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Two-day conference on “Rethinking and Unthinking Popular Sovereignty”

The Center of Global Culture and Communication (An interdisciplinary initiative of Northwestern University’s School of Communication)

The Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities

Jointly present a conference on

“Rethinking and Unthinking Popular Sovereignty”


23-24 May 2024, 10:30am to 5pm

Kresge Centennial Hall

Room 2-350

Lunch and light refreshments will be served on both days.

This conference will explore the contested history and ideology of democracy from the perspective of the doctrine of popular sovereignty—the proposition that people are the ultimate source of political authority and legitimacy in any polity. How and when and in what legible form did the doctrine of popular sovereignty originate and emerge?  How did it evolve and become fully embedded in the democratic project?  How is this doctrine, especially its two rhetorically powerful formulations– “we, the people” and “in the name of people”–, invoked and deployed by two competing versions of the democratic project, the liberal and the populist?  How does this doctrine function, both conceptually and rhetorically, in the perennial struggle between two opposing and problematic tendencies within the democratic project, namely, the cosmopolitan/liberal inclusionary tendency and the nationalist/populist exclusionary tendency?


Department of Communication Studies

Department of Philosophy

Doctoral Program in Rhetoric, Media, and Publics

Cannibal Capitalism: How Our system is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet– and What We Can Do about It

Cannibal Capitalism
How Our system is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet–
and What We Can Do about It
(Verso, 2022)
Nancy Fraser
(Philosophy, The New School)
Ashley Bohrer
(Gender and Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame)
Michael Dawson
(Political Science, University of Chicago)
Johanna Oksala
(Philosophy, Loyola University-Chicago)
Friday, April 5, 2024
10 am to 12 pm CST
Convened by Dilip Gaonkar (Northwestern University)
To Register
Please download the reading HERE

Call for Applications: Summer School 2024

Summer School, July 1-6, 2024

Organized by

The Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC)Central European University (CEU) and the Center for Transcultural Studies (CTS)




The Challenge of a Society of Equals

The application deadline is April 1, 2024. Once admitted, all costs related to participation will be covered by the organizers. For US-based students (including Northwestern students), airfare and ground transportation will be covered up to

$500 (USD).

Given the CGCC’s role in the Summer School, a minimum of three Northwestern graduate students will be admitted. 

Interested students should review the application requirements on the Summer School’s page on the CEU website and then email their application materials to Dilip Gaonkar ( Please note that the application deadline set by CEU has expired, but late applicants from Northwestern will still be considered for admission.

Making Space for Justice: Social Movements, Collective Imagination and Political Hope

Making Space for Justice
Social Movements, Collective Imagination and Political Hope
(Columbia University Press, 2022)
Michele MoodyAdams
(Philosophy, Columbia University)
Robin Celikates
(Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin)
Juliet Hooker
(Political Science, Brown University)
José Medina
(Philosophy, Northwestern University)
Convened by Dilip Gaonkar (Northwestern University)
Friday, February 2, 2024, 10 am to 12 pm CST

Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities

Neither Settler Nor Native

The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities

(Harvard University Press, 2020)

Mahmood Mamdani

(Political Science, Columbia University)

In case after case around the globe―from Israel to Sudan―the colonial state and the nation-state have been constructed through the politicization of a religious or ethnic majority at the expense of an equally manufactured minority. The model emerged in America, where genocide and internment on reservations created a permanent native minority. In Europe, this template would be used both by the Nazis and the Allies. Neither Settler nor Native offers a vision for arresting this process. Mahmood Mamdani points to inherent limitations in the legal solution attempted at Nuremberg. Political violence demands political solutions: not criminal justice but a rethinking of the political community to include victims and perpetrators, bystanders and beneficiaries. Making the radical argument that the nation-state was born of colonialism, he calls on us to delink the nation from the state so as to ensure equal political rights for all who live within its boundaries.


