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Work in Progress Talks give fellows at the Tanner Humanities Center
opportunity to present the latest work on their current research and to receive
feedback in a casual setting from faculty, staff, students, and community.


See you next year!



Water in India’s Deccan:
A Hydrosocial Perspective

BENJAMIN B. COHEN | Virgil C. Aldrich Faculty Fellow
Professor, Department of History, University of Utah

Water appears as liquid, ice, or steam, and can take shapes from raindrops to rivers, and from water bottles to reservoirs. In this work-in-progress presentation, I will speak from a current book project on water in India’s Deccan – a large region in south-central India. The presentation will focus on material drawn from two periods of Deccan history, the late medieval Kakatiya Empire, and the early modern Deccan Sultanates. I will explore Deccan history through a hydrosocial lens that sees the relationship between human and aquatic activity in the same analytic focus. This perspective, when deployed over a long-term view of India’s history, offers insights into the ways in which water and human activity have developed in the past, and continue to do so in the present.

Blender, Strainer, Enema, Conflict:
Differences in disgust among medical practitioners and patients over Fecal Microbiota Tranplants

JESSICA HOUF | Graduate Student Research Fellow
Department of Communication, University of Utah

Shit is nothing new. Humans-as-animals have produced a lot of shit, but how we react to this expelled mass is currently being revisited. Fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) have recently been approved for treatment of recurrent Clostridiumdifficile infections (RCDI). Despite being 90% effective, this treatment is prescribed by medical authorities only as a last resort for those experiencing the deteriorating effects of long-lasting diarrhea and colitis caused by RCDI. Due to this hesitation on the part of medical practitioners, many patients have taken shit into their own hands and created an alternative community engaged in home-based FMT. 

This presentation explores patient narratives (from the website The Power of Poop) alongside medical literatures about FMT to understand differing feelings about “disgusting” feces. My key question is: why are fecal transplants felt to be too disgusting for people who are trained to deal with bodies, medical practitioners, while patients – who do not have such training – find them to be acceptable home remedies? Drawing on the work of Dominique Laporte, Sara Ahmed, Daniel Kelly, and other disgust scholars, I unpack conflicting understandings of the "nature" of disgust – as an embodied “truth” or as a socially constructed means of abjection. Ultimately, the conflict concerning the "nature" of disgust reveals a larger problem for the accepted  “germ theory of disease”, which tends to argue that bacteria + filth = disease. Instead, we find (through a focus on RCDI) that Clostridiumdifficile changes the equation to bacteria + filth = cure. Shit becomes something new.

Are Living Things Beings, Changes, or Both?
Matter, Composition, and Biological Unity in Aristotle

ANNE PETERSON, Virgil C. Aldrich Faculty Fellow
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah

“For living things, to be is to live”—so Aristotle insists in his writings on the cause of life.  And to live, as Aristotle knows all too well from his own biological investigations, is to undergo a series of changes—the claim, then, is that for living things, to be is precisely to change in a certain way. Today, however, the pre-Aristotelian opposition between being and change is still at work.  Individuals, groups, and even nations are often reluctant to change their ideas, principles, and policies for fear that so doing will undermine their identity.  Metaphysicians are beset with puzzles about how things could come into or go out of being.  And even within Aristotelian scholarship, a focus on being has obscured the foundational role that becoming has in Aristotle’s thought.  I will argue that properly understanding Aristotle’s analysis of the being of living things requires properly understanding their becoming—both are activities.  On Aristotle’s framework for understanding life, being becomes dynamic rather than static, and change is no longer tied to the interruption of identity.  This framework, I will suggest, is one that we should return to today both in philosophy and in our broader ways of thinking.

Unsettling Settler Masculinity

MATT BASSO | Virgil C. Aldrich Faculty Fellow
Associate Professor, Departments of History and Gender Studies

Settler Colonial Studies is a relatively new field, having emerged at the end of the 20th Century. Its founding scholars, while linking their work to the long history of research on colonialism, contend that settler colonialism is a process quite distinct from and even antithetical to classic extractive colonialism. Two of the central precepts of settler colonial studies hold that a normative and predictable whiteness and masculinity characterized the paradigmatic settler and the state he built. This presentation, drawn from my current book project, explores the ideology and practices of white settler masculinity in one settler society, New Zealand, between 1890 and 1950. I focus on four points of friction: land, labor, immigration, and war. Dwelling on the last of these, I will discuss how the experiences of World War One veterans reveal some of the complexities and contradictions of settler masculinity.

Making “good workers and good citizens:”
American Indians, Gender, and the Post War Urban Relocation Program

COLLEEN O’NEILL | Obert C. & Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center Visiting Faculty Research Fellow
Associate Professor, Department of History, Utah State University 

In the 1950s Congress created Indian policies that were supposed to “free” Native people from reservations and terminate federal-tribal relationships, divesting some tribal governments of their political and economic authority. The flip side to “Termination,” as the policy was called, was a voluntary relocation program that encouraged Native American workers to move away from reservations to urban areas, find permanent jobs, and assimilate into American society. The federal government’s goal was to transform them into American workers and consumers, and adopt the gendered cultural norms of US urban society. Becoming an American worker, according to federal policy makers, was a key step toward breaking down tribal identity. 

