Summer Institute in Qualitative Research

Keynote Presentations: Abstracts

Clare Colebrook
College of the Liberal Arts

Transcendental Fragility

There have been many claims within theory for a new mode of fragility: Agamben describes a humanity increasingly exposed to what was once a marginal condition of bare life, while Judith Butler has drawn her attention to the precarious nature of existence. Saskia Sassen describes a global phenomenon of explusion, and a new industry focused upon disaster, catastrophe and existential risk has experienced an efflorescence in the twenty-first century. At the same time, and bound up with this fragility, there is an evident avowedly human virility, ranging from U.S president Donald Trump’s program of winning, greatness and robust deal making, to widespread nationalist and supremacist resurgence. Rather than see these two tendencies as in tension it is better to see ‘humanity’ (even, and especially, in its humanitarian mode) as bound up with a relation to an always-outsourced fragility.

Provocations for discussions groups
To what extent is the canon of high theory relevant today, and to what extent does this same canon explain away (rather than explain) Western chauvinism? Is ‘the human’ a viable, pernicious or avoidable concept?

Clare Colebrook is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English,
Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at Penn State
University. She has written books and articles on literary
theory, literary history, contemporary European philosophy,
poetics, visual culture, queen theory and feminist theory.
She recently published Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols
with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller.


Clare Colebrook
Clare Colebrook