Silence and Stories

Earlier this semester, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology partnered with the IPRH to host an event on “Academic Freedom Across the Disciplines.” The forum sought to promote mutual understanding among the diverse body of scholars on our campus to address the vital shared principles that sustain research. Among the faculty who spoke for the event was Deke Weaver, Associate Professor in the School of Art & Design’s New Media Program. Here, he speaks to the violence of habituated silence, and how the quiet mundanity of its force might be met with the power of raw, individual speech acts. — ac


* If what follows was a movie, it would be rated R.  Please note: There will be salty language.  There will be nudity.

Here’s one way to define art:

01 matisse

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” Henri Matisse.

If your life is a storm, maybe art is a safe harbor.  Maybe art is a place to have a good cup of coffee and a nice piece of pie.  I love coffee.  I love pie. But I know that there’s more to our world than comfort.

I played hockey growing up in Minnesota. I was a goalie.  In my first varsity high school game I got bombed. By the end of the second period it was something like 7 to 0 and they replaced me with the other goalie. We lost 10 to 0. It was completely humiliating.  The next day in class, one of my favorite teachers asked if we had done our reading.  I said no.  He said, “What, were you out playing hockey and losing 10 to nothing?”  And I said, “Fuck you.”  The room went silent.  He said, “What did you say?”  And I said, “You heard me.”  He cancelled class and sent me to the principal’s office. I’d never been to the principal’s office.  Ever.  But, apparently, I had a line.  And someone had crossed it. I wasn’t taking in any consideration of possible consequences, but it felt very important to say, “Please, please, go fuck yourself.”

02 dogTEAM

I grew up in a WASPish family with alcoholism kicking around in my grandparents’ generation.  So there were a lot of moments where black was white and white was black.  What I was told was the truth was not necessarily the truth. When I discovered performance it was an oasis in the desert.  The white-hot light on stage was where you were supposed to tell the truth.  Tell it all.  Tell it well. I could do anything in performance – fly, slip my skin, become a god. I could be whatever I wanted to be – and in this new creature that was me – this new creature could tell the truth. So when someone starts telling me that there is only one way to live a life, that there’s only one way to love, that there’s only one way to make art or speak or be civil … well, my small-minded ignorant friend … I have a line, and you’ve crossed it. Here’s a videotape I made in 1990. (this link contains adult content):

I made this pubic service announcement at the height of the Culture Wars. Four artists – Holly Hughes, John Fleck, Karen Finley, and Tim Miller – had been awarded National Endowment for the Arts grants and then they were taken away – similar to what’s happened recently on this campus. The “Don’t Be A Dick” tape struck a nerve and literally played all over the world. It got picked up by Damned In The USA,  a British documentary on US censorship. Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, sued in an attempt to ban the documentary from being shown in the US.  Because of the lawsuit the documentary gained even more notoriety. And my penis became a poster child for the movie – the Village Voice, Playboy, LA Times, lots of places.  And then the documentary won the lawsuit.  The film had a nationwide theatrical release and then it even played on PBS. They didn’t censor the film on censorship so my penis was on TV.  Now, this videotape I made was not curing cancer. But, the tape had a way of finding like-minded folk.  It was a ridiculous gesture to point out other ridiculous gestures, gestures that happened to be making policy in our country.

So.  Policy.  Art that determines policy?  Really?  Yes.  Here’s another way to define art:

“Art is not a mirror to be held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” Bertolt Brecht.

03 riis-2

Jacob Riis was a photographer who worked in New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1800’s.  The photographs in his book, How The Other Half Lives had enormous impact and spurred reform for tenement living and child labor.


The effect of photos like Nick Ut’s famous Vietnam War shot are the reason the military has banned releasing any images of body bags returning from our wars of the 21st century.  If you ban an image or refuse to let a story be told – you are silencing that story. Silence can be a terrible thing.

Girls Rock is a rock n’ roll camp for girls age 8 to 18.  In one week you learn how to play an instrument, start a band, play a concert. It’s a powerful thing to speak.  To find your voice.  It’s an even more powerful thing to scream into a microphone. Part of the Girls Rock credo says:  WE BELIEVE CREATIVE VOICES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN NEED TO BE AMPLIFIED TO CREATE SOCIAL CHANGE.

National Book Award winning author Barry Lopez will be 69 years old this year.  He’s not coming to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts this November because of our university’s dismissal of the first amendment. Lopez wrote an essay that was published in January 2013’s Harpers magazine.  It came out when he was 67 years old.  “Sliver of Sky” tells the story of his boyhood.  Starting when he was 7, Lopez was raped repeatedly by a predatory family doctor.  This went on for four years. The memoir does not sugar-coat stark facts. After 55 years of silence, Barry Lopez spoke.