Craig Calhoun

(Sociology, Arizona State University)

Linford Fisher 

(History, Brown University)

Nandita Sharma

(Sociology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa)


Friday, September 29, 2023

10 am to 12 pm CST

Call for Applications: Rhetoric, Media, & Publics Summer Institute || Shared Grounds of Media Aesthetics and Ecology


Call for Applications 

2024 Summer Institute in Rhetoric, Media and Publics 

Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208

In Person

July 15–19, 2024

The deadline for applications is Monday 27 May 2024 


Michael Streicher Metzger (Pick-Laudati Academic Curator of Cinema and Media Arts, Block Museum, Northwestern University)
Dilip Gaonkar (Rhetoric, Media, and Publics, Northwestern University)


Media Aesthetics VI: Shared Grounds of Media Aesthetics and Ecology

From seawater to fog, fiber-optic networks to the cloud, prominent recent theories of environmental media have traced their objects’ distributed and often ineffable dimensions across the artificial boundaries between nature and technology, between nations and ecosystems, and between disciplines. While atmospheric and elemental thinking has revealed the constitutive role of media in the production and recognition of ecological relations, questions of aesthetics in eco-media—how media objects induce pain or pleasure, stimulate individual and social experience, and shape the envelope linking sensing bodies with surrounding conditions—offer ample space for exploration. Indeed, media remain entrenched in stubbornly terrestrial concerns, such as the geographically-specific lived realities of climate change, enduring edifices of colonial domination, material regimes of resource extraction and displacement, and embodied strategies of resistance, just as media studies remains institutionally and intellectually tethered to the study of artworks, representations, and structured acts of perception. 

Rather than staging a contest between aesthetics and environmental media theory, the theme of this iteration of the Media Aesthetics Summer Institute, “Shared Grounds of Media Aesthetics and Ecology,” instead proposes that aesthetics might serve to anchor overlapping interdisciplinary conversations and allow a collective concern for more ecologically conscious scholarship to take root. How might situating aesthetics as a “shared ground” of inquiry invite new insights into diverse assemblages of media techniques, infrastructures, and human and nonhuman actors, as well as the socio-historical and phenomenological conditions that underlie them? What kinds of histories come into focus when we turn our eyes to the environmental and geological substrates of affect and sensation? What kind of projects might serve as a foundation or a bridge to more aesthetically engaged, conceptually capacious, and sustainable forms of media scholarship? 


Institute Format and Application Process

The institute will consist of five days of presentations and discussions led by visiting scholars and Northwestern faculty. This year’s visiting scholars include Weihong Bao (University of California, Berkeley), Debashree Mukherjee (Columbia University), Ayesha Omer (York University), and Thomas Patrick Pringle (University of Southern California). This year’s Media Aesthetics summer institute will also feature one or more screenings of thematically and historically relevant film and media works, to be hosted at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art. 

The institute is sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC), an interdisciplinary initiative of Northwestern University’s School of Communication. The CGCC will subsidize transportation (up to $250), lodging (single occupancy), and some meals (breakfast and lunch every day and two group dinners) for admitted students. Applicants should send a brief letter of nomination from their academic advisor, along with a one-page statement explaining their interest in participating in this year’s institute, to the summer institute coordinator Eva Rubens Célem ( We will adopt a policy of rolling admissions. Priority will therefore be granted to strong applications that are submitted in a timely fashion, preferably by Monday 27 May 2024. All inquiries should be directed to Eva Rubens Célem.

Faculty Bios:

Weihong Bao is Pamela P. Fong and Family Distinguished Chair in China Studies and an Associate Professor of Film and Media & East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley. She is the author of Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), as well as numerous articles on comparative media history and theory, media and environment, early cinema, war and modernity, affect theory, propaganda theory and practice, and Chinese language cinema of all periods and regions. Her more recent work exploring the relationship between medium and environment includes co-editing two special issues on “Media/Climates” (Representations) and “Medium/Environment” (Critical Inquiry) and a forthcoming book, Background Matters: Set Design Thinking and The Art of Environment

Ayesha Omer is Assistant Professor of Digital Futures at York University. Her scholarship examines the relationship between infrastructures, environments, and politics. Her book project, Networks of Dust, explores issues of technological mediation, environmental relations, and political sovereignty with respect to Chinese infrastructure in the indigenous borderlands of the Pakistani state, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-a flagship project of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). She has a background in mixed-media, public performance art and her artistic and academic work has appeared in ArtNow, Cityscapes, Tanqeed, and Cultural Studies

Debashree Mukherjee is Associate Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. She is author of Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (2020), which approaches film history as an ecology of material practices and practitioners. Her current book project, Tropical Machines: Extractive Media and Plantation Modernity, develops a media history of  South Asian indentured migration from the 1830s onwards. Debashree edits the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies and has published in journals such as Film History, Film Quarterly, Feminist Media Histories, Representations, and Modern Asian Studies. Her latest publication is the edited anthology, Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema, based on an unprecedented photographic archive collated by a German cinematographer who emigrated to India in the 1930s (Mapin & Alkazi Foundation, 2023).

