The overarching goal of The Institute of Speculative and Critical Inquiry (ISCI) is to develop new models by which academic research in the art, humanities, and social sciences can continue to flourish as the U.S. university declines and climate change, technological acceleration, and the emergence of a multipolar political and cultural order call for new approaches to understanding the world than those that guided the postwar university. Through education, research, and publishing initiatives, the ISCI seeks to support the development of new ideas and to share them with today's intellectually hungry public and emerging leaders in industry, politics, the arts, and religion who are working toward a better future.
It is no secret that universities in the United States have faced a series of financial shocks, such as the 2008 economic crisis, that have led to drastic reductions to their budgets for permanent faculty and their reliance of underpaid, temporary “adjunct,” or non-tenure track, faculty (who are paid, on average, a mere $20,000-$25,000 annually and make up more than 75% of university faculty—in contrast with high school teachers, whose median annual salary is $59,000 and over 60% of whom hold tenure). In spite of the extensive publicity that the “adjunct crisis” has received, university administrations and academic professional associations have not yet addressed the grave effect that it is already having on research: adjunct typically do not have time for research, scholars engaged in innovative, forward-thinking research are not being hired for permanent jobs, younger scholars are tending to make overly cautious choices about the questions they ask, and the quantity of a scholar's publications is prevailing over quality. The ISCI is addressing this problem by proposing a new model by which advanced scholars who until a few years ago were all but guaranteed professorships can have their work compensated with packages of salaries, benefits, and job security commensurate with those offered by universities. To that end, we are working to develop alternative sources of funding for research and researchers (and to provide such funding ourselves), and to help create a new professional role for scholars without professorships. As the ISCI moves forward with this goal, we intend for our efforts to function as a public social experiment that might inspire others to invent the solutions that universities today are unable to provide.
The ISCI's centerpiece [public] effort is a public education program through which excellent research scholars who lack secure employment teach liberal arts-style seminars and recoup 75-90% of the course fees. This kind of university-level teaching for the general public is being successfully carried out by other groups in New York and neighboring East Coast cities, where it provides instructors with significant income and opportunities for career development. As we develop our program for the West Coast, we also intend to help our instructors tailor individualized portfolios of diverse kinds of work—media engagements, consultancies, curatorial work, research partnerships with industry and technology, trade publishing—by which to financially sustain and enhance their research careers rather than detract from them (as nontenure track teaching usually does).
At the same time, the ISCI's courses are designed to educate diverse members of the public about some of our chief concerns, including climate change and politics, the deep plurality of cultures, the intensification of racism across the world, and new thinking about technology. Where climate change is concerned, we are seeking to develop an ongoing climate education program that will allow course participants to learn the fundamentals of the physical and social science of climate change, about its impacts on species and ecologies, and the local and global political dilemmas that it is creating.
We are also currently engaged in fundraising for a research fellowship program that will provide multiyear support to scholars who are without secure employment in spite of their serious research, career, and publication records. These fellowships would support individuals of any age or career stage who are no longer in the postdoctoral phase of an academic career (normally, the 5-6 year period that follows the Ph.D.) but who have serious research careers and have established their reputations with colleagues in their fields. There are far more such scholars than is commonly understood, and we see it as urgent to provide some of them with support commensurate with their experience, achievement, and talent. (Many who fail to find jobs simply leave academia, their talents and education wasted.) By bringing those fellows into a collaborative setting in the San Francisco Bay Area, we also intend to further our goal of creating a highly visible alternative center for intellectual collaboration that serves as a model for other endeavors at conducting scholarship in the absence of traditional university structures.
The ISCI will also provide fellowships to advanced, world-class researchers in order to bring them into brief residencies in the Bay Area and into dialogue with faculty and students at the region's major research universities as well as the general public. Our aim here is to strengthen international ties between communities of researchers in the United States and Africa, East Asia, Europe, and Latin America, as the shrinking of universities budgets is yielding fewer opportunities for researchers from those regions to enter into exchanges with their colleagues in North America. At the same time, the ISCI aims to promote intellectual approaches that have been invented and developed by our /colleagues and partners/ in other parts of the world—Paris, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and Hong Kong—and that have not yet taken root in the United States.
In sum, the ISCI intends to use public education, fellowships, and combinations of both to support scholars as good as if not better than their counterparts at the United States' leading universities. By doing so, it hopes to provide significant direction for how intellectual work might be continued in the face of the likely decline in the financial and cultural vitality of universities in the coming decades.
The ISCI's teaching and research programs also further our broad mission of developing new forms of intellectual and scientific thought that are capable of addressing and positively affecting the contemporary dilemmas that are literally remaking the planet that we inhabit. Climate change, racist political movements, the emergence of a new, unstable multipolar international order, and the predominance of new information and media technologies are events that academics are scrambling to make sense of, but existing academic disciplines, funding infrastructures, and even universities themselves are poorly suited to reckoning with them. The ISCI intends to take a strong leadership role on the West Coast in developing the new and unprecedented kinds of thinking that can speak to the new world in which we find ourselves living.