Eve Ensler wrote a play called The Vagina Monologs.  It’s been staged all over the world.  There’s a lot of silence and noise around genitalia. God knows how many people live in the dark.  Shame.  Miscommunication.  Brutality.  To speak can be an act of courage.  Not necessarily civil. Telling the truth can literally save someone’s life.  Ensler started a foundation called V-Day.  Its mission is to shed light on domestic violence and rape.


The Chinese government has imprisoned, beaten, and tortured Ai Weiwei for his art. During the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, schools collapsed, killing thousands of children.  It turns out that, in order to save money, the construction company used shoddy material to build the schools.  For a Munich retrospective, Ai Weiwei used 9000 children’s backpacks to spell out the sentence “She lived happily for seven years in this world” – a quote from a mother whose child died in the earthquake.


How about stories closer to home?  Dave Eggers wrote a non-fiction book called Zeitoun. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. He traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. But, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared – spirited away into a secret makeshift Louisiana prison system.  This was not Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, or El Salvador of the 70’s and 80’s.  This took place twelve hours south of Champaign.


Ferguson, Missouri is three hours south of Champaign. Police silenced Michael Brown’s story forever.  And then they tried to put a lid on that. Al Jazeera was detained, the Washington Post was arrested.  What would be a “civil” reply to police-state murder, the shooting death of an unarmed man holding his hands up in surrender?

Sometimes I encourage students to question the status quo through their work. One young man asked, “Why would I want to do that?  For me, things are pretty good.”  Here’s why:  because we’re more complicated than the status quo.  Because our stories are deeper and fuller than the story that we’re sold.  The status quo flattens and simplifies and dumbs things down. We’ve got to allow messiness and confusion. Sometimes it’s important to be completely uncivil.  We have to keep questioning the status quo, because sometimes it’s just plain wrong.


Learning the limits of the world can stop you from imagining you can fly.  Many cultures had tricksters, jesters, sacred clowns – characters that deliberately made fun of the status quo to keep everyone humble and honest.  They’d live their life backwards and upside down. The sacred clown lets us reconnect to the fact that the world is a much bigger place than what we come to imagine it is.


1916 was the year of two of the bloodiest battles in human history.  Over 500,000 people died in the Battle of Verdun.  The Battle of the Somme saw over one million men wounded or killed. Civil speech could not encompass the horror.  What to do?  For five months in early 1916, young artists gathered in Zurich at a small café that became known as Cabaret Voltaire.  Dada.  Madness.  Poems without words or language.  Hugo Ball, one of the Cabaret’s founders said:

“…every word spoken and sung here says at least this one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.  What could be respectable and impressive about it?  Its cannons?  Our big drum drowns them.  Its idealism?  That has long been a laughing stock in its popular and academic edition.  The grandiose slaughters and cannibalistic exploits?  Our spontaneous foolishness and enthusiasm for illusion will destroy them.”hugoBALL

Absurd?  Definitely.  Uncivil?  Oh yes, absolutely.  But in the face of 70,000 casualties a month …  how absurd, how disgusting, how uncivil can you get?

Here are some holy clowns.  At the height of the Vietnam War, Chris Burden had a marksman friend shoot him in a Santa Monica gallery.


David Wojnarowicz sewed his lips shut in this ACT-UP image.


Guillermo Gomez-Pena has worked with ideas about the Border, identity, racism, and nation for a long time.gomezpena

Here’s one of the iconic images from 20th century art – University of Illinois alum, Carolee Schneeman – with her 1975 work Interior Scroll:  she extracts a carefully rolled scroll from her vagina, unrolls it and proceeds to read – part poem, part manifesto – irony, male arrogance, sexism.schneeman

Kara Walker has spent her artistic career working with race, sex, slavery, and violence.  Her work isn’t “about” provocation – her work is intentionally provocative.


One of the NEA 4, Karen Finley’s work has unflinchingly confronted sexual abuse, AIDS, suicide, and American politics while embracing full frontal female sexuality.


The tricksters, the jesters, the sacred clowns, the artists – they know we are asleep.  Their job is to wake us up.

Christmas time in Barcelona: there’s the familiar story – baby Jesus.  Mary.  The wise-men.  The animals.  But in Barcelona … the Nativity also includes the caganer.  A peasant.  He’s got his pants down.  He’s taking a dump.


This tradition has been around since at least the late 17th century.  People in Catalonia are fiercely loyal to the little figure.


Maybe the caganer is keeping it real? Even Jesus had to move his bowels.  In Barcelona you can get all kinds of caganer figures:  here’s Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, Sponge Bob.


As Oscar Wilde said, “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  If Barcelona’s caganer is the earth, Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is the stars – a cathedral that has been in construction for the past 132 years.