Thomas Patrick Pringle is Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at University of Southern California. Pringle focuses on historical approaches to film and media, with an emphasis on how media shape how environments are conceived in a given place and time and how technologies interact with physical environments. With Gertrud Koch and the late Bernard Stiegler, Pringle co-authored Machine (University of Minnesota Press/Meson Press, 2019). His writing on cinema, media, and the environment appears in the journals New Media & Society, Spectator, Heliotrope, NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, and Journal of Film and Video, as well as the volume Toxic Immanence: Decolonizing Nuclear Legacies and Futures (ed. Livia Monnet, 2022). His book manuscript, titled The Climate Proxy, looks to archival cinema and media, as well as critical appropriation film practices, to explain why certain images stand in for, or dispute, global warming.

Insurgent Universality

Insurgent Universality

An alternative legacy of modernity

(Oxford University Press, 2019)

Massimiliano Tomba

(History of Consciousness, University of California Santa Cruz)

 Scholars commonly take the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789, written during the French Revolution, as the starting point for the modern conception of human rights. According to the Declaration, the rights of man are held to be universal, at all times and all places. But as recent crises around migrants and refugees have made obvious, this idea, sacred as it might be among human rights advocates, is exhausted. It’s long past time to reconsider the principles on which Western economic and political norms rest. This book advocates for a tradition of political universality as an alternative to the juridical universalism of the Declaration. Insurgent universality isn’t based on the idea that we all share some common humanity but, rather, on the democratic excess by which people disrupt and reject an existing political and economic order. Going beyond the constitutional armor of the representative state, it brings into play a plurality of powers to which citizens have access, not through the funnel of national citizenship but in daily political practice. We can look to recent history to see various experiments in cooperative and insurgent democracy: the Indignados in Spain, the Arab Spring, Occupy, the Zapatistas in Mexico, and, going further back, the Paris Commune, the 1917 peasant revolts during the Russian Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution. This book argues that these movements belong to the common legacy of insurgent universality, which is characterized by alternative trajectories of modernity that have been repressed, hindered, and forgotten.

John Brenkman

(Comparative Literature and English, CUNY Graduate Center and Baruch College, Emeritus)

Anne Norton 

(Political Science, University of Pennsylvania)

Uday Mehta

(Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center)


 Friday, December 8, 2023

 10 am to 12 pm CST 

Berlant’s America

Center of Global Culture and Communication

(An interdisciplinary initiative of Northwestern University’s School of Communication)

Department of English &
Center for Transcultural Studies

jointly present

A Lambert Conference

Berlant’s America

(A Symposium on the Legacies of Lauren Berlant)

October 26 & 27, 2023
9:30 am– 5:00 pm
Harris 108

Northwestern University, 1881 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208

Participants include: Kris Cohen (Art History and Humanities, Reed College), Lee Edelman (English, Tufts University), Jonathan Flatley (English, Wayne State University), Michael Hardt (Literature, Duke University), Lauren Jackson (English, Northwestern University), E. Patrick Johnson (Black Studies & Performance Studies, Northwestern University), Benjamin Lee (Anthropology and Philosophy, New School), Heather Love (English, University of Pennsylvania), Sianne Ngai (English, University of Chicago), Jonathan Schroeder (American Studies, Brandeis University), Kathleen Stewart (Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin), Michael Warner (English, Yale University), & Ken Wissoker (Editor, Duke University Press)

Convenors: Dilip Gaonkar (Rhetoric, Media & Publics, Northwestern University) &
Laurie Shannon (English, Northwestern University)


While the range of Lauren Berlant’s work is capacious, the engagement with “America” — its history, politics, and culture (art and literature, popular and performative, and much else) — stands out as a gravitational center and the preferred archive for her/their critical meditations, theoretical innovations, and reading practices. “Berlant’s America” is a distinctive “America,” as distinctive as Tocqueville’s, or Emerson’s, or Whitman’s. This conference will test the shapes of that America and of what Berlant indelibly named its “cruel optimism,” prompting us to think — and think again.

