Berkeley Institute Graduate Conference 2014

February 14th and 15th, 2014
330 Wheeler Hall
UC Berkeley

Where last year’s inaugural Berkeley Institute conference addressed the challenges undergraduates face when navigating and seeking general coherence in an often specialized and fragmented university education, this year’s conference will engage those same questions from the more professional perspectives of graduate students and professors. How is it possible, as specialists, to both excel within the prescribed boundaries of our disciplines while also maintaining a broad and coherent vision of knowledge? How can such a vision, which often arises from values and commitments that exceed disciplinary boundaries, contribute to and invigorate the circumscribed task of academic work? And how, as both researcher and teacher, is it possible to uphold with fidelity and communicate with care both those investments that precede, condition, and motivate our specialized interests, and those interests themselves?  In short, the conference will address how do we do good work as both professionals and as people, especially when underneath all these questions we must recognize the reality that often our commitments – personal, professional, social, ideological, religious, disciplinary – are themselves worked out in graduate school.

In bringing various graduate students and professors together to discuss such questions, this year’s conference will aim to equip participants with practical tools for teaching, writing, and navigating professional academic life. But it will also provide an environment for discussing specific academic investments in the direct light of often tacit antecedent commitments. Ultimately, we hope the conference will foster a broad intellectual community, where relationships grounded in shared commitments and complimentary academic interests can benefit broad intellectual development.

The conference program will consist of lectures by Professor Steven Justice and Professor Lara Buchak, two panel discussions composed respectively of graduate students and senior fellows, and seven seminars representing a range of interests. Below you will find a schedule of seminars with short descriptions. Each seminar will involve a short selection of pre-circulated readings (no more than 30 pages) and a moderated but informal discussion; each conference participant will be asked to register for at least two seminars. Seminar readings will be distributed January 3 via e-mail.

You can register for the conference here. Registration is free.

If you have already registered for the conference, you can register for the seminars here.


Friday, February 14th

12:00  Lunch (location TBA)

1:30  Coffee, Registration

2:30  Welcome 

Matthew Rose, Director of the Berkeley Institute

 Opening Remarks 

Dena Fehrenbacher, PhD Candidate in English, Harvard University

Stephen Thopmson, PhD Candidate in English, Cornell Univsersity

2:45  Panel (Graduate Students)

4:00  Seminars, Stream One

5:30  Coffee

6:00  Plenary Lecture

Professor Steven Justice

7:00  Dinner

Saturday, February 15th

9:30  Breakfast

10:00  Plenary Lecture 

Professor Lara Buchak

11:00  Coffee

11:30  Seminars, Stream Two

1:00  Lunch

2:00  Panel

Matthew Rose

Steven Justice, Professor of English, UC Berkeley and University of Mississippi

Lara Buchak, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UC Berkeley

Karl van Bibber, Professor of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley

3:30  Seminars, Stream Three

5:00  Coffee

5:30  Closing remarks


Stream One:

Epistemology and Discursive Paradigms in Foucault and Kuhn

Seven years before Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, Thomas Kuhn published his seminal essay The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Though writing from different contexts and training, these contemporary thinkers produced epistemological and discursive models that overlap and differ in revealing ways. This seminar will critically engage Kuhn and Foucault to discuss questions like the following:

– What are the lives of discourses in the university? Can ideas be effectively communicated between discourses/paradigms?

– Is the history of science and philosophy progressive or marked by dramatic paradigm shifts or epistemological breaks?

– Is all knowledge arbitrated by structures of power? To what extent is this deliberate and to what extent is it as a result of language itself?

– Do these questions elicit distinct answers from the sciences and the humanities? Can these principles shed light on certain divides between or within academic disciplines (e.g. science vs. humanities, Anglo-American vs. continental philosophy)? Do they extend to the arts?

Subjectivity and Sociability in Aesthetic Time

Contemporary discussions of aesthetics tend to treat this field of inquiry as eminently political; the aesthetic points to the exercise of “soft power,” the mode by which governments “introject” citizens, and it points to the means by which intellectuals might resist—via a withdrawal from actuality and thus from the inadvertent enactment of the will of power. But when Baumgarten coined the term “aesthetic” in his 1735 “Reflections on Poetry” (Meditationes), he described, instead, a method of perfecting sensate discourse as a complement to logic. From this vantage, we cannot think of poetry’s autonomy from logic as that of a withdrawal from the sensate or a perpetual suspense of the conditions of bodies, willing, and time. This seminar proposes to revisit a central tenet of aesthetics, that of art’s or beauty’s or feeling’s autonomy, a tenet which invariably leads us to draw conclusions about aesthetic sociability and temporality. We will pursue these questions through selections from Baumgarten, Kant, Lyotard, and Scarry.

