Spring 2019

Spectres of Organized Subversion

, 3 pts, GR6293


Ruling powers of various shapes and sizes tend to prosecute those people whom they fear because of their identity, class, craft, or convictions. Often, the object of accusation, inquiry, prosecution, and persecution includes not just one (or more) individual persons, but a set of relationships that these ruling powers see as anathema to the social order they seek to establish or maintain, and on which their power depends.

Specters can personify residuals of antediluvian political or cosmological order (heretics and witches, officers of toppled regime, Catholics after the reformation, idolatry trials in the new world, mafiosi after their criminalization, Bundists in Soviet Russia) or emergent forms (emancipated Jews, dissidents, or anarchists). All share that role in social dramas that cast them as enemies of The State, The Church, The People, or Humanity.

In this seminar we will begin to explore the array of social rituals, routinized practices (like rumors and media-oriented lynching) and institutions that have been developed specifically in order to name such specters and summon them publicly. We will examine, among others: trials, conspiracy theories (as a mode of recounting a presence that is constantly putting the specter back in), investigative committees, inquisitorial tribunals.

We will examine how such social rituals and routinized practices and institutions give us unique opportunities to examine what conceptions of society, of relationships good and evil, and of justice underlie political orders, how they codify and pursue them, and what historical processes these enactments trigger or shape. We’ll focus on cases from early modern and modern societies, with an eye towards the emergence and stabilization of republican order.

Section Number
Call Number
Day, Time & Location
M 10:10am-12:00pm 467 EXT Schermerhorn Hall [SCH]
Naor H Ben-Yehoyada