Church of the Sagrada Familia interior in Barcelona

It is completely absurd.  It does not fit the status quo.  It does not make sense for any corporate bottom line.  It is not civil.  It is painfully beautiful.

Wake up my friends.  Wake the fuck up.


Deke Weaver is a writer-performer and media artist. His performances and videos have been presented throughout the U.S. and abroad in experimental theater, film/video, dance, solo performance, and broadcast venues such as PBS, Channel 4/U.K., the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center, the Sundance Film Festival, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Berlin Video Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art/LA, the Moth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and many others including livestock pavilions, national parks, night clubs, backyard sheds and living rooms. A Guggenheim Fellow and Creative Capital grantee, a resident artist at Yaddo, Isle Royale National Park, a two-time resident at Ucross, and a four-time fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has been awarded commissions and grants from the city of San Francisco, the states of New York and Illinois, and other public and private foundations. He is currently an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with appointments in the Department of Theater and the School of Art & Design’s New Media Program. 

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Risk and Harassment Reporting among Scientists

In light of recent divisive events on campus, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology partnered with the IPRH to host an event on “Academic Freedom Across the Disciplines.” The forum sought to promote mutual understanding among the diverse body of scholars on our campus to address the vital shared principles that sustain research. Among the faculty who spoke for the event was Kathryn B. H. Clancy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Co-director of the Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology. Here, she addresses how principles of academic freedom directly bore on her own routine research practices as a junior, female faculty member, and the how censoring pressures from within the broader academic community can present challenges to independent scholarship. — ac


Risk and Harassment Reporting among Scientists

I do feminist science research, and my work largely falls under the following 2 aims: testing medical assumptions about how the female reproductive body works, and understanding and raising awareness of the biases and behaviors preventing science from being inclusive of underrepresented minorities and women. You may be surprised to hear how hard it can be to convince colleagues and funding agencies that women are important, and to keep my comments brief, I’ll save that conversation for another time. But you are probably not surprised to hear that issues of inclusion in science can be professionally dangerous to study.

I want to share one story, of the dozens I could share, on the challenges I have faced doing research on issues of sexism and inclusion as a scientist. This story relates to a project on which I have recently published with my collaborators Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde, all junior female professors. The Survey of Academic Field Experiences, or SAFE, surveyed over 600 researchers, male and female, and I personally interviewed 26 of them to provide narrative and context, and to produce qualitative analysis of their experiences. This project had been attacked from the beginning, by those who called our research a “witch hunt,” who doubted our ability to get tenure after doing this work, and who insisted that we overinflated the problems we found.

Just so you know, in our sample we found that a majority of female researchers and hefty minority of male researchers have been sexually harassed while doing fieldwork, and another 21% of women and 6% of men sexually assaulted. In the majority of these cases, the target is a trainee, and when women are targets, the perpetrator is often someone senior to them in the hierarchy. While anecdotes had been routinely circulated, and case studies written, of sexual violence happening at field sites for decades, scientists speak in the language of quantitative, peer-reviewed data. So that’s what we gave them.

Caption: Visual representation of respondents to the survey, their experiences, and who were aware of, made use of, and were satisfied by mechanisms to report unwanted physical contact. Each circle represents one survey respondent.

Visual representation of respondents to the survey, their experiences, and who were aware of, made use of, and were satisfied by mechanisms to report unwanted physical contact. Each circle represents one survey respondent.

However, I’m sure you can imagine, without my saying, that one might encounter problems publishing data of this type. You might also imagine that doing this kind of research puts a target on your back, as someone to discredit, someone whose work should be blocked, someone who should not receive tenure. I have received rape threats, been called names I will not repeat here, and all four of us who have collaborated on this project carry the stories of hundreds of women and men who have been harassed and assaulted while practicing science.

The experiences I have had over the last few months show me how thin the layer of protection academic freedom truly is for untenured faculty, and yet how hard scientists should fight for it, if we want control over our research programs and we want to make better, honest science. Gatekeepers within our ranks do not always like work that questions the status quo, or reminds them of the privilege that led to their becoming gatekeepers. Institutions, especially public universities like the University of Illinois, should support those of us trying to speak truth to power and reveal the implicit and explicit biases facing women and men from many underrepresented identities in STEM and across academia. Academic freedom is what is necessary to protect those of us who want to be agents of change and imagine a better academia. In a time when some NSF directorates are mandated to only support research that “promotes national security or the economic interests of the United States,” universities need to lobby, support, and enable research no longer supported by the government.

One last thing. Our SAFE study has generated a lot of interest, in the national pressscientific press, and higher ed press.