Congress passed termination without the consent of tribal governments. But, 100,000 Native Americans voluntarily participated in the relocation program. Some tribal governments actively endorsed the program. Why would American Indians and some tribal leaders participate in a program that was clearly aimed to undermine tribal sovereignty? The BIA’s own records offer an alternative narrative. Approximately 1/3 of the American Indians who relocated to urban areas returned to reservations. Many remained in cities, but their participation in relocation did not necessarily mean they accepted the policy’s goals. Sorting through their experiences helps us understand the complicated, and often contradictory, impact of post war economic policy in an era of global decolonization.

The Net, the Web, Pornography, and the Dead:
Mormonism Online Before the Bloggernacle

GAVIN FELLER | Obert C. & Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center Graduate Research Fellow in Mormon Studies
Department of Communication Studies, University of Iowa

The emergence of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s induced great anxiety among LDS leaders and lay Mormons in online spaces alike. Handfuls of the latter had, for over a decade, been carving out niche spaces around shared interests through online newsgroups and listservs. For them, the Web threatened to dissolve intimate online communities, some of which offered marginalized members a protected space to engage controversial issues of gender, sexuality, power, and church history. These “electronic wards” would simply never be the same. For LDS leaders, the dangers of digital pornography loomed large, in part preventing the LDS Church from investing in the technology for several years. However, it was the legacy of founder Joseph Smith’s cosmic vision of the afterlife that ultimately legitimized the Web for the church. While LDS leaders couldn’t stop rampant Internet pornography from threatening to disintegrate nuclear families, they could, through online genealogy, use the same technology to weld together the entire human family.

Be Compassionate Towards None:
Thinking About the Status of the Other through Buddhist Compassion, Augustine’s Charity, and Levinas’ Ethics

PIERRE-JULIEN HARTERObert C. & Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center Visiting Faculty Research Fellow
The Graham School, University of Chicago

To whom, specifically, are we compassionate or ethical, when we act compassionately or ethically? Is compassion or ethics grounded in the presence of a specific other, or are others irrelevant to my determination of being compassionate or ethical? Some Buddhist texts explain rather strangely that the best kind of compassion is a compassion that has no object. How can we understand this counter-intuitive idea that compassion reaches its perfection when there is nobody to be compassionate to?

Scholars of Buddhist philosophy have tried to answer that question theoretically, by referring to the Buddhist conception of reality as being empty – empty of substances, and empty of persons. This talk makes another attempt, following rather an ethical approach that questions the status of the other in our ethical relationships. To deepen our understanding of the matter, we will be looking at Augustine’s conception of brotherly love or charity, and Emmanuel Levinas’ reflection on the other in ethical relationships.

This exercise in ethical thinking through distant places and times will lead us to understand Buddhist compassion from the perspective of the Buddhist path, the process of transformation that leads an individual to perfection, understood as Buddahood.

Recreating the Grand View Garden:
Truth Within Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber

JONAH KATZ | Asian Studies Major, Honors College, University of Utah
Obert C. & Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center Honors College Undergraduate Research Fellow

First-time readers of the seminal eighteenth century Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, invariably create a picture in their minds of scenery from the book’s main setting, the Grand View Garden. It is there the young girls of Rongguo Mansion dwell, frolic, and compose poetry. The vivid and specific descriptions of the garden etch for readers a place of opulence, ease, and beauty. The garden’s insulation from the anxiety of adult reality has led many scholars to view the garden as a separate world where the growing children can escape, for a time.

While the garden is fanciful in essence, many descriptions of the garden we find are quite concrete in their geography. In this talk I will explain how I have used textual clues to create a digital map of the Grand View Garden; a map as close as possible to the landscape imagined by the novel’s author, Cao Xueqin. I will then compare data collected from Dream of the Red Chamber to the original text in an effort to understand how space is meaningfully constructed for the girls living in the garden. Within the fictional map lies truth about the intimate connection between people, space, and the transience of dreams.

Encyclopedia of Nonknowledge:
Bataille, Duchamp, and the Da Costa

ANNE ROYSTON | Obert C. & Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center Graduate Research Fellow
Department of English, University of Utah

In 1947, a 31-page pamphlet appeared in bookstores in Saint-Germain-des-Prés bearing the title the Encyclopedia Da Costa. The work slyly declared itself to be many things: a continuation of an ongoing project (which it was not, despite beginning in mid-sentence and on page 207); the product of an unknown Da Costa (who was certainly not its author); and, not least, an encyclopedia (an absurd claim). In actuality the Da Costa was undertaken by avant-gardists of the day, most notably, for us, the artist Marcel Duchamp and the philosopher and writer Georges Bataille. The group launched its anonymous attack on bourgeouis morals, fashionable artistic trends, and sociopolitical conditions through the form of the artists’ magazine. Far from being an encyclopedia, with its pretenses to knowledge and order, the Da Costa sought to undermine these pretenses through its stated content, its material form, and its production and distribution.

By considering the Da Costa at the intersection of its semantics, its materiality, and its reception, we find that despite its jocular exterior the work nonetheless advances a model of argument to which complexity and irreducibility are central. The Da Costa exemplifies some of the overtly philosophical concepts found in Bataille’s writing and elsewhere; moreover, it enacts these concepts through its very form. Situating the Da Costa reveals a structure for considering argumentative works that push against genre and classification, instead expressing theoretical and artistic heterogeneity.

Last Updated: 4/14/17