Our keynote speaker on Friday, June 21st is Peggy Levitt, Luella LaMer Slaner Professor in Latin American Studies; Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College. Her interests include global arts and culture, museums, international migration, transnational relations and processes, development, and religion. In addition to teaching at Wellesley, Peggy is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where she co-directs The Politics and Social Change Workshop. She is co-founder of the Global (De) Centre (with Maurice Crul) and a Robert Schuman Fellow at European University Institute (2017-2019). Peggy received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Maastricht in 2014 and from the University of Helsinki in 2017.
The topic of Peggy Levitt's talk is "Decentering and and Re-centering: Toward More Inclusive Ways of Producing, Disseminating, and Acting Upon Knowledge."
Nearly one billion people, or roughly one out of every seven people in the world today, are internal or international migrants who move by force or by choice, with great success or great struggle. At the same time, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, President Trump’s militarization of the U.S and Mexico and the rise of the far right in many parts of the world reflect heightened nationalism and xenophobia and increased efforts to thwart mobility, especially among refugees, the poor and unskilled.
These dynamics challenge long-standing assumptions about how people live and work and about how social institutions function, what categories such as “assimilation”, “development”, “social inclusion”, and “Global South” actually mean, and where the rights and responsibilities of citizenship get fulfilled. Much of mainstream scholarship on migration, race, and ethnicity is off key because it still relies unreflexively on old categories, without considering their intellectual genealogies or the assumptions about space, scale, and values upon which they are based. It still takes the nation as a bounded, rooted space rather than exploring the ways in which the national and the transnational are co-produced.
Cultural and intellectual inequality are part and parcel of socioeconomic inequality. We won’t do better at one if we don’t do better at the other. This talk explores the possibilities for different, more inclusive ways of creating, disseminating, and acting upon knowledge. So many interventions stop at critique without charting a path forward. How can we pledge to reconstruct as well as deconstruct? I will draw on my empirical work on the global art and literary worlds and on transnational social protection to suggest some possible answers.
Professor Levitt is currently working on three separate but related research strands. The first concerns the ways in which migration and mobility are transforming social protection. When large numbers of individuals are long-term residents of countries without full membership, how do they protect and provide for themselves across borders? Her second research area concerns the role of culture, cultural policies, and cultural institutions in creating and (re)creating increasingly diverse nations. We do not pay enough attention to the cultural dynamics and discourses that influence social and political inclusion. Her last book, Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display, examined how museums around the world shape the relationship between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Her current work looks at changing global literary and artistic canons—who gets included, who gets to decide, and whose interests are served. And finally, addressing cultural inequality requires understanding how knowledge production and dissemination influences what we see and do not see. Her third research agenda is to establish a network of social scientists, humanists, and practitioners from around the world to create a more inclusive methodological and conceptual tool kit.