A number of organizations, individuals, and disciplines are starting similar projects. What has saddened me is that one of the groups that wants to do this – and from a discipline that possibly needs it the most in STEM – is finding themselves hamstrung by this “national security or economic interests” mandate, because they are government employees. It seems as though universities may be the only place, then, to do inclusion research that will lead to a more diversely lead and just society.

Illinois could lead from a place of strength, or follow from a place of fear. Our brand should come from the principles we hold, our integrity in supporting dangerous ideas, and the conversations, policy changes, and cultural shifts we then enable. That is an Illinois I would be proud to serve.


Kate Clancy is the co-director of the Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She is a human reproductive ecologist who specializes in women’s health, endometrial function and evolutionary medicine. Kate engages the public through integrated research and service projects at GAMES (Girls Advancing in Math, Engineering, and Science) camp each summer, as well as a new 21st Century Scientist Working Group funded by the Focal Point Initiative. She also teaches a hybrid, flipped, general education course every fall of 750 students on the biology of human behavior. She blogs at Context and Variation.

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Incivility and the Censored Voice in the Classroom

In the third part of a series on the “Future of Academic Freedom and the Arts,” Stacy Harwood, Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning, considers civility and inclusivity in classrooms and instructional spaces, with a focus on student perspectives. While campuses have welcomed increasingly diverse pools of incoming students, reports and studies continue to underscore how diversification in college admissions does not automatically produce greater cross-cultural awareness or engagement. Harwood explores students’ willingness to address and speak out on the issue on our own campus, highlighting data from her new collaborative study about racial micro aggression in the classroom.– ac 


Shortly after the 2006 student protest over the Tacos and Tequila theme party, my colleagues and I organized a research team to examine racism on the Illinois campus. Explicit racism is easier to identify; but more subtle and everyday forms of racism, called “racial microaggressions” are harder to notice, even if they are more common. We started with focus groups and later published a report about racial microaggression in university housing.

We also launched a web-based survey instrument to better understand the extent of racism on the Illinois campus that invited all students of color (student who are nonwhite, including multiracial, and U.S. citizens or permanent residents) on campus during the 2011-2012 academic year to participate. Nearly 5,000 students (45% of all students of color) responded. Our results tell a very different story than the university’s campus climate survey from the same year, which reported: “The primary finding of the survey is that faulty, students, and staff generally have a positive perception of overall climate.”

Here is what we found:

  • Nearly 1 out of every 3 students of color reported having their contributions minimized in class, being made to feel inferior in the classroom, and not being taken seriously in classes because of race.
  • Over 1 out of 3 students of color have experienced harassment (emotional, verbal or physical) on campus because of race.
  • Over half of students of color reported having stereotypes made about them in the classroom because of race.
  • Sixty percent of students of color have experienced racism on campus.
  • Almost eighty percent of students of color have felt that the campus is informally segregated based on race.

Thousands of personal stories were collected as well, revealing students’ experiences of “(un)civil” classroom behavior, the inability of many instructors to create inclusive classroom environments, and campus contexts where racial microaggressions commonly occur.

* I didn’t understand one of the concepts the instructor was talking about and asked him to slow down. He made fun of me and said, “Hey everyone, I guess I have to slow down for the Chinese girl.”

* In an online class, classmates spent a lot of time trying to convince me that “the N-word” was once an OK word to use and not an insult. This was in spring of 2010.  I tried to explain that it was always insulting… It was very frustrating that they could not hear my point of view and really wanted me to be OK with this.  The instructor did not get involved in the conversation.

* I was talking to a professor who was advising me about academic issues. The professor was already talking to me as if he was talking to a 3 year old, and the reason seemed to be my accent. He was laughing at any doubt I had or language mistake I made with an offensive undertone. It took over a year of meeting with him at least once a month for him to realize that I was as capable as any American student.

* The most common occurrence is in classes where the Caucasian professor is clearly biased toward students of Caucasian descent. The situation is often very frustrating as it’s often very discouraging and much more difficult for me to participate in class as a result. This is evident simply in the way that the professor tends to cater discussion specifically with these certain students occasionally leaving the rest of the class out of the loop. 

* I took a course on British colonialism and when I tried to share my very relevant views as a member of the South Asian diaspora I was belittled by the professor for using my personal experience in an academic setting.

* My first semester on campus, I was the only black girl in one of my classes. When working in groups with my white peers…. I was ignored. They did not value or consider my opinions, responses or input. They made it very clear by not including me in the group discussions… At times, I felt like the white professor was in on the mocking and humiliating as well. She heard and saw the way the mistreated me by not including me… but never said a word.

