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Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought

The Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought (UCGT) offers an opportunity for Columbia’s undergraduate students to meet and talk with distinguished scholars and practitioners from the Columbia community and beyond whose work places them on the forefront of global trends.
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2016 Maria Moors Cabot Prize Winners

Date: 
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Maria Moors Cabot Prizes are the oldest international awards in journalism and were founded in 1938. The prizes recognize journalists and news organizations with a distinguished body of work that has contributed to Inter­-American understanding.

The University and Public Views of Science

On Oct. 20, 2015, CGT member Amber Miller led a discussion about the contrast between public attitudes toward scientific research specifically, and the intellectual activity of the research university more broadly, in the post World War II and Cold War eras with those of today. The primary goal being to understand these changes in order to begin to engage the question of how we, as a university community, may be able to re-establish our role in the world as a primary driver of solutions to major global challenges.

Using the sciences as an example, why are research universities not understood as the vital contributors to contemporary society that they are? Where is their impact and how have communications from the sciences and/or universities helped or hindered this communication?

Universities face a democratic challenge. In research, design oversight has changed the conduct of research and was demanded from scientists. As universities are bodies that take in taxpayer money and tend to produce knowledge passed on to private entities, they also face questions. Mid-20th century science flourished by being identified as a way of resisting ‘enemies’. Does strong cultural priority for science require such an idea? What is to be done with current ‘enemies’ that are much more amorphous in issues like climate change or poverty? Is the problem that the enemy in question is ourselves and consensus is unlikely to develop because the question of how to live is not possible to answer in only one way.

Moreover, Globalism is a new factor: public demand to address crises through science that might once have been neglected as regional (for example Ebola) are now taken up as global issues. Scientific stakeholders have recognized ‘globality’ in alliances of national academies, despite different granting and funding strategies. Even so, science maintains nationalist function, if not form.

What we see is that science struggles historically to obtain public interest. Competition for funding in capitalist systems throws doubt on the victory or enemy model. While epistemic change leverages changing use of resources, science still has much to contribute. Communication and adaptation? How does that face a change in political ethic that has pushed intellectual work to the fringes?

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The University and Public Views of Science

Migrancy and Unsettlement

On Dec. 16, 2015, CGT member Rosalind Morris led a brainstorming session for a proposed CGT research project on a rigorous theoretical exploration of the concepts, questions and tasks of responding to the current and short-term future of migrancy. The numbers of people who are presently displaced from their homes ranges from several hundred million to more than a billion. These ‘unsettled’ people may be stateless or without access to the securities that are tied to residency within a single political jurisdiction. Many of the organizing concepts and ‘institutionalities’ through which we have previously addressed questions of migrancy need to be either radically rethought or abandoned. We need to rethink the presumptive oppositions between voluntary and involuntary movement linked to the distinction between political and criminal violence, and between temporary versus permanent migration.

The research project, ‘Dislocation and Unsettlement: Migrancy in the New Millennium,’ would convene a group of scholars in a rigorous theoretical exploration of the concepts, questions and tasks of responding to the current and short-term future of migrancy.

The initial undertaking of the group would be to read and review the major strands of thought that have informed our understanding of migrancy, from across the social sciences and humanities. Once or twice a month, the group would convene with a set of readings, including major theoretical work and contemporary policy documents (such as Arendt on the refugee, and UNHCR reports). The responsibility for each set of readings would fall to a different member, who would provide context, contribute an introduction and provide some intellectual shepherding of the conversation. This ‘reading group’ would be supplemented by occasional (1 per semester), thematic symposia at which case studies would be presented by scholars from a variety of disciplines with long-term and specific engagement with these issues. The symposia might be regional or topical in focus, but in their aggregate they should permit sustained, cross-historical and crossregional comparison so that we are able to distinguish long-term continuities within which new intensities can be grasped. At the same time, we do not want to lose the capacity to distinguish between the different kinds of migrancy associated with different political and economic logics, different legal regimes, and in the context of different histories.

Stage Two of the project could include engagement with more professionally practical dimensions of these issues: in law, architecture and spatial planning, public health, environmental sciences, engineering and the arts, as possible and appropriate. It is not necessary that those engaged in Stage One would be involved in Stage Two of the project in the same degree. Indeed, as the project matures, it will like entail a multiplication and even a splitting of possible activities, and a diversification of partnerships—depending on interest, funding and institutional support. A possible intervention at the interface between these two stages would be the creation of a publication or a series of publications organized around specific problematics. The platform might vary, depending on topic, and the publications would ideally address themselves to a diversity of audiences, via scholarly monographs or edited volumes and special issues, via more provisional, web-based media, via more popular writer formats, such as Global Reports, or in catalogs associated with artistic collaborations and installations.

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Migrancy and Unsettlement

After Urbanization

What are the socio-technical systems that associate and differentiate people gathered together in densely populated spaces? Whose interests are represented (politically/symbolically) and what are the potential agencies of structures and representation? How do we re-conceive the “urbanoid” realm across the conventional bifurcation of structures vs. discourse.

