Humanity on Edge: The Politics of Crisis
Everywhere we turn, it seems that yet another crisis is underway, ranging from the climate to health to population to economics to epistemology. Have crises become normal politics and, if so, what does this tell us, if anything, about everyday politics and ways of theorizing it? Studying social extremes may enable us to study the politics of normality and its boundaries. In this class we will ask what it means to think of humanity on the edge, on the verge, in the extreme. We will grapple with the requirements, presuppositions, and entailments of the politics of crisis, and investigate the discursive means of shaping both normal and critical political moments. The class contains a mix of theoretical and empirical approaches. We will begin with some theoretical approaches that interrogate the concept of crisis, apocalypse, and extinction, and go on to focus on specific types of crisis—sometimes “ripped from the headlines”—analyzing such diverse phenomena as climate change, populism, economic bubbles, and misinformation. In examining examples from our information diet, we will seek to explain how they affirm, negate, deepen, and/or complicate any of the theoretical perspectives we encounter in class; and we will seek to dissect the subtext of politics—the narratives, assumptions, and rhetoric that determine when and whether a given political event is transformed into a crisis. The course will conclude by asking what, if anything, crisis politics indicates about the health of democracy, the success of technocracy, and the possibility of revolutionary politics.