* On several occasions I experienced a professor using the N-word to help elaborate a point he was trying to make…. Throughout this class he made and allowed others in the class to make several racist and sexist remarks based entirely off of stereotypes. It got so bad that several students met with the professor to speak directly to him about the use of his offensive language and he continued the use of this offensive language during the meeting. He said that he would later address the racist and sexist issues in class, but then he addressed all the issues except the fact that he had inappropriately used the N-word on several occasions and it was wrong and he will never use it again. This entire experience made me feel marginalized, hurt, upset, and wonder how in the world did a professor in the field that I am in be allowed to continue up the ranks when he inherently holds so many racist and sexist beliefs.

* When the professor mentioned Mexicans, I was asked directly if I knew how they had gotten here. To put this into perspective, this is a class of about 70 people and about 5 of us are Latino. The professor does not know that I am Mexican but instead of asking for a volunteer he immediately pointed me out… I spoke to a fellow student about it and was told that, that’s how it is on this campus and it was one of those battles that are just left the way they are.

Notable assertions have been made by Chancellor Wise, President Easter and the Board of Trustee Kennedy on the need for civility on campus and in the classroom. While the focus has been on a single person, whose tweets some construed as offensive but whose sound teaching record remains unquestioned, the stories above about instructors on campus, students’ routine encounters with incivility in classrooms, and their experiences with non-inclusivity that result in the marginalization of their voices and censorship, remain unaddressed. Similar contradictions surround the case of another highly regarded instructor recently unhired by campus leadership in spite of being awarded for excellence and inclusivity in teaching.

The jarring findings from our interviews showcase the challenges we face as a university. And they underscore the need for more faculty who are sensitive to representing diverse and under-heard voices on our campus, and can create spaces to allow students to challenge dominant assumptions and common practice that sustain “uncivil” and non-inclusive behavior around us.


Stacy Harwood is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning. Her research focuses on the emerging field of planning for difference and diversity. She links scholarship to planning practice by examining how practitioners deal with the mandates of participation and equity in land-use planning and how planning codes and regulations differentially affect diverse populations. She and colleagues will release a new study about racial microaggression in the classroom later this semester.

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Electronic Civil Disobedience and Collective Interruption Online

In the second part of a series on the Future of Academic Freedom and the Arts, Ryan Griffis, Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design, considers the politics of collaboration in networked virtual protest. While hacktivist groups like Anonymous have made networked social justice campaigns and distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) the stuff of front page news today, such actions share their roots with earlier forms of civil disobedience, sit-in actions, and embodied localized disruptions. Here, Griffis explores protest protocols, acts of digital and physical interruption, and scholarly swarms that test the limits of protected symbolic speech. – ac 

FloodNet represents a collective weapon of presence.

Your IP address will be harvested by the government during any FloodNet action. When you click and enter FloodNet, your name and political position will be made known to the authorities. FloodNet may not impact the targeted websites specifically as much as it disrupts traffic going to the targeted website.


This was a warning statement written for potential participants in an event that was simultaneously a work of theatrical performance art and an instance of direct action in solidarity with the Zapatistas and the uprisings in Chiapas. Titled SWARM, the event was staged in September of 1998, by an interdisciplinary collective known as the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) as part of Ars Electronica, an international new media festival in Linz, Austria. Using a simple browser-based tool called FloodNet, SWARM was a virtual sit-in of the websites of the President of Mexico, the Pentagon and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The group considered their FloodNet software to be an extension of the sit-in tactic since its effects were proportional to the number of people participating—each participant used the tool to send repeated requests to the target website’s servers with the intention of impeding that server’s ability to respond.


A couple of years before SWARM, another art collective, Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), theorized how established tactics of civil disobedience would port to networked environments, arguing for an electronic civil disobedience that continued non-violent means of trespass and blocking. Importantly, CAE and EDT differentiated electronic civil disobedience from illegal defacements or disruptions to web servers and also from what are called Denial of Service Attacks (automated disruptions of fax machines and email and web servers that can be carried out by single individual).


While tools like FloodNet do a small amount of automation, it requires very large numbers of people – acting in collaboration — to have any impact, and that impact is primarily understood as symbolic. It also depends on what the EDT calls “radical transparency”—each sit-in is announced and there is no attempt to conceal the identity of its participants. Even the backend code of FloodNet foregrounds the symbolic by making requests for non-existent documents from the server, such as a document called “peace” on the Pentagon’s server, which would return a 404 “bad request” error message stating that “peace” could not be found on the Pentagon website. While the virtual sit-ins of the EDT were largely differentiated from hacking by the authorities, representatives of the Justice Department and the Rand Corporation, were on record by the late 1990s, calling virtual sit-ins “criminal attempts to damage another’s website,” an “aggressive” forms of sabotage, and even terrorism.


