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Center strives to foster intellectual dialogue, collaboration

April 04, 2011

If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly. If you are going to build a center of learning, build one that will foster and sustain new intellectual communities, and also one that will promote innovative relationships and collaborative research.

This is the goal of the Center for Critical Inquiry and Cultural Studies, a budding New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences unit within the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS) at Arizona State University’s West campus. It is designed to benefit both faculty and students and is driven by research clusters. Currently, there are five such clusters: oral history; philosophy, rhetoric and literature; sexuality in practice and theory; public art challenge; and law and governance.

“The center will support faculty scholarship and creative work by fostering intellectual dialogue, collaborative work and funds for visitors from whom we can learn,” says Monica Caper, director of the HArCS division. “This, in turn, will be of tremendous value to our students as it generates pedagogical ideas and best practices. The center is also sponsoring a wide range of events that will be of interest to students and faculty.”

Casper notes the timing and importance of such a center have converged to make it reality, explaining that historically and currently, funding for the humanities is at low levels when compared to the sciences. She says that while humanities scholars and artists have long had to investigate “internal” sources of funding, the creation of the center offers a new mechanism for vital support of New College faculty.

Already, a number of events have been presented through the center that feature faculty scholarship and have grabbed the attention of New College undergraduate and graduate students. Recent events have included: HArCS Assistant Professor Stefan Stantchev’s discussion from his book project, “Spiritual rationality: The Papal Employment of Embargo, ca. 1150-ca. 1550,” in which he argues that the main object of papal sanctions was not the achievement of foreign policy objectives, but the maximization of the papacy’s control over its own spiritual flock; the oral history cluster’s presentation of James Kofi Annan, a victim of slavery in the Ghanaian fishing industry, and his work against child slavery and human trafficking; visiting Irish studies scholar Sean Kennedy’s exploration of Samuel Beckett’s nationalist origins as glimpsed through the symbol of the bowler hat and what it came to represent following the formation of the Irish Free State in 1932; and the public art challenge cluster’s “Artistry and Innovations,” a display of recent creative works by ASU faculty and discussion of the mission of public arts research.

New College Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences professor Greg Wise, a member of the center board, holds a certificate from the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He says his experience with the Illinois unit has helped him realize the importance of the Center for Critical Inquiry and Cultural Studies (CCICS).

“During my graduate education at Illinois and in my work with the unit, I saw how productive and influential such an interdisciplinary critical center can be as a means of bringing together disparate scholars around key issues,” says Wise, who earned his Ph.D. in speech communication at the Urbana-Champaign campus. “During my graduate education, I found the unit to be a tremendous resource: it not only brought in internationally recognized scholars to speak and teach, but also sponsored important international conferences.” He adds, “The Center for Critical Inquiry and Cultural Studies will be a boon to our faculty and an exciting resource for our students. More than just being a showcase of critical interdisciplinary work, CCICS can generate incentives for faculty to collaborate in these ways and support the development of such projects.”

The center owes its beginnings to Eric Hadar, a donor who stepped forward in Spring 2008. With Hadar’s endowment, the original plan was to create a research center with HArCS. However, Casper visualized the center as a funding engine for research clusters across all of New College, each inclusive of faculty and student researchers. Following approval by the Arizona Board of Regents, the center was opened in Spring 2010.

HArCS Professor Eric Wertheimer, who came to New College in 1996 and also works with Ph.D. candidates in English on ASU’s Tempe campus, is the CCICS director and was instrumental, working with Casper, in establishing the center.

“My hope is that the five research clusters grow to not only be recognized for the quality of their activities within ASU, but nationwide,” he says. “I hope, too, that faculty begin to see these clusters as ways to experiment and take risks intellectually; to ask questions that disciplinary constraints might not allow. Finally, I hope that the clusters, and the center too, become permanent features of our division and New College, making us distinctive and enviable to other public colleges.”

Marianne Kim helped create the public art cluster with assistant professor Barry Moon, which also includes faculty from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. An assistant professor of interdisciplinary arts and performance, she says the cross section of faculty expertise within a single research cluster will foster interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary strategies for research.

“The center and its research clusters can be a point of departure for faculty to work together in finding new opportunities and funding at a level they might not be able to successfully accomplish on their own,” she notes. “The center will encourage and financially support innovation and community; it will be a platform for faculty to share their research to the ASU community as well as spark new collaborative projects.”

Already, the Public Art Challenge research cluster recently earned a commission from the Scottsdale (AZ) Museum of Contemporary Art. Kim says the center has helped her break out of her comfort zone.

“I would have never found myself working on an interactive sound sculpture or applying to SMOCA for a commission if I wasn’t originally supported by CCICS,” she reports. “CCICS gave me that extra push to get out of my comfort zone and to sit down with my research cluster and wrestle with ideas of public art, gaming and digital culture.

“I think the center has the potential to be the hub for New College faculty to exchange and develop new ideas in research and teaching. It can be a much needed space to discuss big ideas, instead of just the business of the day.”