Skip to:

WELCOME BACK: The Humanities as Civic Agency



Doris Sommer (Harvard University)


Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 4:15pm


Pigott Hall (Bldg 260), Room 252



WELCOME BACK: The Humanities as Civic Agency

Doris Sommer is the Ira and Jewell Williams Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, where she is Founder and Director of Cultural Agents: Arts and Humanities in Civic Engagement. She is the author of Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education and editor of Cultural Agency in the Americas, both also published by Duke University Press.


Celebrating art and interpretation that take on social challenges, Professor Sommer will be speaking about how we can steer the humanities back to engagement with the world, how artistic and political projects can develop momentum and meaning as they circulate through society to inspire faith in the possible. Among the cases that she covers are top-down initiatives of political leaders, such as those launched by Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, and also bottom-up movements like Theatre of the Oppressed created by the Brazilian director, writer, and educator Augusto Boal.


Alleging that we are all cultural agents, Sommer also takes herself to task and creates Pre-Texts, an international arts-literacy project that translates high literary theory through popular creative practices. The Work of Art in the World is informed by many writers and theorists. Foremost among them is the eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, who remains an eloquent defender of art-making and humanistic interpretation in the construction of political freedom. Schiller's thinking runs throughout Sommer's modern-day call for citizens to collaborate in the endless co-creation of a more just and more beautiful world.


Doris Sommer's Book, "The Work of Art in the World a ringing manifesto for public art as an agent of democratic change. Doris Sommer traces the connections between art, activism, and social transformation in communities from Buenos Aires to the South Bronx, framing the surprising and stirring art practices that she describes in relation to the vital traditions of aesthetics and democratic political theory. Her aim is to stimulate civic discussion and communicative action; her book is revelatory, alive, and inspiring." -- Kathleen Woodward, author of Statistical Panic: Cultural Politics and Poetics of the Emotions


RSVP here.