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Palestine and the Public Sphere

Year of Funding: 
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This research cluster brings together faculty and graduate students for critical and cross-disciplinary conversations and activities concerning the cultural, political, and economic situation of Palestine and its framing in US academic and public spheres. With a focus on pedagogy and public discourse, we explore the discursive structures that limit the conditions of debate on this topic and how these structures reveal the relationship between knowledge, power, and politics. More importantly, this cluster aims to imagine and cultivate new possibilities for sustained, open, and critical exchange about controversial subjects.

We start from the premise that not all controversies, or topics of marked political disagreement, are framed or produced as controversial – that is, as especially inflammatory and therefore as requiring a particular set of protocols to manage the conversation. From this vantage, Palestine might well be taken as a paradigm of the controversial topic. By controversial topic, we mean not simply one of the myriad topics on which people routinely and adamantly disagree. Rather, what characterizes this kind of controversy is the idea that exposure to some of the claims, remonstrances, and aspirations of one group is injurious to the well-being of another, such that the very presentation of this group’s perspective breaches norms of sensitivity and civility.

As educators, we are interested in analyzing how the production of controversy often forecloses a deliberative approach to the topic of Israel/Palestine and how the possibility of open and transformative inquiry might be established. We seek to develop a critical vantage point on the dominant ways in which the “sides” to the conflict are constructed in the institutions of public life, including the media and the academy. Like most of our peers in the humanities and social sciences disciplines in which we are trained, we embrace the view that knowledge and therefore scholarship is never simply “neutral” or apolitical. But our aim in this collaborative study of political culture is to move outside the established terms of public debate on Palestine in order to critically evaluate those terms and thus understand how, to what effects, and at what price the parameters of debate have been set.

In 2016-17, the group’s work includes drafting a co-authored essay and creating a critical glossary of some key terms pertaining to discussion of Palestine.

Primary Contacts

Eva Cherniavsky (English)

Anis Bawarshi (English)

Sandra Silberstein (English)