Dr. Carolyn Betensky’s talk based on her recent article “Envying the Poor: Contemporary and Nineteenth-Century Fantasies of Vulnerability” examines the envy of vulnerability as an underlying tension that structures relations between 19th-century bourgeois readers and literary representations of the working poor. What makes Dr. Betensky’s argument especially illuminating is its transhistorical significance; she offers a unique pairing between the nineteenth-century novel and the right-wing rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaigns, highlighting “resentment from above” and “fantasies of mastery.” The contemporary relevance is grounded in Mitt Romney’s avowal that the discontent of the “99%” with the “1%” betrays “a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach.” At issue in both the nineteenth century and our present moment is the vulnerable poor’s alleged special power, as perceived by the rich, derived from the sympathy aroused by the “precarity” of their situation.
From the natural sciences and the behavioral sciences to communication studies and the arts, scholars across innumerable and sometimes seemingly disparate disciplines turn their attention to transformations, crises, and anxieties crashing at our (real and metaphorical) shores. The urgency propelled by climate science stirs up consciousness, fears, and controversies about the future of our ecosystems, economies, policies, and cultures. The threat of rising tides—whether a shift in our natural environment, technological advancement, or paradigm shifts—increasingly call for collaborations among scholars, professionals, stakeholders, advocates, and citizens.
Our responses invite opportunities for conversations across disciplines that produce value, both for the climate crisis at hand as well as for the re-invention and renewal of scholarship in the twenty-first century. Interdisciplinarity creates a unique opportunity for us to begin to re-imagine the shape and function of collaboration, an opportunity to push the boundaries. Talking Beyond Disciplines: Rising Tides and Sea Changes invites graduate students from all disciplines to share their scholarly research and work that examines literal sea change or figurative sea change.