The EDT has continued its research and deployment of virtual sit-ins, while expanding its work with a recent project titled the Transborder Immigrant Tool. This project is, in part, a piece of software that runs on inexpensive mobile phones and uses the devices’ native GPS function to map the location of humanitarian-placed water stations near the US-Mexico border while also delivering what the group calls “poetic sustenance” (in how it “reads” experimental poetry about borders). Another part of the project is what the group calls its simulationist function—whether the project is ever functionally used by people to cross the desert, it intervenes in the cultural imagination and discourse of borders (both territorial and cultural).


In 2010, Fox News and some California senators called the work and its researchers “traitorous,” and went so far as to pressure the Office of the President at the University of California to revoke tenure for a lead researcher on the project, UCSD professor Ricardo Dominguez. At the request of the University President’s Office, the FBI initiated a series of investigations into potential “financial damages” caused to the University by the EDT’s work, which also included a virtual sit-in of the President’s website in solidarity with the student protests that were happening. Following a very public response by Dominguez’s supporters, the investigations were dropped and the University settled, with Dominguez retaining his position, receiving tenure, and even receiving an accommodation.


I wanted to use this brief, simplified review of electronic civil disobedience to introduce some of the problematics that exist as the space for speech acts expands and becomes subject to regimes of power in different ways. As with previous forms of civil disobedience, electronic civil disobedience is a meeting of bodies demanding recognition from institutions of power. The technical codes governing electronic speech represent another (although not distinct) tentacle of the ideological forces that maintain unevenness between differently abled, gendered, classed, racialized and politicized bodies. If embodied sounds and images reach us through a sensory contact with the world governed by social conventions and laws, the net’s method of packet switching and our social media news feeds deliver a montage of utterances sorted by various algorithmic processes including time, author, conversation threads, and geolocated IP addresses.


In this context: What constitutes an utterance? What are the borders of a speech act that can be endlessly redeployed as evidence, turning one speech act into another? How do we hold accountable, not just individuals who may be speaking, but the organizations that seek to control and regulate speech? Is the regulation of speech, even by means of protocol, not also itself speech? How can we be disobedient to protocols without simply being kicked out, or ignored, by them? These seem like especially pressing questions as the regulation of, and access to, speech is increasingly routed through both literal and metaphorical black boxes.

Additional Links:

Ryan Griffis is an artist teaching in the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Under the name Temporary Travel Office, Ryan has created work and publications that use tourism as an opportunity for critical public encounters. He also currently works with various collective efforts to document and challenge the conditions of neoliberalism in the Midwest. See more at:,,, and

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The Future of Academic Freedom

In response to the ongoing events on campus that have sparked academic debates worldwide, the College of Fine and Applied Arts organized a forum earlier this week on the “Future of Academic Freedom and the Arts,” to address how “[c]ontroversial, marginalized, or unpopular creative work has historically thrived in academic settings under the auspices of academic freedom. That includes our own campus, where during the mid-twentieth century many experimental artists found their only chance to exhibit and sell work through Illinois’ annual Festival of Contemporary Arts.”  In this multi-part series on reflections from the event, Gabriel Solis, Associate Professor of Music, African American Studies, and Anthropology considers what – in the context of the changing landscape of higher education – the future of academic freedom as a catalyst, refuge, and force of collaboration for the arts may be. – ac

The University has been valorized, particularly since mid-century as a place where there is room for critical, difficult, highly charged art and critical articulation, and as a site whose protections of academic freedom have been used to develop those expressions that would be shut down elsewhere. I suggest that while this certainly represents our ideals, it has not always been our practice. The academy’s relationship to music that expresses anger in the face of real injustice is illustrative of the ways we exclude voices that have been described by a host of terms describing a lack or failure, all of which intersect with “incivility”: impropriety, impoliteness, and the quality of being uncouth.

Let me make a contention:

African American popular music, from blues and jazz to soul/funk/and hip hop has been one of the central, if not the single most important registers for social and critique in the 20th century—a register that has been influential not only within the U.S., but truly throughout the world. It has provided the sound of liberation, it has provided the style of resistance, it has provided many of the terms of opposition.

And let me make a related one:

Universities, our own included, have been slow at best to incorporate makers of these kinds of music into our faculty and the music they make into our curricula—English departments have been better at harboring hip hop than have music departments.

To get at why a “civility” test not only contributes to this, but makes it very hard to avoid, let me give two examples. The first is a clip from Nina Simone’s 1965 performance of the song “Mississippi Goddam” in Antibes.

