On a train, heading north

Apologies for the lack of updates over the past week – one of the upsides of TAPSS is the lack of internet, which helps with the social cohesion and focus of the school, but means I was unable to update the blog. The school went brilliantly. Food this year was much better organized – rather than caterers we did all our own cooking, and this means the food bill for the whole week came to less than the bill just for the final dinner last year. Also, cooking in the kitchen became a place for philosophical dialogues, or on the last night, music. Being back a third time meant I met old friends from my 2nd and 1st visit. In a way, as a repeat participant it is a less “amazing” experience, in that I know what to expect. But this doesn’t make it any worse – in fact the goal of the experience is not to be amazed but to be in a space where thinking is held and supported, which allows individuals to reach heights they would not alone. That said, it actually was quite a new experience this year because it is my first time here as staff – leading a reading group instead of just participating in one, and I also ended up giving a talk during one of the Public Academy sessions. I gave the reading group on the intersections of Merleau Ponty and Fanon’s thought, and I think it was a success – as many “thank you” pages at the beginning of books suggest, teaching in a seminar format is in fact a great way to work through new material and ideas. The talk I gave was on Occupy and the situation of political protest in North America. I put up photos I’ve taken at the G20, at the Jon Stewart rally, and at the Occupy camp. My analysis was, I thought, pretty straightforward, but it was very well received and people seem to think that these are very important ideas to discuss today. What surprises and delights me is the expressions of respect and commendation at my ability to not find a contradiction between my identity as an activist and my identity as a scholar – I think this is right, and in fact I have trouble understanding why this schism would be so common.

The theme this year was “understanding and explaining”. Basically the distinction is  hermeneutics versus science, but through the course of the week many other forms of the distinction emerged, and these thoughts made I think new thoughts possible regarding the comprehension of society and history. New this year was a three part “public academy” session – evening presentations (but on the shorter side) and discussions, all around the question of the role of the intellectual in the current political climate, which here is dominated by the economic crisis. I think it’s fantastic that TAPSS is putting such an emphasis on these discussions – it isn’t always obvious how social scientists and philosophers should see the relation between their work and politics, or between their role as scholar and their role as citizen, and it’s pretty valuable to discuss that question with other people who have essentially the same situation of concerns.

Discussions regarding next year’s theme have already begun. I think what would be great is a theme which would permit a little more concrete theoretical considerations, something where we can use our capacities as scholars to contest not only the possibility of the role of scholars in public discourse, but the content of that role. I think social science and philosophy are particularly well suited while together to contest ideas about the future of society not in an abstract way, but in a way that speaks out of and to the specifics of the situations we are in which we are trying to understand. Maybe “transformations”, or ” description and normatively”.

The situation of TAPSS needs to be thought not only in terms of the academic content, however, but as the formation of a cyclical community. I say cyclical because it repeats every year in the castle, it is a kind of festival of thought. It is absolutely not the barren wasteland of the academic conference which begins with no community but puts a hundred disparate people together, perhaps founding into a community by the last day only to see the thing dispersed and never to be again. The imperfect repetition of a yearly summer school enables a kind of ongoing community building, an ongoing creation of a shared and mutually supportive space.

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One thought on “On a train, heading north

  1. When I was doing my master’s, we spent a lot of time discussing “Explaining and Understanding International Relations” by Martin Hollis and Steve Smith.

    Much of the distinction seems to come down to what methods of analysis you think produce convincing conclusions, along with what it is you are actually trying to achieve.

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