelee, wrote a position paper—this volume's lead essay—to serve as a common foundation for discussion. But as the position paper makes clear, the substance of our concerns had also moved far beyond the articulation of globalization and area studies.

Rather than figure a world defined by the increasing importance of trade and information flows, and the decreasing significance of national identities and violence, September 11, 2001 transformed the United States of America. At least it put much more centrally in the U.S. public sphere a new sense of national grief and insecurity before a kind of enemy most citizens could hardly imagine much less name, but whose efforts to explain brought into focus intellectual and political challenges on which there had been very little previous focus. Fortuitously for academic purposes, but tragically in human terms, our proposal to rethink national universities and global publics came when the U.S. sense of the world was moving away from globalization into an age defined by the quest for security and the uncertainties of violence.

Drawing upon nominations by our fellow U-M faculty, and decided by a subset of that group, [1] five visiting scholars—Veena Das, Konstanty Gebert, Elizabeth Jelin, Nurcholish Madjid, and Lamin Sanneh—joined six similarly selected graduate students—Juliet Erazo, Carrie Konold, Erica Lehrer, Monica Patterson, Hiroe Saruya, and Lingling Zhao—to participate in an August 2002 seminar prepared to discuss the position paper we previously circulated. To anticipate the seminar's work, Patterson assembled an amazing array of websites and publications focused on intellectual responsibility in light of 9/11's attacks, as well as the publications of our distinguished visiting scholars so that wePage  5 might all be more prepared for the nine-day seminar in August 2002. We also asked the five visiting scholars to prepare "briefs" on our own position paper, which were circulated and read in advance of the August meeting. In addition to each day's discussions, seminar participants attended a performance of Glenda Dickerson's Kitchen Prayers, [2] a special seminar discussion of Ross Chambers' paper, "Terrorism and Testimonial: Consequence of Aftermath," and a screening of Zareena Grewal's new film, By the Dawn's Early Light: Chris Jackson's Journey to Islam.