The piece is, I submit, a masterful work in any number of ways. It’s a brilliant use of musical irony, a productive mismatch between sound and sentiment, with its cheerful, upbeat, showtune-esque beginning and its unflinching insistence on naming the problem of racism. It is compelling in formal respects, particularly its beautifully managed intensity. But perhaps most interesting, it is a brilliant use of the word “goddam.” This doesn’t seem like such strong language now (I can play it for a class without worrying too much about offending the students’ sensibilities, and I can say it in a talk or online without fear of drawing the attention of my administration or board of trustees). In 1965, particularly for a black woman on stage, however, it was dangerous. Part of the problem is that, unlike so-called “dirty” blues, it wasn’t titillating. It was genuinely hostile.

Now consider a photo that has become one of the iconic images of the Ferguson protests, one which was featured on CNN’s coverage. I ask you to look away from the center of the image if you can, to the post box at the right. The phrase there, “Fuck the Police,” is not just any slogan, it is a lyric, from the NWA song of that title, followed by “comin’ straight from the underground / got it bad ‘cause I’m brown / and not the other color so the police think / they’ve got the authority to kill a minority.”

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

There has been a recent surge in calls for “civility” in discourse not only here, but at many universities, including UC Berkeley, The Ohio State University, and Pennsylvania State University. The PSU statement is particularly grotesque, inasmuch as it urges civility in discussions of the university’s complicity with Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse. Moreover, there have been similar calls outside the walls of academia, as in Ferguson, where authorities repeatedly blasted protestors (literally as well as figuratively) for failing to remain “civil.” This raises significant questions to me.

I censored my presentation of Ice Cube’s lyrics here, for the record, in large measure because of the particulars of this venue, and because of my specific ideas about what is offensive or not. I do teach work of this sort that is upsetting, but I note that universities have, by-and-large, not hired makers of this work. Would we have a place for Nina Simone? For Ice Cube, or Dr. Dre, or Chuck D? The desire to care for our students and our community, to nurture feelings of safety and wellbeing is clearly important, and not to be dispensed with lightly. But I would also emphasize that routinely, the politics of propriety silence the voices that would speak against oppression: black and latino voices, Jewish and Muslim voices, women’s voices, queer voices, voices of the abused, voices of the economically marginalized, voices of minority opinion, voices of the colonized, Indigenous voices;,voices the university needs if it is to aspire to universality.

Gabriel Solis is a scholar of African American music and of Indigenous musics of the Southwestern Pacific. He has done ethnographic and historical research with jazz musicians in the United States and with musicians in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Drawing on work in African American studies, anthropology, and history, he addresses the ways people engage the past, performing history and memory through music.


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It is my pleasure to introduce Collaboration as the theme of the IPRH blog for the academic year 2014/15.

Starling flocks. Gretna, Scotland.

Collaboration is central to our practice in the academic community. Whether in the humanities and social sciences or natural sciences and engineering, it is indispensable to the work of sharing and distributing knowledge, and essential to fostering scholarly networks. It is a fundamental principle on which established research and collegial relations are sustained; and a core value upon which new scholarly cooperations and interdisciplinary dialogues are prompted.

images © Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Scholarly collaboration has entailed partnerships big and small: of individuals cooperating or working through multi-disciplinary teams. But digital age networks and infrastructures have generated new interest around the potentials of radically scaling up collaborations, and exploring knowledge making and distribution extended well beyond the traditional boundaries of institutions. Across the knowledge economy, digital tools for crowdsourcing, peer production, smart mobs, open source production, and co-creation with horizontal masses of participants have found broad applications — pushing new conventions and debates around what counts as knowledge work, research, authorship, intellectual property, and participation in the digital age.

Cases from the growth of Wikipedia and Linux to the popularity of Google’s Android operating system (now the world’s most widely used OS), Facebook’s API infrastructure (that allows developers to gain access to vast amounts of its own user data for building Facebook compatible applications), and Innocentive’s science platform (that enables users like the NIH and Proctor and Gamble to seek crowdsourced responses to research and development problems) have fanned enthusiasm for how institutions can be optimized for the 21st century by applying new networked technologies (what Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams problematically called “weapons of mass collaboration” in the 2006 best-seller, Wikinomics).

Wikipedia English Activity Map 2012.

Wikipedia English-language activity map, 2012


But the fervor over digital technologies applied for mass collaboration can gloss over the challenges and complexities in rapidly expanding collaborations without diluting the academic mission. Despite the enthused investments into massive open online course (MOOC) platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX, recent decisions to change content access models by commercial MOOCs underscore how such ventures still continue to face challenges in student engagement and course completion rates. Much as faculty protests over the application of MOOCS and calls for greater campus oversight highlight persistent concerns over their compromising of academic integrity. Meanwhile, revelations of manipulation of Facebook user data in the name of research underscore growing debates over how data privacy, “user consent” and research conventions get filtered through digital age industry-academy partnerships.

