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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire


Symposium discusses spectacle in the global media

Uprisings in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few weeks have demonstrated the importance of spectacles in the international media. With these recent events in mind, speakers gathered in Maxey Auditorium to participate in a symposium entitled “Global Media, Global Spectacle” on Saturday, Feb. 26. The symposium featured a panel of Whitman students and professors as well as visiting professors, who discussed various media spectacles and the ways they inform opinions about current events. This event was part of Whitman College’s Global Studies Initiative, which brings faculty from a variety of disciplines together to discuss and engage with global issues.

Salman Hameed and Shiloh Krupar listen to and address questions from the audience. Credit: Marie Von Hafften

The Global Studies Initiative was first conceived at Whitman in 2005, and the first symposium was held in 2009. Thus far, symposia have been funded by a 345,000 dollars grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which was given for the purpose of globalizing the college.

“It’s always a challenge to keep a liberal arts education up to the moment,” said Deburgh Chair of Social Sciences & Professor of Sociology Bill Bogard, while moderating the symposium.

The discussion topic–global spectacles–prompted conversation about the role that media plays in representing events worldwide.

Assistant Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar said he hoped that the symposium would increase awareness of the issue among students.

“[I hope for] an increased self-consciousness about what he or she is seeing in the media and what he or she is seeing the political circus,” he said.

Bogard opened the discussion by explaining the topic of spectacle. According to Bogard, events are globalized by media and become spectacles. One important consideration is for what purpose or for whom spectacle is being used.

“Globalization is not necessarily a good thing,” said Bogard. “Globalization does not serve everyone equally.”

The topic of spectacle was then discussed by three visiting professors: Douglas Kneller, Chair of Philosophy of Education at University of California at Los Angeles; Salman Hameed, professor of Integrated Science and Humanities at Hampshire College in Massachusetts; and Shiloh Krupar, assistant professor of the Culture and Politics program at Georgetown University.

Kellner discussed the role of spectacle in recent Middle Eastern uprisings, as well as the use of social networking sites by activists in the region. According to him, media is used by protestors to uncover police brutality and corruption as a revolutionary tool. The wide variety of its uses make media “contested terrain.”

Hameed’s talk focused on the conflict between science and religion in the Islamic world. Scientific discoveries can take the form of spectacle, particularly when they are perceived to be in conflict with religious beliefs. Based on this conflict, Hameed asked “Who has the authority to interpret science?” Today, those with authority in the Arab world are mainly religious and political authorities, but according to Hameed, 60 percent of the Arab world is age 26 and under.

“This is a population that is young, educated and globally connected,” he said, adding that they will be important interpreters in the future.

The final talk by Krupar focused on the spectacle of Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats is a former nuclear weapons production facility near Denver, Colo. which was closed and converted into a wildlife refuge. Krupar discussed the change of the site’s identity from a nuclear facility to a natural, wild spectacle. She also focused on Nuclia Waste, a drag queen in the Rocky Flats area whose informative web site seeks to create a spectacle of the continued nuclear contamination of the site and the bodies of people who live and work there.

This diverse collection of perspectives on the symposium theme takes careful planning Considerations regarding speakers are concurrent with those regarding the topic itself, and can help in the topic decision.

“It takes a lot of research to come up with individuals that can speak for the theme,” said Bruce Magnusson, Associate Professor of Politics and director of the Global Studies Initiative.

The three 15-minute speeches were each followed with a five minute speech made by a Whitman student. Prior to the symposium, faculty recommend students to speak. Students’ majors and theses correspond to the speaker’s topic and provide additional angles for discussion.

“All three years students have absolutely nailed their presentations,” said Magnusson.

Nigel Ramoz-Leslie ’11 listens to his fellow presenters

Afterward, Delbert Hutchison, associate professor of biology, and Majumdar made speeches which asked further questions of the visiting professors. The visiting professors addressed these along with audience questions.

The style of the symposium, created in large part by Associate Professor of Politics Shampa Biswas, has remained constant for each symposium. The ongoing dialogue reflected the timeliness of the topic.

An agreement has been made with the University of Washington Press to publish the symposia along with supplementary content. The first symposium is completed and is in the publishing process and the second was submitted a month ago. These symposia will available online for Whitman students through Penrose Library.

The Mellon Grant allotted funding for the symposia for three years. Although this was last symposium to be funded from the Mellon Grant, Magnusson said that faculty are actively looking for alternate sources of funding for next year’s symposium. He believes that the continuation of the Global Studies Initiative is important for the college.

“We can’t isolate our knowledge from each other and hope to come to productive conclusions,” he said. He emphasized the importance of being engaged across disciplines.

“I think it’s exemplary of the liberal arts,” he said.

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