Rhetoric, Media, Publics Summer Institute: Media Aesthetics V

Media Aesthetics V

The annual Rhetoric, Media, and Publics Summer Institute at Northwestern University is scheduled to be held on July 17-21, 2023 (with arrival July 16 and departure July 22).
Institute conveners are Dilip Gaonkar (Rhetoric, Media, and Publics, Northwestern University) and James J. Hodge (English, Northwestern University).
The theorization of media often begins with a story about the history of the senses and the sensorium and how that history might be understood in terms of the ways new technologies transform our individual and collective abilities to see, hear, and communicate. The 21st-century computational saturation of culture by mediated forms as the infrastructure of ordinary life poses new challenges to this project. While many projects emphasize the algorithmic and technical dimensions of the internet age, the media aesthetics project (now in its 5th year) is devoted to exploring ordinary experience. How, for instance, does the rise of internet culture into culture as such bring into being new forms of social belonging, personhood, and collective desire? What aesthetic forms — new or old — grant the most critical traction on grasping our historical present? What critical/interpretive languages do we need to devise to respond constructively to the politically vexed and culturally fragmented ethos of the present? In this project, we hope to explore and interrogate the mediated experience of the present as it mutates, propelled by the rapidly shifting dynamics of capitalist modernity, and while mutating both discloses and conceals the possibilities and perils before us.

Institute Format and Application Process

The institute will consist of five days of presentations and discussions led by visiting scholars and Northwestern faculty. This year’s visiting scholars include: Nico Baumbach (Columbia University), Shane Denson (Stanford University), Hannah Zeavin (Indiana University), and Chenshu Zhou (University of Pennsylvania). This year’s contributing Northwestern University faculty includes Dahye Kim (Asian Languages and Cultures).
The institute is sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC), an interdisciplinary initiative of Northwestern University’s School of Communication. The CGCC will subsidize transportation (up to $250), lodging (double-occupancy), and some meals (breakfast and lunch every day and two group dinners) for admitted students. Applicants should send a brief letter of nomination from their academic advisor, along with a one-page statement explaining their interest in participating in this year’s institute, to the summer institute coordinator Bipin Sebastian ( We will adopt a policy of rolling admissions. Priority will therefore be granted to strong applications that are submitted in a timely fashion, preferably by June 15, 2023. All inquiries should be directed to Bipin Sebastian.

Summer Institute Schedule (tentative):

Monday 7/17
Welcome and Introductions (am): Dilip Gaonkar & James J. Hodge
Shane Denson talk (pm): “Of Algorithms, Aesthetics, and Embodied Existences”

Tuesday 7/18
Denson workshop (am)
Chenshu Zhou talk (pm): “The Boredom and Excitement of Live Streaming”
Dahye Kim talk (pm): “Korean Writing in the Age of Multilingual Word Processing: Reterritorialization of Scripts and the Cultural Technique of Writing”

Wednesday 7/19
Zhou workshop (am)
Nico Baumbach talk (pm): “The Political Aesthetics of Conspiracy Theory: From the Feature Film to the Internet”

Thursday 7/20
Baumbach workshop (am)
Hannah Zeavin talk (pm): “Screening Mother, Coding Baby: Attachment, Deprivation, and the American Prison”

Friday 7/21
Zeavin workshop (am)

Faculty Bios:

Nico Baumbach is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Columbia University. His research and teaching focus on critical theory, film and media theory, documentary, and the intersection of aesthetic and political philosophy. He is the author of Cinema/Politics/Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2019) and The Anonymous Image: Cinema Against Control (Columbia University Press, Forthcoming). He is currently working on a book on the relationship between critical theory and conspiracy theory.