The technology fervor can also elide the need to attend more closely to the multiple histories, disciplinary conventions, cultural and relational contexts, and scholarly traditions in open debate and dissent, from which collaborations – including those featuring new technologies – necessarily draw. The layered histories and cultures surrounding sustained educational technology initiatives like the PLATO educational computing project (1960-2006) or Project Gutenberg’s digital archive (1971-present), both launched from our own campus, are local reminders that using new media to extend education potentials beyond campus boundaries is far from a new ambition.

The PLATO system was developed at the University of Illinois in 1960. Over 15,000 hours of instruction were developed for it, representing one of the largest investments in educational technology content development until the advent of MOOCs.

Over 15,000 hours of instruction were developed for PLATO, representing one of the largest investments in educational technology content until the advent of MOOCs.

PLATO in Schools, 1969

PLATO in public schools, 1969.

PLATO communities developed to code and play games - from Empire to multiplayer games based on Star Trek - for the platform.

Game design, online chat, and bulletin board notes were among PLATO’s early developments.

This year’s theme of Collaboration will be understood inclusively to comprise present activities within scholarly practice, novel methods that press towards futures of knowledge exchange, as well as histories of collaboration innovations within scholarly contexts. Collaboration is especially timely this year as the IPRH launches its new Humanities Without Walls initiative linking humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and beyond.

With your help, we’ll explore collaboration in its multiple guises and shifting iterations: in contemporary crowdsourcing and peer production platforms, in current and past interdisciplinary architectures, and in relation to themes including collaborative ecologies, collaboration and authorship, gift practices and reputation economies, open access publications, inter-institutional partnerships, data aggregation practices and visualizations, “prosumers” and privacy rights; citation and remix practices, and global copyright and copyleft debates.

We invite your ideas, media contributions, and provocations – so do share!

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Writing for Restoration

This is the second of a two-part series by Terrence Sampson. Terrence was incarcerated in 1989 at the age of 12, and is now serving the 25th year of a 30-year sentence. He has recently begun to pursue restoration through writing and Publication, and discusses his practice below. Terrence holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.  —bM

At the age of 17, I was sent to one of the most violent prison units in the state of Texas.

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On Not Publishing Dissertations July, the American Historical Association issued a statement suggesting that doctoral students be given the option to withhold dissertations from online public access for up to six years. The broad circulation of such work in databases like Proquest’s, it claimed, limits the ability of young scholars to secure publishing contracts for their dissertations in revised form. The AHA’s approach was criticized as running counter to the scholarly mission of sharing research. But what do university presses think of the embargoes? Laurie Matheson, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Illinois Press, shares her perspective.   —bM

Does the rise of ProQuest and similar online databases make it more difficult for scholars to publish books based on their dissertations? Most definitely.

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Digitization for Research and Scholarly Communication

Mara Wade’s contribution to the IPRH blog was prompted by a series of serendipitous conversations on the local bus. In this post, Prof. Wade uses her work with Emblematica Online, an online resource for emblem studies, to explain how digitization can inspire, aid, and shape research.  —bM

It really pays to ride the bus. That’s how several conversations about the IPRH blog and its theme of Publication evolved, and among them, some of the intellectually most productive discussions of this semester.

This posting treats digitization as a research activity and addresses issues central to digital scholarship and publication. While scholars love finding just the book they need in Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, Project Gutenberg, or Google Books, digitization alone does not answer research questions. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, does not fund digitization for its own sake, but only within larger programs of research. While funding agencies understand, of course, that in some cases one must build a digital corpus in order to conduct research, digital scholarship seeks to reap the benefits of digitization.

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The Look of Winning

P.K. Subban

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images.

P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens (left) stares down racist tweets after scoring the winning goal in a double-overtime playoff game against the Boston Bruins on May 1st, 2014.

According to the CBC, a media monitoring company reported that “the N-word and Subban’s name were used in conjunction on 17,000 tweets yesterday.”

Public tweets are archived by the Library of Congress, collected as part of our cultural heritage.


Photo by Miguel Ruiz – FCB.

Dani Alves of Barcelona FC (above) helped lift his team to victory over Villarreal on April 27th, 2014, perhaps refreshed after having eaten a banana that had been thrown onto the pitch purportedly in a racist taunt.

Days later, fans of Atlético Madrid were seen making monkey gestures during their team’s unexpected loss to Levante (below). Papakouli Diop, a player of Senegalese extraction, in turn drew attention to the racist insults by performing a “monkey dance.”

Recordings of the events now circulate widely on the Internet, and may thus be considered published and preserved in our collective memory.


Photo by AS English.

Updated to reflect the events that took place on May 4th, 2014, at the Estadi Ciutat de València.

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