One of the biggest historical transformations facing the university is the increasing authority that intellectual traditions other than those of Europe are gaining in the contemporary world. Some of the best, most innovative recent scholarship in fields such as anthropology, history, political science, and philosophy has shown the relevance to our times of both traditional and modern African, indigenous American, Islamic, and Chinese thought, literature, art, and science. Most of the existing humanities and social sciences, however, do not emphasize the sort of broad, comparative perspective needed to appreciate those traditions and their interrelation, and those that in the past have (such as anthropology and comparative literature) are now more focused on the West. This undermines the longstanding project of humanistic education of teaching broad cultural literacy, as the reorganization of the world into several competing centers of cultural, economic, and political power means that knowledge of modern European arts and sciences is not enough for participating in a truly global dialogue. Scholars are not immune to the increasingly inward cultural focus in the U.S. and Europe today, and the ISCI vigorously works to encourage both them and the public to look outside themselves and the ideas with which they are familiar in order to become acquainted with foreign ways of thinking and the exciting challenges that they raise. We think that truly planetary citizens must be familiar with a multiplicity of ways of thinking and the different resources that they offer all of us who seek to live together amidst our differences.
Global warming and climate change are also rendering obsolete longstanding divisions of scientific labor. As many climate researchers were the first to realize, the “anthropogenic,” or human-caused, nature of climate change requires one to study it as both a natural and historical process. Yet the vast majority of research is still undertaken by people with training in natural sciences like biology and geology or social sciences and humanities, like political science and history. The immediate futures of humans, animal and planet species, and the atmospheric and geological dimensions of the Earth cannot be understood and improved without drawing from the best of both the natural and human-oriented sciences. The ISCI is actively undertaking the support of research and researchers in fields, like anthropology and geography, where such a dual perspective has been developed. Colleagues and partners in the institute's existing network have been at the forefront of that emerging hybrid scientific perspective, and we intend to support its leading emergent voices and to help them cultivate the new sorts of cosmological thinking that will be conducive to the flourishing of all humans and species on the Earth.
Information and media technologies have transformed the world as much as the above processes, by altering—sometimes to detrimental effect—learning, literacy, and interpersonal and social interaction. The dangers of the predominance in individual and collective life of these and more longstanding technologies are increasingly understood, and there is thus a great need for thinking about how to develop new relationships to technology and to embrace alternative forms of it. The ISCI is therefore fostering lines of research in the philosophy, anthropology, and history of technology that can provide practical direction for decreasing our reliance on technology and finding better ways to use and develop existing forms of technology. In that respect, we are seeking to develop partnerships with technology companies, entrepreneurs, and engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area who believe that their own future will benefit from the emergence of uses and forms of technology that enhance human intelligence, wisdom, creativity, and ethics. The ISCI's interest in technological balance also extends to the question of what kinds, uses, and regulations of it might help humans as a whole combat global warming, increasing state surveillance and monitoring, and challenges to transportation and travel.
The ISCI is forwarding its research agenda through a variety of initiatives of different scales, including a research seminar, summer schools for graduate students and researchers in nonacademic fields, planned conferences, and eventual small retreats by which advanced researchers can enter into the sorts of close dialogues that stimulate new directions in their thinking and collective projects.
The ISCI Research Seminar is held once a month in Berkeley, California and in proximity to not only the University of California's flagship campus there but also to those located in San Francisco, Davis, and Santa Cruz; Stanford University; and the rich scientific, literary, artistic, and activist communities of San Francisco. Modeled on the sorts of French seminars at the heart of intellectual life in Paris, the ISCI seminar is an ongoing collective discussion that brings together advanced scholarly researchers of different career stages and paths, graduate and talented undergraduate students, experts in industry and the arts, and interested members of the public in order to consider in each session the work of one or two speakers (either guests or regular participants). The seminar is focused on the research themes of ontological anthropology, “cosmopolitics” (the political conflicts that form around definitions of the world), and ecological topics such as human-animal relations. It provides participants with an opportunity to refine and change their thinking and the general public with a chance to engage the sort of inventive thinking rarely shared outside closed university and academic settings.
The ISCI also has its own academic journal, called The Otherwise: The Journal of Cosmopolitics, which will launch its first issue in January 2020 and is moving to publish 2-3 times per year. It will publish cutting- edge work in anthropology, African studies, philosophy, science studies and other such fields, and its first issue contains work by some of the world's leading anthropologists, such as Philippe Descola, Eduardo Kohn, and Marilyn Strathern, and emergent, cutting-edge intellectual voices like the French philosopher Patrice Maniglier. The Editorial Board and Consulting Editors of the journal include faculty and researchers from the University of Paris, The University of São Paulo, and The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Set to begin in spring 2020, will bring emergent leaders in fields such as anthropology, history, philosophy, and political science to the San Francisco Bay Area for multiweek visits during which they will present talks in public forums, the institute's own seminar, and the region's universities. These fellowships aim to have a dynamic effect on California's intellectual ecology by introducing into it foreign and new perspectives that are flourishing outside the United States but that have yet to make inroads here.
In collaboration with Fábrica Braço de Prata, a cultural center and performance space set in a former colonial palace in Lisbon, the ISCI will hold annual summer schools in which graduate students and emerging practicing artists have the opportunity to learn and think with leading voices in the humanities and social sciences. Focused on ISCI research topics, these schools provide an opportunity for the institute's fellows and affiliates to share their work with a broad international audience and for the institute itself to forge new ties with the faculty and scholars that it invites to teaching. The first series of summer schools is scheduled to take place in June and July 2020 on the topics of “Cosmopolitics” and “Cosmopolitanism and Queer Theory.”
Information coming soon.