Shane Denson is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies and, by Courtesy, of German Studies and of Communication at Stanford University, where he also serves as Director of the PhD Program in Modern Thought & Literature. His research interests span a variety of media and historical periods, including phenomenological and media-philosophical approaches to film, digital media, and serialized popular forms. He is the author of Post-Cinematic Bodies (2023), Discorrelated Images (2020), and Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (2014). See for more information.

Dahye Kim is an Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching focus on modern Korean literature and culture, critical approaches to media history, and the cultural dimensions of communication technologies in East Asia. Dahye is particularly interested in exploring the evolving significance and signification of literature and literacy in the digital age. Her current project, tentatively titled “Techno-fiction: Science Fictional Dreams of Linguistic Metamorphosis and the Informatization of Korean Writing,” delves into the radical transformation of writing and literature in the new technological environment of the 1980s and 1990s South Korea.

Hannah Zeavin is a scholar, writer, and editor. She is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science at the University of California at Berkeley (Department of History & The Berkeley Center for New Media). Zeavin is the author of The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy (2021) and Mother’s Little Helpers; Technology in the American Family (forthcoming), both from MIT Press. She is the Founding Editor of Parapraxis.

Chenshu Zhou (she/her) is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies in the History of Art Department and the Cinema and Media Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD from Stanford University. Zhou’s research explores a variety of questions related to the moving images, in particular spectatorship, exhibition, and temporality. She is the author of Cinema Off Screen: Moviegoing in Socialist China (University of California Press, 2021), which received the 2022 Best First Book Award from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. Her second ongoing book project investigates the relationship between work and screen media consumption against China’s transition from socialism to neoliberal authoritarianism.

CEU Summer School: ‘It Takes a Movement’

Social Mobilization and Rebuilding Democracy


July 3-9, 2023


Organized by
The Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC),  
Central European University (CEU), and the 
Center of Transcultural Studies (CTS)

Around the world, democracies are breaking down. Many are being dismantled from within while others face attacks from without. In both cases, the issues underlying democracy’s erosion are not superficial but deeply entrenched and complex. As a result, democracies will not be renewed without considerable effort. Technical fixes imposed from above may slow democratic degeneration, but they cannot reverse it. Rebuilding democracy—fortifying its institutions and advancing its project—takes a movement from below.

Yet, when it comes to social mobilization, democratic societies tend to be apprehensive. A handful of exceptionally civil, organized, and focused social movements may serve as evidence of a dynamic public sphere and a healthy democratic culture. But far more often, democratic governments respond to social mobilization with less enthusiasm, treating it as anything from a nuisance to a threat. After all, what democratic purpose could social mobilization fulfill in a society with fair elections, democratic representation, and independent courts? Given the growing frequency, intensity, scale, and volatility of twenty-first century social mobilizations in democratic societies, it is difficult to see them simply as a confirmation of democratic flourishing or evidence of its undoing. Instead, from Indian farmers to Canadian truckers and Colombian taxpayers, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the Yellow Vests, these mobilizations index social, political, cultural, and economic crises that democratic governments have failed to address. In this context, what is the relationship between social mobilization and democracy? Do loosely networked local protests in disparate contexts share a global anatomy? When are social mobilizations a threat to democracy and when are they the foundation of its renewal?

The aim of It Takes a Movement is to re-examine the relationship between social mobilization and democracy by attending to the stunning complexity and diversity of twenty-first century protests and social movements. The course will employ a global perspective, comparing social mobilizations across different democratic contexts, tracing transnational connections and fissures, and establishing common features. To this end, the course will foster a robust dialogue among students, activists, and scholars assembled from all over the world. Students will leave the course with a deeper understanding of the fraught relationship between democracy and social mobilization as well as new questions and ideas about how it might be productively addressed.

The course will fund a minimum of twenty students and reserves one third of available spaces for applicants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The application deadline is March 5, 2023. Once admitted, all costs related to participation will be covered by the organizers. For US based students, airfare and ground transportation will be covered only up to USD 500.
Given CGCC’s role in the Summer School, a minimum of three (possibly five) Northwestern graduate students will be admitted. Interested students should apply through the application portal on the Summer School’s page on the CEU website  and then email Dilip Gaonkar (d-gaonkar@northwestern.eduto indicate that they have applied.
For more information about the faculty, course directors, and course coordinator, please visit the Summer School’s page on the CEU website.