On Sep. 2, 2015, CGT member Reinhold Martin, along with CGT members Mamadou Diouf and Brian Larkin, proposed a new research project, stimulated by Mamadou Diouf’s recently co-edited book (with Rosalind Fredericks) “The Arts of Citizenship in African Cities,” on “Infrastructure, Urbanization, Representation,” which, in essence, is a division of topics into two branches incorporating urban studies related to globality: a developmentalist one, focusing on material, technological, and politico-economic processes, and a culturalist one, focusing on symbolic processes, national-cultural imaginaries, language, and so on. The initial response therefore combines three terms, all of which are to be understood critically rather than descriptively:

“Infrastructure” names a critical response to the first tradition that draws on aspects of the second, in that the study of sociotechnical systems that both connect and differentiate populations, and hence, spatio-temporally define cities, focuses on the mediating effects of those systems as active agents.

“Representation” names a critical response to the second tradition that draws on aspects of the first, not only in thinking about whose interests may or may not be “represented,” both politically and symbolically, in any given city; or about the institutions—political or cultural—through which such acts of representation occur; but also about the potential agency of those acts in shaping the polis.

“Urbanization” refers not to some self-evident phenomenon encapsulated in such misstatements as “half the world’s population now lives in cities” but rather, the need to think the urban realm relationally, as bound up with other processes, some of which are traditionally designated as rural, others planetary, on the infrastructural and representational planes, simultaneously.

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After Urbanization

Global Science

The sciences are often viewed as apolitical endeavors that form a natural basis for seeding international cooperation. Particularly in the years surrounding the First and Second World Wars, numerous projects were launched to foster scientific collaboration across national borders. At first glance, iconic enterprises such as the Carte du Ciel, the International Institute of Bibliography, UNESCO, or the International Geophysical Year may appear to derive from a common vision of science’s universality. In fact, new scholarship on these and other organizations has revealed significant divergences in their aims and rationales. Indeed, this research points out the highly particular character of these universalisms. Each had its own ethical justification(s), its own vision(s) of world order, its own conception(s) of the epistemic basis of universal knowledge, and its own blind spots when it came to the practical and ideological obstacles to collaboration. The end of the Cold War may be said to have launched a new age of scientific internationalism, in which federal budget cuts have forced even U.S. scientists to join forces with international research teams. Only in unusually expensive or controversial cases—such as the Human Genome Project or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—do scientists typically pause to consider the tacit assumptions on which their collaborations rest or the pros and cons of alternative models of cooperation. What are the lessons of the history of scientific internationalism for the global science of today?

This research project, led by Professor Deborah Coen, began with a half-day, closed-door workshop on February 12, 2016 at Columbia University and was meant to be a first step towards developing an analytical framework for assessing forms of international organization in the sciences. It brought together historians studying the history of scientific internationalism with scientists who have taken a leading role in international collaborations and negotiations. It looked at both the theory and practice of scientific internationalism—that is, both at the ideals espoused by founders of the new associations, and at the realities of interactions among their members. Case studies were drawn from the natural and social sciences in the twentieth century.

The immediate goal of the workshop was to put the global science of today in historical perspective. In this respect, participants sought to extend existing narratives of the history of international collaboration in the sciences to include recent history. What continuities and discontinuities could be traced between earlier forms of scientific internationalism and the ideologies and practices behind global science today?

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Global Money

Money is both one of the great intellectual puzzles and practical problems of the modern world. Taken at face value it appears to be one of the most basic and important expressions of state sovereignty. It defines the boundaries of national economies and their interrelationships. Printing and coining money is a closely guarded privilege of the state. And yet at moments of crisis we discover and rediscover the disconcerting fact that purchasing power in the most important currencies of the world is in fact generated in oceanic quantities beyond the boundaries of the states to which it belongs, by actors that are not the state. We live, in fact, in a world of global money. Learning how to think this radical fact is an urgent challenge, one which must by necessity be global in scope and involve both academics and the practitioners who are in the business of operating and innovating the global monetary system.

The Great Recession of 2008 has led to new efforts to understand the financial structures of the global economy. This research project, led by Professors Adam Tooze and Perry G. Mehrling, began with a public Global Think-in on April 25, 2016 which looked at Global Money: Past, Present, Future.

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M.A. in Global Thought

The Master of Arts in Global Thought is an interdisciplinary, research-based course of study designed to understand and address the challenges and opportunities arising in our world today.
News

Fossil Fuel Combustion Endangers Children’s Health

Date: 
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Writing in a commentary in Environmental Health PerspectivesFrederica Perera, director of the ...

News

5 Questions with Economics Professor Jan Svejnar on Brexit

Date: 
Friday, June 24, 2016

The fallout from Brexit, the British exit from the European Union, was nearly immediate. Every global market sank. British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. A large U.S. investment bank announced it would move 2,000 jobs out of London to either Dublin or Frankfurt, the credit agency...

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