Brent Dean Robbins
As the editors of Janus Head, we are pleased to bring you this special issue featuring selected papers from the 6th Annual Human Sciences Conference at The George Washington University. We were quite honored when, in January 2000, the organizers of the conference at GWU suggested that we feature a special issue of the conference. The Ph.D. program in the Human Sciences at The George Washington University is, in our collective opinion, an exemplary case of a graduate program that dovetails with the Janus Head vision for interdisciplinary scholarship. For this reason, we did not hesitate to take this opportunity to forge a partnership with the Human Sciences program, and we hope that this inaugural volume will be the first of a series of similar collaborations in the years to come.
The collaboration with GWU’s Human Sciences Conference, of course, raised issues that we, as editors, had not yet faced. For example, Janus Head takes pride in the fact that in every issue each essay is peer-reviewed. Originally, we had discussed featuring the entire proceedings of the conference in both the on-line and print editions of the journal. Featuring abstracts, however, from the entire proceedings led to certain logistic problems. In the end, we decided that, like all issues of Janus Head, the numerous essays submitted by scholars at the conference would be peer-reviewed prior to publication. In the final analysis, our reviewers chose twelve essays which were high in quality and which we thought spoke most directly to the theme of the conference: "Rethinking the Human Sciences: Interdisciplinary Studies, Global Education, and the Languages of Criticism."
The theme of "Rethinking the Human Sciences" is a theme that lies at the core of the Janus Head vision for interdisciplinary scholarship. For those of you familiar with Janus Head’s past volumes, the contents of our journal and editorials have primarily focused upon the crisis of the humanities and their relation to the natural sciences. The social sciences are indeed Janus-faced disciplines which precariously tread the line between the humanities and natural sciences, and, on this point, Janus Head has consistently attempted to hold this tension and open it up to critical reflection in a way that we feel is increasingly necessary in today’s fragmented academic climate. All of the essays represented in this special issue of Janus Head continue to speak to these themes, and our enthusiasm about this collection of essays is in part due to the diversity of disciplines represented between these pages. Scholars in philosophy, anthropology, psychology, literature, and cultural studies are all represented and, in each case, thoughtfully enrich and enlighten the debate regarding the place of the human sciences in culture and academia today.
For the opportunity to present these provocative essays to our readers, we extend our gratitude to The George Washington University’s program in the Human Sciences. We look forward to what we hope will be a long and prosperous collaboration toward the articulation of a truly interdisciplinary field of study.
Human Sciences Conference
I would like to begin by thanking the editors of Janus Head for showcasing selected papers from the 6th Annual Human Sciences Conference at The George Washington University in this special edition. Every year, the Ph.D. Program in the Human Sciences hosts a student-run conference that explores some aspect of interdisciplinary scholarship. In the year 2000, the topic for the conference was "Rethinking the Human Sciences: Interdisciplinary Studies, Global Education, and the Languages of Criticism." The organizers saw this topic as an opportunity to reflect on the state of the program and to assess its possibilities for the future. To that end, we invited scholars from across many disciplines to participate in a conversation that would examine the state of interdisciplinary studies and project a path for continued inquiry and development. Papers focused on topics such as creative pedagogy, agency in the cultural studies classroom, the place of public intellectuals in interdisciplinary discourse, the politics of distance education, and the effect of globalization on pedagogy. Topics as diverse as transdisplinarity in disability studies and minority discourses, international perspectives on interdisciplinary studies, the issues surrounding translation of texts, and the effect of the labor crisis on the humanities were also explored.
The guest speakers provided perspectives from different fields within the humanities and social sciences. Nicholas Dirks, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University presented a paper titled, "Slouching Towards Ambivalence: History, Anthropology, and Post-colonial Critique." In a joint session Peter Caws, University Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University and Charles H. Long, a distinguished pioneer in Religious Studies and former Professor of History of Religions at the University of Chicago, presented papers related to the theme of the City.
Professor Caws' paper, "The Unconscious is Structured Like a City: Freud, Lacan, and the Project of the Human Sciences," contributed to the conference theme by reflecting on current aspects of study within human sciences. Professor Long's presentation on "New Orleans: An Alternate Meaning of Our Beginnings," provided an excellent practical example of how interdisciplinary study can produce a rich and textured analysis of a subject as fascinating as the city of New Orleans. An interdisciplinary panel of George Washington University professors offered a well-received plenary session on "Embodied Theories/Theorizing Embodiment." Jeffrey Cohen and Robert McRuer from the English Department, Gail Weiss from the Philosophy Department, and Stacy Wolf from the English Department and the Department of Theatre and Dance, shared their work in the emerging scholarship on theories of the body. In the final plenary session, Frits Staal, Visiting Professor in the Human Sciences at The George Washington University, presented his work on "Noam Chomsky Between the Natural and Human Sciences." Bridging the disciplinary gap and creating a dialogue between the natural and the human sciences is an important goal of the Ph.D. program at GW; hence, Professor Staal's ideas were especially appropriate to that task. Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave the keynote speech. His address, "Solidarity or Decline: Higher Education Faces the New Millenium," highlighted the need for organization of academic labor and the strategies that academia needs to implement to meet the challenges of the changing climate in higher education.
On behalf of the organizing committee, I would like to thank all our distinguished speakers and panelists. Their ideas and intellectual curiosity helped to make the conference a success. I would like to conclude by saying something about the Program in the Human Sciences itself. In essence, the Ph.D. in Human Sciences is a program dedicated to the interdisciplinary inquiry of language, culture, and society. It is a collaborative effort between faculty within the disciplines that make up the humanities and social sciences. It offers unique opportunities for its students to shape the direction of the program through work across disciplines. One of the most fruitful of these intellectual opportunities is the student-run conference. Past conferences have been organized around such issues as cultural violence, cannibalism and consumption, and activism in the academy. This yearly event allows us to engage in a dialogue with other scholars who are interested in interdisciplinary inquiry and thereby broaden the scope and reach of the program. I urge anyone interested in the Program in the Human Sciences or upcoming conferences to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org