Stream Two:

Ethics in Scientific Practice and Pedagogy

20th century sociologist Robert Merton described modern science as a system of inquiry defined by goals and methods that bind its constituents to a set of ethical norms: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism. Consequently, modern science according to Merton is structured to be, in theory, incorruptible. However, recent scandals in academic science reflect a process apparently at odds with Mertonian norms, on both basic and systemic levels with fraudulent publications, prohibitive paywalls, and an increasingly untenable pressure to “publish or perish.” Using a selection of essays from sociologists of science and current news periodicals, this workshop will look for a model to better describe and understand science as it is performed today. We will consider the aforementioned issues in ethical scholarship, whether or to what extent they are avoidable, and what graduate students may do to uphold moral commitments, as both scientists and educators.

Modes of Meaningful Action: Personal, Intellectual, Public

This seminar will inquire into what constitutes meaningful human action on individual, collective, and cultural levels, and the relationship between such action and its relative discursive or social conditions. Does meaningful action appear and function differently in the public sphere, or at the level of policy, than it might in private or in individual cases? How does language accommodate or register that difference? To what degree are such categories as public, private dependent upon or constituted by action? What, further, is the relationship between thought, reflection, intention, and action? Does meaningful action rely on teleology or perceptions of success? How is it possible to think of academic writing, teaching, or research as action or potentially actionable? In addressing the sort of questions that balance theory and practice, this seminar hopes to deepen its participants’ understanding of and capacity for meaningful action, both professionally and more broadly.

Gender, Sexuality, and the Discourses of Identity

In this seminar, we will approach the topic of identity as it is both theorized and lived in the academic environment, specifically addressing gendered and sexual identities.  Our discussion will cover a variety of themes with a two-fold aim: to address the theoretical questions that shape academic discourse on gender and sexuality, and, relatedly, to consider how those questions are alive to our self-understanding and our understanding of others. As each informs the other, the seminar will emphasize how taking both theory and practice seriously also involves taking our interlocutors seriously. Themes for discussion will include: identity in the private and public spheres; the role of the body; antagonisms between theory and practice; regimes and politics of discourse; cultural specificity; and connections between personal convictions, research and professional demands.

Stream Three:

Profession, Vocation, and Doing Good Work

In this seminar we will discuss points of intersection between vocation and profession, as well as points of divergence. We will address conceptions of vocation in various secular and religious traditions, and the ways in which our broadly-conceived vocational “calling” often draws us to a profession through gifts, interests, skills, and convictions. Yet, a profession is an activity conducted within the strictures of specific philosophic and social norms that often run up against the injunctions of religious convictions. Even more than that, though, these strictures often hinder the full expression of our vocation and seemingly shut down opportunities to further explore and realize our vocation. How can we overcome these apparent limitations? How can these limitations serve as frontiers or challenges through which to realize our vocation? Does obedience play a role in this project? If so, how? How does the task “to communicate and create community” figure in our sense of vocation? And how can we do that in our academic work?

Classical Conditioning: Varieties of Canonical Experience

In this seminar, we will reflect on our experience of scholarly traditions, trends, and expectations in the academy, and engage with the questions that they raise. What are the “canonical” methods of study and objects of inquiry in each of our respective disciplines? How do we experience these canonical norms? What kind of scholarly work do they enable or prohibit? What opportunities to create new (or revive old) traditions do we find in each of our disciplines? And how might we reconcile our current professional formation as specialists with the undergraduate experiences which inspired us to pursue graduate work in our fields in the first place? By raising these questions, we hope to gain a better understanding of the implicit values which the apprenticeship of graduate school instills, the personal ones which animate our own work, and the possible gap which exists between the two.

Discussion Panels:

One of the principal aims of this year’s conference is offer an environment where the wisdom of experience can be shared, and the sort of questions we often grapple with alone can be explored together. Toward this end, the two conference panels will gather a group of graduate students on the one hand, and a group of professors on the other, to address similar concerns and to hear about the experience of people at different stages in the game – what they have learned and what they still wrestle with – and to see what comprises good work. Students and professors will share about what they work on, how their work has grown, what advice they’d give, and what questions they’re still asking. Emphasis may fall on how each of these aspects of intellectual work are involved in extra-academic interests and commitments. The questions addressed by each panel will arise largely from a survey of participants themselves (offered in the online registration process), thus allowing graduate students to ask professors questions like: What does it look like further down the line (post-doctoral strategies, approach to tenure review, alternative routes)? Were there surprises? Disappointments? What does commitment to the academy mean to you? What if you don’t feel committed to your discipline? What questions did you wrestle with as a graduate student, and how do they look different now? What are you still working out? How has your work related to, derived from, or contributed to your personal commitments? In addition to the similar questions that might be posed to the graduate student panel, other questions may include: What is your project? How did you settle on it (and how much have you settled on it)? How does your work relate to larger personal commitments? Have your commitments changed in graduate school? How? What practical advice would you offer to other students? Are there urgent concerns that you haven’t yet settled? How do you proceed in spite of not having everything figured out?