The readings and questions for the seminars will appear here each week.

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Seminar on Fanon’s Humanism

For the final seminar, we will look at the section ‘Reasons to take Fanon’s Humanism seriously’ of Richard Pithouse’s article ‘That the tool never possess the man’, pp. 2-11.

Thinking about the article and the material from the lecture on humanism, here are some questions to ponder:

  1. What is humanism?
  2. Is Fanon’s endorsement of violence in conflict with his supposed humanism?
  3. Does Fanon think that colonialism shows that humanism is a problematic position?
  4. What point is Fanon making with his description of the Algerian doctor?
  5. Hardt and Negri identify two opposing humanisms in modernity – what are they?
  6. And what is the contrast they draw between the Multitude and the People?
  7. What’s wrong with the second sort of humanism according to them?
  8. On page 9, they identify three conditions that characterise humanity on the first understanding of humanism – what are they?
  9. How do these understandings of humanism map onto Fanon’s view?
  10. Does Fanon’s Humanism escape scepticism about human nature? And does it escape worries to do with the co-existence of brutality with humanism?

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Frantz Fanon’s Daughter to Michigan Prisons: Take ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ Off the Banned Book List

The Michigan state prison system has banned Frantz Fanon’s seminal race theory book “Black Skin, White Masks” from its libraries. Here’s how legal experts and his daughter, Mireille Fanon-Mendès, are fighting to get the classic back into prisoners’ hands.

“Prison systems have long banned books that seek to inspire and intellectually liberate Black people,” says Justin Hansford, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University School of Law. “It is part of the deeply entrenched, systemic injustice that exists in our criminal justice system.” In late June, Hansford, along with the Michigan ACLU and Fanon’s daughter, Mireille Fanon-Mendès France, sent a letter to the MDOC demanding that the book be removed from the banned list or face legal action.

Read more here.

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Seminar 7

In this seminar, we’ll look at the chapter on the Epigenome from Shannon Sullivan’s book The Physiology of Sexist and Racist Oppression. I have emailed a copy to you all, and it is also available in the dropbox.

Here are some questions to think about. There are quite a few here, but just do as much as you can.

  1. What kinds of things does Sullivan suggest can be passed down through generations, so that we can talk about them as ‘inherited’? Why might this be somewhat surprising?
  2. Explain the notions of ‘racial disparities in wealth’ and ‘racial disparities in health’.
  3. What is the shift from racial disparities to racist disparities?
  4. What is Sullivan asking when she says, ‘But how exactly should we understand the relationship between biological genes and social environments? More specifically, how can the effects of racism be simultaneously social and biological such that they can get “under the skin” and into the bloodstreams of people of color? And how are these physiological effects sometimes inherited by subsequent generations, getting “under the skin” too?
  5. Sullivan identifies three different views on the relationship between the biological and the social in her discussion of pre-term birth rates in African-American women. Give short summaries of each. (We can label these: (1) search for the premature birth gene; (2) epigenetics; and (3) weathering.)
  6. How can we know that the higher rates of premature birth in African-American women is not due to their carrying a preterm gene?
  7. What is epigenetics?
  8. Explain the point Sullivan makes about methylation and DNA regulation.
  9. How are epigenetic processes inherited by future generations?
  10. Sullivan offers an aside about biases of scientists interested in epigenetics. What is her point here? Why might epigenetics be politically dangerous as a field of study?
  11. What solution does she offer?
  12. What point does she make with the Swedish case study?
  13. Explain the distinction she draws between merely physical symptoms, and those that are psychosomatic.
  14. How might these ideas be useful in thinking about Fanon’s work?

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Seminar 6

We’ll use this seminar to go over Fanon’s ideas on language that we talked about in the lecture. This is based on chapter 1 of Black Skin, White Masks, so you could also have a look at the text. Here are some questions to help focus discussion:

  1. Fanon says that ‘a man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language’? I gave you two interpretations of this claim – what are they? Which one should we prefer?
  2. Explain the idea that language is used to signify status.
  3. What does Fanon say about French, creole, and pidgin in this regard?
  4. Explain the idea of different sorts of capital, and how we can use these ideas to describe Fanon’s claim.
  5. What is the linguistic double-bind that confronts the colonised person?

