New courses, a lecture series and initiatives around hip hop culture, mortgage indebtedness and American Indian populations soon will begin with newly funded grant dollars.
At $25,000 each, six University of Arizona projects are being funded by the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry in the third round of Collaboration and Innovation Grants since the institute was founded in 2010.
"Confluencenter seeks out proposals for innovative scholarly and creative projects that cross disciplinary boundaries and intellectual orientations and bring together researchers and artists from diverse areas at the UA," said Javier Durán, director of the center.
Confluencenter, which celebrated the grand opening of its new location in April, supports community engagement and interdisciplinary research primarily in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences.
"We hope that these grants will create and nourish synergistic environments, enable faculty to apply for external funding and increase the impact and visibility of the research, scholarship and creative activity at the University," said Durán, also an associate professor of Spanish and border studies.
The funded projects, all led by UA faculty members, are:
- The Group of Early Modern Studies, or GEMS, is being comprised of more than 125 faculty members and students from 17 departments in five UA colleges. GEMS, led by Meg Lota Brown, associate head of the UA English department, will present six lectures during the 2012-13 academic year.
- "The Culture of Homeownership in Crisis" will include a local study and symposium. Jane Zavisca, assistant professor of sociology, is collaborating with Marilyn Robinson, associate director of the Drachman Institute. Together, the co-principal investigators will study mortgage debt and homeownership.
- The "American Indian Interactive Film Gallery: An Interdisciplinary Visual Study" is being launched by Jennifer L. Jenkins, an associate professor of English. The project involves the creation of an interactive website that will hold 450 films by and about American Indians in the U.S.
- "The Precariat: An Intellectual History and Digitally Enhanced Learning" is led by Hai Ren, an assistant professor of East Asian studies, in collaboration with Jonathan Sprinkle, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
- Alain-Philippe Durand, interim director of Africana studies and the School of International Languages, Literatures and Cultures director, and his team are planning a symposium, performances and a volume on "The Poetics and Politics of Global Hip-Hop Culture."
Ken McAllister, a member of the grants selection committee and a Confluencenter advisory board member, said it was difficult to come to come to a decision, as the applications were competitive.
"We were quite struck by the fact that so many faculty members on campus are already doing collaborative work," said McAllister, who directs the UA department of rhetoric, composition, and the teaching of English.
"There is a lot of interest, desire and willingness to innovate and collaborate," he said, "and we're pleased that Confluencenter can step in and support this significant work."
The collaboration between Ren, an East Asia specialist, and Sprinkle, an engineer, may seem counterintuitive.
But the two, along with graduate students, will study the history of an emergent class, the "precariat," and develop an interactive mobile application with text, images and audio to inform others about their findings. In effect, they are working to meld new technologies with new knowledge in a way that is broadly informative and engaging.
Scholars persistently study issues of race, class, gender or generational status, among others, but the idea of the precariat describes those individuals whose lives are directly impacted by globalization, economic changes and social insecurity.
"The project’s importance includes both intellectual and empirical aspects," Ren said, noting that the debate about the new classification is ongoing. Scholars are still trying to understand the everyday life of the precariat.
"Historically, scholars talk about the marginalized, the poor, the subaltern, but now some of them have begun using the term, the precariat, as a way of understanding the effects of contemporary globalization since the 1970s," Ren said.
Around the world, many situations exist during which a person may become a precariat.
For example, American or Chinese workers are aware that their jobs are not secure in the global economy. Thus, they may be more willing to work overtime without proper compensation.
"The objective of our project is to create an intellectual history so that others can use the idea of the precariat to think about issues across different disciplines and different regions of the world," Ren said.
This, he added, is part a larger intellectual trend.
"And in thinking about this figure, the precariat, we can imagine precarious human conditions that are globally shared," Ren added.
Durand and his team are planning a two-day symposium on the emergence and evolution of hip hop in the U.S. and in France, the two largest markets in the world for the genre.
"In the two countries, there are similar themes and stories. But hip hop culture is a global phenomenon," said Durand, a French-native who also will be teaching an online course, U.S. & Francophone Hip Hop Culture, in the fall.
Durand and his team want to problematize the conversation around hip hop culture, which is sometimes confused with corporate-funded rap music and because the genre's history and entrepreneurial nature of its successful artists are, at times, undermined.
"Hip hop culture has penetrated so many different aspects of history and society and also notions of liberty, identity, freedom, freedom of expression and ethics," Durand said, adding that the development of the genre, in both the U.S. and France, has largely been tied to migration, poverty and a history of colonization and slavery.
"The idea around hip hop is that if you are put at the margin of the city and, really, at the margin of society as well, what are you going to do about it? You pick up the microphone and send out a message," Durand said.
The planned symposium will be structured to explore the main tenets of hip hop, namely cross-cultural connections, the defense of spaces and the search for identity, Durand said.
For the symposium, which is being planned for Feb. 7-9, collaborators are: Alex Nava, an associate professor of religious studies; John Melillo, a visiting assistant professor English; Tani Sanchez, an adjunct lecturer of Africana studies; and Praise Zenenga, an associate professor of Africana studies and an expert in dance.
The team also is planning a poetry slam and dance contest and also lectures led by some of the major scholars studying hip hop culture. Beginning in the fall, leading up to the symposium, the team will host an open forum for discussions with students in Durand's online course and with campus community members participating.
"There are so many of us interested in hip hop; we hope that this will at least start a larger conversation on campus," Durand said, adding that he and others hope to see an outgrowth in the form of new research on the genre or a minor of study.
"We are very happy that Confluencenter supported this initiative," Durand said. "It's very important to have these discussions and to feature other cultures and stories and also art forms that are so important around the world."