Intertwining Interests

By Jessica Powers

Universities are in constant motion – students and faculty alike are always seeking to gain and refine more knowledge. Your intellectual perspective and personal development continually expand, even for the most senior of faculty. That is why Associate Professor of English Andy Doolen is interested in Social Theory, a program that allows him access to new perspectives and intellectual growth.

After coming to UK in 2003, Professor Doolen accepted an invitation to become the Social Theory faculty mentor for disClosure, an annual, graduate student managed journal, which immersed him with the students and their publication. The journal, in its twentieth year, accepts submissions from a plethora of disciplines and approaches to a particular topic in order to construct an interesting scholarly journal. It includes articles, art, creative writing, interviews, and book reviews.

“I was hooked. I really enjoy the intellectual exchange and the brainstorming that went on. The students think the whole thing up from scratch,” said Doolen.

When Doolen came to campus and learned about the Committee on Social Theory he recognized immediately that it was one of the more unique interdisciplinary graduate programs in the country. Through various meet and greet events with faculty and graduate students, common interests evolved into collaborations on research projects, participation in reading groups and even the design of courses.

Doolen and Rich Schein of the Department of Geography combined efforts to teach “19th Century American Culture and Landscape.” The course focused on the ideologies of “nation,” and on the ideas and ideals of American nationhood, empire, and on the relationships among land, culture, and narrative

“We designed and taught the course together,” said Doolen.

A number of A&S departments combine to make Social Theory a cohesive and thorough experience for everyone involved, especially students. The professors who contribute to Social Theory seek to ensure that the overall learning experience for the student is interesting enough to engage them with different perspectives that they might not have otherwise considered. The hope is that students will leave with a well-rounded opinion of the subject studied.

“I think devoting a lot of time and energy to the program pays off,” said Doolen. This program allows the graduate student to develop expertise quickly. I think it makes them insightful scholars.”

Professor Doolen has taught other Social Theory courses, each time as a unique collaboration with different faculty members.

Colleagues Patricia Ehrkamp of Geography, Lien-Hang Nguyen of History and Diane E. King from Anthropology collaborated with Doolen to construct a course that explored the topic of war in the 21st century from each interdisciplinary perspective.

The war in Iraq was a key component, as were more general features of contemporary and recent warfare to the course. They covered topics such as violent conflict, memory and displacement; historiography of war; war and humanitarian crisis; theory of executive power; empire/imperialism and war; US foreign policy since the mid-20th century.

The department brought in four keynote speakers who not only spoke to the public, but also went to the class and participated in the seminar with the graduate students.

In the spring of 2012, a course will be offered with the subtitle of security. Topics will range from the food we eat, the water we drink, the “homeland” where we reside, and money we save, to the buildings where we work, the body we live in, and cyberspace we explore.

It is indeed difficult to think of facets of social life that are not touched by the questions of security. Where is our society headed in terms of security – the dream of gated communities, or the nightmare of surveillance society?  Whose security, exactly, are we talking about? 

Professor Doolen will be working with Sue Roberts (Geography), Lisa Cliggett (Anthropology) and Morrow Inoue (Japanese) as they establish an empirical basis for studying diverse institutions, technologies, practices, and mentalities of security across time and space.

For Doolen and his Social Theory counterparts – just another semester of academics in constant motion.

Photo by Dana Rogers

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