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UG Seminar 5 Fanon and Recognition

The seminar this week will look at chapter 6 ‘Master-Slave Paradigms’ in ‘Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression’ by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan. There is a pdf of the whole book in the reading dropbox, in the folder called ‘Fanon’. I have also emailed everyone a direct link to the book. The chapter is rather long, so don’t worry if you don’t manage to look at absolutely all of it. Crucially, I want us to get to grips with the idea of the master-slave dialect and the notion of recognition. Here are some questions to direct your reading:

  1. What is Hegel’s master-slave dialectic and how does recognition feature in it?
  2. Explain Kojeve’s psychological reworking of the master-slave dialectic.
  3. Explain Mannoni’s idea that colonised and colonising people exhibit different complexes, or have different cultural personalities.
  4. How are these personalities formed?
  5. Which bit of Kojeve’s analysis does Fanon take issue with?
  6. How does Fanon understand the master-slave dialectic?
  7. Why does Fanon reject Mannoni’s understanding of the psychology of colonialism?

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Undergraduate Seminar 4

The reading for this week is Jones, Peter. 2015. Sartre’s concept of freedom(s)Sartre Studies International 21 (2): 86-96.

Here are some questions to help focus your reading.

  1. What’s the contradictory muddle about freedom that we find in Being and Nothingness?
  2. What are the two different types of freedom that Detmer identifies, and which he takes to solve the apparent muddle?
  3. What’s meant by Sartre’s claim that consciousness is not what it is and is what it’s not?
  4. Why does being enslaved not impinge on freedom for Sartre (at least according to Jones)?
  5. What is meant by the slogan that freedom is absolute but not omnipotent?
  6. How does the situation, which gives resistance to freedom, help to make freedom possible?
  7. What does it mean to say that choosing is not separate from doing?
  8. “Never were we freer than under German occupation.” What does Sartre mean here?

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Undergraduate Seminar 3

The reading for this week is chapter 5 of Katherine Morris’ book Starting With Merleau-Ponty.

  1. Explain the difference between the problems of other minds.
  2. Why is ‘the existence of other people a difficulty and an outrage for objective thought’?
  3. Explain Sartre’s distinction between the Other-as-object and Other-as-subject.
  4. Explain Sartre’s case study of shame and what he thinks this shows us about our knowledge of others.
  5. Which bits of Sartre’s account does Merleau-Ponty reject?
  6. What is the interworld?
  7. What is bodily reciprocity?

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Undergraduate Seminar 2

The reading for this week is this extract from ‘Thought in action’.

  1. What is absorbed coping?
  2. Why must there be more to human action than this?
  3. What is the power to reckon with the possible?
  4. What is it to reckon with the actual?
  5. What can the agent who possesses this capacity do?
  6. Why can’t Schneider recognise Goldstein’s house unless he is going there?
  7. What does it mean to give bodily significance to a conceptual representation?
  8. How do thoughts bring about action, according to Merleau-Ponty?
  9. Can you give an example?
  10. Is this an attractive picture of action?

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UG Seminar 1

We’ve so far done quite a lot of scene-setting and only just started to look at Merleau-Ponty’s account of action. For the first seminar, I want to spend time checking that people have grasped the main ideas from Husserlian philosophy, and then think in a bit more detail about the account of action that Merleau-Ponty is starting to develop.

First, please review lectures notes so far, identify the key concepts, and anything you didn’t understand/want to go over again. Here are some questions to help with that task:

  1. What is the Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction?
  2. What is the natural attitude?
  3. What is transcendental subjectivity?
  4. What is Husserl’s view of science?
  5. Why does the body cause problems for the early Husserl?
  6. What is the Lebenswelt?
  7. What is the Crisis?
  8. How do we solve it by using the idea of the Lebenswelt?
  9. What does Merleau-Ponty mean by Objective Thought?

Second, read this short extract and think about the following questions:

  1. What, according to the traditional account, are actions?
  2. What are ‘solicitations’? And ‘affordances’?
  3. How are solicitations involved in action, according to Merleau-Ponty?
  4. How does his account differ from the traditional account?
  5. How does Merleau-Ponty use the case of Schneider to support his claims?
  6. Do you think this is an attractive picture of action? Why or why not?

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